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Starvin' in San Diego

Please help a poor San Franciscan relocating to SD. What are the top ten restaurants in the immediate San Diego area regardless of price, etc? I feel lost with Gary Bauer et al.

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  1. Did you mean Michael Bauer? Just to let you know your post is going to generate quite a bit of "San Diego restaurants suck" blah blah blah.
    If you did mean restaurant reviewers there are some competent ones in the SD;generally not at the UT (but please don't boot my answer for talking about restaurant reviewers chowhound mods...)
    But here are my tops in no particular order:
    Marine Room (money no object La Jolla)
    Taco Surf (San Diego style clean taco shop--in Pacific Beach)
    Jaunitas (Encinitas)
    Waterfront (downtown/little italy neighborhood old old bar with great hamburgers--some people don't like their fries but I think that they are tasty)
    Oceanaire (downtown)
    Cafe Chloe (East Village)
    Modus (Banker's Hill--lots of detractors but I like the vibe and the food)
    South Beach (Ocean Bach Great fish tacos etc...I personally like the fried oyster tostada. Its not on the menu I just asked them to make it. Amazing.)
    Laurel (Banker's Hill--happy hour Lamby Joes I am addicted at the moment)

    11 Replies
    1. re: jturtle

      jturtle, I like your posts so don't take this personally, but I have to say that the Waterfront is to hamburgers what Saffron is to Thai food -- somehow it got a reputation for great food when it has awful food. I mean, are those buns from the highschool cafeteria? I'm pretty sure the patties are from the Von's freezer.

      1. re: mangiatore

        I knew one of those restaurants was going to create some sort of response...
        Clearly your Vons has better burgers then my Vons. When I go to the Waterfront I generally sit at the bar and watch them form my patty's sometimes they are misshapen and don't fit on the bun (hence why I am pretty sure they are actually making them in the back) but they are always well seasoned and nice and drippy. Sometimes they are a wee bit too drippy but if I am going to go sit at a divey bar I am okay with a little too drippy.
        OP didn't put down his neighborhood so I threw out my neighborhood bar where I get a good solid hamburger on a Wednesday night. Sometimes I get chili cheese fries as I think they are good there too. I wasn't saying it is the culinary masterpiece of San Diego but for being a neighborhood bar it does a fairly decent burger. Perhaps if I lived in PB I would attempt to go to Rocky's enough to figure out why everyone thinks that is the best burger.

        It just seemed that OP was looking for suggestions for good solid food not stuff to rival SF and every now and then a neighborhood joint is what you are looking for.

        1. re: mangiatore

          IMHO the Texas burger with cheese and grilled onions is one of the better burgers in town; I do fall into the camp that thinks their fries suck.

          1. re: mangiatore

            I have found that Saffron provides fantastic food. We go there often and they are also great for take out. The owner offers daily specials and she often on site overseeing the quality of the food.

            1. re: normalheightsfoodie

              NOrmal---Finally something that you say that i can Agreee with. All i have to say is that you need to go to saffron get Two Thighs of roast Chicken over red Rice with that Peanut Sauce. For 7$ is is the best fast meal in San diego.
              Saffron rocks!!!

            2. re: mangiatore

              For my money, I like Hodads in OB. One of the best hamburgers in town. Also I am surprised no one mentioned Perrys - down by the Old Town train station for breakfast. Just great. Always crowded and very good. What Say?

              1. re: wcarpenter

                Perry's actually get mentions on the SD breakfast threads as they come up. Some people don't like it because they don't think it's "quality" enough. Personally, I love the place (and the one in El Cajon too), their hash browns are wonderful, some of the best straight up hash browns in town. Those line cooks and waitresses certainly earn their wages!

                I think breakfast is the one meal where San Diego really does outshine San Francisco. I don't think Perry's is quite what the OP had in mind, but there really isn't much like Perry's in San Francisco.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  I think I'm going down to Perry's right now...it has been too long!

                  1. re: ibstatguy

                    Have some hash browns for me :-). Their coffee is pretty good too.

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      They sure do know how to cook their hashbrowns. This'll probably freak some people out, but lately I've been ordering a side of hashbrowns with a side of the Jus for the French Dip, which I pour over the hashbrowns.

                2. re: wcarpenter

                  Perry's is one of the few restaurants where I'm willing to wait a long time for my meal. They're one of the few places that have waffles done in the classic style, not Belgian. I'm not a fan of Belgian waffles because they're too fluffy and, when topped, become very soggy. Perry's makes a fantastic waffle and the coffee is good, so I'm a happy camper.

                  I realized that I replied to this thread in April 2007... funny thing is that I'd probably have a different list 8 months later.

            3. Good luck my friend. SF is one of the best cities in the country for food, SD is one of the worst.

              Quick Tips:
              - avoid the Gaslamp
              - avoid Hillcrest (with a few exceptions)
              - manage your expectations

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

              Wine Sellar - excellent all around. Ignore the fact that you're in a tech. park in Mira Mesa.
              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 - lunch specials are good for the price
              Izakaya Sakura - not as good as people say, but good.
              South Beach - for fish/lobster tacos, vodka oyster shooters, good/cheap beer
              Buon Appetito - not bad. I didn't feel like I got ripped off.
              Pomegranate - Georgian-Russian restaurant in Northpark. Ironically, it serves some of the best food around.
              Cafe Chloe - great food, great beer list
              Sushi Ono - great modern sushi (go to Ota for nigiri, here for creative roles)

              3 Replies
              1. re: mangiatore

                I think that Hillcrest (I know that you wrote with a few expections) has some very good restaurants which are very much underappreciated and often some of the best in SD for what they do, so I really wouldn't avoid Hillcrest. In compariosn to other parts of SD Hillcrest has higher number of good restaurants:

                California Cuisine
                Mama Testa
                Extraordinary Dessert
                Kous Kous (haven't tried it yet but heard very good things about)
                Pizza Nova

