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Help please, I'm coming to San Diego too

Like many before me, I too am coming to San Diego and would love some restaurant advice. Unless my (business) hosts take us out, we've got three dinners and two breakfasts worth of chow. I'll have a couple of colleagues with me of unknown adventuresomeness and/or willingness to travel so I'd love some safer/closer recommendations as backup. We're staying on Pacific Highway, just south of the airport.

Left to my own devices, I think I'd go for
o sushi
o Mexican (and/or Cal/Mex; fish tacos would be a bonus)
o something close to the airport before our late flight out.

From poking around here, it seems like the board favorites are
o Izakaya Sakura
o Super Cocina
o and ??? (perhaps Point Loma Seafood)

I'm a little concerned that the first two may be a bit far from the hotel for my colleagues and that the (Formica) decor at Super Cocina may be a little too scary. Any other thoughts for closer/safer (yet still delicious) sushi and Mexican would be appreciated, as would any recs near the airport. Then again, I could just ditch the guys from work...

Finally, if any of these places are open late (we arrive at that airport ~8 on the first night), that would be great too.

Thank you all in advance, and if you're ever coming to Boston, please ask on the Boston board, we'd be glad to direct you to deliciousness.

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  1. Given where you'll be geographically, for sushi I would recommend Shirahama over Sakura. He consistently carries about the best tane that I've seen at any sushi bar in San Diego. Kaito would have been a good choice too, if only it were closer to where you are staying.

    However I would recommend Sakura over any other place in San Diego if you are looking for the ippin-ryori of an izakaya...

    In short, Sakura for ippin-ryori, Shirahama for Sushi. (And they're both very close to each other...)

    While you're getting familiar with the Kearny Mesa area, if you're at all interested in ramen, I'd also recommend a visit to Tajima. FYI, all three of these eateries are on Convoy St.

    1. Umi Sushi in Point Loma is within easy striking distance of where you are staying. It has a lively sushi bar and the restaurant itself is very nice.


      1. Super Cocina isn't exactly haut cuisine. Think stews in a cafeteria-like setting. It's not for everyone and not someplace I'd go with people who aren't total adventurous foodies. The interior isn't the problem, it's the neighborhood (there's a seedy strip club across the street, for example). Mama Testa's on University near Richmond is a much nicer setting in a much nicer neighborhood. El Zarape on Park near Adams is one of the better Mexican seafood places, but it's basically a taco stand with interior seating (but not a sketchy neighborhood like Super Cocina). Aside from mediocre Gringo-mex places (i.e. places not significantly better than, say, El Torito) and marginally adequate taco stands, there's nothing I can think of around the airport in the way of Mexican food.

        I'm not a huge fan of Point Loma Seafoods anymore. I think Blue Water on India is superior for a casual seafood place, but parking is a bigger headache there than even PLS. Also The Fishery in Pacific Beach. All these places are OK for a casual lunch or dinner with coworkers, but wouldn't be appropriate for a business meal.

        5 Replies
        1. re: mikec

          I've been to Super Cocina over a dozen times and never once had a problem. The neighborhood is kind of run down, but I don't think it qualifies as "sketchy" at all. It's home to a large immigrant population, which is part of why it's home to so many authentic eateries. That neighborhood is home to great places to eat, and what a shame it would be to miss out on those out of fear.

          True, it's not haut cuisine, but I didn't get the impression from the OP that he was seeking haut cuisine. And El Zerape and Mama Testa certainly aren't haut cuisine either. ;) What he will find at Super Cocina is home-style Mexican cooking that he won't find anywhere else in San Diego.

          I'd also dispute that it's only for adventurous foodies. I took two non-adventurous people there and they loved their meals. Granted, they had carnitas and chile rellenos (two dishes they always serve), but they loved the fresh tortillas, rice, and pinto beans, too.

          Anyone with chowish inclinations coming to San Diego really shouldn't miss SC, IMO.

          1. re: Josh

            Josh, my first thought when I read the original post was the same as mikec, it's not the food, it's the neighborhood. I agree with you that it's not as bad as it looks, but it is on the seedy side and you've got an advantage in that you're a local ;-) You know what to expect and you don't look like a tourist. I would be a little hesitant sending someone I know nothing about into the barrio. Do I think the area around Super Cocina is dangerous? During daylight no, after dark maybe. And if you're a stranger in a strange town, run down neighborhoods aren't everyone's cup of tea, or horchata in this case.

