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Visiting San Diego, need some recs

Hey All-

Coming off a somewhat disappointing (foodwise) trip to Newport a few weeks ago with my girlfriend, me and my brother just booked a trip to San Diego right around Christmas/New Years week. I live in NYC and he in Miami, so we're excited to see what the West Coast has to offer. We're staying Downtown and will have a car.

Looking for a few things...

-We'll get into San Diego early evening on Christmas Eve. What's a great Thai, Sushi or Chinese option that will definitely be open, ideally somewhat late (we land at 7PM, by the time we get to a resto, could be as late as 10).

-Looking for some more dinner recommendations, we'll be there 5 nights total, we'd rather go to the delicious place where the locals eat than the pricey restaurant with 'atmosphere.' What is San Diego really known for, seafood? Mexican? We're both adventurous eaters and pretty much will go for any type of cuisine. Because we'll have so many other expenses (hotel, airfare, car, golf), we'd rather keep our budget pretty modest, say $100 per dinner. That said, we're definitely up for one more expensive dinner, perhaps something with a great chef's tasting menu, a unique experience and not just expensive food.

-Are there any can't miss options in/within walking distance of Downtown? We're staying at The Sofia near the Westfield Plaza.

-We'll go to the Zoo one day, so a good nearby lunch option would be great. We'll be playing golf most of the days, so lunch will be more of a play it by ear situation depending on where we are playing, though any great breakfast spots within Downtown are definitely welcome.

Thanks so much all-

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  1. Search CHOW for recent threads similar to yours and you'll find tons of recommendations. Posts like yours always produce heated debates about SD specialities, best Mexican, best seafood and sushi, best views, most SD-ish places.

    My NYC friends have loved:

    JRDN (an indoor-outdoor sleek and chic bar on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach; great people watching, ocean breezes, ok food)

    ARValentien (expensive for dinner but great lunch or just drinks on their terrace; even known for their Drug Store Hamburger, and located right beside Torrey Pines Golf Course - see current thread on their recent Epicurious US Top Ten award.)

    La Fachada tacos in the barrio (but search for anything written by mex-food experts Masa Assassin and kare_raisu, especially k_r's top ten list posted wherever the lists are.)

    George's Bar La Jolla for the view and food. The Bar not the restaurant.

    Don Bahia in Birdrock for their lobster burrito

    El Pescador Fish Market in La Jolla for AMAZING fish sandwiches

    Starlight Lounge for hip so-cal coolness and inventive food (good website).

    Also check out Alice Q Foodie's blog. (sp?)

    Definitely read any thread on the San Diego fish taco debate. Finding an authentic Baja-style one is difficult. Finding one with melted orange cheese and lettuce and frozen fish is very easy.

    And there are two Japanese places that everyone, and I mean everyone raves about. I haven't been so the ravers will have to speak up.

    1. And one last thing: the ARValentien does an Artisan Table every Thursday night. It's community seating with all food (Chef's choice from local purveyors) served in platters on the table. $75 per person including wine. If you've happened to golf at Torrey Pines that day, just stroll on over for dinner. Just take off cleats, slip on uggs or flipflops and you're good to go. Again, read the current thread on their Epicurious award.

      1 Reply
      1. re: pickypicky

        I can second, third and fourth all of these recs - and thanks for talking about my blog. I'm blushing ;-)

        AR Valentien has changed their format to smaller portions and lower prices with nothing over $21. They'll also do a family style meal much like what they do for the Artisan table. It's excellent, and such a gorgeous place if you're visiting from out of town. I like to go for lunch and sit on the patio. Great hiking also nearby at Torrey Pines State Park.

        Oceanaire Seafood Room or Red Pearl Kitchen might be open on xmas eve - if you're interested in oysters or some stylized but still pretty good asian food. Maybe call and find out whether they're open and how late.

        For adventurous tacos - try Tacos El Paisa or Mariscos German.

