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San Diego recs.

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bensop Jul 12, 2009 04:04 PM

My wife and I will be in San Diego or the first time in August in celebration of her graduating law school and the bar exam. I think we will be staying at the W and will not have a car. Will we be stuck downtown? How hard will it be for us to get to La Jolla/ Point Loma/ Coronado/Mission Beach for day trips? Any advice would be appreciated.

Also please reccommend any restaurants that should not be missed in any price range.

restaurants that interest me so far are:

Cafe Chloe (lunch or dinner)
Bahia Don Bravo (lunch if we can get to La Jolla)
George's Ocean Terrace (dinner if we can get to La jolla)
Point Loma Seafood (lunch)
Old Town somewhere (dinner)
Chino

Thanks

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  1. s
    stevewag23 RE: bensop Jul 12, 2009 05:30 PM

    "How hard will it be for us to get to La Jolla/ Point Loma/ Coronado/Mission Beach for day trips? "

    La Jolla- difficult. Only way is a cab. $40-50.
    Point loma - easy cab ride.
    Coronado - take the ferry! Super cheap and cool. Many locals don't even know about that move.
    Mission beach - $25 cab

    If you like sushi go to Hane sushi.

    If you want to go to North Park, Jaynes Gastropub or Farmhouse.

    1. DiningDiva RE: bensop Jul 12, 2009 06:33 PM

      Bebsop...congratulations to your wife!! Great accomplishment. Even though you're downtown, you're not exactly stuck.

      Cabs are not inexpensive or economical in SD, but the trolley is. Cabs to Bankers Hill, Little Italy, Shelter and Harbor Islands and Point Loma will be fairly reaonsable.

      You can get around downtown on the trolley on a day pass. I can't remember the exactly what a day pass is for downtonw, but I think it's about $1. A little more and you can get to border and back, Little Italy and Old Town. The trolley is clean, efficient and an easy way to get around the part of town you'll be in. If you take the trolley to Old Town and get off, you can grab a bus to the beach. Unfortunately, bus service isn't quite as efficient as the trolley, but without a car, it will get you where you need to go. Here's the link to more info on trolley and bus routes -http://transit.511sd.com/

      A moe reasonable cab ride will get you to Bankers Hill. A long time SD resto just underwent a major renovation and concept change and is now Urban Cucina. If you want something a little more celebratory try Mr. A's , both are at the intersection of 5th and Laurel.

      If you want a celebratory drink, try the Top of the Hyatt at the embarcadero. 40 stories +/- up you'll have a great view of the bay from all angles. JBar and JSix might also fit your needs.

      1. foodiechick RE: bensop Jul 12, 2009 06:54 PM

        Great info provided so far, but you should know that Chino's is a produce farm stand with limited hours and far off the beaten path. It's a real treat for foodies (especially first timers) but you must have a car to get there (and at least a small kitchen to assemble even a salad from their beautiful veggies).

        1. Beach Chick RE: bensop Jul 12, 2009 07:16 PM

          Well, you hit the trifecta with DD, foodiechick and myself...

          I would do George's for dinner on the terrace before sunset..
          Jsix for dinner
          Water taxi it over to Coronado from downtown/gaslamp..have drinks at the Hotel Del and happy hour fish tacos across the street at the Brigantine..
          Cafe Chloe for lunch/dinner.
          Top of Hyatt for drinks..
          Basic if you want to have some great pizza..gaslamp
          Dobson's for some of the best mussel bisque en croute..burger too..gaslamp
          Point Loma Seafood for scallop or calamari sandwich
          Old Town Mex..no flames!!!
          Fish Market on the SD Bay for shrimp cocktails and cocktails..great oyster bar too.

          Transit system blows here..rent a car for a day or two..its about $20 per diam on expedia/hotwire..for LJ/Del Mar..you can do the rest on trolley/water taxi/cab and bus..

          www.sdhe.com
          www.gaslamp.org

          1. thirtyeyes RE: bensop Jul 12, 2009 07:25 PM

            La Jolla from downtown will take about an hour each way on the 30 bus, but a $5 pass will be good for all day for the bus or the trolley. The America Plaza trolley station is very close to your Hotel. There are also some trains that go from the Santa Fe station (Also fairly close to the W) up the coast, but I'm not sure where they stop. From Old Town (on Trolley line) the 8 and the 9 bus go to Seaworld and then Pacfific Beach or Mission Beach or the other way around depending on which bus route. The 7 bus goes to Balboa Park and the zoo and Hillcrest. Lots of good restaurants in Hillcrest, not so many good restaurants in Old Town, but you might as well go to Old Town Cafe, everyone else does.