            1. re: DiningDiva

              I feel like anyone who thinks that neighborhood is shady hasn't ever really been in a shady neighborhood. On the other hand, I don't know what Boston is like. I look at Super Cocina's neighborhood, and I can't imagine someone from Los Angeles or New York feeling unsafe there.

              But I can see your point. There were parts of Brooklyn I've been in where I didn't feel too safe, but I'm sure were perfectly fine.

            2. re: Josh

              I didn't mean to imply the neighborhood was "dangerous", and yes, I've been in that neighborhood after dark many, many times. OTOH, I wouldn't send a random tourist into that neighborhood without a bit of a heads up. It's a bit different than Shelter Island or the Gaslamp (which fifteen years ago I would have also described as "sketchy").

              I think you also need to explain that Super Cocina isn't a typical sit-down Mexican restaurant. If you're looking for something resembling Gringo-mex burritos/enchiladas/tacos, Super Cocina isn't it. Some people love it, other people detest it.

            3. re: mikec

              I agree with Blue Water as a great lunch spot. I would suggest Blue Point downtown in the gaslamp for evening, I've had the best oysters of my life there as well as great salads and appetizers, also my date said the steak he had was fantastic.
              Near the airport there is Island Prime, which is a little dressy but they serve a similar menu at their adjoining dining area C Level. The view is unbeatable and they have a good happy hour from 4-6. It is literally a stones throw from the airport so it may be a good place to stop once you've landed.
              Also, near the airport is Little Italy where there are two places I would reccomend. Bon Appetito on India street has good food and is open until ten, while the adjoining wine bar is open until midnight I believe. If you find yourself there the warm duck salad is amazing!

            4. Also, for sushi in proximity to the airport, I like Taka in the Gaslamp, though it's relatively expensive, and Kazumi in Hillcrest. Never been to Umi though.

              1. Will you have a car???
                The following are locations somewhat close to the airport
                I would second Blue Water and Laurel. For location and ambiance and some pretty good food there is also the Prado in Balboa Park I would also recommend for late eats Modus though it is sometimes loud. For breakfast Cafe Chole, very well done French Bistro food. For Mexican close by Chilangos which is very good.

                If you do have a car and want to impress you should check out the Marine Room--the waves during high tide actually hit the windows and the food is delish.

                As for sushi I also recommend Zen Sushi in Del Mar and Zenbu in La Jolla (the owner has his own fishing company!)

                You should check out the San Diego Reader they have lots of good reviews that I think most on this board trust.

                That being said I adore Boston and hope you like our city!

                1. I would strongly recommend Mama Testa's as they are excellent. However, keep in mind their entire menu is made up of tacos from all over Mexico (ie: no burritos, nachos, etc)--crunchy, steamed, floating in warm spicy beef broth. They also have killer churros (nothing beats freshly made!).

                  I would not recommend Zenbu in La Jolla. It's overpriced, mediocre sushi compare to Izakaya Sakura and Sushi Ota. Zenbu is one of those places where you go if you "have" to have a martini w/ your sushi.

                  Cafe Chloe is very good--French bistro cafe w/ a wine bar, cheese plate, really good frites and other goodies on the menu. They are open all day.

                  Modus is also good and have a late night menu.

                  Saffron is near the airport on India St. Cheap, casual Thai (jeans and t-shirt place). Their better dishes are the noodles and rice ones.

                  Parallel 33 is good for dinner as well.

                  1. Ah Boston... I miss it so -- except this time of year. :-)

                    Super Concina's neighborhood isn't that sketchy (think parts of JP before the Gentrification got into full swing -- it is also about that far from the City as JP would be from Brookline). But it is probably a bit too long a trek given where you are staying.

                    One thing to consider is South Beach in Ocean Beach. They have some amazing fish tacos and while it is a white man's bar in the middle of Ocean Beach (a neighborhood that really really wants it to still be the late 60s/early 70s) it is an experience. All out of town folks that have gone there have loved it. You might want to try it on the day you leave -- I think you said you had a late flight. Great lunch spot. Get a mahi mahi taco and some little necks... All will be good. I'll also say if you go to Blue Water, that will cover your fish taco experience (which is a must when you come to San Diego). And if you go to Bluewater another really good option is the Fried Scallop sandwich.

