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Good Value Lacking in North San Diego County

  • h

I probably speak for a lot of people in different parts of the state, but since I live part of the year in North San Diego county--specifically Solana Beach, I'll talk about this area. I rarely go out to eat since I haven't found very many value restaurants here. Restaurants seem to be overpriced and more about style than substance. Friends in other parts of the country tell me about packed family run restaurants with lines out the door that serve a great tasty good quality helping of food at an irresistable price and are turning a profit. Why is this concept extinct in San Diego? The only restaurant I've found that is a great value (meaning good quality consistent food for an awesome price is Souplatation) Where are your old fashioned breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurants that serve homeade food of good quality in copious amounts for a low price? 9 times out of 10 when a new restaurant opens, it's overpriced, bland and seems to be solely about profit. I know this area tends to have a higher end demographic but as an upper income person, I don't want to overpay and am not the type to freely spend $30 a plate for uninspiring food. I'd rather spend my money elsewhere. Perhaps most people don't think like me and that's why these "hip" places that generate a buzz are multiplying and bargain eats are becoming extinct. I wish I had the capability to open up an old fashioned American diner type restaurant like many Greek-American immigrants did when they came to the United States. I am Greek-American and had family members and knew friends who ran these establishments successfully for many years in the 1930's to 1980s. You received a copious amout of homeade food at a fair or inexpensive price, the menu was easy to understand, it was unpretentious. The owners made you feel welcome. Why can't restaurateurs offer this in the year 2008? I want to live in a metro where you can get a bargain authentic eat or an awesome value (like you do at many big box stores) in all types of neighborhoods--rich and poor. I bet there are people in Rancho Santa Fe who feel the same way I do. So far, the only restaurants I've found that provide this awesome value are the happy hour at Pacific Coast Grill, the happy hour at the Brigantine, Rudy's Taco Shop in Solana Beach, happy hour at Bully's in Del Mar and Souplantation---which is very busy because at dinner because it's a great value, while many restaurants along 101 seem empty--I wonder why? Most other restaurants I've been to have been avergage, bland, overpriced or catered to people who are undiscriminating about food quality. I know I've ranted a little but I want to encourage potential restaurateurs in North San Diego county to ponder why Souplantation has lines out the door for dinner and come up with an awesome value restaurant of your own--can be any type of cuisine--and offer really low prices and have lines out the door.

I would feel the same way if I was on the city council and was to approve a motel along highway 101. I would happily approve a $99 a night chain motel that I knew at that rate was going to be booked solid most of the year vs a $299 night boutique hotel that might not be booked most of the year. I would want the most sales tax revenue vs creating an upscale image. If you build it, they will come.

Feel free to name any other bargains in the area

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  1. "...to ponder why Souplantation has lines out the door for dinner..." - The same reason why Olive Garden or Cheesecake Factory are so popular. Too many people care more about portions size than quality of food.
    There are many good places in Solana Beach/Encinitas/Del Mar where you get high quality food for a good overall value.
    Just to name a few:

    Cavaillon (french)
    La Especial Norte (Mexican)
    Bety's Taco Shop (Mexican)
    Don Chuy (Mexican)
    Kaito Sushi
    Swami's Cafe ("healthy" food)
    Yumeya (Japanese/izakaya)
    Pizzicato (Pizza)
    Russo's Pasta (pasta)
    Honey's (Breakfast)

    1 Reply
    1. re: honkman

      good post, just the kind I was looking for before i issued my broad statement.

    2. I understand your frustrations and feel that you answered your own questions - you do live (part time) in an area of the country with a higher psychographic (demographic really applies mostly to age/gender/income). SoCal is a very trendy, sometimes cutting edge area (although SD is usually the last place to fall in line as I think we are more of a sleepy navy/beach town that has just recently started to move upwards in our pyschographics), homespun value tends to be a little more important between the coasts or outside of the big cities. That being said, there are many mom and pop places that you can turn your attentions to if you are not into the "foodie/chowhound" kinds of trendy places. Just in my neighborhood (chi-chi La Jolla) there are great value breakfast and lunch places that have been around for decades (Harry's, Girard Gourmet, the Cottage) and established "old timer" dinner restaurants that have loyal followings (La Valencia Hotel, Manhattan - large portions although granted, not cheap). I know the same can be said of the Coastal North County Area (Red Tracton's - although, not my cup of tea - comes to mind, and I know there is a coffee shop in Encinitas that many rave about but unfortunately can't provide the name as I've never been). However, I would take exception to your including Soup Plantation in your representation of a great, awesome deal. Granted it is all you can eat, but it is part of a very large corporation using conglomorate food supply that does nothing to honor or support homespun restaurants or the environment IMHO. I think you should spend more time researching this board for diners, etc. as there have been many threads (even recently) about these kinds of places. I would also suggest that you take advantage of the many ethnic cuisines that our town has to offer, we are blessed with a huge offering of thai, japanese, vietnamese and mexican restaurants of authentic, home made, family and value inspired quality. Since I lean towards mexican, may I offer traveling out of your neighborhood comfort zone and head to Super Concina.