            If you have time and patience, you can get to almost anyplace in San Diego. I didn't have a working car for a while when I first got here. Google maps now does directions for public transportation with time tables.

            1. b
              bensop RE: bensop Jul 13, 2009 08:23 AM

              Thanks for the replies so far. I think we will try and rent a car for a day or two just so that we can save ourselves some hassle. Also, thanks for the info on Chino's, I thought hat was a restaurant. We love sushi and drink spots, but the wife is preggers with our first so we will have to try those recs next time. We are both food lovers though, so any other recs from street tacos to fine dining is always appreciated.

              2 Replies
              1. re: bensop
                b
                bobbyh RE: bensop Jul 13, 2009 08:50 AM

                If you go for George's Terrace (it's our favorite in LJ), call now for a resv...they are extremely busy in the summer season. Show up w/o resv and it could be an hour plus wait or more. resv taken current and following month by phone and a shorter period on open table.

                1. re: bensop
                  thirtyeyes RE: bensop Jul 13, 2009 12:12 PM

                  With a car you should definitely take a look at Convoy street, there's a thread on it right now. I also like hitting Pearl for Dim Sum in Rancho Bernardo before driving up to the Wild Animal Park.

                2. e
                  exilekiss RE: bensop Jul 16, 2009 09:20 AM

                  Hi All,

                  (with apologies to bensop in advance - I didn't want to start yet another thread asking about San Diego recs :)

                  I'm also going to be celebrating and visiting a friend in San Diego (and staying near the Gaslamp). I have a car, but was wondering if there are recommendations for:

                  1. Best Sushi in San Diego - I have Sushi Kaito (a bit far from where we're staying, but if it's truly worth it... :). Any other recs?

                  2. Great Eats in San Diego (closer to Downtown San Diego, but I can drive) (regardless of price - It can be a hole-in-the-wall, high-class or anything inbetween).

                  From bensop, and the 6 threads I've read so far, here's my list of places (please let me know if I've missed something or should drop something :) -

                  * Sushi Kaito (aforementioned)
                  * Cafe Chloe
                  * Grant's Grill
                  * Mariscos German (if I can find a truck close enough / and hopefully if I can make it for Lunch (No Dinner right?))
                  * Point Loma Seafood (on Emerson St.)
                  * Aqui es Texcoco
                  (Note: I've been to Oceanaire before, thanks!)

                  Any other recs?

                  Thanks in advance! :)

                  35 Replies
                  1. re: exilekiss
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                    srk RE: exilekiss Jul 16, 2009 10:27 AM

                    One spot that used to be included in the best sushi discussion quite frequently is Sushi Ota. It's just off of I-5 near Mission Bay (not far from downtown).

                    Other places I think are worthwhile (and not too far from downtown):

                    Starlite
                    Basic Urban Kitchen & Bar
                    Blind Lady Ale House
                    Blue Water Seafood

                    -----
                    Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill
                    3667 India St, San Diego, CA 92103

                    Blind Lady Ale House
                    3416 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA

                    Starlite
                    3175 India Street, San Diego, CA 92103

                    Sushi Ota
                    4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

                    1. re: srk
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                      exilekiss RE: srk Jul 16, 2009 04:34 PM

                      Hi srk,

                      Thanks for the recs! :) If I may ask, why has Sushi Ota stopped being part of the discussion nowadays? Has their quality gone downhill / lost a chef, etc.?

                      Re: your other recommendations, do you have a favorite dish / something I should try at each of those locations?

                      Starlite
                      Basic Urban Kitchen & Bar
                      Blind Lady Ale House
                      Blue Water Seafood

                      Thanks!

                      1. re: exilekiss
                        s
                        stevewag23 RE: exilekiss Jul 16, 2009 04:54 PM

                        "why has Sushi Ota stopped being part of the discussion nowadays?"

