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First visit to San Diego - What should I not miss?

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I am going to be visiting San Diego for the first time in a week. What restaurants, bakeries, diners, take-out's, taco stands etc would you recommend I try not to miss? Being a foodie, are there any other attractions I may be interested in visiting during my week long stay, like markets, kitchen stores, deli's, or cooking schools.

Thanks in advance for your advice. I'm really looking forward to experiencing San Diego.

Brisbane, Australia

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    1. Being Australian, I'm going to guess you know good seafood. Please try the uni (sea urchin roe) while in SD, and Izakaya Sakura should be a good spot to do so. I second Josh's rec heartily. You might also try Point Loma Seafood for an entirely different, American take on seafood, too.

      As to foodie outings, I love to peruse the Asian groceries in the Clairemont neighborhood around Convoy. Not as good as SF or LA, but entirely enjoyable. There are good, inexpensive restaurant supply shops in that area, too. I'm not sure how this compares to Australia, but compared to Kansas City area (where I live,) they're an outing. This could be combined with a visit to Izakaya Sakura easily. I'd like to refer you to Kirk's blog www.mmm-yoso.typepad.com He will give you many wonderful leads. There's lots of good Vietnamese fare in SD, too.

      1. Thanks Josh and Amyzan, I'll definitely get to all of the restaurants you suggest.

        I'm going to be paying a visit to REI which is about a mile away from them, so I'll combine that with a meal Sakura and a beer or two at O'Brien's.

        The Linkery looks very delicious. I like the way they are sourcing the best produce for their meals.

        I was hoping that I'd get a recommendation for some Mexican cuisine. So I'll definitedly check out Super Cocina. There isn't much in the way of good mexican food in Brisbane.

        Thanks for the link to Kirk's blog. I'll be adding Mama's Bakery to the list of places to visit.

        2 Replies
        1. re: bazza

          I would also try Mama Testa which is an excellent and unique taco shop/restaurant:


          Another good place for Mexican (a little bit more upscale and not your typical burrito/taco place but food from the central and southern Mexico) is Chilango:


          1. re: bazza

            Give Ponce's a try.

            4050 Adams Ave. San Diego, CA 92116

            I adore this place.

          2. I was in Brisbane about nine years ago, and Aussies have some amazingly good seafood! So, along with the other suggestions, with which I wholeheartedly agree, I'd add Mama Testa's for tacos. For some great views AND food, I'd suggest Bertrand's Mister A's and the Marine Room. And if you want markets, you might want to check out Bristol Farms. It's a little pricey, but they have some nice gourmet items and prepared food you can buy and take with you or eat there. There are also farmer's markets in Ocean Beach on Wednesdays (starts at 3pm) and HIllcrest on Sunday (starts at 9am). Here's link:


            I hope you enjoy your stay, and post back on your dining and food-buying experiences.

            1. Extraordinary Desserts on 5th

              1. Take a visit to Chino Farms in Rancho Santa Fe--produces some of the best vegetables in the state. Chez Panisse in Berkeley (N. CA) Fed Exes their produce to their restaurant. It's a very humble, nondescript vegetable stand with really good stuff.

                Then swing by Aniata Cheese Shop in the Flower Hill Mall on Via de la Valle for really great cheese and pick up a bar of Vosges' Barcelona chocolate bar.

                For more chocolate, go by Chuao Chocolates in the UTC mall (also in in The Forum in Carlsbad) for great, locally made chocolates. Bring a bag of their cocoa nibs home, an addictively combination of chocolate, chili heat and salt.

                Whole Foods Market (several locations--Hillcrest, UTC) is a fun market to wander through. Focus mainly on organic ingredients. Their take out food section is pretty good.

                Chinese grocery store--99 Ranch on Clairemont Mesa Drive.
                Korean grocery store--Zion off Engineer Rd.
                Japanese grocery store--Nijiya Market on Convoy Ave.

                There is a good yakitori place called Yakitori K-1 next to Nijiya Market.

                For a California tradition, go to any of the In-n-Out hamburger chains. Multiple locations--Mission Valley, Pacific Beach, Carlsbad.

                I third Mama Testa's!

                4 Replies
                1. re: daantaat

                  For yakitori I'd recommend Yakitori Yakyudori in Hillcrest over K-1. Make sure you sit at the bar, and Nabe-chan will serve your items as soon as he takes it off the grill. They use authentic bincho-tan charcoal at Yakitori Yakyudori, specially imported from Japan.

                  YY is a small chain, with the Hillcrest location being the only location outside of their hometown of Nagoya.

