Chicago hounds staying on Coronado Island
We're taking it easy at the Glorietta Bay Inn (former sugar baron mansion, I guess?) for a couple days between Christmas and New Year's. We'd like to hit a couple places for a decent meal. Doesn't need to be fancy, but we don't mind spending money for something special. Favorites in Chicago are Tru and Alinea, and we loved Michael Mina when we were in SF last.
Seems like we should be able to find killer sushi and Mexican (which we have here, too). Any/all recommendations greatly appreciated.
for really good tacos and salsa, don't miss Mama Testa's in Hillcrest--tacos from all over Mexico. Their beef taquitos swimming in a multi-layerd spicy beef broth is the perfect cold weather dish! Fresh churros too, if you like churros!
Cafe Cerise (if they're still open)
Izakaya Sakura (hole in the wall sushi and izakaya style Japanese place)
Market Bar and Restaurant
Parallel 33 (quite a creative concept--fusion food from all the countries on the 33rd parallel)
all require car or taxi
I'm a fellow Chicagoan who's been in SD four years. From the restaurants you've listed, you are clearly looking for something upscale. If you're looking for the best dining experiences in SD, head to AR Valentein at the Torrey Pines Lodge, Georges at the Cove (but arrive early enough to see the sunset), and I would second 1500 Ocean. I would also recommend second-hand (haven't yet been, but trust friends who have) the new Addison at the Grand Del Mar resort. Cavaillon is fantastic rustic French.
For Mexican, Chilango's is fine, but there is nowhere in SD like Frontera. If you want to try something on the divy, but delicious side, go to Super Cocina. The neigborhood's a bit sketchy and out of the way, but the food rocks. The best Mexican here are the mom-and-pop places like Cuatro Milpas or Porkyland. They're scattered around, though.
If you're near Balboa Park (zoo, etc.), I would recommend Laurel. Some people on the boards are down on this place, but I find it elegant and inventive. And my opinion counts more than most others ;)
Sushi. Well, you have to go to Sushi Ota. It's in a strip mall near a freeway, and probably the plainest little sushi place you'll ever see, but the fish is divine. If you want something unusual and Japanese, try one of the yakitori places in town. Just in terms of being central, I recommend Yakitori Yakudori (also near Balboa Park). Once again, a bit on the plain side, but delicious.
Let us know if you need more suggestions.
re: Dr. K
Dr. K, I agree with you on Laurel. It's true it's definitely had it's ups and downs in the last 6-8 years, but I think it's back on track and it's got one of the flat out sexiest bars in town. I don't think it will return to it's vaunted BEST in SD status, but it's certainly way, way better than it was 2 years ago. I also like their bar special - 7 Before 7 at the Bar. 7 appetizers and 7 drinks all $7 before 7 PM. Drinks were mostly wine, but the apps are on the inventive side.
re: Dr. K
re: El Chevere
Ooh...we went there once when we visited SD. Warm, dimly lit setting, delicious food, awesome desserts, and one of the most phenomenal views of the bay (imagine: lighted boats gliding on dark waters reflecting tall city building lights - all of which are probably more beautiful around this time of year!)
Chicago has, hands down, better Mexican food than San Diego and way, way better high end restaurants.
You're right across the street (more or less) from the Hotel del which rennovated it's tired old fine dining restaurant this year. It reopened a couple months ago as 1500 Ocean (the address of the del), and to stellar reviews. The exec. chef helped Thomas Keller open Per Se in NYC.
Azzure Point at the Loewe's resort in Coronado has it's fans as well. If the weather is nice, i.e. not foggy or not raining, sunset drinks at Peohe's or Il Fornaio would be good idea because they each have fabulous bayside views, the food is probably not what you're looking for at either location. Il Fornaio is a better than average, upscale chain of Italian restaurants. Peohe's does fish and steak and can be is frustratingly inconsistent.
The first thing you should probably do is lower your expectations. In general, S.D. doesn't offer much that can compete with the high-end, creative establishments that you mention from Chicago.
Having said that, there's still some good food to be found here. I'll get the list rolling with a few:
Blue Water Seafood
Chilangos Mexico City Grill
George's at the Cove
You should be able to find out more about each of these by searching on this board.