                1. re: honkman

                  Restaurants I enjoy in Hillcrest:

                  Kous Kous (Moroccan)
                  Amarin Thai
                  Khyber Pass (Afghani)
                  Sambuca (Italian)
                  Wholefoods (organic hot and cold bar, deli, muliticultural selections)

                  Ramsses (Mediterranean)
                  India Palace (cheap lunch buffet)

                  Desserts and drinks/ breakfast
                  Extraordinary Desserts
                  Bread & Cie (sandwiches etc are very good too)
                  Pasha (Mediterranean restaurant, but I go for the desserts)
                  Wholefoods (yummy blueberry pancakes in the morning, gelato, large pastry selection)
                  Bassam's cafe (yummy and huge dark hot chocolate and huge tea selection)
                  Chocolat - muy rico

                  Outside Hillcrest:
                  Banker's Hill area - Hexagone (French)
                  Mira Mesa -- Indian center on Black Mountain Rd -grocery and restaurants
                  La Mesa -- Himalayan cuisine (Indian, Nepalese, Tibetan)
                  Linda Vista - Sab E Lee -- hole in the wall authentic Thai
                  Downtown - Chloe's Cafe, Westgate Hotel Sunday brunch $70/person -- lots of seafood, elegant atmosphere
                  College area - Saigon (Vietnamese) but watch out for MSG (i don't go as much bec of this)
                  El Cajon Blvd - Harar (Ethiopian) fun hole in the wall, big portions
                  North Park - Vo (Vietnamese) - looks like a stand, primitive, but cheap and huge portions
                  La Jolla -- Alfonso's (Mexican); Mandarin House (Chinese)
                  Pacific Beach -- Sushi Ota, Ichiban (cheap HIW), Tokyo House (some good), Outback (organic burgers, has lamb burgers), PB Sushi,

                  1. re: pamina

                    Does the original poster even live in san diego anymore?

              2. I will have to agree with my fellow Chowhounds. Being from SF, you will be disappointed w/ the food here. However, there are a few gems. It's more than ten, the first ten being my fav. ten.

                Jacks La Jolla
                Donovans Steakhouse
                China Max - good new Hong Kong cooking
                Taka - I know, it's downtown, and pricy, but it's really good sushi
                The Linkery
                Buga Korean BBQ (I hear SF has some bad Korean food)
                Emerald - good dim sum
                Rocky's in PB for burgers
                Laurel - good happy hour
                Kensington Grill - ok food, good "neighborhood eatery" vibe
                Sushi Ota - the other really good high end sushi spot in SD
                Modus - ok food, good vibe, probably the best thing is that the kitchen is open late
                Fresh Restaurant (haven't been in a while, but last visit was good)
                Buon Appetito
                Taste of Thai
                Cafe Chloe - ok food, good vibe

                Good luck.

                1 Reply
                1. re: JKP

                  For Chinese try Dumpling Inn on Convoy north of Balboa. Always a line, no reservations, big portions. If you call ahead they'll put your name on the list so you don't have to wait as long. Bring your own beer.

                2. I'm from LA, love to go to SF to eat...Clemintine, Del Fina, Hog Island...
                  Many ok meals in SD (My brother lives there. ) I've enjoyed Laurel and Vagabond the most.
                  Laurel: beautiful room, great service, nice wine list, great cocktails...I guess, by reading the other posts, I must try the happy hour.
                  Vagabond was perfect every time.
                  I'm all about food more than hoopla. The place is small the food is amazing but it can get pretty crowded. If you love wine, all the dishes are worth bringing a special bottle from your cellar but you may not need too (keep in mind, this is not formal dining, this is more like when one of you high-end wine-friends cooks an amazing dinner and cracks open some great bottles type-o-place)...the wine list is extensive with no snobbery, point chasing, or lable-whore-ishness involved.
                  There are the perfect mussles and fries, an incredible Cassoulet (sp?), and many other dishes and beyond-good desserts. I've never had a bad meal there.
                  I prefer sitting at the bar because the people pouring are passionate about the wine-if you are adventuous they will help you explore...plenty of wines by the glass each night. The owners are very friendly and like to see their guest comfortable...one night, while sitting at the bar, I kicked of my Jimmy Choos, and crossed my legs in my seat...the owner came over and I thought he was going to ask me to put my shoes back on...instead, he said: "Now that's what I like to see, a lady who feels comfortable enough here to kick off her shoes to enjoy her dinner." and of course, it was another perfect meal.

                  1. I lived in San Diego for 6 years before moving to the Midwest. We go back to visit every year, and here are my 'must' stops:
                    *Laurel-heavenly, with a price to match
                    *Trattoria Acqua-La Jolla Cove, warm, cozy, great food & view
                    *Rubios & La Salsa, cheap and good eats. I'm still trying to find fish tacos around here that compare!!
                    *The Cheese Shoppe in La Jolla-get sandwiches to go and take them to the beach or cliffs with a bottle of vino
                    *Sbicca-Del Mar great food, great wine and great area; book the wine room for a group
                    *Pannikin's-for breakfast and fabulous Mexican Mochas! The location in Solana Beach has more ambience.

                    Hope that helps fill your belly with happiness!

                    1. Also forgot to mention Hash House A Go-Go in Hillcrest. The portions are HUGE, so go to share or prepare to take home!

                      1. You might look into these two older discussions to understand a little bit about this general opinion about this topic:

                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/391745 (look for the posts from rotochicken which summarize pretty much the general opinion



                        1. You are probably going to get many differing opinions with respect to the top ten, but there will be some consensus on a few favorites. Here are some of mine - I also have a longer list on my blog, at www.aliceqfoodie.com (it's on the sidebar.)