                    We love Mama Testa's as well and knowing the unbelievable lack of good Mexican food in Boston, I would certainly recommend going there. Another option that is a little more mainstream, but still very good is Ortega's which is near Mama Testa's about about 15 minutes in a car from where you are staying.

                    For sushi, what do you folks think of Sushi Ota in PB or Nippon downtown. These are great traditional sushi places very close to where you will be staying.

                    Modus and Cafe Chloe are great suggestions. And as I just wrote elsewhere, another place to think of downtown is Dobson's -- that should be minutes from your hotel and they have a crazy good Mussel Bisque soup.

                    Addresses for all these places are on our blog's SD Favorites category. www.whatwedig.com.

                    Have a great trip!


                    1. Hey thanks everyone! I really appreciate the guidance. Please keep the suggestions coming and I'll let you know where I ended up and whether the work guys got ditched or not.

                      1. For a truly unique experience you might also consider Yakitori Yakyudori in Hillcrest. The means are simple, various parts of skewered chicken (vegetables, beef and pork are also available as well) adorned with salt and pepper and grilled on imported traditional Japanese charcoal, but the resulting tastes are sublime.

                        It's very flexible as their format allows you to easily have a whole meal or just a little bite, and they're open past midnight as well to satisfy those late night cravings. Also YY easily accomodates mixed parties of both the adventurous and the culinarily conservative, and has two "top 10" lists posted on the walls of those menu items most favored by their Japanese customers and those most favored by their American customers.

                        If you'd like to read more about YY, here's my initial post on the shop in this Chowhound post: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/31766...

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: cgfan

                          Their hours are from 6 pm-1 am. I think they're closed on Mondays. We tried going this weekend but our stomachs needed food at 5 pm, unfortunately. Their menu looked really good! The place is small and easy to miss if you're not looking hard while driving south on 6th Ave. Best landmark is that it's kind of across the street from Pellicano's, a fenced-off, abandoned large restaraunt building.

                          1. re: daantaat

                            Ummm.....that eyesore on 6th between University and Robinson is actually Pernicano's Casa di Bafi. God bless old George Pernicano, after 46 years he still has a 1 or 2% ownership stake in the SD Chargers. When the man decides to hold on to something he just doesn't let go..........

                            1. re: DiningDiva

                              thanks for the info--we were speculating on why it's been there for years. guess it's not some juicy family estate quabble.

                              1. re: daantaat

                                Oh, it's a family quabble, it just hasn't reached the estate part yet.

                        2. Again, thanks for all your tips. I ended up only having two dinners, one at Mama Testa's and one at Sushi Ota. I had a bad cold this week so my taste buds (sense of smell really) were way off. That said, while I enjoyed both meals, I didn't find either to be extraordinary. I'll have to try again next time I'm in town, hopefully feeling healthy.

                          1. I recommend making a reservation at the sushi bar if you go to Sushi Ota. Over the past few years I've had hit and miss experience sitting in the dining area, but if you sit at the bar you get treated like a king.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: mangiatore

                              I did sit at the bar. Unfortunately, as a lone diner, I wasn't treated at all like a king, although the sushi chef did apologize at the end. Since I didn't have a reservation, I was given an hour to finish my dinner by the hostess at the beginning of my meal, with the clear implication that if I didn't agree, I wouldn't be seated any time soon. While I understand that they have to leave space for their reservations, it certainly wasn't a pleasant note to start off the dinner. The root of my problem at the bar, I suspect, was that I was seated next to a party of four Japanese businessmen who were clearly going to be spending a lot more money than I.

                              Nothing tasted bad, the fish was good (spanish mackerel was particularly tasty), the rice was a little more bland than I'm used to (less vinegar and slightly less sweet), but nothing excited me either. That could be cold-related so I wouldn't rule out a return trip, but at $50 for one, including tip but with no alcohol, I won't be rushing back next time I'm in town.

                              1. re: DavisSquare

                                Next time hit up Super Cocina - you won't be disappointed.