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Good eats in San Diego's East County?

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New to the area and desperate. Is there anything sublime in the El Cajon/Santee/Spring Valley/Rancho San Diego/Jamul/La Mesa/Bonita neighborhoods? Great mom'n'pop shops ideal. Ethnic = happiness. Mainly interested in weeknight eateries that can substitute for home cooking. Please help save us from Chili's/Olive Garden/Fuddruckers/Claim Jumper/Trophy's and other criminals in the chain-gang.

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  1. Sadly to say, the DiningDiva lives in the DiningDesert, also known as the dreaded East County. HOWEVER............it's is not a complete wasteland. In no particular order you might want to investigate the following places

    La Trattoria - Santee, in the Best Buys shopping center
    Michaels - in Santee in the Von's shopping center
    Panda Country - in Santee next to Michaels
    La Michoacana - in Santee on Mission Gorge Rd., south of the 125. Semi-divey Mexican
    The Fish Merchant - in San Carlos (which is almost La Mesa) on Navajo Rd.
    Tivoli's - in San Carlos in the shopping center at Navajo & Jackson and under new ownership. Pizza is much improved
    Cheer's Deli - in San Carlos in the liquor store behind the Exxon station at Jackson and Navajo
    San Carlos Creamery - Tuesday night is $1 scoop night; they serve Double Rainbow ice cream, wich is really good. Next door to Tivoli's
    Trattoria Antica - in the Von's shopping center at Baltimore and Lake Murray
    Chef Axel's - El Cajon & around 70th or 71st.
    Ranas.com - Casa de Oro
    Wagon Wheel - El Cajon
    Perry's - El Cajon
    La Torta - La Mesa Blvd.
    Mario's de La Mesa - end of La Mesa Blvd. almost where it merges with University
    Por Favor - La Mesa Blvd., if you're desparate, it'll work
    The cafe at Vine Ripe Market - on Fletcher Parkway between Balitmore Dr. and Jackson Ave.

    The next 2 are local homegrown chains, 1 universally reviled on these boards and 1 so-so.

    The Brigantine in La Mesa is EXTREMELY popular. Why I don't know, but they are. My aunt loves, loves, LOVES the place so I end up there not infrequently. I've had decent to very good food to unbelievably awful and service to match. A lot of people think The Brig offers the best fish tacos in SD, I beg to differ.

    The other chain is Anthony's Fish Grotto. Understand one thing, I am a native San Diegan of a "certain age". I grew up eating at Anthony's. I don't think it's awful and I don't turn up my nose and sniff at it as if it was unfit for human consumption as some on this board have. It is what it is. A high volume fish house, serving half way decent to very decent if you order right food at reasonable prices. Unlike The Brig, I have never had an awful meal at Anthony's. For weeknight dining it isn't too bad, forget weekends. The La Mesa Anthony's is the best location. They also have a small fish market right inside the front door and you can order to-go.

    You won't find much in the way of recs for East County because, frankly there isn't a heck of a lot to whole heartedly recommend. But if you do a search of this board for Santee, Lakeside and La Mesa you'll turn up some suggestions. El Cajon doesn't get a whole lotta play here. You can be the first and blaze the chow-trail.

    1. -Oiishi on Mast Blvd near Magnolia in Santee (Japanese, Thai and Sushi);
      -Scootz Eatz on Mission Gorge across from the Santee Post Office (Family owned: Broasted Chicken, great ribs, salads, fresh bread sticks, good pizza);
      -Windy City Beef Fletcher Parkway and 125 at Navajo in the Vons Center (Family owned, authentic Chicago flavors and smells- great beef sandwiches, hot dogs and burgers as wella s pizza and fresh cannoli)
      -Carnitas Uruapan on Broadway in Lemon Grove
      -Charley's Famous Hamburgers (total dive; eat outside only, excellent coarse ground burgers, kabob sandwiches and shakes) on Broadway Lemon Grove also
      Plenty more...drive by someplace and see a bunch of cars? There is a reason.

      1. Here's a list I posted in response to a similar inquiry a few weeks ago - some of the recommendations might overlap with the other responses. I also am interested in hearing from someone who has experience with ethnic eateries in El Cajon/Rancho San Diego. There is a large Persian and Armenian community in this zone, but I haven't tried nor have I heard anything about the restaurants that serve this community - some of them must be good!

        Antica Trattoria in La Mesa, www.anticatrattoria.com
        La Trattoria in Santee
        Taka Sushi in La Mesa
        D.Z. Akins - it has its detractors though
        The Beef n' Bun - a burger stand on Fletcher Parkway - good shakes!
        Gaetano's Pizza in Casa de Oro
        Sarita's Taco Shop in Casa de Oro
        Panera Bakery in Grossmont Center for sandwiches and pastries.
        Ranas.com - Mexico City Cuisine, also in Casa de Oro
        Janet's Cafe - in Rancho San Diego and I think a couple of other locations
        Chef Axel German food in La Mesa
        (those last three I have not tried)

        1. Since you mentioned Bonita, don't forget Romesco. See my review (way) below.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Jim Strain

            Wow! These are incredible lists. Thanks everyone. (We did find a very nice Middle Eastern restaurant called Sahara in Rancho San Diego a few doors down from Da Boyz Pizza in Rancho San Diego. Thanks again everyone! Happy chowing!