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Jun 10, 2008 06:17 PM

best restaurant in san diego?

What is the absolute best one?

I always read "best place to X" postings here but have never seen a Best of SD limited to one or two choices from people (I have seen the worst restaurants in SD posts though).

I used to really like Region as a consistent place to try new fresh local things and liked getting the chef's choice with wine pairings.

Is there anywhere like Region?

(Don't need to hate on Region or on my liking of Region if you hate it, I know, I know, I already read your posts)

But if money is no object, food preference is fresh and good, atmosphere is romantic and quietish yet with other people eating there (not empty) and wine is involved, what are your must haves?



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  1. will not even touch that with a ten foot pole! ha ha. even small topics invite so much argument.

    4 Replies
    1. re: foodiechick


      why is it controversial?

      what is your favorite place to have a nice romantic dinner?!

      1. re: stangoldsmith

        Stan, I think the question is hard to answer because it's so subjective. What one person thinks is "best", someone else may not. A lot is going to depend on what the person values in the way of food, restaurants and service, what their taste preferences - and experiences with food - are, and a number of things that will tap into the intangible or aesthetics to which an individual responds. I'm a sucker for a view so Mr. A's or The Marine Room are always going to rate high with me in the "best" category even if the food may not always match the view. A lot of people would disagree with me.

        If I had one last meal to eat in San Diego, it would be at Laja. Here's why, the setting is peaceful and bucolic, which touches in me a connection I have to my personal sense of place, as well as that whole "being in nature" thing (sorry, throw back to the 60s). The food, while appearing simplistic, is anything but. It's deeply flavorful in a very clear, focused way. There is a symmetry between what's on my plate and what's surrounding me that, for me, creates a sense of peace, harmony and being "in the flow" as we used to say back when. It's a total pacakge deal. All the pieces and parts add up to a dining experience - at least for me - that satisfies all my senses and leaves me with a feeling of well being.

        Unfortunately, I've not yet found a restaurant in San Diego that can evoke that same feeling. I love Laurel for the interior, but the food, while good, never quites meets the promise of the interior, plus it tends to get noisy when full. Love the Marine Room too, but the service can be a little stuffy and the room is a bit too casual, but when Chef Bernard is in the kitchen, the food is usually stellar

        I think the question is, what turns YOUR crank in terms of a restaurant being romantic, perfect or "the best". What do YOU need to satisfy your sense of romance, flavor and good feelings?

        Oh, and if I had only 1 meal left in San Diego - since Laja's 80 miles away - it would be at The Better Half. Not because the place is romantic, or the food fantastic or that I think it's the BEST restaurant in SD. It isn't on all 3 of those counts. It's not especially romantic, though if you got one of the tables tucked into a corner on a slow night, it might be. The food is very good, but not quite upper tier yet, and it's probably not the "best" restaurant in SD. Simply put, I like the Better Half, and would make it my last meal in SD because I like the way they treat me when I'm there, and the way they make me feel.

        1. re: DiningDiva

          I totally agree, the 'best of' or 'worst of' threads are always subjecT to each individual taste and often cause battles. Afterall, we're all different! Maybe stangoldsmith could tell us his favs and not so fav's.

        2. re: stangoldsmith

          I met my husband in college. Starving students. I just asked him about a romantic meal...and we were thinking the same.

          We went to El Porvenir, got a couple of mixed burritos, tacos and a chile relleƱo. I have bottled water in the car in a cooler in back, always...

          We drove to the Ft. Rosecrans cemetery, sat under a tree with a view.
          Quiet and beautiful. Great food. Not expensive. Romantic.

          That was a romantic meal. For us.

      2. I would say that Starlite's food is the closest to Region's that I've found, I like it better actually. AR Valentien is also along those lines - but more expensive.

        My current favorite is Blanca, but I haven't tried Addison. Another place I think is underrated is Mistral - formerly Azzura Point. It's actually where Michael Stebner started out in SD.

        12 Replies
        1. re: Alice Q

          My current favorite is The Better Half; from the food, to the service, to the pacing, to the price. But I don't fool myself into thinking it is the best in town... But for what The Better Half sets out to do, they hit the target and then some,

          1. re: Ewilensky

            I'm really amazed by all of the recommendations for Better Half - we had a really problematic meal there, and another friend whose taste I trust had the same experience. Lovely little dining room though - and great wine list.

            1. re: Alice Q

              Interesting. Care to share? I've only eaten there 3 times but each time has been as close to a perfect experience that one can expect when dining out. Do share please...

              1. re: Ewilensky

                here's what I wrote about it on my blog - I liked the charcuterie and my pork belly entree, but just about everything else we ordered had problems -


              2. re: Alice Q

                Indeed. A group of six foodie friends of mine, friends who regularly eat at Michelin two and three star restaurants, just tried The Better Half about two weeks ago, and they had an awful dinner. Out of twelve dishes ordered, they wouldn't have re-ordered any of them if they ever went back (which they're not going to do) and one of the comments I remember was "worst foie I've ever had in my life, how do you screw up foie?"

                1. re: mikec

                  I've had the foie gras salad and I have to agree. It's a real misstep. Overdressed, and not necessarily the best use of foie. OTOH, the gravlax is outstanding as have been the tarts du jour.

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    Well I have not tried the foie, which I won't now ;) -- but the gravlax, leaning tower of beets, tarts du jour, pork scallopini, wild game meatloaf and trout have all been excellent on my 3 visits...