                          Neighborhood Gems:
                          Cafe Chloe
                          The Guild
                          The Linkery
                          Jayne's Gastropub
                          Modus (mixed, but I love their duck confit)
                          Vagabond (same, but I love their moules frites


                          Fine Dining:
                          Jack's La Jolla (actually either the fine dining or the grille)
                          1500 Ocean
                          Parallel 33

                          Quick Takeout/Ethnic:
                          Dao Son
                          K Sandwiches (bahn mi)
                          Mama's Lebanese
                          Soltan Banoo
                          Mama Testa
                          El Zarape
                          El Pescador
                          The Cheese Shop

                          Breakfast/Lunch Cafes
                          Bread and Cie
                          Con Pane
                          Cantina Panaderia
                          Parkhouse Eatery
                          Brockton Villa (only for breakfast)
                          Rebecca's Coffeehouse in Golden Hill
                          Influx Coffee House in Golden Hill
                          Pannikin in Del Mar (in the Flower Hill Mall - Bookworks)

                          As far as press - there are the other local food blogs (there's a list on mine), www.sandiego.eats.it.com, these boards (of course!), the Reader, and San Diego Citybeat.

                          Welcome - and have fun exploring!!

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Alice Q

                            Not sure what Chowhound is doing to my parentheses (sp?) but I tried to fix it and cannot. What I wanted to say is there is another thread here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/314261

                            that you may also find helpful. It's a few months old, but it was from another person looking for the best San Diego has to offer.

                            1. re: Alice Q

                              looks like my link broke - it's www.sandiego.eats.it - the comma screwed it up.

                              1. re: Alice Q

                                Jack's La Jolla is joke when it comes to dining...it turns into a giant night club at 9pm Thursday through Saturday..It's loud and generally to food is half ass and the wine list is etremely over priced. Save your time and money people

                              2. Price no object and in no particular order:
                                Jack's La Jolla Fine Dining Room
                                AR Valentien
                                El Bizcocho

                                Slightly downwards in price...
                                Parallel 33 (although I haven't been for a while)
                                Cafe Chloe


                                Cheap, ethnic and good:
                                KirkK's blog, www.mmm-yoso.typepad.com is the best and most accurate critique of all things Asian.
                                Buga Korean BBQ
                                Ba Ren
                                Izakaya Sakura
                                Tofu House on Convoy
                                Yakitori K-1
                                Phoung Trang
                                Pho T Cali
                                Edo Sushi
                                Sushi Ota
                                Mama Testa's
                                El Cuervo
                                Punjabi Tandoori

                                for breakfast places:
                                The Cottage
                                Mission Coffee Cup
                                Ricky's (for dutch apple pancake only

                                Keep in mind that SF has way better dim sum and more good Asian food in general. SF is a food haven, SD is behind the curve but getting slowly (key word) better.

                                Sbicca's food is inconsistent and overrated. I tried it so many times, really wanting to like it but it fell flat in some way every time. It survives b/c it's in Del Mar.

                                I've found The Winesellar and Brasserie's food to be underseasoned every time I'm there. They have an amazing wine selection, which maybe makes up for the food aspect, but I haven't been quite blown away by the food itself.

                                I think Spices Thai (at least the one in Carmel Valley), is Americanized and lacks the kick, balanced flavors and freshness that makes good Thai food.

                                If you're into cheese, there's a great cheese shop in Del Mar--Aniata Cheese Shop. They also carry Vosges chocolate bars.

                                1. Greetings:

                                  I grew up in NY and lived in the SF area (Marin) and you will be disappointed if you try to compare SD to the Bay Area....however, I would listen to what Alice Q has to say--she knows her shiite. Couple of other places I would to this wonderful woman's list (whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting yet...BTW, was glad she had a chance to finally check out Delfina):

                                  3rd Corner Wine Bar & Bistro in Ocean Beach (outstanding)
                                  The Vine (Wine bar with food in Ocean Beach (good)
                                  Red Pearl Kitchen in Downtown--excellent Asian food, emphasis on Chinese
                                  Baci--best Italian in all San Diego--across from Seaworld Hilton on Morena Blvd.
                                  Sadaff--best Persian in SD. 2 locations--5th Ave/Gaslamp and La Jola
                                  Athens Market--best Greek in SD; located on 1st Ave across from Horton Plaza
                                  Jordan Restaurant--in Tower 23 Hotel in Pacific Beach--cool ambience, organic food
                                  Apertivo--Italian tapas in North Park (30th & University)....very good, inexpensive
                                  Luigi's--excellent NY Style pizza by the slice, In Golden Hill
                                  Brazil by the Bay--good Brazilian (prato feito--not churrascaria) in Pt. Loma
                                  Dobsons--traditional cuisine (mussels bisque, meat, seafood) in Horton Plaza

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: El Chevere

                                    Also, forgot to add....they finally have a decent Indian restaurant in SD called Royal India in downtown (4th and Market)....excellent lunch buffet with tastey food....every other Indian restaurant in SD I've been to has been bland tasting. This one actually has the right spices and is good. Great for lunch and good for dinner.

                                  2. If you want a great dessert place where you can enjoy some exquisite pastry confections over a rich cup of coffee and good conversation, check out Extraordinary Desserts in Hillcrest/Balboa Park area.

                                    And, for coffee, nothing beats Pacific Bean at the very end of Garnet near the Pier in Pacific Beach. Make sure to get the homemade chocolate whip cream on top of whatever you are ordering. So yummy!!!

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: frostbitn99

                                      For coffee, I'm partial to Caffe Calabria in North Park. Their Viennese latte with honey and cinnamon is wonderful.

                                      1. re: amyzan

                                        There is nothing even close to Caffe Calabria for coffee in SD.

                                        1. re: honkman

                                          How is their pastry selection or do they just serve coffee only.

                                          1. re: El Chevere

                                            Pastry selection is decent, but I don't think it's their "thing". Twigg's pastry selection is better, but their coffee sucks. I think caffe Calabria is better on the savory selections, i.e. panini's etc., than they are for the pastries. The pastries are just fine, but nothing to write home about, or that will send you to the moon and back.