                  1. re: cgfan

                    what street and nearest cross street is Yakitori Yakyudori on? I will have to make a point of going there b/c every time we go to Hillcrest, we end up at Mama Testa's!

                    1. re: daantaat

                      daantaat: Yakitori Yakyudori can be found at 3739 6th Ave. I actually am not very familiar with the streets there, but it's about a block south of the 163 off-ramp on the east side of 6th Ave.

                      Here's an earlier post of mine on Yakitori Yayudori: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/31766...

                      Look forward to hearing your report!

                      1. re: cgfan

                        thank you! I think I know it's approximate location.

                2. That sounds like a fun itinerary! I second the recommendation of Chuao and Chino's farm stand. I also like Venissimo and Taste in Hillcrest, and the Bristol Farms market in the UTC area has a lot of good cheeses, pates and other gourmet deli items.

                  I'd also recommend you pop by Hodad's in OB for a burger. It has a lot of local color and will give you a dose of beach culture. It's also close to People's Organic Foods, an organic food coop that carries organic produce from many of the local farms. They are open every day, in case you don't make it to one of the farmers markets. It's vegetarian and has a pretty good vegan cafeteria upstairs.

                  I would also recommend a couple of other Mexican places. For sit down - Ortegas in Hillcrest, and for takeout, Los Cuatros Milpas, Carnitas Uruapan, Pokez or El Zarape. I know opinions differ on these places, but I think they are good examples of local taco shop type food. Super Cocina serves Mexican homestyle food (Guisados - or stews) from a steam table. They are supposed to be fantastic, but it's a bit different from what you'll get at a taco shop. I'd try both.

                  Great News in Pacific Beach is a fun cooking store, and they also carry the Vosges chocolate bars, including the fantastic Barcelona one. They also have classes.

                  Sushi Ota or Ono Sushi are good for sushi - I also like Japengo's sushi, though the atmosphere is a little overbearing.

                  For fine dining, I'd recommend Market, 1500 Ocean, Jack's La Jolla, Parallel 33, the Wine Sellar Brasserie, Tapenade, 910, and JRDN.

                  For more "bistro" style dining - I'd suggest the Linkery, Jayne's Gastropub, Modus, Cafe Chloe, and Vagabond - but only if you like mussels. It's the only thing I've had there that I liked - but they were fantastic.

                  For quick service cafes/bakeries - Bread and Cie, Extraordinary Desserts, Con Pane, the Pannikin, and Cafe Zinc are favorites of mine.

                  I have links to most of these places on my blog at www.aliceqfoodie.com, or you can just Google the name and San Diego and come up with a website or address for most of them.

                  Good luck and have fun!

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Alice Q

                    A lot of good recommendations on this thread, I'd all the following alternatives if you're interested in some specific asian types:

                    Pho Hoa on El Cajon is my choice for best Pho in SD, and Saigon right up the street has a really nice overall variety of Vietnamese... very cheap, too.

                    Dae Jaeng Keum (Engineer just east of Convoy, also in Kearny Mesa like the previously recommended asian markets) is (I think) easily the best Korean BBQ in SD... doesn't compare to LA, but blows away anything else here (except maybe Buga, but it's still better).

                    I'd go for a burger from Rocky's ("Rocky's Crown Pub" on Ingraham in Pacific Beach) WAY over Hodad's. It's not even close. Not quite the same beachy atmosphere, but the burgers don't even compare. I lived about four blocks from Hodad's for a number of years and I'd still drive to Rocky's when I wanted a burger.

                    If you want the best example of local taco shop, I'd hit La Posta on University, but I agree with previous posters that both Mama Testa's and Chilango's have better (albeit very different) Mexican food.

                    1. re: loothor

                      We were at Dae Jaeng Keum several months ago and thought the quality of meat and panchan went way down from its former incarnation of Boo Cho. The only thing they have over Buga are the charcoal grills, but even those can't fully compensate for lower quality food. Perhaps they have improved?

                      1. re: daantaat

                        I can't speak to the comparison of Dae Jaeng Keum to Boo Cho, as I never ate there when it was Boo Cho (I lived in that paradise of Korean food, LA, at the time), but I have eaten there twice in the last two months and I would say it is slightly better than Buga because (as you have noted) of the charcoal grills vs. gas (which is huge to me) and because they have better Daeji Bulgoki (which is my single favorite Korean dish). However, I will say that Buga certainly has better portions at a better price. I found the meat quality to about the same at both, but perhaps I got lucky at DJK, having only eaten there twice. Panchan quality was about the same at both, but Buga has the better selection.