      2. I'm from NYC, but my wife and I have visited San Diego four times. On our first trip, we discovered the Parkhouse Eatery in University Heights. We became addicted to their hash browns, blue corn pancakes, inventive and delicious egg scrambles, and Mexican-style hot chocolate. Breakfast at Parkhouse is a highlight of every one of our SD vacations. We visited LA last year but flew into San Diego just to eat breakfast at Parkhouse (the waiter loved that). Parkhouse Eatery is about four miles north of the Gaslamp district.

        I crave the fish tacos at El Indio, right off I-5 near the airport.

        My brother-in-law introduced us to a sushi joint called Sushi 4 U. It's an unassuming place in a strip-mall on Friars Rd in Mission Valley. The service was attentive and personal (we sat at the bar and were fed by the owner/chef who I believe is the only sushi chef there) and the sushi was some of the most fresh and well-prepared I've ever had. Try the Pizza Roll!

        Parkhouse Eatery
        4574 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92116

        1. Pickypicky referred to Alice q Foodies blog, here is the link: http://aliceqfoodie.blogspot.com/

          She has excellent insight to the SD dining options listed on the right hand side.

          Word of caution. San Diego is a pretty sleepy town. I think it will be nearly impossible to find a great chow-worthy dinner at 10pm on Christmas eve. I live 1 block away from restaurant row in the village of La Jolla and it is pretty much shut down by 8pm on that night...some places do not open at all.

          1 Reply
          1. re: foodiechick

            I was gonna say the same thing. San Diego is a lot of things, but what it aint is New York or Miami where people don't go out for dinner until 10:00 pm, especially on Christmas Eve. :) Aside from that one possible hiccup, I think you'll be able to enjoy the dining in our city.

          2. Where are you planning to play golf? If Torrey Pines, there is the obvious choice of the Lodge there. That course puts you just south of Del Mar, where one of the best restaurants in the San Diego metro area opened a couple of years ago -- Market. It is on Via de La Valle, about a mile or two inland from the 5 freeway. Really excellent, flavorful California cuisine, with produce from the nearby Chino Farms. They serve a very reasonable (cheap by NYC prices) four-course prix fixe menu with multiple choices for each course. I also really like Pamplemousse (French-California) and Red Tracton's (very old-time steakhouse) which are both on Via de la Valle immediately coastside of the 5. By the way, if you are real foodies and are in the vicinity, it is worth a stop to check out Chino Farms; even if you don't have a kitchen it is an experience to see the world-class product and taste some of it fresh from the ground, even raw.

            19 Replies
            1. re: nosh

              Thanks Nosh, we are planning to play Torrey Pines, as well as either one, or both, of Salt Creek (5252 Hunt Pkwy, Chula Vista) or Steel Canyon (3199 Stonefield Dr, Jamul).

              1. re: fishermb

                So here is our game plan, if anything looks glaringly terrible please let me know:

                -Wednesday Night (XMas Eve): World Famous, rec. by GF's parents so have to go
                -Thursday Lunch (XMas Day): Golfing at Torrey Pines ,so will eat there
                -Thursday Dinner (XMas Night): Sab-E-Lee
                -Friday Lunch: Playing 2 rounds of golf, so will eat at one of the courses
                -Friday Dinner: Sea Rocket Bistro
                -Saturday Lunch: Super Cocina
                -Saturday Dinner: Kaito Sushi
                -Sunday Lunch: La Barbacoa
                -Sunday Dinner: El Pescador Fish Market

                1. re: fishermb

                  Sounds like a great plan. World Famous is the only one that's kind of questionable but it sounds like that one's out of your hands and at least they have a nice view. If you can swing it, you might want to suggest JRDN which is near World Famous in Pacific Beach but has far better food.

                  Note that El Pescador isn't open real late so just beware of that

                  1. re: DougOLis

                    Doug: I checked with World Famous and they're open til 8. Depending on how the Chargers game is going, we might leave a little early and we'll definitely get there in time. In the event we can't get there in time, I'd really like to find a similar casual place where we can get a great fish sandwich, this will be our last meal in SD, suggestions on that?