                                          2. re: honkman

                                            amen, brother. We tasted every damn cup of coffee in San Diego before we found it.

                                      2. just a couple to add to the very good suggestions already offered: Addison (was in again last night and remain impressed); sushi - Nobu in Solana Beach

                                        1. Here's my 2 cents, although I'm no help when it comes to high-end stuff.

                                          Barbarella (La Jolla)
                                          Apertivo (North Park)
                                          Ranchos (North Park... there are a couple more locations, but I'm not sure where)
                                          Lefty's Chicago Pizzeria (North Park)
                                          Dumpling Inn (Clairemont Mesa)
                                          Jamillah Garden (Clairemont Mesa)
                                          Pizza Port (Solana Beach)
                                          China Max (Clairemont Mesa)
                                          Yoshi Sushi (Mira Mesa)
                                          Phuong Trang (Clairemont Mesa)
                                          San Diego Chicken Pie Shop (North Park... maybe more Normal Heights?)
                                          The Linkery (North Park)
                                          Big Kitchen (South Park)
                                          Gulf Coast Grill (North Park)

                                          It really depends on where you're moving to. I live in the North Park area and there's a mailing that goes out every three months or so. It contains coupons to a ton of local restaurants, so we use those often to try new places. If it's not great, at least we didn't pay full price for it. My friends and I also do lots of happy hours and the lower prices don't apply to the full menu, it's a great way to get an idea of the quality of the food without dropping a lot of money on it.

                                          I'm an LA native, so I know how you feel in terms of food choices. However, San Diego does surprise on occasion. If you look hard enough, there's usually something. Good luck with the move and welcome!

                                          1. If you're relocating to San Diego, you might want to expand your dining choices from just San Diego. There is something to be said about having some atmosphere when you dine as well as the food, which means you may have to stray a bit from San Diego proper.

                                            I don't think you will be disappointed in any of the following:

                                            Oceanaire - downtown
                                            Remingtons - downtown
                                            Jakes - Del Mar (for the beach ambiance)
                                            George's - La Jolla
                                            Peohe's - Coronado (for the stunning view of the San Diego skyline and some pretty consistent food choices)
                                            Mille Fleurs - Rancho Santa Fe

                                            1. Tapenade and J Six for white table cloth. Tapenade is in La Jolla, and J Six is in the Gaslamp.

                                              Izakaya Sakura and Sushi Ota for sushi. Izakaya is nearly impossible to find, but well worth the effort. This is a very traditional sushi house and they will not prepare americanized sushi. Sushi Ota is more americanized, but they serve quality food and the atmosphere is a bit more raucous.

                                              The Linkery, Parallel 33, Vagabond, and The Guild for small-casual-neighborhood. The Linkery is doing handmade sausage, oraganic produce, and REALLY good beer. Parallel 33 makes food from the, well, 33rd Parallel. The Guild is doing the foam bit.

                                              South Beach Bar and Grill for Fish Tacos and the OB vibe.

                                              Cafe Chloe for quaint French. The service at Cafe Chloe is a tad slow, but the food is worth it. They are not out to copy the Claim Jumper.

                                              For breakfast, hmmmm, Cafe 222 , The Mission (downtown, University Ave is too crazy), Parkhouse Eatery, Cafe 2121, and Hob Nob Hill.

                                              Now for Vietnamese soup, you MUST go to Pho Hoa at the corner fo Euclid Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard.

                                              There are a few new places in San Diego that I have not been to, but several people here have. So, also try, Bite, Currant, Urban Solace, and Avenue 5.

                                              In general, you will find that San Diego's dining scene is NOT like SF. This is just not a cosmopolitan dining town in the way you are accustomed. We do not have Boulevards and the like on every other corner like in SF. You will find that your best meals will be found in the small places, in the tiny out of the way neighborhood places. The service and atmosphere at these places will be more casual than SF, but I think this is how the really talented chefs in SD are irking out their ground, by placing the emphasis on the food, and bypassing the creature comforts of the high end circuit.


                                              1. I was once a foodie in San Francisco working with the likes of Gary Danko and such. I relocated to San Diego in 1999 and was very disappointed with the offerings available at that time. But over the past few years, I've been able to find some cool oldies and a few newbies that have satiated my palatte. My current top two in each category:

                                                Hodad's (Ocean Beach) -- hands down the best burgers in town.
                                                Sushi Ono (Hillcrest) -- ask any local and they'll send you here for the best sushi south of LA

                                                Modus (Banker's Hill) -- Arguably one of the best bars in the nation with creative drinks made from fresh, local ingredients. Their menu was getting a bid tired, but on my last visit they just introduced a ton of new items. Bacon wrapped dates, fried cheese curds, and one kick-ass steak sandwich. Yummy.
                                                Buon Appetito (Little Italy) --I love this place. The food is amazing and the eye-candy waiters make waiting for your food such a joy!

                                                Good luck!

                                                1. Here are a couple of good ones deserving mentions - Gemelli's (5th and Laurel) - wonderful Italian food and service. Vince, the owner, will make you feel right at home and Kous Kous (between Washington and University on 4th) - for wonderful savory, delicious and healthfully prepared Moroccan cuisine. Never had Morrocan? Don't be afraid of it - it is not scary or spicy - just delish!

                                                  1. Wow, not one mention of Super Cocina. Tsk, tsk.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                      1. re: kare_raisu

                                                        Hmm, two years later and this thread has been kicked to the top of the California board... and still not a second mention of Super Cocina. Very sad.

                                                        One of the most shocking things to me about San Deigo's taquerias (and Mexican offerings in general) is how stuck in the Ameri-Mex 1980's they are, with their orange cheese and Ortega taco shells. I've never understood how SD can be so close to Mexico geographically, but so far away culinarily.

