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San Diego restaurants are bad

Hi everyone,

Simple question: can anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in culinary epicentres such as New Orleans, NYC, San Francisco, Italy, France, etc. tell me if there's even one EXCELLENT restaurant (price and ambiance aside -- I'm just interested in the food) in San Diego? I've lived here for quite some time and basically consider the restaurants a joke. I grew up in Northern California (great restaurants, IMHO) and have also lived in Italy (where every restaurant in every town is better than all but a couple restaurants in San Diego) and Toronto (varied but average food).

I can name exactly two restaurants that knock my socks off: The Wine Sellar and Brasserie (in Mira Mesa, ironically) and Sushi Ota (in Pacific Beach, ironically). And in my opinion Sushi Ota is only "excellent" if you make a reservation at the sushi bar.

Sorry if this has offended anyone, I just think SD restaurants suck.

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  1. I do agree that I haven't really had meals in San Diego of the same calibre as Manhattan when it comes to fine dining.

    One option you should consider is Laja, in Baja California's wine country. It's about an hour-and-a-half from San Diego, but is the closest I've had to the food I experienced in NYC - which makes sense considering the owner's pedigree includes a stint at Daniel.


    Once you move away from fine dining, though, I think San Diego has a lot of good places to eat. San Diego is home to numerous excellent ethnic restaurants.

    Try Izakaya Sakura, Buga, and Tajima in Kearny Mesa. Super Cocina and Mama Testa have great Mexican fare. The Linkery and Cafe Cerise offer creative dishes using local produce and quality meat and fish.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Josh

      Folks, please confine the discussion to food that can be found north of the border. Feel free to start a new discussion of south of the border food on the Mexico board.

      Please also note, mangiatore is not opening a debate about how poor the restaurants are in San Diego, s/he is asking for your help in dispelling this perception and seeking out deliciousness, so please, chime in with specific recommendations of deliciousness in the San Diego area, from hole-in-the-wall to high end.

      1. re: The Chowhound Team

        I understand the desire to keep posts about restaurants to the right geographical region, but folks in San Diego consider Tijuana and upper baja as part our region and many of us go there for dinner only to return the same night. It is that close. So I would hope we can at least talk about some of the places in Tijuana on this board even though they are technically in Mexico.


        1. re: whatwedig

          I would like to second whatwedig's comments and add that Manzilla restaurant in Ensenada is the second best restaurant I've tried in the San Diego area, after Wine Sellar.

          1. re: whatwedig

            I agree, a lot of us are reluctant to venture across the border these days but even this shall pass ... (the drug violence I mean) ... and SD and TJ ARE one urban area. Sometimes when you are looking for the "best" of a certain thing in San Diego, the answer is that it's in Tijuana! (or Tecate or Ensenada). Getting back to the main point, if the poster doesn't like SD eating now, he's lucky he didn't move here in 1994 when I did ... it was a culinary desert. Now there are some really good spots but I haven't read the whole thread so won't start recommending yet.

            1. re: Bobierto

              This thread is two years old, and was resurrected by accident a few days ago by someone new to the board - it's really outdated now though, and should never have been reactivated (question - if CH does not bring up search results going back more than one year, why don't they close threads to new input after a certain point??) If you have something new to say - please start a new thread!

              1. re: Alice Q

                so SD Restaurants are no longer bad, woohoo!

        2. re: lolisima

          Cool. That post is more than a year old, though. Most of my Mexican food eating now happens at places like Mariscos German, El Comal, Aqui Es Texcoco, and Super Cocina. I've heard from more than one aficionado of Mexican cooking that Las Cuatros Milpas is average at best.

        3. I think as a whole, SD is just a giant suburb and the food reflects that. I really do enjoy Sushi Ota and have found some acceptable food places, but would rather eat the ethnic foods in LA.

          I recently read that the chef at El Bizcocho at the Rancho Bernardo Inn was selected for the Bocuse d'Or competition to represent the U.S this year. What are peoples opinion of this place?

          3 Replies
          1. re: eatslowly

            They've always had the best lobster bisque!

              1. re: diesta

                And the chef has been selected as a competitor in the Next Iron Chef America

          2. yes, NYC, LA, SF, Toronto (Senses was one of the best meals I've ever had!) all have great food at all price ranges but if you hunt and peck, you can find good food in SD.

            The better ones are:
            Jack's La Jolla Formal Dining Room (chef used to be at Jean-Georges)
            El Bizcocho

            None of these will completely stand up to SF, LA or NYC but they're all pretty good.

            2 Replies
            1. re: daantaat

              LA does have great food at all prices, but before I found CH (thanks, everyone!) my policy was NEVER to take a guest to a place I hadn't already tried, because the great majority of restaurants in LA are terrible. This has not been my experience in SF or NYC, and I've lived in LA for 12 years and only visited (many times) SF and NYC.

              On topic: I liked Po Pazzo on (I think) India St. in Little Italy when I used to visit SD more often.

              1. re: daantaat

                I dated a Cordon Blu trained chef and sommelier and we went to everplace in San Diego over the past few years. Yes there isn't an abundance of GREAT restaurants but there are some good ones. While many more restaurants get more publicity in San Diego, I always thought these were the best for quality food, atmoshpere and value. My favorites were in no particular order

                the Prado (if you sit outside)
                Island Prime (outside get the calamari and view is spectacular)
                Ponce's (if you want the best Mexican food in San Diego, nothing fancy just family run quality place)
                Salvatore's downtown for good family Italian
                El Biz
                Sushi Ono (Hillcrest)
                Sushi Ota (PB)
                The Linkery
                Top of the Market

                910 is ok
                Jack's is overrated in my opinion
                Hotel Del is way overrated, not worth going at all except for sunset drinks

                that's my .02

              2. I've also lived in Italy and Spain and other "great food destinations" and can honestly say that San Diego has some great food. At the very least, I can say that I've had some seriously wonderful meals. The last really good meal that comes to mind was Thanksgiving dinner at Terra in Hillcrest.
                It's easy to see the over-generalizations in some of the statements made in the original post. Trust me, not every Italian restaurant is Michelin-rated.

                1. Yes, San Diego is lacking in great restaurants, but there are some terrific choices and it's unfair to compare anywhere with SF, NYC, France, et al. There's too much beautiful weather here...it distracts people with outdoor activities, making it difficult to develop a vibrant dining scene IMHO.

                  But there is:

                  Chive/Kensington Grill/Laurel...all owned by Tracy Borkum
                  Cafe Cerise
                  Cafe Pacifica
                  Sushi Ota

                  Just a few to try...

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: halfstaff

                    Region has been closed for several months now, FYI.

                    1. re: halfstaff

                      Cafe Cerise is also now closed. The sale papers are supposed to be signed at the end of the week and the remaining food inventory has been sold or given to departing employees.

                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        Do you know what Jason Seibert is planning to do ?

                        1. re: honkman

                          I had originally heard he was going to do something locally downtown. Yesterday I was told the downtown gig had fallen through and he was moving to Pasadena.

                          1. re: DiningDiva


                            That sucks. What terrible news.

                            1. re: Josh

                              But perhaps a reason for celebration here in Pasadena?

                    2. I will admit that I sort of gave up a long time ago on high-end San Diego restaurants, the reason being that I felt I was being ripped off every time. I have no problem paying $30 for an entree if the quality matches the price. Thanks to those of you who have given me recommendations. Some of these I've read about, others I know little about. I promise all of you that I will give some of these a shot and report back with my thoughts. If they're good, I'll admit it. I am grateful for the recommendations either way.

                      Also, I agree that there are plenty of tasty medium-end restaurants in SD.

                      1. Ok guys this is all a bit silly. Does SD have a great scene like NYC, Paris, et al.? No. BUT WHO DOES!! There are reasons these places are culinary destinations. Since we don't happen to live in one of the, say 20 top culinary destinations in the World why bother fretting about it? How many truly great culinary scenes exist in America? Four? Six? Come on now, the grass is always greener and SF and Vegas are a cheap, easy flight away.
                        Furthermore, the reality is, whereas there is no Per Se or Le Bernadin in SD, there are more than enough excellent places to keep a non-millionaire busy for life. Seriously guys, speaking only high-end or close, how many of you are honestly going to each of: Marine Room, Nine-ten, Market, Arterra, AR Valentien, Laurel, Mister As, Oceanaire, 1500 Ocean, El Bizcocho, Tapenade, George's, Addison, Jack's, Cavaillion more than once a year? Personally I am very happy if I can hit any combination of those places 12 times a year (NIne-ten and Market get most of those and I must be leaving some out).
                        So, yes, we can't choose between 47 three and four star places every night, but you sure as heck can get a great meal every week without going anywhere more than once every four months. Since the OP says 'I sort of gave up a long time ago on high-end San Diego restaurants' I bet s/he could fill a couple years trying these. I will say that five years ago there weren't as many great places. Further, mangiatore, the places you describe sound like the dreck that clutters the Gaslamp and Hillcrest (to some extent).
                        Go to Market, get the $36 Kobe flat iron. Go to Nine-ten and get the $14 calamari, house-made chorizo, squid ink risotto, and the $13 short rib. If these don't float your boat go to Ba-Ren and burn your tongue off in eternal bliss on the hot pepper prawns and stir fried dry beef.
                        Oh, don't go to Region. Although it was my favorite place it has closed.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: rotochicken

                          You bring up good points rotochicken. Comparing SD to those cities is unfair. I was just hoping that people who have experienced the food in those places might be able to point me toward some diamonds in the rough. You and others have given me some great suggestions.

                          Your point about the Gaslamp and Hillcrest is spot on! I live in central SD and try to avoid N.County due to the traffic. After reading all of your posts, I'm getting the sense that I should change this in order to try the area's best food.

                          1. re: mangiatore

                            For more upscale Italian you might try Vivace in the Four Season Aviara (Carlsbad). Chef Logue worked at Babbo before.


                        2. I've heard mixed things about Addison, Naomi Wise also gave it a middling review in the Reader that you might want to check out. In addition to these recommendations, I'd suggest Jack's, Tapenade, Market and 1500 Ocean. Blanca is also supposed to be very good.

                          1. I moved from Portland (which has amazing food) and previously lived in SF, and have had trouble in San Diego. I would recommend Island Prime, the steaks have always been perfection and the view is unbeatable. Also, the appetizers we've had there (there is one with scallops on risotto that stands out in my mind) have been quite good. There is also Ortegas in hillcrest which has yet to dissapoint. Also Lou and Mickeys in the gaslamp is a good steak house, you're correct, none of these are culinary bliss but there is still a handful of good catches out there.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: cali5189

                              I agree. SD food is sub sub par. And there is no excuse. There are reasons but no excuse. City too small? Portland is the great counterexample. Too much of a suburb? Look at LA. Weather too good? Look at the rest of the state! So much for excuses.

                              Now, as for reasons: Too many midwestern and military and lifetime San Diego people who have never eaten at at the best restaurants of Europe and Asia, because even if they traveled to Europe or Asia, they didn't seek out the best food. The thing about the great food cities is that they have plenty of acceptable food, quite a bit ot very good food, and even some food that dreams are made of, like the sauces at Oustau de Baumanière in Provence that I kept eating even after the fish was gone from my plate. (I've heard they've gone downhill...?)

                              The Asian food isn't as good as other California cities because the diverse ethnic populations to support it aren't as large. Milpitas has better regional Chinese.

                              Food in Chicago (Charlie Trotter's and Aruns in the late '90's when I lived there) is better, Portland (great example!) is better and thriving/experimenting and expanding. San Diego food is embarassing, disappointing, and frustrating.

                              No wonder my Bay Area relatives seem to feel that they play second fiddle to the restaurants when I go there.

                              Sure, every city/region has bad and mediocre food, including Bay Area, but the best food destinations have real gems which delight when found.

                              I have never had the Arun's/Charlie Trotters/Oustau de Baumanière/French Laundry experience in San Diego. Nor have I had the Boyle Heights Gas Station Taco (someone WILL tell me where I can at least get that in San Diego instead of this gringo-ified "Mexican" food) or the pinnacle of any ethnic food here. It must be here, since I did have the real thing at a hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall in Lake Elsinore...


                              1. re: moilechef

                                Some places you should try: Super Cocina on University, Cocina de Maria in Escondido, Pomegranate on El Cajon Blvd., Izakaya Sakura on Convoy, and Laja in Baja California.

                                1. re: moilechef

                                  since I did have the real thing at a hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall in Lake Elsinore...

                                  Please I need to know this place.

                              2. went to college in san diego 15 years ago... so was on a budget and had a different palette. marine room in la jolla and the prince of wales at the hotel del were good back then. i tried to look up a couple of other but they are out of business. good luck.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: alpine chef

                                  The only one I can truly testify to is the hotel del where the food was barely adequate, and the service was right there with it (they were upset when we asked to have our apple crisp warmed through since the center was still cold).

                                  1. re: cali5189

                                    Depends upon how long ago you ate at the Hotel Del, it's food has always been kind of up and down. They hit a very bad patch a couple of years ago after the hotel changed ownership and there was a long labor disupte. As has been noted here already, the tired old Prince of Wales Room was gutted, retooled, refitted and renamed 1500 Ocean (the hotel's address, BTW). Early returns are good.

                                2. The Hotel Del has been extensively remodeled, and their restaurants have changed in the past couple of years. Sheerwater is pretty mediocre, but the Prince of Wales is now 1500 Ocean, which is very good - the Executive Chef opened Per Se under Thomas Keller. Not to say that it's perfect, but it has much improved!


                                  1. I don't think many people would argue that San Diego has the same culinary reputation as S.F. or N.Y or (insert your own city), but I do agree that it is much better then it was 5 years ago, and way better than it was 10 years ago. Good restaurants can be found, they just aren't as prevalent as other areas. I don't eat at extremely expensive places, but I think the food at places like Georges, Kensington Grill, The Prado, Kemo Sabe, Laurel, etc, etc. are nearly as good as other restaurants in other cities (with Comparable prices).

                                    Also, San Diego is a lazy beach community that is in the middle of a many changes. It is trying to compete with some of these other cities, but in reality it's still the same lazy beach town I remember as a child. That being said, I don't know that you can find certain foods anywhere but here. Try to find better Mexican food in this country - ever had a fish taco in NYC?

                                    To some, that is heaven on a plate.

                                    32 Replies
                                    1. re: naven

                                      i am originally from san francisco and love all cuisine in and around the city... but i still get cravings for carne asada from roberto's and nico's. the best fish taco was actually in some obscure place on the way to la bufadora.....

                                      1. re: naven

                                        You can find better Mexican food than what San Diego offers in many cities starting with Los Angeles (and the 5 county area), Chicago, parts of the East Bay in NorCal and parts of North Carolina. With only a few exceptions, the Mexican food in San Diego is really quite ordinary, although for $1.50 the beer-battered shrimp tacos at City College aren't half bad.

                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                          I couldn't agree more. San Diego has ok taquerias, and the fish/shrimp tacos are better than anywhere. Other than that, it's behind the other areas of California with a significant Mexican population.

                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                            Best fish tacos can be found at The Brigantine. End of story.

                                            1. re: Kebab Hunter

                                              Even the fish tacos at Fins (and they were average) were better than the ones at Brigantine.

                                              1. re: honkman

                                                I haven't tried either of those but the best I've had are at South Beach in OB.

                                                1. re: mangiatore

                                                  For $.99 go to El Zarape at the end of Park Blvd., just before it ends at Adams Ave. It's one of the better fish tacos in the City. You can also get a Fish Taco plate for $3.99 with rice and beans. IIRC, you can get your fish grilled or batter fried. This is one of the best deals in town and it's good.

                                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                                    I grew up on Mexican food in San Diego and I have also lived in L.A. and I cannot disagree more - San Diego has fantastic Mexican. L.A. can't hold a candle to the carne asada burritos, quesadillas, and hot carrots found throughout S.D. (particularly at La Posta on Washington Street). Also, we now have Ortega's which is great, Mama Testas for Mexico City style tacos, South Beach for fish tacos and Candelas for upscale Mexico City Mexican.

                                                    1. re: whatwedig

                                                      To each his own, but I'll stand by my original comment. I'm native San Diegan. I grew up eating the Mexican food here too and it was better when I was younger and that was......umm......let's just say it was a while ago.

