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Must eats: first visit to San Diego

What are your recommendations for San Diego?

I will be going to a Padre's game on my first night there, so perhaps a good place in that area. Also, my hotel is in Mission Valley.

I am pretty much open to ALL cuisines (minus Chinese or Thai). Cheap eats are a plus but not a requirement if it is an excellent meal. "Uniquely SD" would also be nice. I must visit an excellent tacqueria during this trip!

Thank you all in advance for your tips!

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  1. How many nights are you going to be here? Will you have access to a car?

    Jay Porter (owner of the Linkery)'s primer on GaslampBall is probably a good place to start. http://www.gaslampball.com/2009/2/23/...

    Other places I would add to his post: Neighborhood, The Kebab Shop, Cafe Chloe, Cowboy Star, Alchemy

    The best taco shop near the ballpark is probably Las Cuatro Milpas. There are better places (Aqui es Texcoco, Super Cocina, Mariscos German, Mariscos Godoy, Tacos El Paisa) but that's probably the easiest to get to.

      1. After my first visit to San Diego a couple weeks ago I suggest you must try Super Cocina and Blue Water Seafood. Also I second Cowboy Star.

        1 Reply
        1. re: trauty32

          For the Padre game I'd suggest Basic Urban Kitchen...

        2. Thank you! I will look into all of those suggestions!

          I know that Mexican and taco trucks are SD's specialty, but are there any other types of restaurants that will knock me off my feet?

          Oh, and I will have access to a car for my three day/two night stay.

          19 Replies
          1. re: chopstix417

            Actually, Mexican and taco trucks isn't SD's specialty. They are here and some of them are actually quite good but it's not quintessential San Diego.

            You have as good or better Mexican in Chicago than we do here. San Diego is a "pass-through" location for Mexican migration. L.A., Chicago and other points North and East are immigration destinations because employment opportunities are better.

            1. re: DiningDiva

              YOur "pass thru" comment borders(ha Ha) on the absurd.

              1. re: SeanT

                Yeah, bad joke dude. Why absurd, SD is just a stop forbmost immigrants on their way to other places. Few stay here very long unless they've got family already established here. The U/T had an article on this very topic in last Sunday's paper, and made the exact same point.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  Yeah, I saw that article. It really confirmed many of my thoughts about San Diego.

                  San Diego, for being a border town does not seem very "Latin".

                  Spanish is rarely heard or spoken compared to many other cities.

                  Hell, there are neighborhoods in Washington, DC that are more "latin" than the majority of San Diego.

                  1. re: stevewag23

                    SD Latin influence, is that spelled 'Mexican', for Latin culture you need to drop down to S. America. I wish we had some authentic Latin culture and cuisine in SD.

                    1. re: stevewag23

                      San Diego not very Latin? From Carlsbad to Escondido to El Cajon to Chula Vista there are hundreds of thosusands of Latinos.

                      1. re: olc

                        Comparatively to other cities.

                        The Union trib article stated that San Diego is 30% hispanic.

                        The least percentage of Southern California cities.

                        1. re: stevewag23

                          I find that percentage hard to believe. Did they go to Barrio Logan, City Heights, Sherman Heights, Chula Vista and San Ysidro. There are parts of these cities that don't have any signs in English. The interesting part of this is that not only are most restaraunt's kitchens mostly staffed with Mexican employees, but the food culture has permeated the menu. You often see mexican ingredients and influences on most "fusion" menus. I can't count how many breakfast menus have ciliquilles (sp). I seem to see many, many mexican restaurants, hole in the walls and trucks. And even when you see posts on favorite burrito, carnitas, etc., every neighborhood has one.

                          1. re: sdnosh

                            "Barrio Logan, City Heights, Sherman Heights, Chula Vista and San Ysidro"

                            Super small percentage of the total population.

                            But you are right, there is no doubt of the influence of Mexican cuisine on the local food scene here.

                            Think about it, think about how hard it is to get a decent sandwich in town.

                            And how easy it is to get a decent taco.

                          2. re: stevewag23

                            Yeah, I am going to trust statistics from the Union Trib, one of the weakest excuses for periodicals in this state.

                            Sorry, but that percentage is sure to be much higher than 30%.

                            1. re: ginael

                              "Sorry, but that percentage is sure to be much higher than 30%."

                              I really think this is common thinking that is simply incorrect.

                              Agreed that the union trib is very weak.

                              Wikipedia has San Diego as "Hispanic/Latino of any race (25.4%)"

                              So maybe they overshot it.

                              1. re: ginael

                                That was the whole point of the article. That in spite of local perceptions, the population of SD remains predominately white. I tried to find the article to post a link, but the U/T website is not very user friendly and I couldn't locate it in their archives. I'm sure it's there, I just couldn't find it.

                                Anyway, the article went on to say that SD has the smallest Hispanic population of any metropolitan area in CA and some of the reasons why. Two of the biggest reasons cited were

                                1) lack of industrially based jobs - factory jobs are not common in SD
                                2) many who cross go north or east because they already have established family members in other parts of the U.S. so the social safety net for many lies in other areas, not SD.

                                I think we're all agreed that the U/T needs improvement (and let's hope the new publisher can facilitate that). But, comparatively speaking, the U/Ts (English language) Mexico coverage is actually fairly decent. It's still a little conservative, and follows the PAN party line, but many (tho'certainly not all) articles do show a better understanding of Mexico and what's happening there than does much of the mainstream U.S. press (certainly Washington D.C.) The U/T gives it's readers lots of reasons to diss it, but if one reads the Mexico coverage with care and a discerning mind, it can be surprisingly insightful.

