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new to SD-loved urban solace, where else to try?

we just moved from madison, wi where we had our fav restaurants on rotation. We like casual but elegant/eclectic/romantic (patio with pretty lights is a new treat for us) restaurants, preferably with a full bar and/or low corkage fee. typical "date night" entree around $5-20. we live in university heights but will travel. open to all cuisine. we've found a few places we love (Farmhouse cafe for brunch, el zarape, urban solace).... what should we try next???

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  1. Well everything you've mentioned is excellent.

    I'd also try:

    The Linkery
    The Better Half (which I think is quickly becoming my favorite place to eat in San Diego)
    Cafe Chloe

    I love Madison -- some great dining for a city of that size. Cocoliquot is still one of my favorite places to eat anywhere...

    12 Replies
    1. re: Ewilensky

      I also highly recommend all three of them (but espcially Better half as the best restaurant in SD). Together with Urban Solace they are our four favorite restaurants in SD and we go at least once a month to all of them.
      You might also look into Jayne's Gastropub (we had some pretty good meals there recently), Spread (for innovative vegetarian food), Apertivo (good italian tapas place), Cafe Calabria (best coffee in SD but also very good paninis (and hopefully soon pizza).

      1. re: honkman

        best restaurant in SD? That's a pretty bold statement. I've never had it so i have no idea but is that an exaggeration or.. do you really think its the #1 restaurant.

        1. re: clayfu

          If The Better Half isn't the best restaurant in SD, it's pretty darn close. It is very, very good, and better than many restaurants at much higher price points. Honkman is not exaggerating, I share his opinion on this one.

          1. re: clayfu

            As DD said I think there is currently no restaurant in SD with such high quality and innovative food with outstanding service at the same time. This is one of the few restaurants (not only in SD) where every part of a dish (not only the protein part like in many other restuarants) is of similar importance. In addition, (but that it is not so important for me) the prices for the food are very low. I know from your blog that you have for example eaten at Boulud's restaurant in Las Vegas (one of the bigger disappointments for us last year) or Winesellar & Brassierie but The Better Half for us is much better than both of them for half (in case of Boulud third) of the price.

            1. re: honkman

              I do not dispute that the Better Half is innovative and a fine restaurant. But, IMO, it has not reached its potential. If it does, and I expect it to, it will be a strong contender for the Best in SD. As of now, or at least a month ago at my last visit, it is still firmly in the very good and worth a trip, but not yet a contender for Best.

              Just off the top of my head, in the past couple years I have been to Nine-ten, Tapenade, and Cavaillon at least 4-5 times each (more really, though haven't been to Nine-ten in a while). Between those roughly 15 visits and my 2 dinners at Better Half....hmm...forced to rank them, my two Better Half meals wouldn't crack the top 10.

              I have also had one dinner at the Farmhouse Cafe and am more excited to get back there to see if first impressions hold up than I am to get back to the Better Half, FWIW.

              That being said, I am definitely going back to the Better Half at least a couple more times this year. The menu is so clever and the vision so evolved that I desperately want it to be better. So far though, the food just hasn't given me a single 'wow this is really, really good' - well maybe the bread pudding and almost the pork belly.

              Price wise it falls between Farmhouse and Cavaillon, but I cannot believe the prices won't rise. They offer an amuse, brussels sprouts , and a sorbet cone to every diner and their prices are still very fair. I can't believe that can continue - though I hope it does. Actually, I wish they would drop the 'extras' and make the food a bit better, at least drop the sprouts.

              Again, just to be clear - GO TO THE BETTER HALF - I very much want it to blow me away and I think it will. It just hasn't, yet, so I can't rank it as the Best. For reference, I wasn't blown away by Region on my first try, but it showed massive potential and quickly became my fav, and the best SD has seen the past 6-7 years. Hopefully, the Better Half will do the same.

              1. re: rotochicken

                I guess it always comes down to personal preferences and what you choose from the menu. I agree that Cavaillon and Farmhouse are both very strong with the food but weren't at least for me on the same level as The Better Half (Both are good with the preparation of the protein part of the dish but were quite boring and not as good with the vegetables, sauces etc). In addition, both aren't that great (especially Cavaillon) with the service which is also very important. I haven't visited Tapenade and 9-10 for quite some time but both were very good but nothing I was too excited to go back immediately.

                1. re: honkman

                  aighty then, looks like i'll have to give it a shot! thanks for the suggestion

          2. re: honkman

            Great recs between the 2 of you.

            I'd also add Ritual Tavern. I prefer The Linkery, but Ritual Tavern is good too.
            Bite
            The Guild

            1. re: DougOLis

              One major oversight I forget to include: Super Cocina. Not too far from University Heights and fantastic homestyle Mexican food.

          3. re: Ewilensky

            then i'm sorry to let you know that cocoliquot recently closed. very sad, but the food started to go downhill at the end of 2007 (maybe they knew they were closing and scimping on ingredients?)... a new japanese restaurant with the same owner as cocoliquot is opening in the space.

            1. re: smile81

              Yes I heard. A shame. Cocoliquot was very nice.

              I'll also second (third?) that The Better Half is probably San Diego's best restaurant at the moment.

              1. re: Ewilensky

                Ditto on the better half, made the top of my birthday week dining spots.

          4. Terra has a nice patio and gets mixed reviews here, but it's one of my favorite restaurants around
            Lefty's pizza (i think one of the girls who works there is actually from madison)
            Cantina mayahuel and alexander's have outdoor patios
            Parkhouse eatery and the mission for breakfast
            Mama's bakery and deli for lebenese

            3 Replies
            1. re: DoctorQuality

              Terra has some good food but I like California Cuisine (more or less across the street) more.

              1. re: honkman

                I love the veggie preparations at Terra but
                I agree with honkman. Why doesn't California Cuisine get more press?
                I enjoyed Bite very much. And I still like Mama Testa's mucho machos and their salsas.

              2. re: DoctorQuality

                re pizza, I'll take Luigi's or Napoleone's

              3. The better half is amazing and the neighborhood is great, Hillcrest reminds me of San Francisco! Also try Farm House Cafe!! and Bleu Boheme!

                1. If you like Farmhouse and Urban Solace, definitely try the Linkery, Cantina Mayahuel, Jayne's Gastropub, Cafe Chloe, Starlite (big ups on that one), Bite, and The Guild. Also, if you haven't been there yet check out Mama's Lebanese, on Alabama just off El Cajon. The best falafel anywhere - it's mostly takeout, they close early for dinner, and all seating is outside, so it's especially good for lunch. Eclipse Chocolat Cafe is also just around the corner on El Cajon.

                  I also like Dao Son, just down the street, for decent inexpensive Asian food (esp. the spring and summer rolls and the "red chicken"). The Red Fox also on El Cajon is kind of a famous old divey place for steaks (nothing artisanal about it, but a little local color). Also closeby is Pomegranate, which serves Russian Georgian food. Haven't tried it myself but have heard really good things from trusted sources. We also like Cafe on Park for breakfast/brunch, and Parkhouse is ok too. I'd avoid Adams Avenue Grill though.

                  That's a great neighborhood to be in - you have the Sunday Farmers Market closeby, and can walk to Hillcrest - enjoy exploring!