                                                        Super Cocina is a really homey, down to earth (and inexpensive) place that would not be out of place in East LA. Perhaps it's not indicative of typical SD Mexican fare, but it certainly is a place worth seeking out, and it absolutely does not deserve to be left out of this thread. Do some further searches on Chowhound for "Super Cocina" to see what they offer.

                                                        Mr Taster

                                                        Super Cocina
                                                        3627 University Ave., San Diego, CA 92104

                                                    1. For caual italian, BYOW to Mama Mia's (fresh food). nine-ten, Sushi Oto (go for lunch, it is cheaper), the cottage and Brockton villa (get the steamers and enjoy the view) in LJ for breakfast. Love Goerges. Had a meal at baleen during restaurant week and it was pretty good, loved the starters. I would go back. Trattoria Aqua, nice food , ambiance and service. If you have kids I do like Pizza Nova, very loud, good pizza crust though I uaually just get the Mary Lou's half chicken salad. They have a decent selection of beer on tap not a lot just a few good choices. Wine list is good enough. It is where I go with the kids. Don't boohoo SD too much, I'm a native. Though the best meal as of yet, I ate at The Boulevard. I don't know it I'll ever have Fois like that again.

                                                      1. No Particular order:
                                                        South Beach - OB
                                                        3rd Corner - OB
                                                        Sushi Bar Kazumi - Hillcrest
                                                        Bombay Exotic Cuisine of India - Hillcrest
                                                        Crown Bistro (Brunch is YUMMY!!!) - Coronado
                                                        Azul - La Jolla
                                                        Extraordinary Desserts - Bankers Hill + Downtown (dont know my neighborhoods very well)
                                                        U-Mi Sushi - Shelter Island
                                                        Rocky's (My vote for possibly the BEST Burgers in SD) - PB
                                                        Pho Hoa Hiep Restaurant - Linda Vista

                                                        I've noticed a Lot of people have LAUREL on their lists, And I just don't get it - We had a meal there ONCE and it was fairly awful - the only redeeming quality is the Shuttle to/from the Old Globe.
                                                        We've also had great food at Terra (great crab cakes), but our last experience was so bad with undercooked food and incorrect orders (and an empty dinning room), we haven't been back in Months.

                                                        1. A good friend came to SD to review Hot New Restaurants in San Diego for the NYTIMES. We spent two weeks eating on the Times, and he ended up with no story. (He said Vagabond was one of the worst meals he'd ever had.) He loved A R Valentien and George's, and thought they were distinctively, superbly San Diego. However, they didn't qualify as Hot and New, so he ended up writing about the Tijuana food scene. (He did enjoy the lobster burritos and enchiladas at Bahia Bird Rock, the fish sandwiches at El Pescador, and the Mexican market on Imperial Ave.)

                                                          15 Replies
                                                          1. re: pickypicky

                                                            I'd be interested in knowing what restaurants you tried. I'd think The Guild, Addison, Market, Cavaillon, Anthology, the restaurant in the Ivy and a couple of others I can't think of off the top of my head would all be worthy of mention.

                                                            Without specificity to your apparant complaint, it becomes little more than: "San Diego Restaurants are Bad", and lets not go there again (and again and again...).

                                                            1. re: mikec

                                                              I take restaurant reviewer's opinions much like I take movie critics - with a grain of salt (no, not even grey smoked salt).

                                                            2. re: pickypicky

                                                              Your friend missed the story. It wasn't Tijuana street food, it was the fact that SD still doesn't have a restaurant scene...or that you can't apply NYC standards to SD a city 3,500 miles away with (for better or worse) a different culture and a different mindset. He missed the opportunity to do an "emperor has no clothes" piece.

                                                              No, SDs restaurants are not world class, but they aren't trash either. Just exactly what they are and what they're trying to be and where they're trying to go is open for debate :-). I think the problem is we're all trying to define who and what SD *is*, which is about like the blind men describing an elephant

                                                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                  I'm glad they didn't write that article - what good would it do? I don't think it's really an issue of applying a NY mindset to the scene - they do pieces about cities all over the country, and they are great for bringing attention to the area, for better or worse. A NYTimes piece on Big Sur brought Deetjen's so much business they've been booked six months in advance ever since it came out. Conversely, a negative article about SD's restaurant scene could be really damaging for the restaurants mentioned.

                                                                  1. re: Alice Q

                                                                    My point wasn't that he should have written a negative piece about specific restaurants. Some newspapers and magazines wouldn't print that kind of article anyway, though I think the NYTimes isn't particularly shy about that. The point is that there are a lot of people out there saying SD restaurants are really great and wonderful. If after eating around the county that doesn't bear out, then write about it. You don't have to write about specific places, and it doesn't have to be a hatchet job, but it would be refreshing to hear what didn't work and why, not necessarily where Was it the menus (which do tend to all look more or less the same here, i.e. flat iron steak, short ribs, diver scallops), was it the creative use of the ingredients, or lack of creativity, or even the quality of the products, was the service lacking and why? We live here, we've learned to what palaces work for us or not, someone from out of the area is going to eat around town with a totally different perspective than you or I. L.A. Magazine ran that glowing piece last year that basically said SD dining was on par or better than LA dining. I think a similar article by someone from Chicago or New York would be equally interesting and would most likely have a completely different take on things than did LA Mag.

                                                                    We don't know where Pickypicky and her friend actually ate, and at this point that's actually moot. But if it was fine dining, that is not now, nor has it ever been San Diego's strong point. And while there is a great deal of movement and improvement in SDs fine dining restaurants, I find the mid-range to upper mid-range places the most interesting and exciting. The Linkery certainly deserves mention with it's commitment to sustainability and Jay's untiring and unflagging detective work in sourcing products. No, not everything works at The Linkery but so much of it does and there are very few completely sustainable restaurants in the U.S., let alone SD. La Bastide, Bite and Urban Solace would certainly fall into the superior mid-range category, so would Cafe 1-3, Cafe Chloe and it's sounding like Better Half may as well. I know I sound like a broken record, but the best meal San Diego does is breakfast. It's almost impossible to get a bad breakfast in this city, Omelette Factory in Snatee not withstanding ;-). My god, even IHOP does a respectable breakfast here.