                    2. re: Alice Q

                      Alice, are you saying you've never been to Super Cocina?

                      1. re: Josh

                        I haven't - it's definitely on my list though! We hardly ever eat out during the week, so I don't get out as much as I'd like to some of the neighborhood spots.

                        1. re: Alice Q

                          Oh man, you are in for a treat!

                      2. re: Alice Q

                        If you attend Great News for a cooking class, be advised that there are two kinds of audiences there. Morning and daytime classes attract more serious home cooks. The evening classes are not quite as good, and tend to be more like a local version of Food Network.

                        1. re: Josh

                          I have taken them and I agree. For evening classes, the ones at the Prado are more fun. www.balboawinefood.com

                      3. Northgate Market on 43rd St. just off the I-805 freeway has the most extensive selection of Mexican and Latin American products. It´s enormous and includes a full bakery, tortillaria, 2 meat counters, a fish counter, cheese counter, fantastic produce department, every kind of canned or packaged product you could want and a selection of food to go. I think the to go food is only so-so, but the selection of market items is vast.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: DiningDiva

                          What would the exit off the 805 be, 43rd?

                        2. North or South it woukd be 43rd. Going South it's the exit after Imperial.Just follow the exit and you'll end up in their parking lot. Trust me on this one, it's almost impossible to get lost :-)

                          1. I would definitely try some fish tacos. Remember must be on a soft corn tortilla and have cabbage not lettuce.

                            I like the spicy hot chocolate at Chuao. I go to the one in Encinitas or Carlsbad

                            I second Point Loma Seafoods. I would get the fish sandwich, but my friends swear by the squid sandwich. The preparation is simple lightly breaded fried fresh fish, homemade tartar sauce on 2 slices of fresh sourdough bread. That is it.

                            1. Wow. Thank you all so much for taking the time post suggestions. Now I'm wondering how I'm going to make a choice between all these places. It might have to come down to proximity to where we're staying, which is on Harbor Island (my partner is attending a conference there). Good thing we'll be doing a bit of snowboarding the following week so that I'll be able to work off a few pounds.

                              BTW, are there any types of recipes or combo's of food that are unique to SD that I should try? Like the Hoagie is to Philly.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: bazza

                                The fish taco (beer-battered white-fleshed ocean fish on a soft corn tortilla) is from northern Baja, but it is certainly a part of San Diego. Carne Asada burritos are a specialty at the Americanized taco stands; they are also found in Los Angeles but are popular here. We also have the "California burrito"; carne asada with avocado sauce and fried potatoes; it's not for everyone but it is unique.
                                Others have mentioned that the local uni (sea urchin) is very good when eaten fresh, straight out of the shell.

                              2. For Mexican, you CANNOT beat Tony's Jacal in Solana Beach. It's totally old school. It is "americanized," but you aren't travelling to Mexico... Everything on the menu is made from scratch daily. They've been open since 1946 with the same family working there 6 nights a week.

                                For an authentic "Mexican" experience, go to Las Quatras Milpas in Barrio Logan.

                                For French, Tapenade is the very best in my opinion. My husband and I eat there as often as possible. It's a nice La Jolla non-touristy place with outstanding food. It's all about the food at Tapenade.

                                I would also not miss In-n-Out Burger. It's a classic Southern California place and the burgers are awesome (not a Rocky's or Hodad's genre, but so, so good).

                                I agree with the Point Loma Seafoods recommendations and a bunch of others already posted.

                                1. I'm crushed I did not get around to the fish tacos when I was there. Don't miss them

                                  1. Hmmm. Tall order.

                                    Okay. Short and sweet.

                                    J Six and Blue Point for fine dining- Gaslamp Quarter.
                                    Parallel 33 for hip interesting- Hillcrest
                                    South Beach Bar and Grill for the "So Cal-Fish Taco-Beach" thing- Ocean Beach or "OB"
                                    Extraordinary Desserts

                                    1. For the absolute best view of San Diego, day or night, stop in at Island Prime -- their C Level casual dining has outdoor seating that is absolutely spectacular. Best of all, it's on Harbor Island Drive. You can probably walk there from your hotel. Reviews of this restaurant are mixed on this site, but honestly, I've been very happy with everything I've been served there. It's the one place I always take clients and out of town friends and family and they are always thrilled.

                                      1. Hi, I'm going to San Diego for the first time, for a birthday weekend, May 2-4, are there any new restaurants that you would recommend, looking for the same thing a few casual restaurants & one fancy. Thanks