Pac NW Hound In SD 1/5-9, Looking For Local/Eccentric
I'll be in San Diego Sunday through Thursday first week In January. Staying at Hotel Circle, but not afraid of the Trolley. I've been to most of the really good restaurants in the area and elsewhere, and am looking for local recs, out of the way joints, ethnic markets, scary places and more. OK, hold the REALLY scary places. Could be dine in, takeout, whatever. Always up for Latin/Mexican, Japanese, not afraid of spice. As always, thanks 'hounds.
We are very fortunate to have a fabulous Szechuan Chinese restaurant here in San Diego. Ba Ren on Diane Ave. in Clairmont has fiery hot, fantastic food, not your typical Americanized-Chinese by any means.
Izakaya Sakura in Kearny Mesa on Convoy is a great example of Japanese Izakaya dining. Don't miss the Shiokara (fermented squid guts) and the Aji sashimi with fried bones.
To get anywhere worthwhile for Japanese food from the Hotel Circle area, you'll have to be fairly mobile with access to a car or be willing to take a taxi around. Any chance of that being in the cards for you?
Others may be able to contribute regarding Latin/Mexican recommendations. Hotel Circle specifically, and Mission Valley in general, is probably the last place to look for ethnic/new immigrant cuisines. It's a big monoculture of big box corporate restaurants and theme dining. A few gems can be found in the Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego's nightlife & dining center where tourists, conventioneers, and locals alike gather, though much of it is overpriced and overhyped, and it's arguable whether or not there are any truly ethnic/new immigrant food there. Much of the dining in the Gaslamp is theme-based, trendy, or high-concept. (However a cousin from Japan enjoyed the sushi at Taka on 5th Ave., though I've never been there myself.) Little Italy will also be along the trolley route, but that's probably not what you're looking for either.
You will more likely find something in East County or especially South Bay and at the border, both of which are served by a trolley route. But really, your search would be a lot easier if you were to have a car.
The few Japanese gems that exist in San Diego will be in Kearny Mesa, Encinitas, and Hillcrest, none of which are serviced by the trolley.
Great! Then here are your choices for good Japanese specialties for the San Diego area:
1) izakaya - 1a) Izakaya Sakura, in Kearny Mesa - S.D.'s best, and just about the best izakaya I've been to in any major city; though many will say otherwise, have your sushi at a specialist and not here; not much for looks and atmosphere, however
1b) Sake House Yumeya in Leucadia (Encinitas) - a runner-up, of sorts. Great atmosphere, fantastic traditional plateware, locals-kind of place with very loyal customers, incredible hosts, largest sake selection in the county, with most available by the glass; smaller, more focused menu than a "real" izakaya, with a fusion touch or two
2) sushi - 2a) Kaito, in Encinitas - home to S.D.'s best sushi/sushi chef, in an unusual, free-wheeling environment; by looks one's instincts may say otherwise (and one's ears as well if karaoke or a band is happening), but it's the best sushi in the county; read up on the many posts on CH as to who to sit in front of and how to order
2b) Shirahama, in Kearny Mesa - a sushi bar w/a "sushi Nazi" reputation; traditional sushi only; I've never had an issue being served/seated, but other's have; excellent tane
3) yakitori - Yakitori Yakyudori, in Hillcrest (Uptown) - sit at the bar in front of Nabe-chan, who is the only one who mans the grill fired with imported bincho-tan; excellent yakitori, predominately shio-aji (salt flavor)
4) yakiniku (Japanese style Korean BBQ) - Tsuruhashi, in Kearny Mesa - excellent yakiniku, but expect at least a 45 minute wait to get seated - no reservations; also a place to try "horamon/naizo", the Japanese terms for offal...
5) ramen - Tajima, and Tajima Ramen House, in Kearny Mesa - same place, different operation; Thurs-Sat at 10pm-3am they switch operations and menus and Tajima becomes Tajima Ramen House; decent ramen for S.D., but ramen is definitely not S.D.'s strong point; house specialty is tonkotsu style (pork marrow broth); small, ippin-ryori plates, but not really an izakaya - too small a menu, and Sakura's much better; go here for their ramen if you don't compare it with what's available in the major cities
Hmm...there are some people that think Hotel Circle is scary.
Probably the best homestyle Mexican in the city is Super Cocina on University between 37th and Cherokee. And if you're still hungary after eating there walk down to the next corner and have a fruit salad or smoothie at Fruitilandia.
El Comal on Illinois a half block north of University in North Park also does pretty good Mexican food. Closer to Hotel Circle is Mayahuel on Adams Ave. right before 30th (if you're driving Eastbound). Mayahuel does a pretty mean mole. Either of these would probably be a $10-15 cab ride.
We recently spent 12 weeks without a kitchen due to a remodel, consequently, we ate out a lot. Cafe One-Three on Park Blvd. a half block west of El Cajon was one of the top 3 places on my mother's list during the remodel. It's kind of an eclectic, funky place on a really nondescript section of road. It's a reasonable cab ride from Hotel Circle
The Linkery (30th & Upas) does the sustainable foods thing and, for the most part, does it really well. A 15-20 minute drive from Hotel Circle depending upon traffic. This would probably be an expensive taxi ride.
Taking the Green line trolley east from Hotel Circle probably wouldn't really net you much of interest. Going west on the trolley you'd have more options in Little Italy and Downtown.
2nd and 3rd Captain Jack's and cgfan's recs.
I'd also add Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot and BBQ on Clairemont Mesa Drive and Diane Ave. It's in the big shopping plaza across the street from Ba Ren. The tricky part will be how much you want to eat, if you're dining alone b/c their portions for Hot Pot are made for sharing. Their spicy broth is very tasty. Don't miss the sesame bread if you go--piping hot, fluffy bread w/ green onions and sesame seeds.