                                                                    And finally there is the whole issue of expectations, yours, mine and everyone elses. Most of us have such a hard time checking our expectations at the door when we walk into a restaurant. We've been conditioned to expect certain things, or we learned what we do and don't like, that it's really hard to walk into a place and turn your mind and taste buds into a blank slate. When I moved back here after 10 years in San Francisco, it was culture and food shock. There were certain products and services I wanted that I just could find or get. At first I thought I'd need to lower my expectations, instead I learned I didn't need to lower expectations, just change them to fit my life and environment. In other words the filters I used in San Francisco no longer fit and no longer worked. So no matter how hard someone tries to put aside their expectations about someplace we tend to bring them with us anyway. If someone comes here from NYC, or Chicago, or even Phoenix they're bringing a whole set of dining expectations and filters with them and whether they know it or not they're going to use them in every single restaurant in which they eat. So if you're eating in SD with a set of NYC filters, yeah, maybe it's not going to seem to measure up to the expectations you walked in the door with.

                                                                    Whether it's this thread, the service thread or the SD restaurants are bad thread, basically what we're all trying to do is define SD in terms of food, which is particularly difficult since SD doesn't define itself in terms of food. NYC does, Chicago does, SF does, and so do any many other cities, and even a few states. Really it's about ennui and SD. The U/T did a great article on this local phenomenon last year. I posted the link at that time but the list mods deleted it. The article focused on the exact same discussions we have here on CH but used our local sports teams as the example, not restaurants. San Diego isn't a sports town any more than it is a food town. I've tried to find the article but the U/T archives aren't exactly very user friendly.

                                                                    Now there are some interesting food stories to be found in San Diego, they just aren't always in restaurants.

                                                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                      I still hold out hope that San Diego can become a food town, but maybe I'm tilting at windmills.

                                                                      Re: breakfast - The Omelette Factory is truly horrendous, we can agree on that. We've actually been liking Cafe on Park lately. Not crowded, and close to the Hillcrest Farmers Market.

                                                                      1. re: DiningDiva


                                                                        I know it is a cultural thing and it very much depends on where you were born and lived most parts of your life and I know you often emphasize on how good breakfast is in SD but I can't see it. Breakfast options in SD are very limited. They are good if you like pancakes, egg-based stuff (scambled eggs, omlettes) and some more Mexican influenced items. But breakfast can be so much more if you look especially more towards Europe. I would like so see a good place with excellent self-made real yogurt (no no-fat or low-fat crap) (typical for Swiss and Austria), or a place which serves excellent cold cuts, cheese and jams with a good variety of breads and rolls (typical for Germany, Denmark, Dutch, part of Scandinavia), or a place with good crepes, croissant or good cappucchino and cantuccini (more typical for France, Italy. Wired is reasonable but breakfast (and dinner) is definitely not their strength). I don't see any of these here in SD because of the relative low influence of European immigrants in SD compared to the east coast, SF where I had much less problems to get at least some of these breakfast items. To be honest I always feel that brekfast was and is the very weak part of the SD food scene because it is very limited and often boring whereas lunch and dinner options were and are much better and constantly improving.

                                                                        1. re: honkman

                                                                          Honkman, you understood my point entirely!! And, you're right. Trying to find a European-style breakfast here in SD *is* very difficult and you're right in attributing that difficulty to the lack of strong European immigrant influence. Edited to add - my comments are truly reflective of the filters I use and how I view breakfast...clearly NOT from the European POV ;-). It's easy to assume we all like the same things and all view meals and food the same way. We don't and your comments really pont that out.

                                                                          "Eggs and stuff" pays tribute to the post-war immigration of Midwesterns (especially Iowans) to SD. The worst breakfast I've ever had in SD was downtown at Richard Walker's Pancake House, and it was truly awful. But people line up out the door for it and that perplexes me. Even the food at The Omelette Factory was better than Richard Walkers, and people line up there too which perplexes me even more.

                                                                        2. re: DiningDiva

                                                                          Amen, DD. Food, besides being tasty, is a metaphorof a culture. Was it Brillat Savarin who said Show me what you eat and I'll tell you who you are? To ponder SD food is also to think about this place in which I live, as I try to understand it. I repeat, I do not want SD to be anything other than what it is. I just want to know what it is-- good and bad. I sometimes believe the good is obscured by the promotion of the bad. For instance, a social historian like Mike Davis might say that the reason there's so little good Mexican food -- or that's it's segregated to Old Town by the city fathers-- is evidence of SD's racism (desire to promote itself as a "white" place.) But glory be, thanks to these posts, I'm finally hearing about some good places to try and to know that my instincts that took me to the Mexican Market on Imperial were right on. I've lived, eaten and explored in many other US cities, and I refuse to let SD daunt me. Thanks for the help. Oh, and I did not name the places where my SO and I ate where the food/service/rationale for existence was subpar because I'm trying to be positive in 2008. However, I did write of my experience at Addison on the Service thread. As for breakfast, I respectfully disagree SD has tons of options. That's one meal my SO and I eat out regularly because of his schedule. Cafe Chloe and The Pancake House are the only places we return to again and again without fear of disappointment.