                                                      I also travel extensively in Mexico and often my trips are expressly to eat, or have a culinary purpose. What passes for (mainstream) Mexican food here in San Diego would not be widely found in many parts of Mexico. I've cooked with a lot of the Mexican food names you'd recognize (Kennedy, Bayless, Trilling) and names you wouldn't. I have a pretty extensive background and foundation in Mexican food, and what San Diego serves "ain't it"

                                                      Mexican food is a heck of a lot more diversified and complex than carne asada burritos and hot carrots. And fish tacos are not, repeat not, indigenous to San Diego. They were, most likely, created somewhere around Acapulco 50-70 years ago. Mama Testa is pretty upscale for a taqueria, but it's hardly "Mexico City Style". Cesar does a great job with tacos; his cochinita pibil is incredibly good and his chorizo is some of the best I've found NOB because he makes it himself.

                                                      The best homestyle Mexican food is at Super Cocina, 37th and University. The best all around Mexican is Chilango's between 1st & 2nd on University. For carnitas try Carnitas Uruapan in Lemon Grove or Por Venir, but neither can really hold a candle to the place that shall remain nameless just outside of Zamora where the mother of all carnitas can be found.

                                                      Although I haven't had the opportunity to do much writing recently, there is a lot of information about Mexican food and Mexico on my blog. Link below


                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                        agreed re: mexican and restauranting in sd in general, a pretty poor showing all around, especially in mexican arena vis a vis the number of "mexican" places to eat

                                                      2. re: whatwedig

                                                        defenitely concur with you whatwedig. once you head north of oceanside mexican food takes a different turn. as a native san diegan i was unpleasantly surprised when i went to school up in irvine and tried to find the mexican food i was used to in san diego. try finding a carne asada or carnitas burrito thats not filled to the brim with rice, lettuce, and beans is close to impossible. ask them for just plain meat, guac, and pico and you'll end up with something that looks like a pre-fried flauta! maybe this is a case of you like what you grew up with, but even years of trips into santa ana, costa mesa, and los angeles ended more with disappointment than satisfaction. that said orange county and los angeles are spread out locals and i probably could have used a better system than pulling over at the first taqeria i saw. i could've used chowhound back then!
                                                        on the other hand i haven't had as many good moles and other more homestyle dishes in san diego. i live north of the downtown area so perhaps my vicinity to the border has something to do with this.

                                                        1. re: daimyo

                                                          "on the other hand i haven't had as many good moles and other more homestyle dishes in san diego. i live north of the downtown area so perhaps my vicinity to the border has something to do with this."


                                                          Your vicinty to the border likely has little to do with the lack of mole, pipanes and guidados in San Diego. The Mexican food that takes hold in particular areas is more representative of the State in Mexico from which primary immigration took place. For years San Diego was a "pass through" destination for immigration in that most didn't stop in San Diego they merely passed through on their way north or east. A great deal of the Mexican immigration to CA was from the States of Jalisco, Colima, Sonora, Sinola and Nayarit, in other words the western states.

                                                          While almost every region has mole, and families have their own proprietary moles, the western Mexican states are not especially known for them. Oaxaca and Puebla are the usual mole destinations. San Diego doesn't have much in the way of a Oaxacan communmity, but Los Angeles does. It's much easier to find good Oaxacan moles in L.A., than it is here because they've got the Oaxacan population, so does Chicago but that would be a rather long road trip. Here's a link to an article from 2004 about Oaxacan food in Los Angeles, IIRC there is info on restaurants serving it, the most famous of which is Guetzeguela (which I've probably spelled totally wrong, it's one of those long, multi-sylabic words I can't pronounce let alone spell). http://www.latimes.com/news/local/val...

                                                          One of the reasons you don't see many moles, pipanes and other guisados on menus is because they don't sell particularly and they're time and labor intensive to produce. Americans have such a narrow concept of what Mexican food is all about that they don't realize that tacos, rolled tacos, burritos (and all their knock offs), etc are just a small part of a much larger and much broader cuisine. If you've emmigrated here, saved up money to open a restaurant, you're going to serve what sells so you can stay business. A good case in point is Las Cuatro Milpas. Their food can't really be classified as good, but it is a little gold mine with people lining up out the door for medicore food. Not only did the owner serve what locals wanted, he convinced a large number that it was good. He's laughing all the way to the bank, plus he's been so successful that now he owns the entire block! Somehow I don't think he would have had the same success selling mole.

                                                          For many Americans mole is an acquired taste. For homestyle try Super Cocina. If you've got some extra cash try El Agave which usually offers several varieties of mole. If you're really into it, you can even try exploring some of the places in CV and San Ysidro, just remember there's bad Mexican food on both sides of the border ;-


                                                          Like the U.S., Mexico is a big country. And just as the U.S. has lots of regional cuisines, so does Mexico. What develops in this country is going to reflect the region from which the immigrants are (were) coming, and for CA, up until the last 10 years or so, that meant the western states. So our Mexican food here is going to reflect those regions more than others.

                                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                                            DD, what other restaurant would you recommend in SD for good moles ? The problem with Super Cocina for me are their business hours. They close at 8.30pm, that's too early for me work schedule. Are there any other restaurants/hole-in-the-walls you would recommend for good moles ?

                                                            1. re: honkman

                                                              Your best bet really is a road trip to L.A.

                                                              But barring that, your next best bet is probably Chilango's or El Agave. I know there are a lot of people on this board that don't like El Agave, but your chances of getting a mole made from scratch rather than a jar are probably better here than elsewhere. I know I've seen mole on the Chilango menu every now and then.

                                                              Kare_Raisu has found several places in the Escondido/North County area serving mole. That's a bit of a schlepp for me so I haven't been able to his finds yet. But if you're closer to Escondido you might want to search some of his old posts.

                                                              I have not seen mole on very many restaurant menus in San Diego. And to be honest, while I like mole, and depending on the type of mole, it doesn't send me over the moon and it would not typically be something I'd opt for when ordering. I actually prefer pipian as it's a little lighter - though not usually as complex - and Chilango's does a really nice job with pipian.

                                                              If you can find a good source for mole paste rather than the jar, it's pretty easy to make it yourself at home.

                                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                I'm with you on a Pipian over a Mole but both send me over the moon. Do you like Pipian rojo or verde?

                                                                PS I miss your posts on the blog!

                                                                1. re: kare_raisu

                                                                  I like them both :-), it's hard to choose rojo or verde. I'd probably say I like rojo just a bit better.

                                                              2. re: honkman

                                                                Super Cocina is open 7 days a week, FYI.

                                                                1. re: Josh

                                                                  But it is still only open until 8pm on weekends. I am normally busy during the day and I guess it is my Southern Europe influence but I hardly ever start dinner before 8pm.

                                                                2. re: honkman

                                                                  DD is right on the money with her advice.

                                                                  re. LA: Do a search for Guelaguetza on the boards. Fantastic restaurant - period. http://www.guelaguetzarestaurante.com/

                                                                  Check out Santa Ana's own Mole shop: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/328646
                                                                  Best prepared mole I have ever bought. Delicious.

                                                                  N. SD:
                                                                  Mi Pueblo Supermercado has mole in their guisados section -abc Mole Poblano.

                                                                  El Tigre rarely - if ever has it.

                                                                  Have you had a Mole Negro Tamal from Panaderia Ortiz yet? http://www.chowhound.com/topics/326741
                                                                  They also sell the oaxacan paste (in fridge negro and rojo) Last time they also had prepared cecina and clayudas.

                                                                  My favorite restaurant in Escondido has a homemade mole which is so popular it is served everyday I believe now. Not just weekends.
                                                                  Across the street is a restaurant run by Pueblans called Sabor a Mexico, their two specialities is Mole Poblano and Cemitas poblana. I have yet to eat here...will next time. I know already the mole's gunna be good.

                                                                  Have you ever made mole from the jar before? Try out the Rogelio Bueno brand, imo better than dona maria. As easy as boiling some chicken or pork and addins stock to paste.

                                                                  1. re: kare_raisu

                                                                    Sorry to say I haven't been to Panaderia Ortiz yet. I just don't get to Escondido all that often. But you mentioned cecina and that might be enough for me to make a road trip. Cemitas would be a draw as well.

                                                                    Rogelio Bueno *is* better than Dona Maria. It's our "go to" mole for catering. Mole paste is something that you can bring back from Mexico without too much problem. I have jars that I bought from Susana Trilling that I brought back from Oaxaca. Her Coloradito is amazing. Zingerman's sells her chocolate de metate ($15+/lb), they also might sell her jarred mole sauces. If they do, do not hesitate to buy them you won't be disappointed.

                                                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                      You'll want to call Panaderia Ortiz ahead and see if they're serving food that day. I live very nearby and pass through there frequently, but I've never seen food being prepared. Maybe I'll stop by today and ask.
                                                                      Baja Foods on 9th Ave. and Quince in Escondido has refurbished their taqueria, and my husband and I feel it is the best we've had in SoCal. He had begrudgingly grown accustomed to CA-style Mexican food (I did not), but we both agree we won't be buying tacos anywhere else now. Baja also sells some mole pastes in the back with the carne, and they occasionally feature hard-to-find products that I've never seen outside of Mexico. It's hit or miss, though.
                                                                      Rodeo's meat market in San Marcos has mole pastes, and they are one of the few that always stock ate de membrillo for me to eat with my Spanish manchego (Mi Pueblo in Escondido often carries it too).

                                                                  2. re: honkman

                                                                    Try the mole's at Jimmy Carters Mexican Restaurant!
                                                                    They are decent at least.

                                                                  3. re: DiningDiva

                                                                    You make very good points about our skewed perception of what constitutes "Mexican cuisine," which is based largely on the peasant cookery of the west (especially northwest), and invariably involves refritos, rice, lettuce, cheese and one or another meat in a spicy sauce atop or inside some shape of fried or soft tortilla. It's really limited compared to the range of cooking styles and ingredients found across a very diverse country.

                                                                    I lived in San Diego 1991-2001, and I can't think of a single memorable experience with Mexican food north of TJ, Rosarito and Ensenada. It's the same unimaginative stuff as you'd find in almost any American city.

                                                                    And thanks for reminding me of Las Cuatro Milpas! Their big fat tamales had more lard than anywhere else on earth. A Barrio Logan amigo of mine warned me against it ("Don't go there man -- too much manteca!"), but as a pork fat lover I went anyway...and was very sorry.

                                                                    I moved to Chicago in 2001 and survived only three winters before moving to the SF Bay Area. Chicago is a great eating destination, of course. They have a very large Mexican population from all over Mexico, and they have -- in my opinion -- the best Mexican food in the U.S., from creative taquerias to superb upscale establishments like the ones owned by Rick Bayless. You can get the usual tacos and burritos, of course, but most places have much more interesting choices on their menus.

                                                                    Alas, back here in the East Bay, not so good. Maybe better than San Diego, but not by much.

                                                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                      I'll admit my experience with "homestyle" mexican cuisine is quite limited even non-existant. I'm definitely used to the run of the mill stuff you get at most mexican places in San Diego. That said I still enjoy the San Diego's non-homestyle (for lack of a better term) tacos, burritos, etc versus Orange County and Los Angles.
                                                                      You mentioned pipanes and guidados. Can you elaborate on these? Even if i saw them on a menu I'd have no idea what they are. Thanks!

                                                                      1. re: daimyo

                                                                        Guisados are Mexican stews. Super Cocina would be a great introduction for you.

                                                                        1. re: Josh

                                                                          Josh, guisados are much more than 'Mexican stews'. Guisar is the verb that is used here in Mexico to describe stove-top cooking rather than hornear (baking) or preparing foods on the comal (griddle) or on the parrilla (grill).

                                                                          There's even a dicho (saying) here: 'Ya sabe guisar, ya puede casarse'... she knows how to cook, now she can get married.

                                                                          A Mexican friend once ate dinner at my house and commented with gusto, 'Tú sí sabes guisar bien!' It was the highest compliment.

                                                              3. re: mangiatore

                                                                Hey guys, try the fish tacos at Blue Water Grill!!!

                                                                They have a fresh fish counter and you can pick whatever fresh fish you want and they will grill it on the spot for you.

                                                                Portions are usually very generous too!!

                                                                They don't have any great salsa, relying on bottled stuff, but the fish is so good, it doesn't really matter.

                                                        2. re: naven

                                                          I have to disagree on these restaurants listed by naven. Kensington Grille is
                                                          good but not great. The Prado is just plain mediocre. I've never eaten at the Laurel, but I've consistently heard that it's overpriced for the food they offer -- my biggest pet pieve about food in this city.

                                                          1. re: mangiatore

                                                            I've not had good experience with Kensington Grille - since when is the dessert course ever completely inedible - but all my experiences with Laurel have been excellent. Laurel flies high, but it doesn't soar, and I don't think the kitchen is capable of soaring. I've had several meals there and I am a fan, but I am not sure the they've got the talent in the kitchen to go to the next level. Their prices are on the high end and I think they're really pushing the envelope on the price/value issue. I've never been disappointed with anything I've orders, a few things have even wowed me, and while everything was well executed, there were some dishes that could have been way better with better (i.e. sophistication, attention to detail, flavor combination) execution.

                                                            But what Laurel does offer are options. There is always a $32 prix fixe meal on the menu and it isn't composed of the downscale items on the menu. It also has a 7 for $7 before 7 PM, which is 7 drinks (cocktails and wine) and 7 appetizers all for $7 each before 7 PM. So, it's basically a $7 happy hour. Plus, you've got the room at Laurel. It's whimsical, it's sophisticated, it's urbane, it's comfortable and it's hard to beat that staircase for making a grand entrance.

                                                            Same owner, but Laurel is far better done and more consistent than Kensington Grille.

                                                            1. re: DiningDiva

                                                              FYI - I think all 3 Tracy Borkum restaurants - Chive, KG and Laurel - have new chefs within the past six months. The jury is still out on Chive, but the reports seem to indicate that KG and Laurel are much improved.

                                                          2. re: naven

                                                            Best mexican food in the country? You must not have traveled much. Best fish taco i have eaten in San Diego isn't at a mexican place it is the Brig. I think of San DIego as including North COunty. Pamplemousse is good eatin as is Milles fleurs. San Diego struggles in the everyday regular Joe food category. As big as the city is i am constanly amazed at the mediocrity of the everyday chow. Sysco is alive and thriving in Reheat diego.

                                                            As to Good high end restaurants, I disagree with the original poster. We have good creative chefs who use great local ingredients(chino farms), and you don't have to wear a coat to eat at their restaurants. It is a beach community. YOu want MIchelin go to New York. Enjoy the beach there and the fruits and vegetables flown in from california.

                                                            1. re: SeanT

                                                              With all due respect, I disagree. If you browse these boards you will see some recommendations for excellent inexpensive to mid-level restaurants. To some extent it depends on what neighborhood you are in though. The urban and coastal areas have a lot more independent high-quality options. Check out this thread for some recommendations:

                                                              As far as Mexican food goes - I think it depends on what type you are talking about. The first meal most of our friends from out of town want when they come to visit is a plate of rolled tacos and a carne asada burrito from a local taco shop. It may not be haute cuisine, but it's pretty darned delicious when it's fresh. Personally, I cannot stand the fish tacos at the Brig. They are loaded with yellow cheddar cheese, which is about as Mexican as Polish sausage.

                                                            1. re: mangiatore

                                                              Yes, and, to me, it's too hit-or-miss to be tried. I will say their kobe beef burger and parmesan truffle fries were the one hit I've had there, but the other two dining experiences there were mediocre.

                                                              1. re: phee

                                                                I saw similar comments on Zagat's site. I'm trying to decide which of the high-end places to try first (I only have so much $). This helps so thanks.

                                                                1. re: mangiatore

                                                                  In no particular order, try

                                                                  The Marine Room
                                                                  1500 Ocean
                                                                  El Biz

                                                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                    I think it's worth mentioning that the Marine Room and el Bizcocho have a much more formal - some would say stuffy - atmosphere than 1500 Ocean. Most of their patrons probably prefer them that way, but I like something a little more lively myself

                                                                    In the Downtown metro area, I really like Parallel 33, Cafe Chloe and Chive, and just recently had a good meal at Red Pearl Kitchen (though I don't recommend a visit on a weekend night unless you really like crowds!)

                                                                    I'd also recommend the mussels at Vagabond, the duck confit at Modus, and the Linkery, where the menu changes every week.

                                                                    I definitely think that San Diego restaurants are getting better - both in terms of what they serve and how they cook it - and I think that trend will continue as long as the local community supports it. San Diego is a tough market, as others have mentioned, but I think people are gradually becoming more aware of the difference between good food and chain restaurant dreck. Witness the success of Market and Modus - two new restaurants showcasing local products which are incredibly busy. The best thing we can do is keep going to and talking about these restaurants, and hope that their success will bring others in their wake!

