HOME > Chowhound > San Diego >


North County SD reasonable and fancy Restaurants

We live near the corner of Via De La Valle and El Cmaino real- by the Market restaurant and the Del Mar Polo club. We have for the most part stoped going out becasue we are invariably dissapointed with the food. Can you make suggestions for fabulous places to eat that are not far away? Solana Beach, Del Mar, Encintas, Cardiff- those areas are all accesible to us. I'm intrested in places for date nights that will cost about $100-130 for two adults (having a glass of wine each) or places to go any given night that are $30-$50 for the two of us.

I tried doing a search and sifted thru several posts but they don't seem to be organized to North County and it was difficult to look up every spot in hopes that it would be nearby. Looks like I ought to try Market so we'll give that a try soon.

So many places seem to be serving sub par produce in uninsipired dishes- we usually spend upwards of $100 and in the end wish we had just grabbed some organic steaks and made them ourselves. Lately I have been craving some biscuits and gravy- I tried a place that was raved about on Yelp and coudln't belive how bad it was- all clearly frozen food- even the hashbrowns and fruit, I couldn't beleive it was touted as the best breakfast i Solana Beach. Whenever we decide to go out we can't come up with a place to go unless we shell out the cash for Via Italia Trattoria in Encinitas or Samurai in Solana Beach. I grew up in Orange county and I actually think I had more favorite spots there. Thank you for your help.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I don't know if this is biscuit and gravy country. Why don't you give a few examples of places you've been disappointed in? Also right on today's page there is a discussion of north countr places with the suggestion to search for "Encinitas" to get more ideas.

    1. I really like Vivace at the Four Seasons Aviara.

      1. do a search for Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Santaluz and Carmel Valley and you'll pull up the high end spots. Enorah started a thread last year specifically for Encinitas, although most of them tend toward cheaper eats.

        Since you are by Market, why don't you shell out the $100 and go? If you do your search on the board, you will find that it is pretty consistently given good reviews.

        North County is not really biscuits and gravy country. You may have to travel further south and east into SD proper for that.

        5 Replies
        1. re: daantaat

          You calling me cheap? LOL

          Affordable! Not cheap!

            1. re: littlestevie


              easy dining in these economically challenging times (hahahahahahaha)

            2. re: Enorah

              no, not calling you cheap in a stingy way! just cheap(er) than the usual suspects like Blanca. :-)

            3. re: daantaat

              Mama Kat's in San Marcos has verrrrry good biscuits and gravy to go along with their excellent hash browns.

            4. If you enjoy Samurai, then you'll absolutely flip for Kaito Sushi. Honestly I can't say much good for Samurai - very poor quality shari (sushi rice) and tane (sushi ingredients). And the sushi chef I sat in front of when I last visited, when Kaito Sushi was in the midst of their move, was absolutely clueless.

              Kaito Sushi is in a completely different category. Every sushi bar may say they only buy the best, but Kaito Sushi is the only one in the area that actually puts it into practice. They literally will pass up on sub-par ingredients, many times for a whole season at a time, if the conditions are not right.

              (Last year they practically didn't bring in any uni due to the poor conditions of the kelp beds, and this year they're passing up on the saba for the subpar quality being brought in but being bought up by the other sushi bars.)

              Their customers quickly discover by eating at Kaito that ingredients that brings a "so what?" kind of attitude at other sushi bars tastes completely different due to the freshness and the careful sourcing of their tane. A short list of these items that one just has to experience Kaito's version would include Ebi (shrimp), Tako (octopus - both the regular version and the Hokkaido one), Ama Ebi (sweet shrimp - actually most other bars don't bring in the Hon [real] Ama Ebi, so Kaito's Ama Ebi would look much smaller than what most are accustomed to), and Anago (salt water eel).

              The anago is particularly note-worthy in that they fillet the eel in-house. Most other bars will get it in already filleted, pre-seasoned, and shrink-wrapped! (A good test is to ask for the roasted Anago bone; only a quality-minded shop that fillets their own eel would have it. Most of the bones are left behind in Japan during filleting before being shipped overseas...) The anago is made all the more special by the use of their traditionally made Kabayaki sauce, a syrup made by a careful reduction of actual eel that takes days to prepare. (Most sushi bars use a simple pre-made syrup from a bottle...)