                                                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                            I think DD stated my thoughts about the SD dining scene much better than I could have done myself. I would like to add one thing that has cheezed me about some of the posters at this site. That there are so many people that take a condescending and patronizing tone when talking about the SD dining scene. I do not travel a lot out of state, but I do go to out of state CE meetings at least once a year. Many of these cities may not be the epicurian capitals of the world, but with a little research, I can find some great meals. They may not be the finest compared to the best NYC has to offer, but they are still great.You take what every place has to offer and enjoy it. I went to Cincy last year for a meeting and I had some very enjoyable meals, and all I kept hearing at the meeting was this town sucks, there is nothing to eat here. When you take Cincy for what it is, you can have a good time. The same is true for SD. We may not have the French Laundry, but I eat fine. I know I am not going to get great deli in SD, but I have plenty of other options, so I really don't care, and when I go visit my mom in LA, then I may go for a Brents run. SD is not LA or SF (thanks) but enjoy our dining scene.

                                                                      2. re: pickypicky

                                                                        It sounds like that was pretty recent - did you try the Guild, Starlite, the Linkery, Market, Jayne's Gastropub, Bite, Blanca, ? Those should all qualify as hot and new - and there are more opening as we speak. I'm not crazy about Vagabond - or Bleu Boheme, which is related. The atmosphere is good but the food is a bit weak (except for the creme fraiche mussels, which I've heard they took off the menu at Vagabond.)

                                                                        Do you have a link to the article he wrote about Tijuana? I'd love to see it, I did a search on the NY Times website and it didn't seem to come up.

                                                                        1. re: Alice Q

                                                                          Here's the Tijuana article: http://travel.nytimes.com/2006/08/25/...
                                                                          It's silly to fear outside coverage or an east coast mindset. Bill is a talented, seasoned features writer (not a food critic) who has more experience with food than my chef boyfriend. He came here to eat and write. He ate. When the story was too negative, he chose not to write it, and he wrote a great article on Tijuana. He'll be back. He loves San Diego more than I do, which is why having an outside perspective is so important. Sometimes we miss what is right under our noses. Which is exactly why I am happy to be here, on CHOW, benefiting from your intrepid adventures and your belief in our fair city. Thank you all. I've been a grinch too long, and I am thrilled with all the places you've ferreted out for me (and Bill on his next visit) to try.

                                                                          1. re: pickypicky

                                                                            Thanks for the link, I will check it out.

                                                                            1. re: Alice Q

                                                                              I'm almost afraid to join this thread, but I kind of need to! My husband and I met in San Diego over ten years ago, and will be returning in May for our tenth wedding anniversary. As we haven't lived there since 1998, we're totally clueless as to what restaurants are still good. I've read this entire thread, believe it or not, and have a little list going, but could you help me out even more?

                                                                              Best Sushi
                                                                              Best Thai (we loved Thai House Cuisine, didn't see it on any of your lists, not sure if it's still there/good)
                                                                              Most Romantic (for our big anniversary night out, money no object)

                                                                              We'll be leaving our son with his grandma in S.D. and staying at a hotel, so we'll probably have three or maybe four nights to go out to dinner. Suggestions? Thanks in advance!

                                                                      3. It all depends--sometimes you want lovely and wonderful, othertimes just good and casual and sometimes in the middle and sometimes a special ethnicity. Here are ones I like: Tapenade, Oceanaire, George's, Better Half, Toshi-San, Piatti, Bandar, Karinya Thai, Saffron, Point Loma Seafood, Cafe Athena...it goes on and I do love Mister Sushi in PB as my home-base sushi place. It's a different world than SF but still very good and I honestly don't care that we don't have the French Laundry here.

                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                        1. re: keena

                                                                          Thanks so much, it seems like Oceanaire, Tapenade and George's have been on almost everyone's list. What do you think of Sushi Ota or Sushi Ono? Have you been to Thai House Cuisine (I think it's in either Clairemont or Mira Mesa)?

                                                                          1. re: lizzy69

                                                                            Sushi Ono's good if you're into fusion-style rolls and enjoy a hip atmosphere with good drinks. However, the rolls are pretty expensive. I usually do happy hour (it's calmer around 5-6pm anyway) with a drink and a roll. Their soft-shell crab roll is fabulous.

                                                                            Sushi Ota's traditional Japanese and they're busy, so make reservations before you go. I've sat at the tables and the sushi bar and both are great. The sushi is really good and the cooked food is also excellent. Also pricey, but I think traditional sushi's worth paying a little more money for. On the other hand, with the fusion places, I occasionally have a hard time paying a lot for a California roll, no matter how good it is.

                                                                            My BF and I met here, too, but our anniversary tradition started when we were poor students and the date always fell during finals week. So, we went to Outback Steakhouse. Years later, we still go to Outback Steakhouse on our anniversary. It's romantic to us. Is there anywhere in San Diego that brings back memories for you?

                                                                            1. re: geekyfoodie

                                                                              Thanks, I think we'll go with Sushi Ota. We lived in L.A. for eight years after SD and have had enough of the "scene". I think Thai House Cuisine (the amazing Thai place in Clairmont/Mira Mesa I mentioned above) brings back the best memories for us. We used to just love going there and eating until we were sick! I love your story about Outback Steakhouse, and at least you know it'll be consistent!

                                                                              1. re: lizzy69

                                                                                I'm occasionally ribbed for not expecting more, but it's just not an anniversary dinner without a Bloomin' Onion. ;) Hilariously, I was just about to tell you that I'd never been to Thai House Cuisine, but I looked it up and it turns out that I had been before. Many years ago, but I do remember it being very good Thai food. Current reviews on another (but less trustworthy, methinks) review site indicate that the restaurant's still good. Have you done a search of this board for it? Maybe it was discussed on a much older post buried in the latter pages of the thread.

                                                                        2. Try Roppongi in La Jolla, the Kobe Beef burgers are Dy-NO-Mite!
                                                                          Indigo Grill in Little Italy is pretty good, the service has always been great when I have been there.
                                                                          Oh Yeah, Cafe Chloe in Downtown is good too.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: milojon

                                                                            Thanks, I've heard a lot about Cafe Chloe, it's on the list!