                    1. re: fishermb

                      I suspect you mean El Pesacador is open until 8 right? A similar place to El Pescador that's probably just as good (and has a larger menu) is Blue Water Grille down off India Street. I think they typically are open later than El Pescador. Both of those places specialize mainly in grilled fish but if you prefer fried fish you can try Point Loma Seafood.

                      1. re: fishermb

                        I just find it weird that you are willing to drive to World Famous from the Charger game with traffic about a 45 minutes to an hour for a really mediocre meal.

                        1. re: Beach Chick

                          Op said he was going to WF on Christmas Eve, not after the Charger game. Also is going because it was recommended by his Girlfriend's parents. He is going to go there, no matter what any of us say about it.

                          To OP: Point Loma Seafood would be best bet for a fish sandwich, but it closes at 6, so probably will not make it there right after the Chargers game on the 28th.

                          1. re: Cathy

                            Correct, WF is for XMas Eve. El Pescador, or something similar, will be for after the Chargers game.

                            To Doug/Cathy: I'll check into Point Loma and Blue Water, definitely prefer grilled fish, we don't really eat fried food of any type.

                            1. re: fishermb

                              Then Blue Water.

                              The only non fried sandwich items at PLSF (.com) are the tuna and the smoked fish.

                              (P.S. Sorry about the non-response re: Sab E Lee: power went out just as I was calling that night...we had rain you know)

                              1. re: Cathy

                                Cathy..love your horse..I had horses too..

                                Bay Park Fish Co. off Morena is pretty good too.
                                Fish Market a couple of blocks from your hotel has some of the best fresh fish at the oyster bar and sushi bar around..just don't do the restaurant downstairs..only upstairs at Top of the Market.
                                Huge game next week with the Chargers/Denver and hoping to clinch the AFC West and go to the Playoff's..take the trolley from your hotel to the Q..been to many a Super Bowl/AFC West games and it's just plain crazy..eat before you go and have some Rubio's fish taco at the stadium.
                                If you do go to WF, there are usually several DUI check points going in and out of PB on Xmas Eve and through the holidays.


                    2. re: fishermb

                      World Famous is what we do after riding our bikes on the boardwalk during the summer and want to have a couple of drinks and some app's..very beachy..food is ok
                      I would stay in the Gaslamp instead of driving to PB than go to WF..imo, its not worth the drive...JRDN is a much better at Tower 23.
                      Sofia hotel has the smallest rooms..ask for a big room if they have one.
                      Dobson's has some of the best mussel bisque with puff pastry and its a couple of blocks from your hotel.
                      Torrey is a fab course and hope you have a tee time...I play there quite often but I wonder if they will have the snack place at the turn open on Xmas..Lodge will be packed with reservations for Xmas dining.
                      Sea Rocket..have not been but have read some spotty reviews
                      El Pescador is one of my fav's for a fish sandwich but I wouldn't call it a dinner place to go to..it is a fish market with 2 or 3 tables.better for lunch and you can walk around gorgeous LJ.

                      1. re: Beach Chick

                        -I have a tee time for Torrey, I'm sure they will have some sort of facility where we can grab lunch, it doesn't have to be a major meal.
                        -Re: Sea Rocket, I'm looking for a good local farm-to-plate kind of resto, I read good things about it, but if you have a better suggestion tell me
                        -We're going to the Chargers game on Sunday afternoon, El Pescador seemed like a casual place to get something easy, we'd get there around 5 or so

                        1. re: fishermb

                          For local farm-to-plate restaurant I would recommend Linkery.

                          1. re: honkman

                            totally disagree. I think Sea Rocket is a great choice, particularly for out-of-towners. We have been very pleased with their fish, cheese plate, and appetizers. The Linkery can be more hit-and-miss, plus the prices are too high for what you get. I know that will inspire controversy, but it's' what we've found.