                                                                    1. re: Alice Q

                                                                      I don't find the dining room stuffy at The Marine Room. El Biz, yes, but not the Marine Room. I've always thought that for the quality of the food and service the room is actually too casual and understated.

                                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                        Maybe stuffy isn't the right word - but there's something about the atmosphere that just seems a bit staid and dated to me. I don't know - it's a great view, but you're right, the room just doesn't live up to the surroundings, or the food. Also - what happened to the cool sign they used to have on Torrey Pines Road - did it get stolen or did they take it down?

                                                                  2. re: mangiatore

                                                                    if you're on a budget, go to Market and/or Cavaillon first. 3 courses will run around $40-50/person. Cavaillon has a Monday night $32 3 course prix fixe.

                                                                2. re: mangiatore

                                                                  was there last week. salad was underdressed and underseasoned. quite frankly, it was dry as could be. the goat cheese on the salad was dry and crumbly. not sure if that was their intent but it wasn't good. duck on corn with cherry sauce was "ok," nothing special. duck was crispy on the outside but overdone on the inside. pear tart tatine was decent, but again, nothing special. I though it got too sweet towards the end of the dish.

                                                                  last time I went, my lamb chops were overdone.

                                                                  If you're in the area, I'd just go east about a mile or so to Market. MUCH better food and prices are equivalent, if not slightly less.

                                                                  1. re: daantaat

                                                                    daantaat, your meal last week, Laurel or Pamplemousse?

                                                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                      Must be Pamplemousse - it is about a mile or two West of Market. Laurel is not. Agree that Pamplemousse is hit or miss - mostly miss. Market is very, very good. Very similar to Nine-ten in style and price. At this point I give the (slight) nod to Nine-ten, but Market will likely improve as it gets rolling and fully stabilized. Can't really go wrong at either (Did I mention that Kobe flat iron at Market?).

                                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                        Pamplemousse--somehow my original post didn't go thru until after the "Market and Cavaillon" one, so the sequence was confusing.

                                                                  2. This is a great thread. I live in LA and have found this to be the best thread on San Diego restaurants I might want to try. Thanks especially to the OP, mangiatore, and to Josh.

                                                                    1. I've actually had quite a number of great meals at Meritage in Encinitas; great wine list, fabulous service, and perfect-prepared meals. I have lived in San Diego, Los Angeles, and now San Francisco so I've eaten around the state quite a bit.

                                                                      Gee, I miss the days of Piret's though...

                                                                      1. Josh, I just tried Buga for lunch. First time I've had Korean. I ordered the first lunch box on their lunch menu. The beef was really tasty, the rest of it was ok. As I looked around I realized a lot of people were eating some kind of red-colored soup or stew. Any specific recommendations from their menu? I know nothing about Korean food.

                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                        1. re: mangiatore

                                                                          First timer, eh? Not sure about the lunch boxes - never been there for lunch. My suggestion would be to go for dinner and order the BBQ items to grill at the table. Bulgogi is very good, as is the Black Canadian Berkshire Pork. They are served with thinly sliced daikon radish, rice paper, and numerous plates of side dishes called panchan.

                                                                          1. re: mangiatore

                                                                            get bulgogi, marinated beef ribs, jap chae, bi bim bap, and/or beef short rib soup to start with. for more info and pics on Buga and Korean food, go to Kirk K's blog, mmm-yoso.typepad.com

                                                                            1. re: mangiatore

                                                                              the red "soup" is the soft tofu i think.

                                                                            2. After living in Seattle for a few years, San Diego's food really makes me sad. I don't quite have the cash flow to afford the "good" food of San Diego. In Seattle, good food was everywhere and it was CHEAP. One place I've found though, is Bangkok Bay thai restaurant in Solana Beach. It's just a little place in a strip mall, but it's cute (tons of plants everywhere), has good prices, and the food is excellent! Everything I've tried there has been just great.

                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                              1. re: devilbunnies

                                                                                welcome to california!

                                                                                thai, mexican, and noodle houses are cheep and pretty good,...... also there right here in SD.

                                                                                try little sheep on convoy

                                                                                reading some of these posts is what makes me sad

                                                                                1. re: devilbunnies

                                                                                  More like "Welcome to San Diego"!

                                                                                  Do you like Mexican?

                                                                                    1. re: chrizzel

                                                                                      Wah... Wah.... in Seattle they generally have no clue about acceptable Mexican much less good Mexican.

                                                                                2. Since the restaurants are so bad here, what do you people do? Cook at home?

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: naven

                                                                                    Yeah, pretty much. I NEVER eat at Italian restaurants, not because I don't believe there are any good Italian restaurants in SD, but because I know from experience I'll have to go through 5 or 6 or more to find one that's acceptable or relatively good. I eat at cheap holes in the wall because at least if the food's bad I won't have paid twice what it's worth.

                                                                                    1. re: mangiatore

                                                                                      It's not in a trendy area like Gaslamp or Little Italy, but there is indeed great Italian to be had here. Try Antica Trattoria (www.AnticaTrattoria.com). It's our go-to place for consistently high quality Italian fare. Word of warning, the secret's out and it's pretty crowded lately. They had a recent feature in the UT, then another one the following week in an advertorial column (said it was a surprise and not paid for), as well as a new feature in SD Home & Garden. We went last night and the place was packed.

                                                                                      So, call for a reservation! And report back...hopefully this myth that SD has no place to eat will soon be dispelled.

                                                                                  2. As you will see if you reread my OP, I want to hear about places in SD with great food. It doesn't matter whether they're high-end or not. While it's true that I can't afford to eat at high-end restaurants every night, the real reason I haven't tried more of them in SD is because of my fear of getting ripped off, which happens all too often. Here is a partial list of places that I consider a major ripoff or just plain bad:

                                                                                    Parallel 33 - ripoff, overrated. All show, little substance
                                                                                    Kensington Grille - overrated and overpriced
                                                                                    La Vache - ripoff, bad food
                                                                                    De Medici (long time ago) - ripoff
                                                                                    Panevino - price doesn't match the quality
                                                                                    La Strada - bad
                                                                                    Old Venice - very bad
                                                                                    Prado - nice setting, mediocre food
                                                                                    India Princess - 1 great dish, 2 bland ones
                                                                                    Brockton Villa - horrible food
                                                                                    Taste of Thai - mediocre
                                                                                    Trattoria Fantastica - pasta swimming in sauce
                                                                                    World Curry - gimmicky place, bland food
                                                                                    Saffron - tried it twice. Worst part was pieces of burnt ginger in my food.
                                                                                    Donovan's - nice restaurant, quality of food does not match the price
                                                                                    The Wine Vault - nice setting and really nice people who run it, but this place is basically only good if you're looking for cheap food and wine, and that's about it. Although I had fun, I would not go back.
                                                                                    A couple more restaurants downtown whose names I can't remember.

                                                                                    Here are some places I like because I don't feel like I'm getting ripped off:

                                                                                    Wine Sellar - excellent all around
                                                                                    Sushi Ota - excellent (if you sit at the sushi bar)
                                                                                    Park House Diner - excellent breakfast
                                                                                    Amarin Thai
                                                                                    Morton's - I'm not a steak expert, but the Porterhouse was one of the best things I've tasted in SD.
                                                                                    Golden Dragon - good for the price
                                                                                    Spices Thai - good for the price, especially the lunch specials
                                                                                    Izakaya Sakura - just tried it. Thanks for the recommendation everyone!
                                                                                    Ba Ren - just tried it, liked the pork boiled in hot sauce more than the stir-fried dried beef and the hot prawns, but overall great value. Thanks for the recommendation everyone!
                                                                                    South Beach - for fish/shrimp/lobster tacos and vodka oyster shooters
                                                                                    Buon Appetito - not bad. I didn't feel like I got ripped off.

                                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: mangiatore

                                                                                      Agreed about Old Venice, World Curry, Taste of Thai, Prado, and Saffron. Have had good experiences at India Princess, I'd suggest giving them another go. Otherwise, I've avoided all the other places on your list.

                                                                                      Glad to see you liked Ba Ren and Sakura. Tajima is another Japanese place in Kearny Mesa you might enjoy. Similar to Sakura, but different options. Salt-grilled mackerel is excellent.

                                                                                      1. re: Josh

                                                                                        Thanks again for the suggestions on Ba Ren and Sakura. I'll give Tajima a try as well.

                                                                                        As for India Princess, I hesitated to list them because I've only heard go things and I have this feeling we may have had bad luck. Plus, one of our dishes (lamb saag) was really good. I'll give it another shot.

                                                                                        1. re: mangiatore

                                                                                          I've had better luck there with vegetarian items overall. My one bad experience was some tough lamb, but I told the waiter and they brought a new one that was perfect.

                                                                                        1. re: mangiatore

                                                                                          Ba Ren on Diane? Yeah, what a jewel. We (gringos) went with a young man who could read some asian and was able to navigate the menu better than us, and what a treat. I also love their "salad bar." I don't want to know what it is; i just point and enjoy. Jasmine's has wonderful dim sum.

                                                                                        2. Interesting thread. We have lived in LA and Boston and have experienced food extensively in NY and SF as well as some of the better food cities around the world... While SD does not have the number of great restaurants of these cities, there are some. You just have to look for them. A lot have been mentioned here... We would agree with Pamplemousse, Tapenade, El Bizcocho, Market, 1500 Ocean and Nine-Ten. We would also add Cafe Chloe (for more casual) and Dobson's. Not the breadth of a list you would get from the great food cities, but enough to rotate around the city. And for Italian, we like La Taverna in the La Jolla Cove area.

                                                                                          1. I would also argue that there is a lack of good, moderate places as well. I have lived in NYC and even my friends who make $2 million/year don't eat every night or even once a week at the Babbo, Per Se, San Pietro restaurants, etc. Conversely, one can have an outstanding meal at Delfina in SF without coming anywhere close to breaking the bank.

                                                                                            The one common thing I do notice lacking in the majority of restaurants in SD is service, bread, and wine....I can go to most restaurants in NYC or SF and find a good restaurant with excellent bread (i.e. with crust, not day old bread) and one that will have an excellent wine by the glass selection (I have rarely, if ever, had a bad glass of wine in SF--compare that to some of the offerings of mentioned restaurants in this post such as Chive and Kensington Grill and I will argue that I have been challenged to find a good wine by the glass that isn't too young). Then, of course, do not get me started on service.

                                                                                            This being said, I have managed to drive around town and find a number of acceptable restaurants. Sure, Tapenade is exccellent but it is not a place I am going to dine at once a week, etc. Those in a more popular price point range that I have found to be quite good include 3rd Corner, The Vine, Athens Market, Apertivo, Bernini's Bistro, Baci, Salvatores, and Jordan at Tower 23. Places I am not a fan of that others rave about include Modus, Jacks, China Max, and Cafe Chloe--it is good but I would not award it a Michelin star as some on this board are prepared to do.

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: El Chevere

                                                                                              I second the nomination of Baci. Whenever I am in San Diego I try to go there. Superb and classic Italian food and gracious service.

                                                                                            2. ALright buddy i'll give you some help.

                                                                                              Since i was born and raised on the more delicious restaurants in LA and NY, i'll give you some slightly comparable ones in San Diego.

                                                                                              Osestra (if you want the more NY style seafood)

                                                                                              just try those three. Dont try anything else.

                                                                                              the problem is if you're trying to compare it to LA/NY food you won't get the EXQUISITE items selections in SD. I mean.. food can't compare, but food is also significantly cheaper.

                                                                                              If you're complaining about spending money in SD (and not having enough money) i'll be hard pressed to believe you can complain about food in SD when CUT/Per-Se/Daniel like restaurants are all easily 150+ min a person. While in SD i dont think i can find a place that'll charge me 150$ a person even if i go all out.

                                                                                              BUt i do agree, i love food in NY. *drool* of course i spent about 300-400$ every meal with my gf, opposed to rarely breaking 120 in SD.


                                                                                              1. Thanks to everyone I haven't thanked so far! I've been running around trying to hit as many of your suggestions as possible. I haven't had the opportunity to go to any of the higher end places yet, but I've already tried Buga, Izakaya Sakura, and Ba Ren. All were worth it, and Izakaya Sakura is my favorite so far. I had the Japanese meatloaf with ponzu sauce and my date had the Sukiyaki Don. Both were great. And for $21 including a 20% tip?! Are you kidding me? This is the type of place San Diego needs more of. Of the more expensive ones, so far you have me convinced that I need to hit El Bizcocho, Market and Nine-Ten first.

                                                                                                5 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: mangiatore

                                                                                                  Sakura has been my favorite since I first ate there 5 or 6 years ago. I would just add that I see no Vietnamese places on your list. While not haute cuisine, I think SD has some fine Vietnamese food and it is always good value. As others have mentioned, check out Kirkk's blog for the best insight into Asian dining in SD:


                                                                                                  Good eating!


                                                                                                  1. re: Ed Dibble

                                                                                                    Ok...so I actually left one out. On your recommendation, I read Kirkk's blog and ending up going to Pho Hoa in Linda Vista. I figured I'd just dive in, so I ordered the one with beef and everything else -- tripe, tendon, etc. I'm not a tripe guy. I shouldn't have done that. I need to go back and try something my stomach can handle.

                                                                                                    1. re: mangiatore

                                                                                                      Did you like the tendon at least? When it is cooked right, it should just about melt in your mouth. Mmmm...

                                                                                                      1. re: mangiatore

                                                                                                        I found the broth at Pho Hoa more hearty. If you like a bit more anise flavor in your pho I'd give Lucky Pho at Lucky Seafood on Mira Mesa Bl a try. The broth does very a bot between visits, but I think the broth has a little for going for it IMO. And I've never had bad noodles there either. And you can't beat the $4.25 price for a regular bowl...although I'm a little bitter it went up from $3.95.

                                                                                                        1. re: daimyo

                                                                                                          Thanks for the suggestion daimyo. That's pretty close to where I work, and I've been looking for new lunch options.

                                                                                                  2. I will agree with you on most parts. Most of the high end places do not seem worth it to me. While there are som every good moderatley priced places, they are few and far between. What San Diego does have going for it is a wonderful brewing scene. Right now SD seeems to be at the epicenter of excellent craft brews. If you can, try some Stone, Port Brewing, Alpine or Alesmith beers. They are all producing great stuff that is not readily available in other parts of the country especiallyu on cask.

                                                                                                    1. I lived in SD from 2001-2006 on a college student's budget. I like good food, but I'm not going to be a snob about it, so here's my recs on places I've liked and frequented over the years.

                                                                                                      - Spice & Rice (downtown La Jolla) - nice setting, decent prices, good service
                                                                                                      - Trattoria Aqua (also downtown La Jolla) - same as above (plus added sentimental value. Fiance & I had our first date there!)
                                                                                                      - Tofu House (Convoy) - good, cheap, fast, fun with friends
                                                                                                      - Buga - people have mentioned already. But better KBBQ is found in Los Angeles. You take what you can get, I suppose.
                                                                                                      - Bronx Pizza (Hillcrest) - something like a NY pizza. Better than nothing.
                                                                                                      - Chipotle - Chowhounds may rip me a new one, but I don't care! I freaking love Chipotle and you can't change my mind.

                                                                                                      1. I think Georges is super. They have just gone thru a complete remodeling of interior, menu, focus - to "modern california", but my guess is that it will be as wonderful if not better than before. Best meal we ever ate was there. Short ribs to die for on top of lightly smoked mashed potatoes. Before short ribs were the newest fad.

                                                                                                        1. There are many places better than Brasserie, at least since Doug Organ moved on. George's, Mollys, Blanca, Nine-Ten and Market can all be very good -- although only George's is never far off its best and always classy.
                                                                                                          kazumi is Hillcrest is close to Ota for Sushi and if you have Japanese speaking friends, Kaga Sushi in Chula Vista is close to Tsukiji (Tokyo) quality. Zero English however

                                                                                                          For Dim SUm Pearl trumps Jasmine or Emerald. For SIchuan the Sinologists and Chinese grad students debate between Ba Ren, Spicy City and Dede's

                                                                                                          The marine Room is like bad country club food for retired, cranky midwestern executives. overdone in every way

                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: oeno

                                                                                                            Hmmm...........I'm not retired, definitely not from the midwest and I'm rarely cranky. I happen to like the Marine Room and have since I was 5 years old. It's all a matter of taste and opinion. I had Christmas dinner at the Marine Room, appetizer, entree and wine(s) were well done, dessert could have been better.