              In additon are their tane that is seldom found elsewhere, including Hoya (sea squirt or pineapple), Shirako (cod milt), Kegani (hairy crab), Sazae (turban shell), Mategai (razor clam), Na no Hana (rapeseed flower), and Kamasu (barracuda).

              I can go on and on - perhaps I already have! - it's by far my favorite sushi bar! Much has been written about them on the boards in several threads. Here's the latest thread on the boards: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/489156

              And quite an amazing thing is happening there at Kaito Sushi, a story which is perhaps unique in the American sushi scene. In spite of having no advertising, serving to a predominantly non-Japanese demographic, and having no policy against the ordering of Americanized rolls (sushi Nazi's they are not! Feel free to order any roll you wish), almost all of their sushi bar customers order Omakase (chef's choice), and most evenings end with having not served even one Americanized roll!

              (So much so that they actually had to adjust making less rice each day to account for the lack of Americanized roll orders, the latter which consumes plentiful amounts of sushi rice. And this last weekend when their sushi case was almost sold out before the Memorial Day Holiday, they were only left with the ingredients used for the Americanized rolls - Sake (salmon), Kani Kama (Krab), and the spicy tuna mix! http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...


              Please check it out if this leaves you the least bit curious. And if you really want the full Kaito experience, ask the chef for Omakase!


              Kaito Sushi
              130-A N El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024

              11 Replies
              1. re: cgfan

                Oh yes we will defitely go to Market this week- finally soeplace we are likely to be happy with. We'll also try the sushi rave above : ) I think I'm jsut so used to Samurai it's comfy to me at this point- better htan some of the other places I have been around here.

                Let's see places that I have been dissapointed in ... in the $80-120 (for my husband and me) range - Pacific Grill (or as my husband calls it "crappy grill"- used to be good but seems to have taken a dive). Black Horse Grille was a let down...
                less pricey-- The Wild Note (except the lobster dumplings those are good)- not awful but not as good as the hype I heard. Beach Grass cafe seems average- we keep thinking if we order the right thing maybe it will be good. On the cheap eats side- T's cafe- everything struck me as frozen. I'm drawing a blank for more names-- I've taken up cooking as a refuge LOL. I just miss haning a place I am excited to go have dinner at you know?
                I will try your sggestions for finding old links-- thank you for the help. My husband is looking up Kaito on the other computer right now- he LOVES sushi and likes to go i and let the sushi chef choose for him.

                We like Bangkok Bay, Flemings, Ruth Chris, (I like going to Flemmings and RC but as they are a chain it isn't quite as exciting- at least I know what I will get) Via Italia Trattoria (bechamel lasanga is fabulous), I have always enjoyed Swami's but have noticed some of the produce is not too fresh and if you get a look in the kitchen it will spoil your appetetite.

                1. re: LittleTricky

                  Is Pacific Grill the Pacific Coast Grill in Solana Beach? It used to be very good but the owners sold it and the chef moved on.

                  1. re: LittleTricky

                    BTW if you're in a meat-eating mood and want to avoid even the small high-end chains, Red Tracton's is an independent steakhouse in the old vein that moved here from L.A. You now the type - dark rooms, red carpets and big leather upholstery - and all of the sides are mammoth in size. (Can they really grow potatoes that large?)

                    It's been ages since I've been there, but after trying a couple of old L.A. steakhouses I've been thinking of returning to RT's.


                    1. re: cgfan

                      And they have Green Goddess Dressing!

                    2. re: LittleTricky

                      If it was Pacific Coast Grill in Solana Beach that you went to, I think they're ok and overpriced. Beach Grass Cafe is indeed, average and one of those places where maybe I'll order the right thing and be happy. I just had a pizza at Nordstrom Cafe today that was better than Beach Grass' and roughly at the same price point. Unfortunately, Sbicca's in Del Mar falls in the same category as Beach Grass and is overpriced for what it is.

                      Pacifica Breeze Cafe in Del Mar is good for outdoor, very casual breakfast, brunch and lunch.

                      Americana in Del Mar has pretty good breakfasts. They're also open for lunch and casual dinner, although some of the lunch and dinner items are hit and miss. I've had more hits on the breakfast menu. No frozen food that I've seen.