                        I like it.

                        You should also check out Hane. Opened by the #2.

                        1. re: exilekiss
                          cgfan RE: exilekiss Jul 16, 2009 05:00 PM

                          I wouldn't characterize Sushi Ota as having dropped out of the conversation - it still remains the "default" choice amongst restaurant reviewers and "follow the charts" diners. They've remained in an enviable position as the presumed #1 spot in San Diego for so long that it would have been hard to imagine just what kind of operation might displace them.

                          This despite my long-held belief (pre-Kaito) that their top toque spot is unwarranted but only a reflection of the undeveloped state of Sushi (both of the Sushi bars and of their diners) in San Diego. For the most part I personally saw them as average and equal amongst a few other sushi bars that also try to pursue to varying extents traditional sushi, and in some ways inferior. In my mind (pre-Kaito) the only Sushi bar that really stood out was Shirahama, though it's hard to love a Sushi bar that has such a prejudicial attitude towards who can be allowed to dine.

                          It reminds me much of the near monopoly and self-fulfilling status that 1st growth Bordeauxs have. They have such a large marketing and pricing advantage merely due to their 1st growth classification so long ago that their continued 1st growth status is all but guaranteed. Of coruse w/respect to the Bordeauxs there are many knowedgeable palettes constantly watching and judging them when compared to the rather immature state of "Sushi criticism" in S.D., so naturally there are more people willing to call out "The Emperor's New Clothes" when warranted then, say, of the presumed Number 1 Sushi bar in S.D.

                          I personally think such a challenge is healthy and long overdue. Even if the masses do not go for Kaito but at least recognize that Sushi Ota is far from being our best Sushi bar, it will have been a healthy development. Forget the off-the-point arguments about there being so many Japanese customers at Ota, or as I've heard from one customer "Ota is a certified master", whatever that means.

                          Or the often-heard argument "their fish is the freshest", which totally misses the point. (Each fish has a peak in quality that's often not when it's at its freshest. Perhaps it's a safe and simple guide to go by for naive Sushi chefs, but those who really know their game will age their fish and serve it near its peak in quality. And there are no simple paint-by-the-numbers rules here to guide the ill-trained Sushi chef as each individual fish will age differently, and the Itamae, like the Fromagier with his cheese, must know how to read the subtle clues to age each properly.)

                          Taste is all that matters. As Kazuo Morita always says, Sushi bars can lie, Sushi chefs can lie, but the fish never lies.

                          At its heart Sushi is an honest cuisine. It's a cuisine that's so "bare" that a knowledgeable pallette can tell when they are getting something sub-standard. No amount of seasoning, presentation or reputation can add even a bit of help to sub-standard ingredients.

                          One does not need to see all of the traditional prep that goes on everyday at Kaito. I claim that anyone should be able to simply taste the difference.

                          It's really so simple - just taste and decide

                          -----
                          Kaito Sushi
                          130-A N El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024

                          Shirahama Sushi & Japanese Restaurant
                          4212 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

                          Sushi Ota
                          4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

                          1. re: cgfan
                            s
                            stevewag23 RE: cgfan Jul 16, 2009 06:48 PM

                            Great comment.

                            1. re: cgfan
                              d
                              daantaat RE: cgfan Jul 16, 2009 08:36 PM

                              all hail to cgfan!

                              1. re: cgfan
                                cgfan RE: cgfan Jul 16, 2009 09:05 PM

                                Ooops... Where I said Fromagier I meant to say Affineur, one who specializes in the aging of cheese. My point here is that a competent Itamae must also possess the skills, knowledge, and sensitivities very much like the Affineur to his cheese, to know when, how, and how long to age his fish.

                                1. re: cgfan
                                  s
                                  stevewag23 RE: cgfan Jul 16, 2009 11:56 PM

                                  "Where I said Fromagier I meant to say Affineur"

                                  I will give you a pass.