                                                                                                            1. re: oeno

                                                                                                              Ba Ren is so overrated, i just don't understand why people like it so much.

                                                                                                              Its significantly overpriced compared to Dede's. sigh.

                                                                                                              and Kaga is nice if you know someone that's japanese, or you are SOL, i was talking to another sushi chef who is good friends with the owner of Kaga and explicitely told me my chances of getting served there are slim unless i bring my japanese friend sitting next to me (i'm chinese)

                                                                                                              I kinda agree with Marine Room. Its cool... but... i dunno its not particularly special in my opinion. Its pretty tho!

                                                                                                              and with Pearl... i'm just not a fan of food coming from the kitchen not in a push cart, my experiences have never been great in LA or in SD, but thats probably my own luck. But i did try Pearl when it first opened in RB, its not bad, just not that great. In all honesty not much good Dimsum in San Diego to begin with.

                                                                                                              But since Jet Li eats at Emerald i occasionally do as well =P


                                                                                                              1. re: clayfu

                                                                                                                what would you recommend if someone wanted "non-dim sum" chinese food in san diego?

                                                                                                            2. As an antidote to those corn-starchy, generic Chinese places, Ba-Ren rocks. Every dish I've had has been great. I can't say that about any other place.

                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: ac3197

                                                                                                                dede's is cheaper than Ba-ren and the same if not better quality in my book.

                                                                                                                the ladies are also really nice there , but... older chinese women always love college chinese students who speak crappy chinese.


                                                                                                                1. re: clayfu

                                                                                                                  I gotta disagree with you on this one. First off, Dede's doesn't use enough Peppercorns, second many of the dishes at Dede's lack the depth of flavor and layering of heat of the dishes at Ba Ren(each type of heat is different). In fact, my favorite dishes at Dede's are the cumin lamb(not even Sichuan), and the Spicy Fish slices. I will say this, the dishes at Dede's use less oil, and as a whole are not as spicy as Ba Ren's.

                                                                                                                  1. re: KirkK

                                                                                                                    That was the only thing I didn't like about Ba Ren -- way too much oil.

                                                                                                                    1. re: KirkK

                                                                                                                      i tried most of the dishes you recommended awhile back from your blog and i was sadly disappointed =( It was okay, just so oily . It was super spicy which is nice, it just wasn't very special beyond that. I think we may just be looking for different flavors in the dish.

                                                                                                                      but i've just yet to be disappointed by any dish at DeeDee's. Their Luffa Melon with crab "sauce" is so delicious.

                                                                                                                      maybe i have unique szechuan tastes =P or maybe i just have unique tastes period.

                                                                                                                      I GREATLY DISLIKE PINKBERRY, I SAID IT SHOOT ME NOW WORLD!!! hehe

                                                                                                                2. It's not that the restaurants in San Diego are bad, it's that we have less to choose from than San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York. This is not a place where eating out is a way of life, the way it is in the above places. In the wide scheme of life this fact should matter about as much as a speck of dust.

                                                                                                                  Daimyo- have you tried Maxim's in City Heights for non dim sum Chinese? Also, you mentioned a Pho Hoa in Linda Vista, are they affiliated with the Pho Hoa on El Cajon Boulevard?

                                                                                                                  Dining Diva- Have you eaten at Casa Sanchez in East County? If not, give them a whirl. I would like to know your opinion.

                                                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: Dagney

                                                                                                                    The last Casa Sanchez I ate in was in the Mission District in SF. Since I live in the dreaded East County, tell me where I can find this one :-)

                                                                                                                    1. re: Dagney

                                                                                                                      pho hoa in LV is not affiliated with anyone but themselves =P


                                                                                                                      1. re: clayfu

                                                                                                                        Actually the Son of the Owner of Pho Hoa Huong owns Pho Sao Bien in PB.

                                                                                                                      2. re: Dagney

                                                                                                                        No, I've never tried Maxim...is that over by Little Caesars and the new Thai place?

                                                                                                                      3. Ha! East County is a dreaded place. So sad but true.

                                                                                                                        Casa Sanchez is located at 1530 Jamacha Road, in a tiny mall, (I hestitate to say "strip mall", because the businesses there are small neighborhood places). The lunch menu is fairly basic, but the dinner menu has a few more creative choices than most tiny Mexican Restaurants. Now, I have NOT eaten at Super Cocina yet, so don't throw a taco at me if Casa Sanchez doesn't measure up.

                                                                                                                        1. Get your butt to South Beach restaurant in Ocean Beach for the most amazing seafood tacos in the world! Then report back to me.

                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                          1. re: SungSook

                                                                                                                            Not sure who you're talking to, but I couldn't agree more!

                                                                                                                          2. I like baci so much--it is on my cell phone inventory.

                                                                                                                            1. South Beach fish tacos. Yes. Yes. Dagney like. Plus you get the whole OB thing as a metaphysical side dish.

                                                                                                                              1. Hi everyone,

                                                                                                                                I just wanted you to know that I've tried many of your suggestions and have been pretty happy with the results so far. I intend to keep trying others you've recommended. I still haven't had the chance to get to the high-end places yet, but I will soon. Here are my impressions so far:

                                                                                                                                Izakaya Sakura - very good, especially for the price. "Japanese meatloaf" and Sukiyaki Don were both tasty.

                                                                                                                                Ba Ren - although it was far too oily for my taste, I will definitely give it another try. I really liked the pork boiled in hot sauce. The stir-fried dried beef and the hot prawns were just ok.

                                                                                                                                Super Cocina - awesome. So far, the enchilado de puerco at S.Cocina is the best dish I've tried from your recommendations.

                                                                                                                                Cafe Chloe - very good. I ordered the special, Croque Monsieur (french ham, gruyere, wild mushrooms, truffled morray sauce). Great beer list too, and the place itself is obviously very quaint (if a little loud due to traffic).

                                                                                                                                Punjabi Tandoor - other than the fresh, right-out-of-the-pan naan, I didn't see anything particularly special about this place. I ordered the lunch special; is it better if you order off the menu?

                                                                                                                                India Princess - first time was a thumbs down (2 bland dishes, 1 great one). I gave it a second shot the other night, this time opting for the buffet, and it was EXCELLENT. My friend and I liked almost everything we tried, especially the vegetable khorma. The chutneys were also excellent.

                                                                                                                                Kazumi Sushi - one of the worst experiences I've had in San Diego. Shabby, bad service, too expensive for the quality. Quality of the food was about like Sushi Deli but without the fun.

                                                                                                                                Bread et Cie - two friends and I tried 3 different sandwiches, and all three were great. Best bread I've had in San Diego.

                                                                                                                                Buga - ordered the first lunch special on the list. The beef was succulent and delicious, the rest of it was so-so. Josh, per your recommendation, I plan on trying it for dinner.

                                                                                                                                Thanks again for all your recommendations!!! Much appreciated!

                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                1. re: mangiatore

                                                                                                                                  I really like the dry cooked lamb. Pretty spicy but not so overwhelming to cover the taste of the lamb. I thought it was very good. I'm assuming its a different preparation than the stir fried dried beef because there's a separate dry cooked beef.

                                                                                                                                2. I have been following this posting since the beginning and I just wanted to say that I agree with the original post-San Diego just does not have one excellent restaurant. We do have many good restaurants. I think Tapenade, Laurel, 1500 ocean, Marine room and a few others are very good restaurants and I really enjoy going and almost always have a wonderful experience. But none of these places blow me away like some places in SF, NYC, CHI, LA, Italy, France. I want a place like Cyrus in Sonoma, Gary Danko in SF, French Laundry, Alinea in chicago, gramercy tavern, Daniel or Le Bernardin in NYC. I have eaten at these places and I was left speechless in every case. The food was amazing, the service spot on and the style unique. I did have to drop a lot cash in each place, but every single time it was worth it.

                                                                                                                                  I know that the above mentioned places are in food rich cities, but I have had the same type of meals in smaller cities than SF, Chicago or NYC and even smaller than San Diego. Frasca in Boulder, CO was great and I just ate at Binkleys in Cave Creek, AZ. At Binkleys we were served 16 different amuse because we had to wait for our table for 20 minutes. the quality and inventiveness of the food was way better than any meal I've had in SD. The service was fantastic-they even called the next day to thank us for coming.

                                                                                                                                  I think San Diegans allow too many restaurants get by with medicore food and service. We need to demand places like the ones I have mentioned before we will ever have one. And once we get one, people need to support it so other top chefs want to open their own place in our wonderful city. I am not trying to knock any of the places people have mentioned, but would a single one stand up to a Michael Mina or Chez Panisse-in my opinion no way.

                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: wiedemann5

                                                                                                                                    “I have been following this posting since the beginning and I just wanted to say that I agree with the original post-San Diego just does not have one excellent restaurant.”

                                                                                                                                    I tend to disagree…of course. The OP has never eaten at Tapenade, Laurel, 1500 Ocean, and Marine Room, thus he or she cannot make any comparisons to upscale restaurants in San Diego to any other place in the country.

                                                                                                                                    Comparing San Diego restaurants with places like SF, NYC, CHI, LA, Italy, and France is downright dumb. The chowhound boards cover Florida, Austin, Texas, the south, north Atlantic, mid-Atlantic and Midwest as well…no good restaurants there either?

                                                                                                                                    People like me live here for the weather and the lay-back atmosphere…and we seem to find good food to eat as well. I can have a great pupusa without dropping $150 bucks! Please get over yourselves!

                                                                                                                                    1. re: wiedemann5

                                                                                                                                      *French Laundry, Alinea in chicago, gramercy tavern, Daniel or Le Bernardin in NYC.

                                                                                                                                      I think its kinda hard to compare restaurants in San Diego where you couldn't spend over 100$ if you tried to places in NY where you couldn't spend under 100$ if you tried.

                                                                                                                                      "damn that hamburger at mcdonalds is NOWHERE near as good as the one at (insert great hamburger place)".

                                                                                                                                      maybe we should be comparing places like 1500 Ocean to GOtham Bar and Grill in NYC? WHere the price range is a lil closer =)


                                                                                                                                    2. If you've been follwoing this thread then you know that a fair number of posts discussing reasons why the type of restaurants you seek in SD were deleted.

                                                                                                                                      No, there are probably no restaurants in SD that would hold a candle to the ones you mentioned. Those restaurants are also EXTREMELY expensive to operate. While the interest in restaurants at that level may be moderate, the reality is that the current demand does not equal the current level of interest. Those restaurants survive because, other than providing stellar food and service, they are able to put fannies in their seats every night. I'm not sure that would happen here in SD.

                                                                                                                                      That level of food and service is not a priority in SD and there has been, and still is, a willingness to "settle" for something less than, because, well, there's other stuff that's more important than food. As the old saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will the San Diego restaurant scene.

                                                                                                                                      I'm a native San Diegan that moved away after college. I moved back here in 2001. I moved back from San Francisco, and there is no question that moving back was, indeed, food culture shock. I was appalled and underwhelmed by the lack of product, lack of resrouces for product and the lack of concern about that from locals. It forced me to really search for what I wanted, but the search led me to some interesting places. And in the last 6 years it has gotten easier to find and source products and I think the quality and diversity of meals has improved substantially.

                                                                                                                                      San Diego isn't San Francisco, NYC, Chicago or Los Angeles. It is what it is and that is an old conservative Navy town with deep and strong mid-west roots that is evolving and in the process of reinventing itself. I think the food options and restaurants will also continue to evolve and reinvent themselves and one day SD may have a destination restaurant or two.

                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                        The operating expenses of those restaurants in Boulder and Cave Creek are undoubtedly much lower than they would be in San Diego.

                                                                                                                                        A restaurant, first and foremost, is a business - and restaurants in San Diego are dealing with high rents and expenses, and an audience of people who are - for the most part - not willing to pay a premium for the kind of quality you are talking about. Local restaurants are just starting to get people's attention about using locally sourced ingredients and patronizing local businesses instead of chains - and even that has been a major struggle.

                                                                                                                                        Unless and until someone thinks it's a viable business plan to put up a restaurant like the ones you describe, it's not going to happen, regardless of what the local foodies would like to see. Personally, I think a place like Gramercy Tavern or similar would do great here - not so sure about the other fancy joints you mention. People here are very provincial, and we have a large population of students/young people, and military. The market for the restaurants you describe is scattered around the county, and it would be tough to find a good location for something like that.

                                                                                                                                        Overall, things are improving - we have some great new additions, like Jack's, Market, Blanca, etc. Hopefully the trend will continue!

                                                                                                                                        That being said, there are several good places to eat - and frankly, I don't mind traveling a bit to a destination in order to get a better meal. It gives me something to look forward to!

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Alice Q

                                                                                                                                          Actually, Boulder isn't as inexpensive as you think. What a restauranteur would save in rent (not much) would be made up in the increased costs for utilities and distribution. There are some advantages to a temperate climate and proximity to major metropolitan markets. The cost to carry an inventory to run a world class restaurant is not insignificant no matter where the location. San Diego restaurants do have access to some remarkably good products at prices that are lower than other places.

                                                                                                                                          San Diego isn't really all that provincial, but it is not very enlightened about really great food; it simply isn't a priority. Because ya know, when the sun is out, it's 75* and clear there are a lot worse things in life than sitting on the patio in the middle of Balboa Park at The Prado sipping on a cold drink and nibbling on some decent if not downright uninspired food. It's not about the food and neither is San Diego.

                                                                                                                                          Of course it could be something in the water, San Diego tap water..........

                                                                                                                                      2. Does an excellent meal have to cost $50 plus for an entree?

                                                                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: daimyo

                                                                                                                                          No, in fact some of the most memorable meals I've eaten have been the least expensive.

                                                                                                                                          I have very fond memories of taking a red-eye flight from LAX to Guadalajara, being picked up by the always engaging Cristina for a dining road trip to Patzcuaro. We pulled off the road outside Zamora for breakfast about 9 AM. The carnitas were hot out of the copper kettles, and they were meltingly soft and tender in all their uncutous porky goodness. The carnitas came with piles of hot tortillas redolent of the corn from which they had recently been made, perfectly ripe, buttery and mellow Michoacan avocados and the usual plate of minced white onion, cilantro and juicy wedges of Mexican limes. Topped with any one of the 3 excellent table salsas each bite was the perfect combination of pork, corn, avocado and condiment and was about as close to food bliss as I've been recently. I am notoriously NOT a morning person. I was in serious need of a caffeine fix after that red-eye flight and Mexico is equally notorious for not very good coffee. Call it what it is -- instant NesCafe. I'm here to tell you that with those carnitas, even the NesCafe tasted good :-)!! I don't recall what our total bill was for the breakfast feast but Idon't think it was more than about $150 pesos (if that), which converts to about $13.50 in US dollars for 2.

                                                                                                                                          Those carnitas have certainly spoiled me for any other carnitas and definitely raised the bar for me in terms of the ideal execution of them. I'm certainly NOT going to waste a lot of time comparing them to carnitas in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago or NYC, let alone San Diego because, frankly, I doubt they could measure up. There are too many other variables and by limiting my scope to one version of carnitas I may very well miss something equally as good in those cities.

                                                                                                                                          Okay, food South of the Border tends to be (a lot) cheaper than here. So to level the playing field a bit and answer your $50 question, here are a couple of other examples. Years ago when Iived in the Bay Area, I had a most memorable (hot) Meyer Lemon Souffle with Blackberry Couli at Postrio, Wolfgang Puck's place in The City (Annie Gingrass was the pastry chef and she moved on to open her own place). Once again, it was the perfect combination of hot and cold, tart and sweet, bold and mellow. Clearly the dessert did not approach $50, but neither did my entree, nor my date's entree. I have always been a big fan of Brad Ogden's (owner of Arterra here in SD) food. I ate the most delicious Asparagus w/Rock Shrimp Viniagrette at One Market in The City; pencil-thin spears of lightly grilled asparagus that had been bathed in a well balanced champagne vinegar based viniagrette, minced shallots and little nuggets of rock shrimp. Clearly, that dish did not approach $50 either, nor did any of our entrees that night come close to $50.

                                                                                                                                          I had both those dishes sometime between 1993 -1995. The fact that I can so vividly remember them nearly 15 years later speaks not only to my taste memory, but to the quality of products and skill in the kitchens that they were able to create taste combinations that would trigger memories that strong in a customer. And I don't think that's something on which you can put a price tag. Even adjusted for inflation, these dishes would still not approach $50, nor would the entrees (I'm pretty sure).