                                                                          2. So many complaints, for good reason, about SD food. I agree as a former San Francisco/Oakland resident that the basic quality of food is not so great. So, I would say, if you are planning on moving to San Diego, buy a nice house with a nice stove, and get cooking. Spend the money you would spend on going out to eat on some good knives, exquisite ingredients and possibly on someone to clean your kitchen once a week. Then you've turned a complaint into a challenge.

                                                                            I am currently obsessing over the various greens (pea shoots, Mizuna, and shiratake) and mushrooms (enoki, shitake, and king trumpets) at Mitsuwa. And the only place to get consistently good Japanese cucumbers! They've got great sushi quality fish and well-marbled meat for sukiyaki or shabu shabu. The best place to eat in San Diego, I must say, is my own kitchen.

                                                                            Other suggestions for food would be:
                                                                            A.R. Valentien (my favorite spot because I got married there), but also objectively the best meal/ambience/service in San Diego, make sure to get an outdoor table.

                                                                            Opera Cafe for pastries, cakes, and the cutest and most delicious macarroons (thank god they just opened again in Sorrento Valley) (Bread & Cie is good for crusty bread, but their pastries are disgusting monstrosities.)

                                                                            Yakitori in Hillcrest for killer yakitori made with real Japanese charcoal and the coldest beer in San Diego (and you people need to learn how to eat yakitori. It's shared! Eat the meat first and you get the soup/rice dishes afterward! And no, not all Japanese restaurants have Dragon Rolls!)

                                                                            Pomegranate for just plain good meat dishes. It's so satisfying!

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: perfectbroth

                                                                              "... but also objectively the best meal/ambience/service in San Diego, make sure to get an outdoor table"

                                                                              That is a "dangerous" sentence for CH. I think most people on this board might have a very different opinion about this.

                                                                              1. re: perfectbroth

                                                                                "the coldest beer in San Diego "

                                                                                Is it frozen? Do they use liquid nitrogen? I'm not so sure claiming coldest beer is a good thing; typically good beers aren't meant to be drank ice cold because it masks the flavors. It does "help" piss beers though.

                                                                                Also, I'm not so sure why perfectbroth chose this 6 month old thread for their first post and chose to generally bash San Diego food.

                                                                                "The best place to eat in San Diego, I must say, is my own kitchen."
                                                                                Perhaps he/she is inviting us all over for dinner this weekend?

                                                                              2. OK San Diego and relocated San Franciscan, It’s finally here, the place we’ve been searching for – great food at a cool down to earth neighborhood café (just out of downtown) with an awsome little bar, live jazz music and lots of atmosphere. To top it all it has incredibly easy parking. Just a minute away from the Gas Lamp. The Indigo Café (no not Indigo Grill) is a local’s secret that we’ve just discovered. We stopped in on a whim just as the sunset was outlining the spire of an old mission building against the San Diego skyline (nice view). The place fairly sizzled with fragrant grilling spices and the velvety voice of Anna Troy, a local jazz and blues artist. Try their calamari app, it was super tender and they had lots of great salads – I had the Tiffany Salad with field greens, roasted almonds, dried cranberries and feta cheese in a light sesame dressing. For an entrée I ordered their new mustard crusted flat iron steak with creamy mac and cheese- that blew my socks off. It was perfectly grilled in a mustard, thyme, garlic crust that I will be craving for weeks. My husband has a huge pork chop stuffed with shrimp and topped with an etouffee sauce. Prices are really reasonable and they have a nice outdoor street patio. Anyway, it’s the Indigo Café on 6th between Ash and Beech – seriously chowhounds this is a great find.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: lesleymg

                                                                                  It is great, leselymg.

                                                                                  For people who don't want to drive downtown during the week, and who don't care about atmosphere, Indigo Cafe on Clairmont Mesa at Ruffin is run by the same people, with a varying menu based on available ingredients, but only open from 7-5 M-F


                                                                                2. I want to thank everyone for the great suggestions. My girlfriend and I will be spending some time in SD and LA next week and the week after, and I got some amazing ideas for places to eat.


                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: NJLightning01

                                                                                    you realize this is a pretty old thread right?

                                                                                  2. Lotus Thai--Hillcrest. Best Thai ever. Lunch is a great deal.

                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: KWTucson

                                                                                      Oy gevalt

                                                                                      I think the near unanimous consensus among Chowhounds is that among San Diego's very limited Thai offerings, Sab-E-Lee is hands down the best (and only real) Thai food in San Diego. The owner is from the northern Issan region of Thailand and there are several Issan specialties on the menu. This place wouldn't be out of place in Los Angeles, but among the modified Thai food of San Diego it is a shining star.


                                                                                      By the way-- don't go in there, order the pad thai or beef and broccoli and come out saying how it's no good. Do your homework-- read about Issan food and how it is different from Bangkok food (and Americanized Thai food) or even southern Thai food (which is still a rarity to find even in Los Angeles) and then come back here and share your experiences with us.

                                                                                      Mr Taster

                                                                                      2405 Ulric Street, San Diego, CA 92111

                                                                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                        Mr. Taster:
                                                                                        Those are some strict rules you are asking us to follow. I just know what tastes good to me and what does not.

                                                                                        1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                                                                                          If you're looking for standard Americanized Thai/Chinese food, or standard San Diego Amerimex, Chowhound can help you find the best iterations of those kinds of foods among the hundreds that exist all over the county.

                                                                                          But I feel Chowhound really shines when it helps people to find those extraordinary needle-in-the-haystack places like Sab-E-Lee and Super Cocina, which far too few San Diegans really know about... outrageously delicious food at extraordinarily low prices. What's not to like?

                                                                                          If all you know is Americanized pad thai and orange cheese tacos, they may well be tasty but you'll never truly know how great Thai and Mexican cooking can be. Some people might be okay with that, but those people aren't Chowhounds. I'm just doing my part to spread the gospel and raise the bar, to make San Diego a tastier town for all of us to enjoy.

                                                                                          Mr Taster