                                2. re: cgfan
                                  e
                                  exilekiss RE: cgfan Jul 17, 2009 01:35 PM

                                  Hi cgfan,

                                  Thanks for the detailed reply. :)

                                  Since I'm only visiting my friend for a couple days, I don't think I'd be able to visit all 3 Sushi Bars in this trip. But I am curious about how this place stacks up to my favorite Sushi Bars in Tokyo or LA. I can't wait to eventually try them all. Thanks. :)

                                  1. re: exilekiss
                                    cgfan RE: exilekiss Jul 19, 2009 12:12 AM

                                    Whichever sushi bar you do decide to visit, please post your findings here. Would love to hear all the details!

                                    1. re: exilekiss
                                      Pablo RE: exilekiss Jul 22, 2009 10:52 AM

                                      Exilekiss, I have followed your great posts of LA sushi bars for some time now, I think you need to go to Kaito. Ota is not going to do anything for you that you cannot get in LA already. Let me put it this way, the only reason I don't return to Urasawa right now it's not because of the cost, it's that I have found a chef with Hiro-san's perfection right here in SD. Morita-san keeps me so excited about his food, I am hopelessly addicted. Get there early and maybe you can beat me to that fresh katsuo heart!

                                      http://www.flickr.com/photos/sushiman...

                                      http://www.flickr.com/photos/sushiman...

                                      1. re: Pablo
                                        cgfan RE: Pablo Jul 22, 2009 11:33 AM

                                        Well said Pablo!

                                        Morita-san has been a game-changer for me too. And when you have sushi as often as I do, it's also a life-changer! We're talking about an order of magnitude different than what else is available in our area.

                                        It's the only place that has gotten me so excited that one week I visited on every open day, and used to visit 3 times a week thereafter. It's the only place that has challenged me to write about food in a way that captures the experience, but I never seem satisfied that I have. It's the only place that has turned me into a restaurant evangelist. And yes, it's the only place that has been able to lately "earn me" the accusation of being a shill on CH for a restaurant (thanks Beach Chick! - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6360... ). (Sorry to disappoint BC but I am just an ordinary customer, though perhaps their most frequent at one time now that I've been able to come down to "just" a weekly visit - at least when I'm on my best behavior!

                                        )

                                        The big surprise to those who haven't been to Kaito, however, is that it's all wrapped-up in a very unassuming, welcoming, non-threatening and educational (in an edu-tainment kind of way) enviornment. And if you have any burning "got to ask" questions about Sushi skip the over-burdened "Ask Sushi Man" thread on CH and instead have a one-on-one with Kaz! (Nothing against that thread at all, BTW. Just that there's nothing like asking someone in person!)

                                        http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

                                        http://www.flickr.com/groups/kaitosus...

                                        ...and a just-recently-hatched Kaito fan lovingly puts together a slideshow doing his own photography and interviews Kaito customers: http://fiann.pair.com/jwochi/Kaito%20...

                                        1. re: cgfan
                                          Pablo RE: cgfan Jul 22, 2009 12:06 PM

                                          I know cgfan, he's no shill, he's just a regular customer usually waiting for my seat at the bar! If I could go three times a week like him I would jump at the chance. You never have the same dinner twice here, Morita-san always has something up his sleeve!

                                        2. re: Pablo
                                          honkman RE: Pablo Jul 22, 2009 12:32 PM

                                          Just curious - so you put Kaito on the same level of quality and execution as Urasawa ?

                                          1. re: honkman
                                            Pablo RE: honkman Jul 22, 2009 02:20 PM

                                            For me, the way Urasawa stands apart from the rest is the same way Kaito sands out from the rest in San Diego, just my opinion. Morita-san has Hiro-san's same strive for perfection and simplicity in his use of ingredients and execution. Otherwise Hiro-san's conservative Kyoto style kaiseki vs. Morita-san's Edo style sushi are wildly different experiences. Morita-san is going get things for me that no one in San Diego is getting. Treats that are not likely to turn up at Urasawa, maybe too pedestrian or not refined enough, e.g. eel bones, fish hearts, bloodlines, sea pineapples, barracuda etc... Hiro-san has prepared the most amazing meal I have ever had so far, but Morita-san has opened my eyes to a world that Hiro-san cannot show me at Urasawa. The pride, respect and unending pursuit for absolute perfection is evident in both of these itamaes, traits held by seemingly too few in the culinary world these days.

