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Jul 1, 2009 10:48 PM

The Better Half Bistro - RIP


Well guys, sad news. The Better Half has officially closed. I wish Chef John Kennedy the best in whatever he decides to do. A loss to the SD scene for sure.

  1. OMG, I hope this info isn't right :-(. I agree, it would be a loss. Jeez, he wasn't even chef/owner for 6 months.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DiningDiva

      Wow! There was a rumor about that on FoodBuzz over a month ago that was denied.
      That was a nice place to go to in Hillcrest.

    2. wow that is unfortunate. I didn't even get to go back after the revamp.

        1. Too bad. I was just eating at Chilangos across the street over the weekend when I saw the place and recognized the name from people talking about it on here. I was planning on trying it out soon but I guess that won't be happening now.

          1. This really sucks.

            It seems like many of the "un-San Diego" restaurants are having a really rough go of it these days.

            14 Replies
            1. re: stevewag23

              What's an "un-San Diego" restaurant? But I agree. This is a loss. Three friends and I had their pre-fix menu for $17 (I think) and it was really nice and would have still been an extremely good value at $25. My friends were particularly pleased with the half bottle concept. The chef who purchased the restaurant did make some changes including switching to full size bottles and giving the food a cajun twist didn't he? Either way, still a loss.

              1. re: sdnosh

                What's an "un-San Diego" restaurant?

                A type of restaurant that didn't exist in san diego until the last few years or so.

                Smaller boutique like restaurants with good food, atmosphere and prices.

                A "un-San Diego" hotel for instance would be a boutique hotel.

                (although most of the ones in san diego are corporatized imitations)

              2. re: stevewag23

                By 'un-San Diego' do you mean a place that serves pretty good food at reasonable prices? I feel bad for the chef/owner, now he has a property lease and probably equipment leases that he still has to pay for.

                1. re: cstr

                  By 'un-San Diego' do you mean a place that serves pretty good food at reasonable prices?


                  Non taco shop or corporate gaslamp rip off.

                  1. re: stevewag23

                    Yah, I hear ya, I avoid chains and touristy places. This guy had a good thing going but I bet his overhead was huge. Example: today in North County you can lease in a strip mall for about $1.50 sf/ft, tnet. That's not happening here.

                    1. re: cstr

                      Yeah, I bet profit margins were small because it wasn't that expensive and it was high quality.

                      Places like that have a tough time surviving in San Diego because people don't eat out very many days a week.

                      And there is no late dining turnover.

                      Places that flourish in san diego:

                      super low overhead (ie taco shops)
                      low quality high cost convention spots that can dupe the unsophisticated diner (ie the gaslamp)

                      1. re: stevewag23

                        Well the most often overlooked comparison is that there are far less people in San Diego than LA or NYC, and is more spread out than most other large cities. Seems silly to expect a similar dining culture.

                        1. re: MrKrispy

                          I completely disagree that just because SD is more spread out or has less people it has to have a different dining culture. There are many other cities (e.g. San Francisco, Boston) which have very highly populated inner city but also wide spread suburbs which have a much better and interesting dining culture than SD.
                          The problem with the dining culture in SD is that you can only serve mainstream food without any "risky" dishes (and "risky" dishes in SD are dishes in other serious food cities which are served regularly because otherwise customers would get bored without them and don't visited the restaurant again). When we often talked with Chef Kennedy about his plans for the next round of menu changes he was often frustrated that he had to be extremly conservative with the dishes he wanted to put on the menu otherwise hardly anybody in SD would order it which was very different from his experiences in other cities. All the restaurants which tried to serve unusual (or call it unique or more risky) dishes in SD (e.g. Asia Vous, Cafe Cerise, Better Half) couldn't survive in SD. (Zubin mentioned that he had no doubt that Better Half would be much more successful in SF than SD. Guess where he is living now). Over the last few years SD got more mainstream restaurants where you can order mainstream dishes for decent prices (e.g. Jayne's Gastropub, Pearl, Farmhouse Cafe, Urban Solace, Market etc.) but none of them has really creative, unusual dishes on their menu which try to push the boundaries (and that is for us one of the reasons to go to restaurants. It is boring to eat dishes in restaurants we can easily make at home but thats what pretty much every successful restaurant in San Diego is doing). Where are the restaurants in San Diego which serve tasting menus with unusual ingredients (pork belly, escargot, sweetbread, veal, alligator, osterich in one tasting menu), multiple influences (russian, asian, italian, french) like Better Half for about $55 ? All of those are closed now, the last one is Cavaillon where the chef is able to create a new tasting menu on the fly after we came twice within a short period of time. (But even they mentioned to us that they have problems to get enough customers).
                          No, the problem with San Diego is not the number of people living here or its size but that its more conservative history is also reflected in its eating habit (as discussed numerous times on this board). San Diegans love average mainstream restaurants (with below average service) where they don't have any unusual dishes which might make them uncomfortable. But if you are really interested in either authentic or "outside of the box" food of any region (e.g. italian, french, chinese, greek, turkish, german, etc.) San Diego is a culinary desert (Steven Rojas left San Diego after about 10 weeks which tells enough).

                          1. re: honkman

                            honkman, great breakdown.

                            "Where are the restaurants in San Diego which serve tasting menus with unusual ingredients (pork belly, escargot, sweetbread, veal, alligator, osterich in one tasting menu),"

                            I know, its crazy. Steak Tartare (a very non-risky dish in my opinion) is nearly impossible to find.

                            Cafe Chloe, would be one place that seems do do some unusual ingredients at times.

                            1. re: honkman

                              Amen, brother. That's why the ethnic restaurants are the best places to be challenged.

                              1. re: Josh

                                I agree.

                                San Diego does it best with cheap, ethnic spots.

                            2. re: MrKrispy

                              The "far less people in San Diego" excuse is just that: an excuse.

                              Many smaller cities (ie New Orleans, DC, etc) have way more advance dining than san diego.

                              It is one reason our dining is behind those cities: The Type of Person in San Diego.

                              For a minute, I though san diego might bridge the chasm into becoming a good to great dining city.

                              With closures like Better half, I now have little hope.

                              I am going to eat a quesedilla with extra guac now.

                              1. re: stevewag23

                                Wouldn't you prefer a $2 taco Tuesday at On The Border?