                2. re: Alice Q

                  Our experience at BH was also mixed. We wanted to like it - and the person who invited us was so excited to share his new 'find', adding to our hopeful outlook. In the end, the only real bright spot of our meal was the service - friendly, attentive and all the orders came out as requested. We found the pricing to be alright and the extras - amuse buche in the ice cream cone was a distinctive touch - make it more than fair. Unlike many places in the same pricing tier, you definitely don't feel ripped off. But if our review is based solely on food, it's gonna have to get thumbs down. With 4 of us, we tried a good portion of the menu and as I write this several weeks later, the only thing that jumps out is the aforementioned amuse buche, and bread pudding - I found it a bit too much, but I was alone there. Everything else was just okay all around and we didn't find much reason to hurry back.

                  On the other hand, we had the chef's tasting menu at Wine Vault on Saturday and it once again was amazing. From the amuse buche - an almost-clear liquid with amazing gazpacho flavors - pepper, tomato, cucumber. Wow. Then, 3 tasting courses and dessert were all perfectly portioned, and layered with flavors and textures. I can't believe they can serve such an interesting and fulfilling meal for just $25. Given the unusual setup this place has and it's location, I don't think it'll make a 'best restaurant' list, but if you like food and appreciate a creative and skilled chef, you really should get there.

                  1. re: mimosa

                    We were there on Sat for the chef's tasting as well. Took out of town guests and they had a ball - couldn't believe that nobody was trying this concept in their "very foodie" town. My favorite course (besides the amuse buche) was the dry smoked scallop salad. The Wine Vault is a great concept with very good execution - really an overlooked gem on this board.

              3. re: Alice Q

                I think I have the best overall time when we go to Starlite, need to go there more often.

                1. re: Alice Q

                  A little ironic that you prefer Starlite over Region. We had a meal at Starlite that was good, but nowhere near the vast majority of the things we had at Region. I do agree the styles are in the ballpark and I look forward to getting back to Starlite. The funny thing is we recognized a former Region server at Starlite and got to chatting. Apparently the kitchen at Starlite is stocked with Region alums (obviously not Stebner or Colwell), including the charcuterie maker (who is awesome).
                  The food was prepared well at Starlite, but the flavors just didn't sing. Not sure why, maybe the seasoning was off or the ingredients weren't top notch.

                  1. re: rotochicken

                    I really wanted to like it, but after two disappointing meals at Region, I never went back. The ingredients are top notch at Starlite, but the dishes are fairly simple. We really liked the steak with red flannel hash, mussels with fries and the charcuterie. The mixed fry is also pretty good.

                2. Beside The Better Half which for me is currently the best restaurant in SD I think Cafe Chloe reminds me of Region. Both restaurants have a small menu with strong focus on very good executed dishes with high quality ingredients. And if you talk with people from Cafe Chloe you will also find out that a lot of their ingredients are from local sources. In addition I also like their settings and atmosphere.

                  1. It's perfectly fine to ask controversial questions like "what's the best of?" because it invites fascinating dialogue. My opinions:
                    Nine-Ten in La Jolla is hands-down my fave in the categories of best wine list, service, atmosphere, and fresh food. I suggest this restaurant for any oenophile and fish lover.

                    Vagabond also has great atmosphere, amazing Kung Pao calamari and a consistently delicious filet mignon. The service is spotty and it can be difficult to get a table on the weekends, even with a reservation.


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ginael

                      I like Vagabond and love the calamari but IMHO (put the gloves on ;-) ) Vagabond isn't even close to being the "best"

                    2. Thanks for the replies although a lot of them seem to be negative (which wasn't my intent on asking the question)!

                      What is everyone's favorite restaurant in SD?

                      Mine was Region and I can't find a replacement! I won't say negative things about Starlite because this is a positive post but it wasn't quite there, IMVHO.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: stangoldsmith

                        Maybe I'm weird (OK, no maybe about it), but I think my favorite place to eat here is Izakaya Sakura. No, I'm not saying I think it's "the best" (whatever that means) but there are certain things about it that I love which make it my favorite place to go when money's no object.

                        1 - High ingredient quality: they use great fish, fresh vegetables, make their own pickles (their kimuchi is awesome), and nothing tastes like they're skimping. They also offer a large number of high-quality Japanese sakes, served in both glasses and cedar boxes.

                        2 - Atmosphere: the almost exclusively Japanese-speaking clientele makes for a transportive experience. It's dark, there's no loud music, and it feels like you're in a private club.

                        3 - Service: servers are quiet and polite. There's no obnoxious upselling or fake friendliness.

                        I realize it's probably not the kind of thing you're looking for, but that's my $.02

                        1. re: Josh

                          <3 - Service: servers are quiet and polite. There's no obnoxious upselling or fake friendliness.>

                          [use snarky tone here] What? You mean they don't congratulate you on your choice of menu items? Always irksome- "Excellent choice, I'll get those right out for you". Oh will you? Oh, gosh, I SO glad I chose the waiter's favorites![end snarky tone]

                          I think asking the "best" question is a bit like asking what's the best color in the rainbow. All are great choices, based on pure subjectivity.

                          My go-to place since the day it opened is Laurel. Yes, it's offerings have fluctuated over the years, and it's been looking a bit tattered lately. But I used to go there in it's first year in my favorite way- alone with a book. And take a LONG time. Before that, it was Montanas. I must have spent 50% of my discretionary income at the time there.

                          I'm currently in Chicago, but will need to skip the fine-dining. My traveling companion is 7 years old, so we're just eating simply. If any of the SD crowd has Chicago suggestions, let me know. We're downtown.


                          1. re: Fake Name

                            If you'd like suggestions from SD locals on Chicago chow, we recommend you post a query to the Chicago board and then post a "heads up" here( with a URL linking to that post) asking the locals to go weigh in on that thread. Thanks for helping us keep this board focused on local chow.

                          2. re: Josh

                            Well, Josh, I gotta agree.Truth be told, the SD restaurant that has gotten more of my money than any other over the last 7 years would definitely be Sakura - so I guess that means I think it is the best.