                                                                                                                                          I have the opportunity to mingle with culinary students at one of the local culinary programs. They always want to give me a taste of what they're preparing and then ask me what I think. At first I was flattered they wanted my opinion, then I realized, my opinion was just that, mine, not theirs. So my standard answer to them is that it's not important what I think, what do THEY think of the dish they're making? They need to develop their own sense of tastes and palate. If they're going to be a chef and possibly open their own place sometime, they need to trust their palate.

                                                                                                                                          So, I'll close and tell you the same thing. An excellent meal doesn't have to cost $50 for an entree. It doesn't matter what it costs, what matters is that it tastes good to you and that you get pleasure and enjoyment out of the the food and the dining experience. Trust your tastes, trust your palate, trust yourself and the rest doesn't matter , especially the price tag :-)

                                                                                                                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                            Please (!) start writing a food column DD!!!! Beautiful...

                                                                                                                                            1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                              My thoughts exactly. My question was meant to be some what rhetorical. All of the restaurants people seem to be complaining about are the "high" end establishments. For me personally an excellent meal tends to be somewhere I'm not expecting much and am pleasantly surprised. Once you enter a higher price range restaurant your expectations go through the roof and only the best leaves you satisfied. I would say that very few restaurants in this range live up to the price that they're charging. Some may live up to their price or reputation, but I'd guess that's more the exception than the rule.

                                                                                                                                          2. I have been following this string for some time. Being a So Cal native and a San Diego resident for 35 years I have heard the disparaging comparisons for a long time. My typical reaction is the same as many of you -- if you don't like it, go elsewhere. No one can dispute, however, the huge strides that San Diego has taken in the last five years or so with regard to restaurant quality. This is true at both the high-end and the cafe-end. It just takes a little looking. Most, if not all, of the good places have been mentioned above. I would like to direct your collective attention to yesterday's LA Times where they reviewed Addison and Market. Not that one food reviewer is the final word, but I have to agree that these two restaurants "are as good as anything in Los Angeles right now." And before you No Cal folks and East Coasters chime in, LA has plenty of restaurants as good or better than anywhere else (although maybe fewer of them).

                                                                                                                                            1. As the person who started all this trouble, I'd like to respond to some of your latest comments:

                                                                                                                                              "The OP has never eaten at Tapenade, Laurel, 1500 Ocean, and Marine Room, thus he or she cannot make any comparisons to upscale restaurants in San Diego to any other place in the country."

                                                                                                                                              Nor did I ever attempt to make such a comparison. In my opinion San Diego residents shouldn't have to go to an upscale restaurant to get great food. I DID mean to compare the rest of the SD restaurant scene to the cities/countries I listed in my OP because in those places people don't have to go to an upscale restaurant to get fantastic food.

                                                                                                                                              "Comparing San Diego restaurants with places like SF, NYC, CHI, LA, Italy, and France is downright dumb."

                                                                                                                                              No it's not, because gaggles of mediocre SD restaurants charge similar prices -- not just upscale restaurants but across the spectrum -- to the prices at restaurants in those cities, and they get away with it. We shouldn't put up with high prices for mediocre food.

                                                                                                                                              "Does an excellent meal have to cost $50 plus for an entree?"

                                                                                                                                              Abolutely not, and that is part of my beef with SD restaurants. In a city of 3 million people that touts itself as "America's finest city," one should not have to shell out a king's ransom for a good meal. While on the one hand I sort of regret posting this thread because of all the animosity it has stirred up, on the other I think it has thrown an important topic into the spotlight. As wiedemann5 put it, "San Diegans allow too many restaurants get by with mediocre food and service. We need to demand places like the ones I have mentioned before we will ever have one."

                                                                                                                                              "before you No Cal folks and East Coasters chime in, LA has plenty of restaurants as good or better than anywhere else"

                                                                                                                                              I'm from NorCal and I agree. LA has great restaurants.

                                                                                                                                              With all that said, I want to assure everyone that I have every intention of trying some of the upscale restaurants you've recommended. It seems that Market, Tapenade, El Bizcocho, and a couple others have been universally praised, and I'll be very surprised if I don't love the food at these restaurants. But there is no consensus whatsoever on others such as Pamplemousse, Laurel, Marine Room, and Oceanaire. Can you blame me for not being enthusiastic about throwing down a huge wad of cash to eat at these places?

                                                                                                                                              Finally, I can't help but notice that the majority of the upscale restaurants everyone agrees on are in North County. I don't think it's any coincidence that I live in Mission Hills and have the complaints that I have. The restaurants around me are overpriced and mediocre. I am still bewildered at the dismal quality of food served at restaurants in Hillcrest and the Gaslamp. This is our downtown. How are these restaurants getting away with this?

                                                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                                                              1. re: mangiatore

                                                                                                                                                "Finally, I can't help but notice that the majority of the upscale restaurants everyone agrees on are in North County."

                                                                                                                                                Because that's where the expendable income is that supports the really good restaurants and where more of the population lives that might expect really good restaurants based on having either lived in other areas or traveled widely. And if you think living in Mission Hills is bad, try living in the East County. The pickins are mighty thin.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                  That explains why there are good restaurants in N.County but it doesn't explain why they're lacking around my neighborhood. It's not like people living in M.Hills, The Gaslamp, or Little Italy are exactly starving for money.

                                                                                                                                                  I can only imagine what it's like in East County, but to me that makes more sense.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: mangiatore

                                                                                                                                                    Both The Gaslamp and Little Italy were man-made redevelopment projects that have succeeded beyond expectations. The convention buearu has sold The Gaslamp as a tourist destination and fewer locals visit.

                                                                                                                                                    There was an article in the U/T shortly after Petco Park opened about the impact of the stadium on the restaurants in the Gaslamp. The mid to low end restaurants saw a bump in their sales, the upscale eateries did not. The ball park has increased traffic into the Gaslamp, but it's not traffic that's been willing to spend money on upscale food. It is traffic that is will to spend money on "affordable" food that may or may not be that good. Of course, you can also argue the point that if you're going to the ball park you're not exactly expecting a 5-star meal before or afterwards and that perhaps the high end restaurants were unrealistic in their expectations. Tourist and condo development $$$ have fueled the Gaslamp not so much the local diner.

                                                                                                                                                    Little Italy? Someone else will have to answer that question, except perhaps because the greatest number of restaurants on India are all owned by one family (and it's not the Cohn's)

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                      Actually, I remember that article. It was pretty interesting, but I'm not sure how much the high-end restaurants in the Gaslamp are trying to appeal to the ball park crowd. I think they're trying to court another demographic -- people looking for that "downtown," night on the town (dinner, drinks, etc.) experience. These people deserve better than what they're getting. As you pointed out, what they currently get is a manufactured, faux-urban experience. I do think that is changing a bit; downtown is becoming a bit more interesting and dynamic, namely with some of the bars and cafes opening up. But the restaurants seem to be lagging.

                                                                                                                                              2. hillcrest and gaslamp suck massive massive um... they just suck =P.

                                                                                                                                                la jolla is the way to go! Everytime i suggest a fine dining establishment to my friends i always try to have them avoid downtown/hillcrest. Too expensive for what you get.

                                                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: clayfu

                                                                                                                                                  I disagree that Hillcrest sucks. There are some very good restaurants: Mama Testa, California Cuisine (one of most underrated upscale restaurants in SD), Terra just to name a few.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                    You are kidding about these 2 restaurants right?

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: crave

                                                                                                                                                      Which ones ? All three of them get very good reviews on this board and I had great meals in all three of them.

                                                                                                                                                2. Btw, I tried Pomegranate last night and it was fantastic. This is a perfect example of the type of restaurant SD needs more of -- great food, reasonable prices (Entrees range from $11-$16.50). Best borscht I've ever had, with flavors jumping out all over the place; great stroganoff; all kinds of exotic Georgian dishes with pungent spices (e.g. pickled cabbage with olives and cinnamon as a side dish). We also got a bottle of dry red Georgian wine that went perfect with the food, especially my braised beef dish. The waittress described the wine as "similar to a cabernet." It reminded me a little more of a Chianti, which isn't my favorite wine, but it went well with this food.

                                                                                                                                                  1. Everyone is making some very valid points. Look I do think the scene in SD has improved greatly in the last 5 years and there are many great places to find good cheap food. But, I don't like all of the excuses about why we don't have excellent restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                    The fact that we have sun and beautiful places outdoors does not mean we shouldn't have great restaurants. There is just as much if not more to do in NYC and SF and many other cities, but they all have great food scenes. Also, I am not just talking about the top cities in the world-places like atlanta, minneapolis, seattle, portland, houston, denver, phoenix, etc.. all have at least one or two fantastic places to eat. The prices at most of the top restaurants are very similiar to SD. tasting menus at Redd in Napa-$70, Michael Mina-$88, Gary Danko-$92, binkleys in AZ-$60 compared to Laurel-$85, Tapenade-$65, 1500 ocean-$75, so price is not the issue either.

                                                                                                                                                    I also agree that a great dining experience does not have to break the bank. In my opinion though, a really great taco or carnita is not the same thing as a really great scallop or risotto or foie gras. My everyday meals include those tacos and such, but you can only be so creative and inventive with them. I love to experience the way a truly great chef can make me enjoy something that I hate or should hate-like a califlower foam or a pigs foot or any other innards of an animal.

                                                                                                                                                    I love San Diego and I don't want to leave, I just wish we had a better food scene.

                                                                                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: wiedemann5

                                                                                                                                                      When a restaurant like Cafe Cerise can't survive, then you know there is a problem.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Josh

                                                                                                                                                        Cafe Cerise suffered from a bad location problem. At night, it felt like you were walking through a semi-deserted business district (read: dark), populated by the wandering homeless. I really wonder if it would have been more successful if it was in a better location.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: daantaat

                                                                                                                                                          If Cafe Cerise would have been in La Jolla, Del Mar or Encinitas it would still be there and very successful, IMO

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                            I agree with you. Even if it was in the Gaslamp Quarter, it would have done better b/c it would have gotten more foot traffic and street exposure.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: wiedemann5

                                                                                                                                                          Laurel cannot hold a candle to Michael Mina or Gary Danko. So based on the tasting menu prices I think Laurel is over priced. Also, the last time I ate at Laurel they were out of stock on about 5 of the popular items on a Saturday night. This would never happen in the latter 2 restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                        2. I think a large part of the problem is that in cities like Chicago or New York the restaurant scene is mature and saturated. If you open a place with so-so food you can't survive in those cities. The Gaslamp is our “downtown” and is a very young community which does not have the combination of old great standards and innovative new places (to the same degree as Chicago for example) that causes the competition to be fierce and the convention traffic probably feeds enough revenue into the Gaslamp area so the need to fight to keep on top is just not there.

                                                                                                                                                          Having said that I have had some good (not fabulous) meals in the Gaslamp, but I only really go there when I have business meetings or am attending a work related event at the convention center (or going to hear music at the HOB). I live in North County and when there are better places closer (Arterra, Market, and el Biz etc) that’s where I end up. I will make a special trip for places in North park like the Linkery and Pomegranate because they are doing a great job creating interesting food.

                                                                                                                                                          1. Is it just me (has someone already created a thread on this?) or is North Park leading the way right now? (Along with N.County).

                                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                            1. re: mangiatore

                                                                                                                                                              In all due respect, I love living in SD.........but all the recommended restaurants listed on this string don't hold a candle to the dining experience one gets in LA (Lucques, Campanile, AOC, +100's of others), SF (Ferry Building restaurants, A16, +100's more), Chicago, London, New York, etc.

                                                                                                                                                              OK, I get it......we are not those cities but for a city the size of San Diego with it's diverse population, you'd think we could do better. Most of the restaurants listed above offer stodgy, overpriced, over-prepared fare. Just the mere fact that when one mentions fine dining in San Diego and they are recommended to travel 1.5 hrs south to the Guadalupe Valley in Mexico (Laja) says it all (btw - Laja is a great restaurant with a fine chef from Tecate that has worked at the Four Seasons in NY).

                                                                                                                                                              All that being said, here are my 3 favorite restaurants in SD - Cafe Chloe (east village), Dumpling Inn (kearny mesa for great, cheap hong kong style chinese - BYOB or wine) and Dobson's (sit at the bar, right next to Horton Plaza).

                                                                                                                                                              Beyond that, San Diego has some nice decent restaurants that typically offer a great view and serve "fine cuisine" that typically underwhelms, poorly serves and overcharges. (still a great place to raise kids, however)

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: mcwaday

                                                                                                                                                                Not to be rude, but I'm really getting tired of reading this same post over and over again. Many, many recommendations have been given, and not all of them offer "stodgy, overpriced, overprepared fare." There are certainly some restaurants that underwhelm and overcharge, but it's really not fair, or productive, to generalize like this or to compare SD to other cities.

                                                                                                                                                                Dobson's and Cafe Chloe are also two of my favorites - so I have a feeling we'd be on the same page with some of the repeated recommendations mentioned above - like Tapenade, 1500 Ocean, Market, Blanca or Jack's Fine Dining Room. I also have a list of my favorite spots in SD on my blog - www.aliceqfoodie.com

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Alice Q

                                                                                                                                                                  Thank you for this post.
                                                                                                                                                                  I really hope that nobody is replying to such posts as the ones from mcwaday or the OP anymore.
                                                                                                                                                                  Of course there is no single restaurant in LA, SF, NY or any of the other "great food cities" who offer stodgy, overpriced, over-prepared fare. No, that's not possible because by law all these restaurants have to come to SD.
                                                                                                                                                                  I am sure that if restaurants like Lucques, Campanile etc. would be in SD instead of LA people suddenly wouldn't be so enthusiastic anymore about them because they would be in SD and as everybody knows those restaurants can't be good - I guess that's what you call self fulfilling prophecy. And I am also sure that if restaurant like Market, 9-10, Tapenade, Cavaillon would be in LA, SF etc. people even living in LA, SF would suddenly start to rave about them how great and unique they are.

                                                                                                                                                            2. Dear Mangiatore and eveyone else whohates San Diego food.
                                                                                                                                                              I was born and raised in San Diego, and I could not wait to leave A.S.A.P. I moved to Chicago, which we all know is a food mecca. And while I do not become defensive on San Diego topics other than how beautiful of a place it is. I take umbrage on you people complaining about San Diego food when you really do not know what you are talking about.
                                                                                                                                                              San Diego has never been an important food city, and while it makes efforts to take on sophisticated food, with a few exceptions such as George's on the Cove, and Mister A's, San Diego really isn't a gourmet city.
                                                                                                                                                              Now, what it IS, is a great, great, great street food town. People there, want to be out doors, collecting little tastes of Mexico, Asia, and the Sea, finding a beautiful beach to sit on, not some stuffy pretentious room full of wanna-be food snobs. I mean think about it people, nothing in California is very deep rooted, apart from San Francisco, including the cuisine.
                                                                                                                                                              El Indio taco shop
                                                                                                                                                              are just a few of the delectable Cali-Mecian food eateries that will leave you salivating, dreaming about mordiditas, cut up taquitos drizzled with melted cheese, or hard core nachos, piled with carne asada, cheese, guacamole, salsa, peppers, lettuce, tomato's onions, with no beans in sight. That's right is you want the refied beans go to Old Town. True, these are not authentic Mexican recipes, but they are authentic Cali-Mex. You will be hard pressed to find a better carne asada, anywhere, and I mean anywhere in this country.
                                                                                                                                                              Rolled tacos with mounds of fresh guacamole, salsa, sour cream, mounds of shredded lettucs, onions and hot sauce cannot be found in any other city either. Oh sure, other cities try and make their flavorless flour tortilla flautas, but there is no comparison. And yes, this is an authentic boder town food, direct from Tijuana. Did I mention the California burrito with juicy, marinated carne asada, fries, yes fries, guacamole and cheese. Mmmmmmm. Do not diss this until you try it. Come on people, this authentic surfer food. And FISH TACOS. Helllooooooooooooooo. You cannot imagine how tasty these freshly fried ahi fish tacos taste, with shredded cabbage in a warm corn tortillas drizzled with a sour cream sauce. Found at Rubio's. So fresh and so California.

                                                                                                                                                              Okay, so you don't want Mexican food.