                            1. re: ginael

                              It would be a boring discussion board if we would all agree :). I think Linkery had some problems with service and consistency when they just moved into their new space but the last few visits (last one this week were very good) and I think the prices are reasonable for what you get.

                          2. re: fishermb

                            Charger game won't get you out of there by 5..it's a zoo and your best bet is to have a early lunch at El Pescador in LJ and do La Barbacoa for dinner...it's up the hill from the stadium..parking lot sells out by 11-12am.
                            Try and play the South course at Torrey..more scenic, imo.

                            1. re: fishermb

                              If you want to be there at 5 ish you better plan on leaving the Charger game early. If you leave with the crowd it may take you forever to get out of the parking lot and away from the stadium. Get out of there and get on the 15 north to the 52 west right into La Jolla.

                              1. re: fishermb

                                Charger game is now a night game so you will want to change your plan

                                1. re: Mongah

                                  Thanks Mongah, just noticed it got moved to 515PM. We'll decide whatever we're in the mood for lunch (either La Barbacoa or El Pescador) and try to find something decent open late on a Sunday night.

                      2. I happen to like Kemo Sabe, a weird fusion of asian and southwestern. If you want to eat late, even on Xmas, check out the old time steakhouse, Bully's. I prefer the Del Mar location, but they are in La Jolla, too.

                        1 Reply
                        1. Right around the corner from your hotel, The Grant Grill at the US Grant hotel is more expensive than some of your choices but the food is fresh, interesting and delicious. Kemo Sabe is also a favorite of mine with appetizer portions large enough that you might not need an entree. For fish tacos, I would go to Ocean beach area to South beach bar. Service okay but outstanding fish tacos. I have found most of the mexican in SD not great; pretty touristy. Have a great trip!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: foodieBruce

                            You may think the Mexican in SD is touristy because you are eating fish tacos at the south beach bar instead of Mariscos German. :-)

                            1. re: Ed Dibble

                              Good point, Ed! There's plenty of authentic Mexican to be had, definitely not in OB, especially South Beach Bar. Mariscos German has the best fish tacos in SD.

                          2. We just got back from a business and pleasure trip to San Diego. We like ethnic food and enjoyed Aladdin Hillcrest (met a Lebanese man on the plane who recommended it), for Korean BBQ, wonderful with about 12 sides sides, Buga is the best, rain caused us to go to PF Chang's for the first time and although a chain, a very good experience with surprisingly good food. The Fish House on Harbor Drive had a great view but was disappointing. I think that just walking around I could find many many good places in San Diego. Too much food, not enough time!!

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: queeks

                              So here is how the trip turned out:

                              Wednesday night we got in and World Famous was closed for the night due to a power outage, so we wound up walking around downtown by our hotel and finding a snack, we went to some gelato place, it was kinda late and pretty much everything was closed.

                              On Thursday after Torrey we went to World Famous for lunch, they were having a XMas buffet which we wanted nothing to do with (prime rib, etc.) and all else they had was the bar menu, so we had the lobster bisque which was great and some shrimp cocktail which was fine. It was great to be right near the beach, not sure how the rest of the food would've been, but we were happy with the experience.

                              Thursday dinner (XMas Night) we went to Sab-E-Lee. It was a lot of food for very little money. It was small, the waiter was friendly, we were happy. We had tom kha gai which was alright, have definitely had better. Then had some bamboo shoot dish with spicy dried fish that was my favorite of the night, very interesting. My brother wanted phad thai so we had that with shrimp and then green curry with chicken. I was a bit turned off by the fact that 1/3 of the menu was Chinese dishes, overall it was good, perhaps I had too high of expectations as most of what I had read said this was the best thai in SD.

                              Friday for lunch we were driving between golf courses and randomly stopped into Filippi's Pizza Grotto in Jamul. We had a mushroom pie, I wasn't expecting anything amazing as I live in Brooklyn. It was good enough for lunch.