                      1. re: LittleTricky

                        LittleTricky: Not sure if enough time has passed, but I was just wondering if you ever did make it out to Kaito. If so, please let us know what you thought!

                        1. re: Enorah

                          That's what I meant to say - and you did it in 617 less words! :-)

                          1. re: cgfan

                            You really did make me laugh out loud


                          2. re: Enorah

                            Enorah, and picking up on your earlier post (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/52305... ) in your 1 year retrospective of the Encinitas dining scene, we must mention Yumeya. I don't have much to add to Enorah's post other than to say that in return for dining there you'll likely fall in love with their absolutely infectious and natural hospitality. To me they are the best and most natural hosts in the business.

                            Mind you the environment is not in the formal way of a stuffy eatery, but in the relaxed after work environment that is unique to the izakaya. These are the places where the overworked salarymen (and women) of Japan go to loosen their ties and be boisterous (in a country where there are few other outlets), share a drink, and eat a lot of seasonal Japanese comfort foods while bonding with their colleagues. It's worth a visit, and I guarantee that in the space of a few hours you'll swear that you've been magically transported to a cozy little pub somewhere in the middle of Japan!

                            ...and Enorah - might you say "Yumeya rocks!"?

                        2. You may want to try Savory, which is located on El Camino Real in Encinitas. The owner was formerly an executive chef for the Four Seasons Aviara resort, located in Carlsbad.


                          1. LittleTricky, I feel your pain! We moved to Del Mar 5 yrs ago from the NYC area, and we keep thinking that we'll find a few favorite little places within a couple miles of our house that we can get excited about going to, but unfortunately, we've had a very similar experience to yours. I read these posts about places north and south of us that sound great, but right here in the Del Mar/Sol. Beach area, there just aren't a lot.

                            That said, here are some of our standbys for casual meals at local places -

                            So far, as with everyone here, Kaito is our favorite for awesome sushi. We like it so much that we'd usually opt to go to Kaito over just about any other restaurant in the area, but when we get home late or just don't feel like fighting the traffic to go north to Encinitas, we make other choices. If we're in the mood for sushi, we'll go to Masuo's in Solana Beach on 101. We like Masuo's, but again, Kaito is THE place for sushi.

                            Rendezvous in the Del Mar plaza does some interesting Chinese/Asian fusion, and we usually get takeout from them every week or two. Always fresh, flavorful (can be spicy if you like) and interesting. Very well done for what it is.

                            Sammy's Woodfired Pizza (part of a small, local semi-upscale chain) in the Del Mar Highlands shopping center has some nice salads - I like their chicken balsamic salad. Does a big business with movie-goers from the cinema next door. Very good but nothing fabulous.

                            We go to the Brigantine in Del Mar on the corner of 101/Via de la Valle occasionally for fish tacos and a margarita, and sit out on their deck if it's a nice day or late afternoon/evening. Good fish tacos, and my husband likes their burgers. Meals in their main dining room are overpriced - casual fare in the bar is the only way to go, IMHO.

                            We like Americana in Del Mar at the corner of 15th St and 101 for breakfast or a casual dinner. Nothing spectacular but good, fresh food made with good ingredients.

                            Down the street from Americana a few blocks south on 101/Camino Del Mar is a new spot called Crepes and Corks cafe. It's a cute little place (very little - maybe just 6 tables or so, most of them outdoors on the sidewalk in front of a real estate office). We had lunch there a couple weeks ago. The crepes were delicious, and I noticed they stay open some nights for dinner (although if I recall they close early) and serve wine. Could be a nice spot for a casual, inexpensive dinner of crepes and salad with a glass of wine. I had a delicious chicken and mushroom crepe with a Caesar salad, both of which were very good.

                            In the high end category, our local favorite is Market, and we have also had several delicious meals at Arterra in the Del Mar Marriott.

                            ...and that's what we like these days for meals in the Del Mar/Solana Beach area. I'm sure there may be a few that I'm forgetting, but that's about it.

                            BTW, I completely agree with you that we can usually enjoy a much better meal at home. My husband and I have yet to find a restaurant that can cook a steak as well as we can on our backyard grill. We buy our steaks at Jimbo's (also in Del Mar Highlands), pick up a nice cabernet from Eli's wine shop next door, and we're all set.