      4 Replies
      1. re: foodiechick

        Souplantaion is a busy place with many discount COUPONs being sent out regularly!!! One of the problems with the place it is a high carbohydrate meal low on qulaity protein. So you get a high calorie count for a low price. I think the chicken soup has the most protein in it. But it comes with a lot of those large thick noodles. There are some who like this kind of food, and should be avoided, especially if diabetic.

        The Home Buffet is a better choice with more choices of meat proteins.
        The Family run restaurants like so many other kinds of businesses have been over run by the fast food chains in the larger cities. San Diego is not a mature city like you can find in the East or even in LA. My favorite places have been opened in the last few years around here. When there is an economic crunch like we are in now, many of the older family run places decide to fold and retire, rather then wait for better economic times, which may not be in the cards for them. It is more likely, that more people will support a fast food hamburger outlet, then sit down for a square meal.

        So when I find a special place with 'tasty' well prepared FRESH foods, I try to support them by bringing it to the attention of other people looking for better places to eat regularly at decent prices. The latest place that I have found is in a more established part of San Diego County on Poway Rd called La Fontana Italian Continental City Bistro. The owner is very much hands on in the Dining Room and in the kitchen. Very nicely prepared and refined tasty dishes, out of the ordinary fare you rarely find anywhere. This is not High End price wise. Certainly more moderate prices for quality dishes. Very extensive menu. Take a look at their extensive Menu on the website, www.lafontanaitaliancitybistro.com.

        My choices for an occasional splurge are Cavaillon, Bernard'Os, LaBastide, Azul, and for a more modest meal a bowl of Vietnam PHO for a rare steak rice noodle dish. Yes, you can eat well for less then the Souplantation! :) Even Marie Calender's might be a place you will find a good choice for some variation without over dosing on carbohydrate calories. Good fresh baked turkey sandwiches with a cup of soup makes a nice meal for a change.
        You can do a Search with my Name, Nutrition,for reviews on a number of favorites. There were a lot less choices just 5 years ago.

        Buon Appetite

        1. re: nutrition

          The problem with Marie Calendar's, Home Buffet, Souplanation etc.is also that their food is made in centralized kitchens and is just highly processed food. Pretty much everything you don't want to have at a restautant. All of them should be avoided.

          1. re: nutrition

            I just realized, that I wrote Marie Callenders, when I meant to say MIMI's is a better choice then Souplantaion for a better vulue meal.
            So strike Marie C, which is rather dismal and replace it with MIMI's. Very good Breakfasts, as well as, Lunch and Dinners.

            1. re: nutrition

              Ya know, I am not big on chains, but Mimi's I like.

        2. Happs, while I can feel your pain, from the purely economic point of view I'm not sure your desire is attainable.

          In reading your post, it seems like your equation is: copious amounts of food + very low prices = quality & value. I'm not sure I agree with the equation, but that's how I interpreted your message. That said, here are some cost of doing business factors that affect that equation

          1) Rent. Nothing in North County, and especially the coastal area, is inexpensive. Anyone opening any kind of business is going to be paying a premium in rent for their location. Menu prices are going to reflect the rent.

          2) The cost to build out the restaurant. Restaurant equipment is not cheap, even if you buy it at auction. Anyone opening a restaurant is going to have to equip the place. To do so usually means they're going to have to take out a loan in order to pay for the equipment and, most likely, the contractor to get them installed. Unless the place is really turn-key there may also need to be structural and interior design changes made as well. Menu prices are going to have to cover loans and whatever other costs were incurred to get the place read to open.

          3) Utilities and other fees. It costs money to get the correct permits (i.e. building, health department, etc) to operate a restaurant. In addition to rental costs, every month the restaurant owner is paying for water, trash pick up, gas & electric, workers comp insurance, business insurance, etc. California is one of the most regulated states in the United States and that is one of the reasons why it is not the most business friendly state in which to do business. Menu prices reflect these expenses too.