                                    2. re: exilekiss
                                      s
                                      srk RE: exilekiss Jul 17, 2009 09:38 AM

                                      Hey exilekiss,

                                      I'm not a sushi expert (or even really a fan, for that matter), so you probably should check out the opinions of those on this board who are more passionate about the subject. I was just trying to suggest that there are some other options for sushi that have generally been highly regarded (before Kaito became the last word in every sushi thread) and are closer to where you'll be staying.

                                      As for the other spots - I haven't been to any of them enough to have a favorite dish, but, in my eyes, they are all unique places to the San Diego dining scene and I am happy that they exist here. They would definitely be the top choices for me to take an out of town guest (though none of them are fancy). Before anybody gets riled up, I'm not saying they are unique in all the world - just that I think they're good choices for here.

                                      That said:

                                      Starlite - known for their cocktails, good (not mind blowing) food, and atmosphere - also serving food later than most other spots in San Diego
                                      Basic - pizza and beer. The pizza is not uniformly shaped and served on a big cookie sheet. They call it New Haven style. Whatever it is, I like it.
                                      Blind Lady Ale House - beer and pizza. The beer is definitely the star here, but the pizza ain't bad either.
                                      Blue Water Seafood - I know Point Loma Seafood is a popular choice for visitors to San Diego and it's certainly got a great location by the docks, but I like the fresh fish sandwiches and Ballast Point beer on tap at Blue Water better.

                                      Have a great visit!

                                      1. re: Beach Chick
                                        cgfan RE: Beach Chick Jul 17, 2009 10:23 AM

                                        Re. http://entertainment.signonsandiego.c...

                                        Beach Chick, thanks for posting the link. I rather like that piece! :-

                                        )

                                        But really, since when is opining about one's favorite place such a crime? Are you so afraid of one's opinion? I somehow suspect that you never had the pleasure of feeling the true joy of experiencing something utterly profound in the realm of cuisine and would rather read hidden agendas where none exists.

                                        BTW here's something I wrote on these boards; guess what sushi bar I wrote this about?

                                        "So how good was the sushi? Well you know when you eat something that is just so perfect and so unmistakably good to its core that you just can't react in any other way than to simply laugh, be amazed at how ridiculously good some ingredients can be, while grinning from ear to ear at your own good fortune? It was that good. Period."

                                        Ref: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3421...

                                        Hint: Your first guess would be wrong.

                                        I'll continue to write about the places that I think CH'ers should know about and why, and you can continue to "police" what you think us CH'ers ought to read and enlighten us with your theories. But please don't turn this forum into a "Minority Report" kind of world.

                                        As for me I'd rather continue to read those who are passionate about their food choices and are not afraid to tweak the status quo.

                                        1. re: cgfan
                                          d
                                          daantaat RE: cgfan Jul 17, 2009 06:02 PM

                                          well stated!

                                          1. re: daantaat
                                            cgfan RE: daantaat Jul 17, 2009 06:06 PM

                                            Thanks daantaat! Guess where I'm going again tonight for dinner?

                                            1. re: cgfan
                                              d
                                              daantaat RE: cgfan Jul 20, 2009 09:11 PM

                                              ha ha! I've been wanting to head up there again...was bummed when a friend of mine couldn't do dinner w/ me there!

                                  2. re: exilekiss
                                    Captain Jack RE: exilekiss Jul 16, 2009 11:10 AM

                                    Super Cocina on University Ave.
                                    Ba Ren on Diane Ave

                                    My rec for the OP on Old Town:
                                    El Agave, they are more upscale than most OT restaurants. Very good moles, excellent selection of tequilas.

                                    1. re: Captain Jack
                                      e
                                      exilekiss RE: Captain Jack Jul 16, 2009 04:36 PM

                                      Hi Captain Jack,

                                      Thanks! What would you recommend getting at Super Cocina?

                                      1. re: exilekiss
                                        Captain Jack RE: exilekiss Jul 16, 2009 05:27 PM

                                        Super Cocina is home-style Mexican cooking featuring many guisados (think home-made Mexican stews). I have enjoyed everything I have tried there but here are some examples.