                                                                                                                                                              Bread and Cie Company-some of the best bread, such as grape or, jalapeno, olive and cheese bread and sandwiches in the country

                                                                                                                                                              Point Loma Seafood company-The biggest, freshest, cheapest fried scallop and Calamari sandwiches on the planet-Nowhere else can you eat such fresh, cheap seafood.
                                                                                                                                                              The Asian Ghetto-on Convoy street is a chock filled street of Vietnamese and Thai restaurants-not the over-priced white people version, but the spicy, exotic and down to earth kind.
                                                                                                                                                              And lastly, the Mandarin House, in Hillcrest, my personal favorite. This place is famous for their Kung Pao chicken. Believe me, trust me, if you are wise and a true foodie, you will get on a plane and take a taxi directly to this place.
                                                                                                                                                              This is no mere Kung Pao. This dish is full of flavors I have never been able to find anywhere else on this planet. I have traveled high and low. And I am told that people have this Kung Pao over nighted all over the country. People come in and order hundreds of dollars worth of the stuff, taking it home with them on the plane, only to freeze it when they arrive.
                                                                                                                                                              What does it taste like you ask?
                                                                                                                                                              The sauce is thick, it lies somewhere between a barbecue sauce, only nowhere near as sweet and the sauce that's on tacos al pastor. It's brilliant. Topped with nuts and scallions. The texture is rich, thick, tasting a bit fruity, hot and sweet at the same time.
                                                                                                                                                              I still dream of this in Chicago some nights, and I make my sister bring it to me whanever she visits me.
                                                                                                                                                              So you see San Diego is a great food town. If you want what you already know, don't even bother to go there, because San Diego is full of the most incredible flavors and surprises if you will only open your senses to them. And I have only begun to describe what you can truly find there.

                                                                                                                                                              13 Replies
                                                                                                                                                              1. re: papasote62

                                                                                                                                                                Sorry, papsote62, but as one native San Diegan to another, I can't agree with your assessment of what's "right" about food in San DIego

                                                                                                                                                                There is NO street food to speak of. The Health Eeprtment has regulated it out of business. Yes, the caren asada is good here, very good, in fact, but it hardly defines the city or the genre. And fish tacos are a recent association with the city because Ralph Rubio started a little place called Rubios. And George's at the Cove is overrated and mediocre at best.

                                                                                                                                                                But I do agree, there really is not need to beat the city up. It doesn't pretend or desire to be a food or foodie for that matter destination. NO more bashing, I do agree with you there.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                  As a third native San Diegan, I have to speak up for my hometown as well. First, we all forget that "San Diego" as a city didn't truly exist until the 1980's (at the earliest). Before that, we were either a fishing village or a Navy town, or both. Our growth has been a haphazard affair full of stops and starts, and we constantly have to integrate new residents into our city.

                                                                                                                                                                  And so whatever food culture we have developed only recently. Rubio's didn't open until 1983, and they didn't really catch on until the early 90's (as far as I remember). The Burrito culture, such that it is, wasn't synonymous with San Diego until I was in high school (90-94). Hell, our foodie export, microbrews didn't exist twenty years ago. Now, like most San Diegans, I associate the carne asada burrito with home.

                                                                                                                                                                  Now, for those of you who didn't grow up here, let me say this: as bad as you may think San Diego is for food today, it was one million times worse when I was growing up. There were good restaurants, certainly, but for the most part everything was pretty bland. Now, just like everything else, we're developing. We have great and distinctive microbrews. You finally can get a decent slice of pizza. We have the taco shops, which provides a type of fast food you can't get anywhere else.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: jmtreg

                                                                                                                                                                    I'm a San Diego native and I disagree with your assessment of San Diego's taco shop food being new, I grew up eating rolled tacos from taco shops in Chula Vista...12 rolled tacos with guac, sour cream and pico de gallo for 5 dollars. Even before the rolled tacos, every poor to rich family that I have known and heard of turns to the stand by of carne asada at the beach, park, or lavish back yard pool parties. Why? because it is a San Diego staple. Regardless of the "time line" when this taco shop opened and that fish taco arrived, if anyone bothered to read the original thread, the question was regarding for some advice on good food in San Diego today! and NOWHERE can you find San Diego rolled tacos freshly made 24 hours a day.. What Burrito culture are you talking about? you were not in high school until the 90's? that explains it...its been around much longer.

                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                    Sorry DiningDIva I disagree with your assessment about street food, that is what we have always had going for us in San Diego since the 60's i was eating tacos al carbon in San Diego born from Tijuana taco stands...fresh ceviche with cilantro, lime, shrimp, cucumbers, avacado, hot sauch and crackers served in a big glass sundae cup...and the Sea Food is a shining star here in San Diego, that started years and years ago with Anthonys Fish Grotto's clam chowder and fresh fish daily, with the Louie Salad's copied by many restaurants, and lets not forget the famous cesar salad everyone eats world wide created in our own backyard in Tijuana. wow, you have surely been deprived from your own roots.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: just peachy

                                                                                                                                                                      Anthony's Fish Grotto is not street food. I grew up eating at Anthony's and we always ate inside, at a table, it was not "take-away" food. It was a "nice" restaurant that your parents made you get dressed up, or at least look presentable, to go to. Ceasar salad is not street food. Really, when was the last time you saw someone walking down the street munching on a Ceasar salad?

                                                                                                                                                                      Food is not sold on the street here because there are so many rules and regulations that it's not feasible. There are no hot dog carts, no pretzel carts. There are no carts selling seafood, cut fruit, pastries, or corn on the cob regularly plying the streets of SD, nor have there ever been. Though I think that some of the local swap meets have booths selling cut fruit, even those are highly regulated by the department of environmental health.

                                                                                                                                                                      This is probably more a question of semantics. Calling something street food implies that it is sold on the street, not in a restaurant. I travel widely and often in Mexico and have more than a passing acquaintance with "street food" and San Diego has none by comparison. There is a fish taco restaruant on a corner in Guadalajara that would make any, ANY fish taco in San Diego pale in comparison, plus there is live entertainment.

                                                                                                                                                                      And there really was a time when rolled tacos and carne asada were NOT all that common or ubiquitous on local menus. There was a time when Conseulos and Casa Blanca were about the only choices for Mexican in town and taco shops did not grace every other corner. Street food and fast food are two totally different genres, though fast food may borrow from street food for inspiration as wittnessed by Rubios and the various iterations of the bertos. What people are describing in this thread is fast food, not street food.

                                                                                                                                                                      I'm pretty comfortable repeating - San Diego has no history or culture of street food. It has taken some items associated with street food - though finding rolled tacos (tacos dorados) with guacamole on the streets in Mexico isn't that common - and turned them into restaurant food or take out food.

                                                                                                                                                                      Yeah, I'm older than dirt, I predate the 60s.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                        To all narrow minded-can't-see-beyond-your-own-definitions-of-street-food-hypes,
                                                                                                                                                                        While street food originated in street cars, wagons, the "street food" that we are talking about is just that STREET FOOD!!
                                                                                                                                                                        Whether or not it is purchased in a wagon or not, this is food of the people, poor people.
                                                                                                                                                                        This is the definition of street food-FOOD THAT EVERYONE CAN AFFORD.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: papasote62

                                                                                                                                                                          One last thing, and I will stop beating a dead horse. To further defend my point of view, being from Chicago, a city which I am sure few of you will argue is a food capitol of the world, we have a plethora and I mean plethora of 4 and 5 star restaurants that have taken "street food" and tried to bring them to the masses. These restaurants such as Marigold, Chow-Patti, Frontera Grill, yes that frontera grill, the James Bear award winning restarurant are examples of high end restaurants that are trying to bring these so-called street foods to the masses. Just because the environs, surroundings and linene have been upped an ante does not take away from the fact that this is street food. People, do not get stuck with jargon or terminology.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: papasote62

                                                                                                                                                                            But Chicago has a history of being a city for more than 20-30 years. Prior to WWII, San Diego was a fishing village. You can thank every tuna casserole, every tuna-fish sandwich, etc, on San Diego. That was San Diego's legacy.

                                                                                                                                                                            As per the jargon, yeah, I tend to agree with everyone but the diningdiva on this one. It may not be served on the street, but its street food nonetheless. And keep in mind that this culture is relatively recent.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                          Well, I still stand FIRM on my opinion in disagreeing with your small repitoir of street food and food experience in general whether local in san diego or your extensive traveling in Mexico..My travels consist of Europe, Asia, South and central America but especially all over Mexico and Guatemala, I know very well the definition of a cart vendors food for sale, and the "street food" that I refer to has to do with the roots of street food and how they interlink to today's restaurant food.
                                                                                                                                                                          My entire family is Hispanic so I speak from experience. Also, FYI Anthonys does have take away food...and you I do see people eating cesar salads walking around Sea Port Village and other areas not just at fairs. Tacos al Carbon warm corn tortillas with chopped carne asada and fresh salsa were always street food in Tijuana and have always been found in San Diego since I was a child....they are ROOTED in San Diegos food history. Cesar salad is part of that history as well, you can't name very many countries that do not serve that on their menus today...anyway, I have a life, I'm done with this reduntant conversation with people who are stuck in their small thinking.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: just peachy

                                                                                                                                                                            I think that everyone has different opinions which is great. Especially when expressed in a respectful manner.
                                                                                                                                                                            San Diego doesn't have much of a street food culture (which is fine) and if you consider taco shops to be San Diego street food that is great because no one outside of the SD makes tacos etc...the same way our taco shops do. When I lived away from San Diego for various reasons the first thing I craved was taco shop food. Delicious yes, authentic to Mexico, probably not.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: jturtle

                                                                                                                                                                              weighing in as another native (2d and clsoe to 3rd generation), when my sister comes back into town, she goes straight to Roberto's or one of its clones; there seems to be nothing like them in most parts of the country.

                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: just peachy

                                                                                                                                                                              Actually, I think its valid to split TJ from San Diego on these points. TJ has a vibrant food culture and should be considered in its own right. Hell, TJ laps San Diego over and over again. TJ was where the Margarita was invented, the Caesar salad, and where San Diego's concept of Mexican food really comes from. In many ways, TJ has the vibrant cosmopolitan culture that really makes a city, as opposed to a large town. San Diego, until recently, was a large town.

                                                                                                                                                                              As for the issue of street food, what I really mean, is that its only been in the last 20 years or so that the food you grew up with crossed the 8, so to speak, or crossed into the mainstream of San Diego.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: jmtreg

                                                                                                                                                                                Can't tell if you are being sarcastic ...

                                                                                                                                                                                Hussongs, while they don't claim to invent the Margarita, claim to have created the recipe as it is today. It's in ensenada.

                                                                                                                                                                                For those looking for TJ/Rosarito street tacos in San Diego, only place I have found that even begin to compare is Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista.

                                                                                                                                                                                Many a person has come from Nor Cal (lots of my law school classmates) claiming superiority of mexican street food up there, only to be converted before their three years were up. To me street food doesn't mean served out of the cart, that's cart food. Street food is a place you can come in from the street, order, eat there or keep walking and eating. That's Robertos, nicos, albertos or my favorite El Cotixan off Genessee near the DMV. Best carne asada chips.

                                                                                                                                                                                Also, what are people's opinions of the "homestyle" mexican food in Solana beach, more specifically Don Chuy, Tony Jacals, and my least favorite Fidels? I like it, but have no reference to compare it to.

                                                                                                                                                                    2. San Diego is not a great 4-5 star mecca, but what it does have is a few great places where you can find specific items that will stand up to the competition anywhere. Here's my short list for the SD area (it's California we drive everywhere) good value and great food:
                                                                                                                                                                      - Rocky's Crown Point for burgers, if you can stand the um.., Standing and accept that locals will be served ahead of you.
                                                                                                                                                                      - Tip Top Meats in Carlsbad for the meat eaters breakfast. All you can eat meat for under ten bucks, Angioplasty not included.
                                                                                                                                                                      - Sister Pee Wee's Soul Food in Grant Hill for exactly what the name entails. You never know what you're going to get but it's always great.
                                                                                                                                                                      - The Roxy in Encinitas for veggie dishes, the squash enchiladas are awesome and you will not leave hungry, in fact you'll leave stuffed and with leftovers. The perfect dinner after a breakfast at Tip Top.
                                                                                                                                                                      - Point Loma Fish Market for a quick lunch seafood sandwich.
                                                                                                                                                                      These are just a few of my favorites, they're mostly on the inexpensive side but you already hit my favorite hoity toity in the Wine Sellar. As a military guy whose been forced to live where there are really no options, can you say Havelock, NC, finding the food is about tracking down the places that do one or two things really well and of course continuing to look. There's great food everywhere but it's like a short cut, if it were easy it would just be "the way".
                                                                                                                                                                      By the way, I found Sushi Ota to be totally overrated and lacking in the service department. Don't believe the hype.

                                                                                                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: drinkandrun

                                                                                                                                                                        Tip Top Meats has a good butcher where you even get some unusual pieces of meat for SD, e.g vension quail, wild boar etc. and the meat at the restaurant is good if you pick it from the butcher. If you choose to eat the meat they serve at their restaurant you get some of the most disappointing pieces of meat I have ever seen. Yes, the price might be unblieveable low at the restaurant but so is the quality.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: drinkandrun

                                                                                                                                                                          not sure what you mean by "great 4-5 star mecca" but San Diego does have some very good restaurants from sushi to traditional french

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: ibstatguy

                                                                                                                                                                            There are some great restaurants in SD, but just not as many as NY, CHI or NOLA. This isn't even a point worth arguing due to population and economic sustainability of more than X# of high end joints. People don't come to SD for the food.
                                                                                                                                                                            Honk you're right, I guess I just get caught up in the meaty goodness that Tip Top exudes. If they don't have it, they'll get it for you.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: drinkandrun

                                                                                                                                                                              Forgive me if someone else already brought this up (I sped through a lot of the responses), but the chef from El Bizcocho was recently featured in Food & Wine as one of the top 10 young chefs in the U.S.; not a shabby recommendation.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. I had one of the best meals ever at Market last night. It's right up there with Providence and Grace in L.A. , Bartolotta in Las Vegas, and Babbo in New York. It is absolutely wonderful. You will not be disappointed. There's also a great little wine bar in Encinitas called Gaffney's, which I believe was recently written up in Sunset magazine.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. Chinese BBQ - Sam Woo's (in the back of Ranch 99 Supermarket 0n Clarement Mesa). Tofu House on Convoy Street. Several variations of Son Dobu (with varying spice levels) available.
                                                                                                                                                                            Loma Bonita near Point Loma (bayside) - cheap and good mexican food.
                                                                                                                                                                            Sushi Ota is very good sushi.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. Casa Guadalajara
                                                                                                                                                                              The question has been asked before: What, exactly, constitutes "authentic" Mexican food. Usually the question is posed in defense of a favorite restaurant someone else has deemed inauthentic. Personally, I see it as a spectrum. On one end is the "touristy" restaurant catering to non-latinos who have an expectation (read stereotype) of what Mexican food and ambiance is supposed to be. On the other end of the spectrum is the restaurant offering "alta cocina", the mexican form of haute cuisine. These restaurants feature chefs, or their recipes, intimately familiar with mexican ingredients and offering old favorites in new and exciting ways.

                                                                                                                                                                              With the exception of two restaurants just outside of Old Town, I normally don't in that area precisely because it is a tourist spot. However, after hearing about how good the food was at Casa Guadalahjara, I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and drop by for lunch. After eating at Casa Guadalajara, I am moved to present a few red flags that warn if a restaurant is moving toward the touristy end of the spectrum. Mind you, the more red flags a restaurant waves, the more you should prepare yourself for having your picture taken wearing a colorful sombrero and holding a giant margarita.

                                                                                                                                                                              -The word "taco" is found in the restaurant's name.
                                                                                                                                                                              -The tortilla chips offered upon being seated come in more than one color.If one of the colors is green, then it's two flags.
                                                                                                                                                                              -The salsa that accompanies the chips is served in a little plastic cup.
                                                                                                                                                                              -The waitresses wear colorful skirts they wouldn't be caught dead in outside the restaurant.
                                                                                                                                                                              -The servers refer to all customers as "Amigo."
                                                                                                                                                                              -The restaurant's decor is chock-full of mexican knick-knacks to remind you, at every turn, that you are in a mexican restaurant.
                                                                                                                                                                              -There is a figure sporting a moustache and wearing a sombrero and/or a zarape anywhere on the premises.
                                                                                                                                                                              -There are images of the food offered next to the items on the menu.
                                                                                                                                                                              -The menu offers a "wet" burrito.
                                                                                                                                                                              -Ground beef is used as an ingredient in tacos, enchiladas or burritos.
                                                                                                                                                                              -Tacos are served in a hard, tortilla shell.
                                                                                                                                                                              -The meal is presented with a little, paper mexican flag on a toothpick anywhere on your plate.
                                                                                                                                                                              -Enchiladas are buried under cheese and/or shredded lettuce.
                                                                                                                                                                              -The mole, if offered, is bland and/or grainy.
                                                                                                                                                                              -The corn tortillas presented with the meal are a dull yellow.