          4) THE COST OF FOOD. If you haven't noticed the cost of food is skyrocketing at rates the U.S. hasn't seen in nearly 30 years. You have to go back to the Carter administration to find food inflation as bad as it is now. Egg prices are nearly 40% higher now than they were a year ago. Meat, dairy and poultry are up well over 10% and with the flooding going on in the MidWest, expect these items to go even higher by this fall. Produce prices are up 18-20% over the last year with no end in sight, although some of these increases are offset by seasonal spikes in availability. Historically, American restaurantuers have kept menu prices artificially low to drive business. Traditionally, we have not really paid the full value or mark-up on food purchased away from home. All that is changing because restaurants can no longer afford to absorb the higher food costs.

          5) Cost of fuel. Not only is it costing more to purchase food, it's costing more to get it delivered. Almost every vendor that delivers is now adding a fuel surcharge to their deliveries. As an example, last week I got a letter from Alta-Dena dairy stating that there would be a $75 on any off-day delivery (i.e. a delivery not on a scheduled delivery day). Smaller restaurants often use Restaurant Depot or Costco, but it still costs time and gas money to get there and back. The cost of fuel is affecting restaurants in other ways as more and more of their customers are less willing to make the drive to a restaurant, or are finding that the high cost of gas is eating into expendable income and they aren't able to eat out as much as they used to. Restaurants are already seeing a declining number of people eating out. Menu prices are going to reflect this as well.

          In order to stay in business any restaurant needs to cover their costs. Profit is NOT a dirty word in any business, and particularly not in the restaurant business. The fact of the matter is that any business is open because the owners think they can generate revenue (the politically correct way of saying "make money"). There is, hopefully, after generating revenue and paying bills and expenses, there is enough money leftover to provide some income on which the restaurant owner and family can live. The biggest mistakes new restaurant owners make is in being undercaptialized or in not charging enough for their goods and services to remain in business.

          I would hazard a guess that when your relatives opened their diners that their rents weren't not astronomical, it was in an era of stable, reasonable or low food costs, the extended family provided most of the labor, not hired help, and that they were not burdened with excess regulation and expense related to the regulation.

          It would, indeed, be very nice if restaurants could charge low prices, dish out large portions of quality food, pay all their bills and still stay in business. Unfortunately, that is not the existing business model in either North County San Diego, or the (great) State of California.

          1. Well said DiningDiva!

            Souplantation blows...

            1. Did you do a search for the surrounding areas? Cardiff, Encinitas? Enorah has 2 long threads with many great, inexpensive places along the coast. All independently owned, non-chain places.

              5 Replies
              1. re: daantaat

                Yeah

                Enorah rocks!

                Oh

                nevermind

                Seriously, though, there are many delicious and affordable places to eat along the north coast.

                Honkman's suggestions are great.

                Here are the links to the Encinitas threads

                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/523051

                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/415411

                1. re: Enorah

                  You guys are funny! I think the OP's issue is primarly one of demographics, as DD mentioned above. Rent and food costs keep anyone from making money on the kind of operation he's talking about. That being said, I think there are more bargains to be had of the type he's looking for in inland N. County - Vista, San Marcos and Escondido to be exact. There are some decent Mexican places in and around the area though - like Don Chuy, Especial Norte and that other one in Solana Beach that is not Fidels - the name is escaping me right now.

                  1. re: Alice Q

                    hee hee hee! :-) Enorah's thread is my "go to" for N. County Coastal cheap eats!

                    I think the OP forgot that he/she lives in one of the most expensive areas in the county (save RSF) and that rent and overhead increase accordingly. Therefore, what he/she is looking to exist in Solana Beach is nearly impossible, unless the owner owns his/her own building....

                    1. re: daantaat

                      Not cheap, never cheap

                      AFFORDABLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                      geesh!

                      LOL

                      The other night we ate at the Encinitas Cafe and our check was $19.00

              2. In Solana Beach T's Cafe (near PIzza Port) is good and economical. Also Luecadia in Encinitas.

                1. You don't seem to be talking about North County as much as the North County Coast before Oceanside, I grew up in Encinitas. Escondido has tons of inexpensive, under-discovered treasures (Hacienda, Lourdes, Sandcrab Cafe), and there are a few spread out between Oceanside (Azafran/Fish Joint), Vista (Icebox), and San Marcos (Mr. Taco, Tina's Deli).

                  1. Just had a great breakfast, crab omelette, at El Ranchero Restaurant, 1565 N. Santa Fe in Vista. Nice family run place, reasonably priced menu. and the surprise was the spicey pickled carrots on the table, WOW! some of the best I've had.