                            I've started to realize that the places really worth the money spent are the ones that offer something unique that we cannot normally have at home (Kaito is a perfect example). I have no intention of boycotting local restaurants, and some nights, I simply appreciate just going out, but it would be so nice to find a few places that we feel really good about supporting on an ongoing basis (such as Kaito).

                            Good luck and let us know what else you find!

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: susan3733

                              Old Man and Daantaat
                              If I sounded like I can't enjoy a greasy spoon (when I discussed the frozen food) it isn't that-- I spent $20 for breakfast for one person (no alchol just biscuits and gravy with a cup of fruit and a some tea).

                              I believe we are referring to one and the same Pacific Grill in Solana Beach- on PCH. We used to like it actualy and the wine selction is decent. Last time we were there they had changed the menu and it relaly tastes like they were using a differnt produce/fish vendor. we dropped $80 on a meal for two (I'm pregnant so no wine for me) and left totally unsated and with a tummy ache. They used to have good ribs but they swapped from pork to beef and they were just.... not falling off the bone for sure. Had it been priced more in tune with the quality it wouldn't have been so dissapointing- still nothing I woudl get exicted to eat though.
                              I haven't tried (or even seen) NBordstrom Cafe, Pacifica Breeze, or Americana-- I'm adding them to my list right now. I can't wait to try all these spots that are being posted. : ) TY again for all your advice- I'm sure y'all are sick of the same questions over and over.

                              We do like Red Tracton's- love their lobster bisque and enjoy the huge potatoes but I think I make a better steak or woudl prefer to get a steak at RC or Flemmings- I jsut don't like something about the way they do them. And the portions are so huge, I feel like it gets a bit qunatity over quality. But I can see how someone else wold have a differnt reaction- I like the dark booths. Like Susan I grab a steak at Jimbos and a bottle of wine, some nice organic veggies and we're good to go.

                              The Brig is geat and we always sit in the bar for apps and fish tacos. They make a good martini to boot.

                              I love food so much- lived in France while in school and ate to my hearts content and even in Nashville there was great little greasy spoon or something more refined on every corner. Looks liek I'll have to do some searching but it isn't time to give up on Encintas quite yet. Sadly we went out a ton last month and blew way too much money so this month we are cracing down on our eating out expenditures- so we'll have to sample soe of the budget spots for a few weeks b4 we bust out and try the splurges. Glad to hear there are soe budget spots worth the gas money : )

                              1. re: LittleTricky

                                FYI: Nordstrom Cafe is actually at the UTC mall (and other Nordstrom's locations), not a freestanding eatery.

                                You may like also Cavaillon in Santaluz for dinner and Sunday brunch/lunch, Addison and Arterra in Carmel Valley for formal dining. Blanca, which is in the same plaza as Pacific Coast Grill on PCH, is pretty good. I haven't been since they revamped the menu and prices but it's worth a go. All of these places have multiple threads on the board.

                                If you want pretty decent Indian take out and don't want to go to Black Mountain Rd, Sitar in the Sorrento Valley Staples shopping plaza is open for lunch and dinner. Sometimes we go there when we're too lazy to drive to Miramar.

                                Encinitas is probably your better bet for affordable/cheaper dining.

                                1. re: daantaat

                                  revise my comment about the closest Nordstrom Cafe. The UTC Nordstrom doesn't have a cafe, just a sandwich/smoothies/salads "bar." Fashion Valley's Nordstrom has the full cafe.

                                  Also, Cavaillon was giving out these $20 off a $50 meal coupons (alcohol, tax and tip excluded) this weekend.

                              2. re: susan3733

                                Have you tried Blanca, Cafe Zinc and Waters takeout? All are in Solana Beach and very good. Chief's Burgers is also pretty good, it's where we go before a show at the Belly Up. The Wild Note restaurant there also used to be very good, but I haven't been lately.

                                A lot of people think Blanca is too expensive, but they lowered their prices about six months ago, and it's now less expensive than Market. In some ways, I think it's better.

                                1. re: Alice Q

                                  I like to go by Pizza Port before shows at the Belly Up. Pretty good pizza and fantastic beers.