                              Friday for dinner we went to Sea Rocket Bistro. Cool place in a neat neighborhood. We started with the 'live' sea urchin which was tasty but not the best I'd had before, even so, it was cool that it was served in the actual body of the animal. We also had a half anf half order of clams and mussels in white wine broth, very tasty clams, good mussels, very much enjoyed these. For the main courses me and my brother shared the spiny lobster risotto and the scallops over kale. The scallops were great as was the kale, nicely paired dish. The lobster risotto seemed very promising, but just didn't have the lobster-y ness I was hoping for, perhaps spiny lobster is just different than what I'm used to on the east coast. Great local beer selection, friendly service, we enjoyed this place and if I lived in SD would go more often to try other seasonal dishes.

                              Saturday lunch we did a 2-fer with La Barbacoa and Super Cocina. My brother lived in Dallas for 3 years and Mexico City for nearly a year so he usually is sick of the food but in NY we definitely are lacking authentic regional types of it. I thought the lamb at Barbacoa was fantastic, I loved that it was in someone's driveway, super tasty, tender. At Super Cocina we had 2 platters and shared. I got the cheese empenada which was my favorite and the chile relleno which was alright. My brother picked 2 types of chicken, one with mole, I forget the other, really enjoyed the mole, the other was forgettable. Their rice was great.

                              After a quick nap, we headed up to Encinitas to Kaito Sushi. Me being from NYC and my brother from MIA, 'early dinner' is not something we're accostumed to. We arrived at 8:30 and there were 6 other diners and most of the fish was gone, we had Kazu (I believe that's the main sushi chef's name) take care of us, super nice guy, very funny and personable. We pretty much had whatever was left, including toro, mackerel (some of the best sushi I've ever had before), herring roe, octopus which was fabulous, saltwater eel, and 1 or 2 other pieces, plus monkfish liver, some clam tempura dish, and the eel spine for 'dessert.' Great meal, though I'm sad we missed out on other offerings he had run out of. If I go back to SD I'll definitely be back there, great value - I think it was abotu $125 w/tip for both of us.

                              Sunday we went to the Chargers game, so our timing threw off our plan. We wound up going to the Zoo in the morning, the Yard House in downtown to watch the Dolphins game, which had a great Draft beer selection, but pretty standard (read: not tasty) bar food, and then at night just walked around downtown and wound up at Royal Thai. We weren't starved and just shared a noodle dish and a squid dish. Both were good, not great.

                              To sum up, thanks for the recommendations. If I return, Kaito will be a definite as will La Barbacoa. Would like to get some place with fish sandwiches/fish tacos, and try some different regional Mexican places.

                              1. re: fishermb

                                re: Sab E Lee, maybe your expectations were high but if you've had any other Thai in SD, you'd understand why us locals are excited to have it in town. The rest of the Thai in SD is barely passable and mostly forgettable.

                                1. re: daantaat

                                  The strange thing is, that if I got turned off by a Thai restaurant's menu consisting of, say 25% Chinese dishes, I'd never have eaten at Lotus of Siam. Which has Fried Won Tons, Wor Won Ton Soup, Chow Mein, among other items on the menu. You can't really count Fried Rice, because it is a Thai staple, we had some of the best fried rice in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Granted, Sab E Lee isn't LOS, but if you have an understanding of the cuisine, or even read the posts here on CH.... you'd order to the restaurant's strength. All Thai restaurants, and the few Regional Chinese restaurants in San Diego make menu concessions to survive.

                                  1. re: KirkK

                                    KirkK, I have to agree w/ you. And if you go back far enough in history, according to my dad, all things originated in China. I think the interesting pieces are when "Chinese" dishes end up as a variant of something else. ie: pad see ew is a variation on beef chow fun.

                                    1. re: daantaat

                                      And Pad Thai came about when Chinese immigrant street hawkers adjusted their noodles to the sweet, sour, and spicy tastes of their Thai customers! In fact, according to my Thai cooking teacher, all of the noodles in Thailand are of Chinese origin, except for the native kanom jeen.

                                2. re: fishermb

                                  Thanks for the report! It's always nice to read folks' take on San Diego.