                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                  I think that is a great point.

                                  The union trib does cover Mexico pretty well.

                                  Now only if there food section would step it up and make the website more user friendly!

                                  1. re: stevewag23

                                    Most of the mainstream press has been roundly excoriating Mexico for the drug problems and corruption. About 2 1/2 years ago the U/T started running Op/Ed pieces raising the question of U.S. culpability in the drug war. It was one of first news outlets to actually print pieces relating the U.S. consumption of illicit drugs and the unchecked and unregulated flow of guns south into Mexico to the drug war and violence, which had only just begun. The U/T Op/Ed page was one of the first places I read the argument that the the U.S. "War on drugs" was a failed program/policy in need of overhaul or discontinuance. These ideas were seeing the light of day in the U/T long before the rest of the mainstream press got on the band wagon.

                                    Yeah, the food section basically sucks. I really like Caroline Dipping, but the the wire pieces they choose to surround her with are pretty lame. I don't think they reflect what's really happening in SD or how what many San Diegans are eating is evolving. Arlan Hackett's history column something has some interesting stuff in it, but by and large it's a pretty unremarkable few pages.

                  2. re: chopstix417

                    Kaito Sushi - uni is very fresh and good from San Diego and this is probably be the best sushi spot in the county. Sea Rocket Bistro has good unrchin as well.
                    Given that Chinese and Thai are out, I'm not sure if Vietnamese is out as well, but we have good Vietnamese food around here. Maybe get a banh mi from Cafe Dore.

                    1. re: DougOLis

                      If you're around on Saturday I found some excellent live uni at the San Diego Kelp Bed Products booth at the Little Italy Farmer's Market. Uni was going for $4 each. Nice folks so I'm sure they'll prep one for you if they find out you're from out of town. San Diego does have some of the best uni, this might be a nice way to check it out yourself without paying an arm and a leg. Plus you can "pet a live uni" if you ever wanted too.

                      http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com/mmmyoso/2...

                      1. re: DougOLis

                        Ditto DougOLis on Kaito Sushi. If you're going to have sushi at any one place during your visit, make it to Kaito Sushi and you'll have a taste experience that you will always remember.

                        Sure looking for sea urchin alone is fine, but why not extend that to all the denizens of the sea, each astoundingly unique and mindblowing when fresh, knowledgeably procured, and at the top of its season. They also maintain a sushi blog of ingredient arrivals, updated 1-2 times per week: http://sushikaito.com/SushiBlog.aspx

                        BTW they're the only sushi bar in San Diego that I know of that regularly fillets their Anago in-house. Since fresh Anago is a rare find in the States, Kaito's Anago might be considered one of their specialties, which is all the more sensational given the quality of their traditionally-prepared Anago sauce...

                        1. re: cgfan

                          Uhmm - sushi, fresh anago, well prepared and considered cooked or raw other presentations = destination meal indulgence.

                          I hope we can travel to Kaito soon for omakase, I am willing surrender to the chef.

                      2. re: chopstix417

                        Just to clarify, "Taco Shops" are a SD specialty, esp. for things like rolled tacos and burritos.

                      3. when we go to the Padre games we usually hit up Basic for some of the best pizza or we go to the Omni at McCormicks and Schmicks next door to Petco for the best happy hour and drinks and then get stamped to walk over the Ped Bridge..
                        Make sure you get to Mariscos German for some of the best marlin tacos and hit up Las Cuatro Milpas for some great burritos..

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Beach Chick

                          Does M&S do happy hour on game days now?

                          to theOP: I think of Point Loma Seafoods as unique to San Diego.

                          1. re: Cathy

                            we had it for opening day..they say the hours are limited (3-5pm on game day)..quarter pounder cheeseburger with fries for $2.95..perfect for sopping up all those cocktails before hand..
                            ; )

                          2. re: Beach Chick

                            I've always wanted to walk across that bridge. I'll have to try it Friday night when I go. The 3 dollar cheesburger sounds good too.

                          3. Ditto Ewilensky and Beach Chick on Basic Urban Pizza. My wife and I are from Tucson and never miss Basic Urban when we're in San Diego, sometimes doing lunch and dinner there. (Only once, actually, and my wife's first time there!) I've also enjoyed the Tin Fish for casual fish, fries and beer; not fabulous, but good, fun--patio with lots of "street action" and next door to Petco.

                            1. For a pretty good cheap burger I would go to The Waterfront. Definitely Cafe Chloe. Get their mac and cheese. Ridiculous. Ciro's pizza is pretty good. I would go to El Indio for some good mexican. I also like Mama's Bakery for good lebanese. Love their falafel

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: neener41

                                El Indio is some of the worst "Mexican" food in San Diego. Your other picks are good, but you need to get over to Super Cocina!

                              2. Super Cocina: down to earth Mexican home cooking, very authentic
                                Karina's: Mexican seafood, very good prawns and ceviches
                                Farm House Cafe: excellent farm-fresh rustic french
                                Piatti: home style Italian
                                Okan: good authentic Japanese

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: live22eat

                                  Piatti might be (sadly) one of the best options for decent Italian food in SD but has nothing to do with home style Italian. It is only one of the least americanized Italian (which doesn't mean much in SD) restaurants in SD.

                                2. I am overwhelmed by all your suggestions, Chowhound! Thanks again! I hope I can fit many of these suggestions in my three day stay and report back!