                                                                                                                                                                              Hopefully these warnings, respectfully offered, will help the reader make a more informed choice. Please keep them in mind when deciding on, or deciding whether or not to return to, a restaurant.

                                                                                                                                                                              As for the Casa Guadalajara... Let's just say they wave their flags proudly.

                                                                                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: JDelRio

                                                                                                                                                                                I do not think that overall San Diego restaurants are bad... there are some very good places to eat in this town... but sometimes they lack the support...an other way to look at it is why opening a fine dining establishment in San Diego ?

                                                                                                                                                                                From a restaurateur point of view, here is what we constantly have to experience...

                                                                                                                                                                                1/Guests in San Diego are usually very late for their reservation, pushing back the second turn and upsetting other guests... being 20-30 mn , not calling and expectin to be seating right upon arrival is very common here..
                                                                                                                                                                                2/ People here only want to eat at 7 or 7:30 pm....When paying high rents, doing 2 turn is very important...but most people in San Diego do not dine after 8:00 pm, even on weekends.
                                                                                                                                                                                3/No shows. 15% no show is average in this city..people do not even call !!!
                                                                                                                                                                                4/Lack of interest for interesting food...if you dare not having a chicken on your menu, you are dead ! Game does not sell here.. forget about liver, tripes and other less common dishes... we even have an hard time selling Veal !
                                                                                                                                                                                5/ High rent that usually increases as soon as you become somehow popular
                                                                                                                                                                                6/ High labor ( I do not mind paying employees well but combine to high taxes, high rent and a city that only dines out on weekend, what's the incentive?? )

                                                                                                                                                                              2. darn I avoided this thread for so long, with its blatant food snobbery and SD whining! I am shocked that someone hasn't pointed this out but there is a simple reason there aren't World-class restaurants in San Diego: the large cities have MILLIONS of people, san diego barely has one. [Spread out over a huge area. With poor parking and poor mass transit!] If you want a World Class restaurant, go to one! Let the rest of us enjoy the great little restaurants and taco shops we have discovered or shared on Chowhound.

                                                                                                                                                                                9 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: MrKrispy

                                                                                                                                                                                  I'm in Encinitas right now visiting my in-laws. Where can I take them for either sushi, seafood, or excellent Chinese? Also have my 11 year old in tow who loves salads, good burgers (of course - he's an 11 year old). Frankly, I'm originally from New York City and now live in Los Angeles. If it's Italian - I'd like something Northern along the lines of Massimo on Little Santa Monica - just because they have great gnocchi - but I'm not picky. Any ethnic food if well made with fresh ingredients is what I'm looking for. I would think that with so many healthy people running around (I'm looking out over the ocean as I type - all these jogging types) there must be some superb vegetarian or seafood places, no? It also has to be wheelchair accessible - or at least not too many steps.
                                                                                                                                                                                  Thank you.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Debbie from Valley Village

                                                                                                                                                                                    This needs to be a new thread - it isn't related to the original topic. There is another thread about Encinitas that might help you though - just do a search and you should find it.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: MrKrispy

                                                                                                                                                                                      There's nothing wrong with food snobbery or whining, this is Chowhound! :-) You do have a point re: population, but other similar size cities - such as Portland, for example, have more interesting food scenes. I think Jaysurf above really hit on something. A city gets the restaurants it deserves, as Ruth Reichl famously said, and so here we are. The only way the situation will change, is if it becomes profitable for better restaurants to operate in San Diego. They need customers and they need support - and both are hard to come by around here.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Alice Q

                                                                                                                                                                                        I think Portland is quite blessed, probably due to lower rent and cost of living. SD is a conventioners and tourist destination and the cost of being located downtown, or Little Italy for that matter, is very high. I can't imagine anyone saying, I want to go to SD and dine at X, this is not NY. SD is a casual beach community environment and probably will never be a culinary jewel, but I do hope that good restauranteers take to lower rent areas and if their stuff is really worth 'throwing down' people will go and spread the word. I'm looking forward to continue the hunt for great places.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: cstr

                                                                                                                                                                                          There are some great places, don't get me wrong - but the food scene just doesn't thrive here the way it does in other cities. Good restaurants are considered an anomaly instead of the norm. I do have a list of places I like on my blog, on the sidebar - www.aliceqfoodie.com - so you might find something on there to try!

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Alice Q

                                                                                                                                                                                            San Diego cannot and should not be put up against other cities in comparison at the level of cuisine that you are interested in. I'm sorry but if you are a Chez Panisse or Spago type of person in SD - you are always going to be disappointed.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Look at Ed from Yuma, the poor guy loves every second of his time in his former city -and he is obviously grateful for the good eats while he is town.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Chowhound is about finding great food whether it is in a decrepit HOTW or Michelin 3 star place, regardless of whether the local food scene is thriving or not.

                                                                                                                                                                                            All I can say is that people need to start to be more active on these boards - writing about their experiences to prove people like Jeffery steingarten is wrong,

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: kare_raisu

                                                                                                                                                                                              Kare - If you go back and read Jaysurf's comment from a restauranteur's point of view, you'll see what I'm responding to/talking about. Incidentally I've never eaten at Chez Panisse or Spago, and if you read my blog - you'll see that I recommend several places in SD that are nowhere near that level of cooking - as well as some that are. I've always championed the idea that there are plenty of good things to eat in San Diego - but that doesn't mean we're without flaws.

                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: Alice Q

                                                                                                                                                                                              Thanks for your blog address, I'll take a look.

                                                                                                                                                                                      2. Addison, at the Grand Del Mar. I've cooked in New York, and San Fran. Addison is as good as any 1 Star Michelin restuarant.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. I never thought I would write something again in this discussion but finally I have to write some comments about San Diego restaurants. I still don't think that San Diego has bad restautants based on the quality of the food but more and more I think San Diego really lacks in term of service. I always hear the excuses that the owners/waiters are more laid back here and that this is "california style". That is complete BS. Why is it possible that I can go to LA, SF, Napa, LV, Carmel, Olema, Cambria, Santa Barabara, Boston, Maine, Portland, Europe (add any other place you want) and get mostly good and knowledgeable service but in SD it is just an exception to get reasonable service. I can go to upscale restaurants or hole-in-the-wall places or somewhere in between but I will get most of the times a bad service. Service is not only bringing food to my table but knowing how to interact with customers (and my wife and I are definitely not very demanding customers) and having some knowledge about the food you are serving. In SD there not many restaurants where you feel welcome but it is more the case that you should feel happy that the waiter is willing to talk to you. Even at small hole-in-the-wall places they treat you like they don't want to have any customers. And also as part of the service why are waiters are so uninformed about the food they serve ? Why is it possible that I go to a small Italian cafe in Boston and the waiter is happy to talk about the bread/coffee etc ? Why is it possible that I go to restaurants in Palm Springs and have fantasic discussions about their food resources ? Why is it possible that I have better service and knowledgeable waiters in Olema (100 residents) than in SD ? Why is the service in LV great ? And why isn't it possible to ask any waiter in SD any question about the food they bring to your table without getting an irritated look and a reply that he/she is only working here and why should they know anything about the food but if I really want to know (and now it is an annoyed look) they might ask somebody ? No, San Diego restaurants are not bad and you can get really good food but the service is nearly everywhere way below average. It looks like the food gods had to decide on one city on this planet where everybody has to suffer because of lousy service and unfortunately they decided Sa Diego is a "lucky" city.

                                                                                                                                                                                          10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                                                            I hate this thread but it came to mind over the recent Xmas holiday. I was in Mendocino and had dinner at the Mendo Bistro in Ft. Bragg. We were a party of 5, the restaurant was probably about 75-80% full; we were warmly greeted (by, I'm pretty sure, the owner) and seated promptly. The meal was very good, but what struck me most is exactly what Honkman has just mentioned. The service, in a tiny little town in Northern Califonria, was far and away better than anything I've experienced in San Diego during 2007.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Our waitress had, clearly been well trained. She could answer any question we had about the menu, and we had many because there were quite a few interesting options on it, as well as the small wine list that focused mostly on local producers.She was aware of how the kitchen made each dish (including desserts), what went into it, and which wines went better with which entrees. She was friendly without being insincere or a pest and made the whole dinner a delicious experience. Additionally, the owner stopped by a couple times to check on how we were doing and both made it a point to say good bye and thank us for coming in for dinner when we left.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Halfway through the meal a thought went flitting through my brain ab out this thread and how it was too bad that the service in most SD restaurants wasn't very comparable...

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                              Is it possible though, that some (not all) restauranteurs don't bother to put knowledgeable servers on the floor or provide a polished, welcoming atmosphere for diners because they think the majority of San Diego diners don't care or won't notice? If not, what do you think is the reason for this problem?

                                                                                                                                                                                              It definitely seems to me that there's an apathy on both sides and a hostility there, more of an "us vs. them" mentality than you see in other cities. I see both sides of this issue, but from a restauranteur's point of view - how can we expect restaurants to cater to our every whim and provide spot on service, when we don't provide the customer base they need in order to thrive?

                                                                                                                                                                                              Incidentally, this could almost be a new thread, since it dwells on service in San Diego restaurants - maybe we should start one, I'm not crazy about this one myself.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Alice Q

                                                                                                                                                                                                This is of course a very complex issue and an online discussion not the best way to solve it but just to mention a few points: I am sure that every customer would recognize it if there would be a better service in SD. Everybody I talked to in SD (foodie or not) mentioned without an exception how much better experiences they have with service outside of SD. It is simply a matter of what level of professionalism the restaurateur is running the business. I think SD is lacking owners who fully understand all aspects of the business of running a restaurant. If you read books as “Culineary Artistery” (which is about high-end cuisine but the rules are the same for all restaurants on all levels) you understand that in SD there is a lack of understanding that going to a restaurant is not only about the food but much more (and it goes far beyond just good service). And it is not about money because to improve your service you don’t automatically need to spend more money but increase your knowledge/understanding and also passion of what your are doing.
                                                                                                                                                                                                I also made the experience that SD in comparison to other cities as SF, Boston, LV etc. has a relative small percentage of people (waiters/owners and customers) who traveled/lived outside of the US. To be more openminded (not only about food but in general) I think it is essential to experience other cultures/countries. With the history of SD which is much more military based and more conservative this city is lacking this openmind spirit.
                                                                                                                                                                                                These are only some issues which just scratch the surface of this problem and it is hard to discuss it on a MB in more detail. In addition, this is a problem which has parts of its roots in politics and social issue which can’t be ignored and if I start to discuss these things my post will most likely be deleted.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Alice Q

                                                                                                                                                                                                  To Alice - No, I don't think restauranteurs are not putting competent waitstaffs on their floors because they don't think San Diegans wouldn't notice or care. I think, ultimately, there are quite a few factors that go into the service issues here in America's Finest City. Training costs money and turn over is high, meaning you're always expending $$$ to train staff rather than having it fall to the bottom line, which could be looking rather anemic after rent, utilities, food, insurance, etc.. I suspect too many waiters and waitresses get their training on the fly. Indifference is an attitude and as long as the floor manager, general manager, chef and/or owner is willing to accept that and not willing to take action to change that, the attitude of indifference remains.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Also, don't forget, a large majority of the local waitstaff are not professional staff, they are part timers, students, or simply "between jobs" and earning the rent money before the "next best thing" comes along. No one in this town views waiting tables as a profession. I suspect that the stigma of the service industry in a tourist town is probably going to have to change some in order for service to improve. There's a big difference between working to pay the rent and working at a profession.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  My nephew has a cousin who went to UNLV and obtained a degree in Criminal Justice. In college he began work as a busboy at Delmonico's (yeah, Emeril's place in LV). He worked his way up and became a wait captain. He was pulling in well over $100,000/year. He did that for several years, banked a huge chunk of it and finally became a police officer in the high dessert of CA. That type of salary is also not unusual in SF by any stretch of the imagination. But along with the promotions and tip salary came a heck of a lot of training. Realistically, would a waiter at George's, Bertrands at Mr. A's, 1500 Ocean or Addison haul in a six figure income? I don't know, but I would tend to doubt it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Everyone wants to move to San Diego for the "lifestyle" and perceived easy way of living. It's kind of like they check their expectations at the county line and settle for a "less than" mentality. Restaurant service in SD has gone over the same precipice and into the same abyss as the Chargers ever winning a Super Bowl and the Padres every winning the World Series. As a city we have the attention span of a gnat and are more than wiling to move on to the next best thing to soothe our wounds. After all...we live in America's Finest City, don't worry, be happy. We simply don't care since the next wave or convention will be along soon.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  To Honkman - Yes it is true that SD has a strong military presence and an even stronger conservative background. But the military hasn't been the primary employer since the early 90s and the conservative orientation has been substantially eroded over the last 10 years at least. With the influx of technology and biotechs came hundreds of thousands of people with more diversity and spending cash than military personnel. Not to mention they tended to be better educated, more sophisticated and less conservative than many already in SD. I also can't buy that San Diegans don't travel very much and thus don't have the same experiences. I've run into San Diegans all over the world, and my parents - 2 conservative kids from Iowa - were traveling internationally with their friends from the late 70s on. I'm not so sure the issue is lack of exposure to great service as much as it is a willingness to simply accept lower service expectations. Why I don't know, the best I've come up with is that it's in the water...drink it once and with all that heavy metal you'll never worry about service again ;-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                  I think you are, however, right on when you say that many people don't understand or realize that dining out is about more than the food. My question is do they even care? And if they don't why? Too many people have over-scheduled lives and meals and/or dining out has been reduced to getting refueled in the shortest time possible with the least amount of hassle and as cheaply as possible so they can get on to the business of checking off the next task on the daily "to do" list. And then there is, of course, the whole slice of the populace for whom food is just fuel for the body and they derive little or no pleasure from it. There are some social changes that are going to have to happen first before the mindset and food culture changes in this county.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  I often dine out with a former fine dining waitress who worked for several German chefs in LA (not not Wolfie) during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Those chefs ran their kitchens with an iron fist and were structured, deliberate and demanding about how they wanted their businesses run. My friend has a ton of stories about the hard work and exacting standards to which they had to work, as well as the fun they had. Of course, many things have undergone tremendous transformation since the 60s and 70s and almost all processes are much less structured than they used to be, including the service industry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  The best service I had this year was at AnthologySD. And yes, this discussion about service in SD should be a separate thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: DiningDiva


                                                                                                                                                                                                    I can understand some of your points but can’t always agree with or have at least some questions:

                                                                                                                                                                                                    - You mention training costs money but why are restaurants in other cities are willing to spend this kind of money (And their rents, utilities etc are not lower) ?

                                                                                                                                                                                                    - Most waiters in other cities (Boston, LA, Palm Springs, Napa, Carmel etc.) I met this year were also not professional staff but often students, jobless actors etc. So why were they trained properly and simply better waiters ? You describe the situation in SD with a lot of not professional staff as unique to SD but I don’t think that it is unique to SD. Only the quality of training this not professional staff gets in SD in unique for this city.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    - You write about “…the influx of technology and biotechs”: Here you are talking about the field I am working in and I can only tell you that biotech (and also parts of technology) in SD are dying. Ten years ago everybody talked about the three biotech hubs in the US: SD, SF and Boston. Nobody is talking about SD anymore. The majority of mid to large size companies closed their sites over the last ten years. And very often these companies complained about the conservative way of thinking in this city and missing openmindness. SD might not be as conservative as 30 years ago but hasn’t moved far. One might say there is no connection but for me also small things show sometimes how people feel and think and so far example why is it so hard to find a restaurant open after 10pm in this city ? Why is it so hard to find restaurants who are willing to use unusual (?) but authentic ingredients (e.g. I have problems to find an italian restaurant in SD who uses chicken liver, something which you find in Italy at every corner and which I hadn’t problems to find at one random italian restaurant in SF during a conference this year) ? No, I still think this city is lacking this openminded spirit I found in other cities.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    - You wrote “Too many people have over-scheduled lives and meals and/or dining out has been reduced to getting refueled in the shortest time possible with the least amount of hassle and as cheaply as possible so they can get on to the business of checking off the next task on the daily "to do" list”.
                                                                                                                                                                                                    That is true for every city in the US but somehow other cities don’t have a problem to have a great restaurant scene with great service but why is SD different ?