                                  1. re: DougOLis

                                    Yes, I second that one! Pizza Port is one of our faves, but you have to like thick crust pizza. Love the beer. Hard to find a seat sometimes, but they do a big takeout business, too.

                                    1. re: susan3733

                                      I have never been crazy about that place, but I have only been a couple of times. The pizza is a little doughy for me. Chief's isn't going to blow anybody out of the water, but it's ok for a casual bite.

                              3. One of our favorite places to go in Solana Beach is the Zinc Cafe.
                                It's only open during the day (no dinner).
                                You will not pay very much but the food is of very high quailty and unique.

                                1. As of today, Third Corner in Encinitas is open. Great wine bar with light bistro menu, you can get an excellent meal for two with a glass of wine each for under $50. They're in the Lumberyard, across the coast highway from I Trulli.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: rotie77

                                    Whaa? two wine bars in the same mall, or did the other wine bar that was in the lumberyard close? I think it is Gafneys. If I was them, I would be mucho ticked with the owners of the mall to let that direct of competition open that close to me.

                                    1. re: littlestevie

                                      They are replacing Meritage - I think it's more of a restaurant than wine bar actually - the one in OB has a wine store attached but serves a full menu.

                                      1. re: Alice Q

                                        Ohhh, that explains it, I was wondering what was going into that space. I really don't see how they could have a restaurant and a wine store in there, cuz it really is not that big. A nice bistro restaurant would be a good addition. I was fearful that they would put in another Italian restaurant since Encinitas has already has more than you could shake a breadstick at.

                                        1. re: Alice Q

                                          I was told by the manager of 3rd Corner that the space was formerly Sbicca. As far as the menu goes, it is supposed to be pretty much the same as the OB location. The Enc space is much bigger though and the kitchen is huge - they actually remodeled some of it into dining space b/c it was so big. Might be that they do some fancier dinners up there since they have so much to work with.

                                          And stay tuned, more wine bars are coming very soon north of the merge.

                                          1. re: mimosa

                                            The same people who had Sbicca's owned it - but I think the Encinitas branch was called Meritage - unless they changed it at some point.

                                            1. re: Alice Q

                                              They did change the name to Sbicca at one point, I think about a year ago. There was much confusion with them and Meritage wine market about two miles east in same center with Firenze.

                                    2. Market is a truly excellent restaurant, and a good meal there with a glass of wine + tax + tip is going to meet or surpass that $130 per couple budget. I really enjoyed my dinner there when we ordered the 4-course menu. Very attentive service, some memorable dishes (a piquant mushroom soup, rich and succulent shortribs, a fantastic dessert with a lemon curd tartlet and blackberry coulis).

                                      I'm a big fan of Red Tracton's -- the place just amuses and pleases me. The old-time clubby steakhouse feel with the servers who have been there forever, the big portions. The comment above missed the best strengths of the place -- the prime rib, the daily specials, the happy hour bar scene. And OMG, during racing season with the track virtually across the street -- the horsepeople and the gamblers and their trophy wives or "companions" -- the show alone is worth the price of the meal if you can get in during those weeks!

                                      I'll suggest a couple more -- Pamplemousse as an excellent, serious restaurant. About a short block away from Red Tracton's on Via de La Valle on the sea side of the 5. And on the inland side of El Camino Real in a minimall a bit north of Via de la Valle, a french bistro restaurant with a nice NYC atmosphere, Savory. Used to be a fantastic value, but they no longer list their menu prices on their website so I fear they've risen.

                                      1. A great new restaurant in North County is West Bistro in Carlsbad. It's on the West side of the 5 if you exit Cannon Blvd. I've been there about 10 times since it opened and I've tried a different dish each time. The food is excellent! A very nice surprise. The ambiance is nice too with a great wine selection. Right next door to it is West Steakhouse which I also enjoyed but quite pricey. The food and prices are along the lines of a Ruth's Chris type of steakhouse. Check it out, you wont be dissapointed.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: pocitelli

                                          I've not been there, but the reviews have been all over the place for both West places.

                                        2. If your cooking at home, have you shopped at the Chino farm stand for produce? You should go there if you've not been. Also, I've found them to be very knowledgable about what's cooking in SD. A lot of chefs shop there for their restaurants so your less likely to encounter "sub par produce" at a place they recommend.