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I do agree that service should be it's own topic, but I also see a lot empathy and excuses, in this thread about why SD has this problem. If waitstaff want to make a decent living, there should be no room for poor service. They also should know their menu and be able to explain and make recommendations. If they convey an attitude, it's usually the beginning of a bad experience.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I'll give you a small simple example; on week-ends I usually eat breakfast at the Broken Yolk in PB. No matter what I order or request the answer is never NO. The waitstaff are always pleasant cordial and smiling. The service and refills of water coffee etc. are very timely, and the quality of food is very good, they use fresh ingredients and the prices are reasonable. (the owners philosophy)

                                                                                                                                                                                                      The result from me, I tip the waitstaff 'well' and they appreciate it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Note to honkman: I agree on the Italian restaurant seen, it's pretty basic stuff (in some cases pathetic), not sure why. My same feelings for LI in general.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Honkman, this is exactly one of the reasons why having this discussion is so difficult on-line, the medium is too flat <sigh>. I don't disagree with any of your rebuttal comments. The population from which the waitstaff is hired is not unique to SD, and I would probably agree that in very few cities is waitstaff a viable profession, although I do think there are some cities that *do* have a much more established service tradition. I am aware that SDs biotech industry is sputtering and though you'd probably call me on it :-D, but I don't think you can ignore the impact it had, and perhaps that is one of the reasons we "have" begun to see improvements in restaurants in general, not just service. And if you think SD is conservative now, thank you luck stars you didn't live here in the 60s and 70s ;-). The last time I check, tho', conservatives were still going out to eat, still dropping big bucks on meals (not in SD, of course) and were some of the pickiest diners in terms of demands.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        As for training, menu prices in SD are still lower (as they should be for the quality and creativity of what is served) than many other cities, while costs are at the same - or higher levels - than many other cities. As we've all seen, real estate prices had an extraordinary run up over the last few years and it wasn't limited to home purchases, rents went up as well. We also all know that SD has some of the highest, and occasionally the highest gas prices in the nation. Most vendors are just passing along the gas prices in the form of higher prices, or fuel surcharge, to the restaurant who may or may not pass along the increase to we consumers. Profit margins may be lower in SD than some other mid-tier cities, but probably not the SFs, CHIs or NYCs of the world. There may or may not be as much money left over for training in SD as in other cities. There is, clearly tho', no emphasis on it. But even if there is money for it, if the owner/management has no clue about decent service and is willing to accept the status quo, then no training happens. I wonder how many owners/chefs/managers really know or understand what great service is. And here's another question, does excellent service make diners in SD uncomfortable because they experience it so infrequently that they don't know how to behave appropriately? (Rhetorical, I may be all wet on this on)

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Now, in defense of the often beleaguered waitstaff, I think we also need to consider the number of tables they are asked to cover. How many tables does a restaurant assign to a station? And how many potential guests would be in that station? No matter how much training a waiter has had, if s/he is asked to cover too many tables or guests, the service will suffer. This is often a result of scheduling too few people to cover the floor, or too many people calling off sick or simply being no call/no show for a shift. I think all of us have observed or been victims of a waiter or waitress with too many tables, too many guests and too little help, resulting in shoddy and indifferent service.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        The apprenticeship and guild programs in Europe immersed young trainees into the business at an age where they absorbed a lot by virtue of having to learn the business from the ground up while satisfying a tough task master and achieving some set standards of competency. In many U.S. culinary schools the least favorite requirement has often been to work the floor as a waiter (hopefully this attitude is changing), but they'll apply for an executive chef position straight out of culinary school with little experience. Whether waiting or cheffing, it's a process to get from entry level to experienced provider. If a culinary school grad doesn't understand the front of the house and the guest, how can s/he understand what to put on the plate? (Another rhetorical question, I may be all wet on this one too). And conversely, the kitchen can be turning out extraordinary food, why should it be short circuited by inept service staff? The front of the house and the back of the house have to be working in concert for the whole experience to work. The kitchen fails if their are no servers to serve. The servers fail if the kitchen sends them nothing to serve. Each enhances the other.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        There can be no argument that San Diego doesn't have that "beach casual" mentality. And that often does extend to the service we experience. I think the biggest difference I've experienced is that when I've been on the receiving end of excellent service, it was all about me the guest and not the waitstaff, restaurant or chef; there was an honest and sincere desire to please and to please me specifically. I think it's the desire to please the guest that is so lacking here in SD. It's not about the restaurant, or the chef, or the waiterstaff, it's about the guest and satisfying the guests needs, not the guests satisfying the needs of the business.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        These are just ideas and thoughts I'm putting out there. I'm not married to any of them, except maybe the last one. I can be persuaded by alternate arguments or POVs. I've spent a lot of time over the last few years wondering about service and the lack thereof in this city. Over that same period of time we've seen improvements in the food, but service seems stuck in that same old dusty rut. So have at it folks, if you don't agree with me, so be it, but please advance your own theories. Service in SD sort of feels like trying to find the end of the rainbow...

                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Dining Diva please start the service thread! We had excellent service at AnthologySD a few weeks ago and a completely opposite experience at Vivace at The Four Seasons - it was appalling!

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Only replying to the cash issue--as a former hostess, cocktail waitress & server in several fine dining restaurants in San Diego I can attest that the servers in my restaurants and bartenders were making well over $100,000 and are there for the career and are also well trained and worked their way up to their current positions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Further discussion about restaurant service in SD continues here:


                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. Hallelujah! Thank you, Mangiatore, for speaking the truth and thank you editors for pushing the debate. My first marriage to a wine broker taught me to be discerning about what I eat and drink. I learned to cook from Julia, Marcella, Diana, and Alice. I ate well at the world's best restaurants and drank Petrus and Romani-Conti, but I also ate well at reasonably priced bistros all across the US. When I moved to San Diego seven years ago, poor and husbandless, I couldn't figure out where the good food was. I didn't expect SD to be any place else but itself, and all I wanted was food out that was authentically what this city is about. I would have settled for a decent bowl of pho as good as I'd eaten in Richmond VA. Or mexican food as diverse and delicious as San Antonio's. Or the cheeseburger and fries I'd eaten in St. Paul MN taverns. All I managed to find in SD were a good place to get a lobster burrito and George's bar in La Jolla. Those two were my standbys when discerning friends came to town. SD seemed to have a preponderance of disneylandified, theme restaurants (like Parallel 33 and Kemosabe) with silly or ugly food. Or badly translated versions of what's happening in SF or NYC without owners or chefs understanding or knowing how to execute true culinary and service standards (Modus, Addison where I had to send back my entree because the fish was off). It was so bad that when a friend came to review SD's hip "new" restaurants for the NYTIMES, he couldn't find a story. We covered the city. I ate with him for two weeks on the TIMES, and he ended up writing instead about the Tijuana food scene. Now, after 7 years, I'm living with an executive chef. (That's one way to skin the cat.) More than ever we lament how limited our options are the rare times we have to dine out together-- even though he gets treated royally at all the best restaurants in SD. What we wouldn't give for an honest, good meal in a stylish, low key atmosphere! This thread offers me a new outlook: recommendations from upbeat, knowledgable people who keep looking. So enough of my whining! Thanks, Magiatore, and all you SD people who are good enough to keep exploring and pushing. Always, what has made me sad about SD-- in all aspects of life here-- is that it doesn't know what it doesn't know. You can't aspire to greatness if you don't know who you are. Or if you let the people who run your city tell you who you are. And finally, let me recommend a few places which have never disappointed. What my chef and I do is eat lunch out or sit at the bar to keep costs down. 1. Savory in Encinitas 2. Lupi in Bird Rock (hit and miss food but brilliant Italian wines if you get the owner to recommend and pour. This would be a bar meal with appetizers and wine.) 3. A.R. Valentien (lunch because we can't afford dinner but the terrace is lovely.) 4. Bread & Cie (Thank God we at least have decent bread here) 5. George's Bar (best mussels I've ever eaten and the most beautiful view in the world.) 6. Tapenade Bar M-T 7. AND RIP Chilango's. We miss you. To close, may I suggest another thread titled "If San Diego is So Beautiful Where are the Great Outdoor Dining Areas?"

                                                                                                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: pickypicky

                                                                                                                                                                                                      And the fish sandwiches at El Pescador, La Jolla (next to Mitch's.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: pickypicky

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I hear you on some levels, but it actually sounds like you're missing out on a lot. There are many good dining options in San Diego - hopefully you will learn more about them by spending more time on these boards (and by thoroughly reading all of the posts above.) Good luck!

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: pickypicky

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Edit: Forget it. This thread isn't worth my time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. Come eat in Detroit, you'll think S.D. is a culinary mecca.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: oaklandfoody

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I think this IS the post to bury this thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. I am fairly lost as a person who eats out in San Diego County, anymore. I've been here so long and have seen things come and go with such alacrity that I hardly have a chance to try something before its gone. I have also seen places change that were once good and are no longer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Rubios, for instance. I remember when it was a backlot wallfixture just off of the San Diego State campus. I defy anyone to match the goodness of those fish tacos of that time. I eat a Rubios taco now...I want to barf. A Mayonnaise Mess of greasy mushy fish and limp cabbage. BLAGH!

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Well, at any rate, there are still a few places worth eating that I treat myself to sometimes. My tastes are probably pretty plebeian to most of you, but I know what I like and I eat what a like.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Here are some places I go for good food:

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Mexican: Carnita's La Hacienda on E 18th St. in National City. This place is a Node In Time. It hasn't changed for over 40 years. It is, without exception, the best Mexican Food in San Diego. Its old. Its beat up. Its dusty. It sometimes has graffiti. Its absolutely my precious treasure! I am fond of their Barbacoa, but just their plain old Chile Relleno is a thing of utmost beauty! Tacos-go to a taco shop. Burritos-go to a 'bertos. Order a --plate-- of something good here! I even think they have Oaxacan style moles here...but I'd have to check to be sure. Brush up on your Spanish--It helps big time here!

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Greek: There is a fast food place in Seaport Village owned by an old San Diego Media Fixture named Jerry G. Bishop. Its called the the Greek Islands Cafe. Order the Athenian Chicken and eat out on the patio next to the bay at sunset. You will remember...

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I also like Athens Market (though its gone upscale on me). Moussaka's really good.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Indian: Madras Cafe. They serve you on a thali. You eat with your fingers. Be prepared to drink lots of water and sweat a lot. Not a lamb shank or a Tandoori Chicken leg in the carload. No meat at all in fact. No insipid Tikka's or Masalas here. As a matter of fact, you might want to bring an Indian friend along to tell you what you are eating (coz you won't have a clue - although the sweet little lady with the saffron sari tries to be very helpful). This is the --real-- stuff to cater to the many Indian nationals that work in San Diego's little known 'Little India' just on the east side of Miramar Rd at Black Mountain Rd. Address: 9484 Black Mountain Road. Uh...remember to pay in cash - you will get a big white smile if you do.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Nice Dining (albeit not 'fine' dining): Barbarella at La Jolla Shores. The owner here seats you herself. You get the full treatment with candles and white tablecloths if you like, etc. A wonderful Chef. A real brick oven. You can eat outside in the English Style garden or in the patio or inside if its a chilly day. Stylish and wonderful food at a very reasonable price for what you are getting and you don't have to dress up to eat here. I see a --lot-- of La Jolla locals eating here. You know...the kind with BIG trust funds. As my friend said when I took her here 'I can smell the money'. Fun to car watch too. I dig custom-made Lotus's. This is the --real-- thing...may Tapanade go to Hades. 2171 Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Strange Dining: Marrakesh Restaurant: Go Saturday nights. Harrisa. Bestija. Couscous. Spicy lamb tagine falling off bones. Olives. Mint tea. Belly dancing. Its fun!! You can even sit on a mushroom. 634 Pearl Street, La Jolla,

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Other than these, I have little to recommend. Most of the places I liked to go to are long gone now or have changed beyond recognition.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I'll have to try Ba Ren -- right after I learn Mandarin, I guess. That might fill one of the things I've been SORELY missing in San Diego, a decent Chinese restaurant. Although Ba Ren is Szechuan and my preference is Cantonese, but I still would like to get some good Chinese dishes, even nuclear hot ones. (What I wouldn't give to have Sweet and Sour Pressed Almond Duck Cake again!!!)

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I'd also like a good family Italian place that isn't Boca d'Beppos - not my fave. I don't mean one of those 'trattoria' wannabe places either. Just good ol' Sicilian cooking. The kind like Mama Filippi used to make on India street when she was still alive, may God Grant Her Peace.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Not all San Diego restaurants suck...just most of them...and they didn't USED TO!!! Maybe I oughtah open a restaurant. I make a mean red sauce :-P

                                                                                                                                                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: MisterM

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Your post was entertaining and spot on, for the most part (although I do like Tapenade!). I used to go to Rubio's all the time when it was just the little place off Mission Bay Drive. And, oddly enough, I'm kind of fond of Greek Islands Cafe, although Athens Market is my choice for Greek food. Do go to Ba Ren! You won't be disappointed, even if those Mandarin lessons haven't kicked in yet.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              For "good family Italian", I know of a little spot in Lemon Grove called Lido's. The place has been there for years, gets a ton of business, and reminds me of Filippi's when it was better. Food is good, prices are good - hard to beat.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              One last note: you took me on a ride on the "wayback machine" by mentioning Carnitas La Hacienda! I had no idea the place was still in business! I grew up in Chula Vista, and the family would trek over there about once a month for Mexican food. I recall it being good, but I was hardly one to judge at that age. I'll make a point to get down there and try it again. Thanks!

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: phee

                                                                                                                                                                                                                SD dining- We live in Northern Cal and just visited SD for first time. Stayed with friends around Carlsbad, then spent 2 nights in 'Gaslamp SD' at Ivy Hotel.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                Carlsbad was sleepy, but we visited this AMAZING joint called the El Camino Grille! Tiny place, but the focus on products and food was oustanding... probably the best burger I have had in recent memory (and I've had a few!). This chef apparently makes their own ketchup, mustard and even soda(!) and they have all these great spreads- habanero aioli, roasted garlic basil pesto and more, plus a number of side dishes smoked almond cole slaw, sweet potato fries, etc. Wow....worth the visit. I am shamelessly plugging it, but trust me, it will be on the Zagat/LA-NY Times food radar soon.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Gaslamp/SD was pretty brutal, but to be honest we didn't eat everywhere. Feels a bit like a poor French Quarter in N.O., but without the charm and even more pubs. Ivy restaurant was overpriced, food & service not good and overall forgettable, but the hotel/ dining room was gorgeous. Very schwanky. Nice guest rooms!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                Visited Hard Rock Hotel SD and it was a blast...ate at some cofffee shop called Maryjane's for breakfast both days and it was outstanding. Fun decor, laid back, cheap. AND we went to Nobu SD so I have this to say- There is hope for SD dining if Nobu is there! Watch the other big chef names follow....good luck San Diego, but please clean up all those cafe and bar dumps from 'Gaslamp'.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: FoodWarrior22

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Hi Phee! - La Hacienda is still my favorite although (pardon the silly name) Casa D'el Taco on Sweetwater Rd. in National City makes fantastic Carnitas. Its like a Pork Fat thing, ya know?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I've gone to a number of these other Mexican places and they are way too gringoized for me...especially in Old Town. I mean Alcapulco...cummooon!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I keep hearing about this Milpas place in Barrio Logan. I've heard this about that and that about this, bada-bing. Ya know. ~shrugs~ What's the deal? And this Pokez place. What's that?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I'll be sure to give Lidos a try. Does it have any scary looking men talking about their Godfathers there? If not...fogheddahboudit. They also need to use garlic to be good.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Hi FoodWarrior - I'm afraid the Gaslamp is a tourist trap. But...you should'a seen it 30 years ago! Yeeks! Now THAT was filthy! Heroine anyone?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Now, Carlsbad. There you have something. Sleepy as it may seem, the place is actually a BOOMTOWN! Its like half the County's economy is based there now! I need to start nosing around there more. I'll probably be working there soon. I'll take you up on the El Camino Grille deal. That sounds like a fascinating place!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: FoodWarrior22

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    "Watch the other big chef names follow"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I think those days are behind us.