                                        Birria de Chivo
                                        Pollo con Mole
                                        chiliquiles
                                        huevos con chorizo

                                        The food is served from steam tables and the very friendly women who serve from them will be happy to let you taste anything that looks good to you. Because of this, and my limited Spanish, I dont know the names of many of the preperations I have enjoyed. Maybe KR, Josh, or DD will chime in here. They are far more knowlegable about the Mexican kitchen than I.

                                        1. re: exilekiss
                                          kare_raisu RE: exilekiss Jul 16, 2009 07:21 PM

                                          You'll taste it and know what you are going to get.

                                          Here is some help:
                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/366888

                                        2. re: Captain Jack
                                          Gypsy Jan RE: Captain Jack Jul 17, 2009 06:24 PM

                                          Hi cgfan,

                                          I looked at your flicker account, but couldn't find a contact link, so I guess I can ask you here, since it is chow related.

                                          What is the brand of soy (?) sauce you take with you to Kaito? And how can I find/order it?

                                          TGIA, GJ

                                          1. re: Gypsy Jan
                                            cgfan RE: Gypsy Jan Jul 17, 2009 06:41 PM

                                            The brand I use is produced by Yuasa Shoyu and the product is called "Ki-Ippon". You can ask for "Yuasa Ki-Ippon" at our local Nijiya Market, the only shop in San Diego that carries this hard to find product.

                                            http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

                                            It's easily distinguished as it'll be the only one that is boxed, in this case a white box, with some purple lettering and a purple ribbon. (An old, poetic word for Shoyu is Murasaki, or deep purple).

                                            It is a fantastic product and I especially recommend its use particularly on Sashimi, particularly with the more robust (when seasoned with Konbu) Shiromi (white-fleshed fish), and Akami (Maguro). It also goes great with most any Nigiri, though clearly it really shines with Sashimi. It has a very smooth, well-rounded taste with a lot of depth, and clearly has stood out amongst all of the premium Shoyus that I have tried so far.

                                            It's available in Japan in much larger bottles, something that I've been trying to get a hold of through Nijiya. Unfortunately Nijiya's distributor only carries the one small size. I'll post on CH if I ever do find a source for the larger bottles...

                                            (If I may recommend a perfect travel vial to be more discreet with the soy sauce, I found a perfect sized travel vial at the Daiso store right next to Marukai off of Claremont Mesa Blvd. and the 163. It's sold in packs of 2 in the cosmetics section for only $1.50. I find that each vial holds enough for at least 4 Omakase meals for one person.

                                            http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam... )

                                            1. re: cgfan
                                              Gypsy Jan RE: cgfan Jul 17, 2009 06:58 PM

                                              Wow!

                                              Thanks very much for the quick reply and the detailed info, I had been meaning to ask you about the shoyu after you mentioned it some several posts ago.

                                              I figured that you would be already out the door to Kaito for a well-deserved rewarding meal on this Friday evening.

                                              Cheers, GJ

                                        3. re: exilekiss
                                          Ed Dibble RE: exilekiss Jul 20, 2009 08:15 AM

                                          Kaito really is very good. But it is also a long drive, which I don't enjoy after a couple of sakes.

                                          Personally, I always enjoy Izakaya Sakura, which is much closer on Convoy. It also has a great selection of izakaya (think Japanese tapas) cooked dishes as well as some good raw fish.

                                          While I defer to cgfan's expertise and respect his enthusiasm, I have left Sakura every bit as happy and satisfied as I have left Kaito.

                                          Perhaps this simply indicates that my palate or culinary experience doesn't match up to cgfan's - but I suspect that applies to most folks. And, oddly enough, I see more customers of Japanese ethnicity at Sakura than at Kaito - for whatever that's worth.

                                          1. re: Ed Dibble
                                            cgfan RE: Ed Dibble Jul 20, 2009 11:23 AM

                                            That's funny, as whenever I scan the room and count I always end up with one less Japanese customer as my dining companions do! :-)

                                            Oh I'd sure hate to be the last word on anything, but rather be considered as one voice amongst many. However ask me and I still say that Kaito is 1st, Shirahama 2nd, and I find it really hard to distinguish a 3rd amongst the rest. To me it almost feels like an arbitrary choice after the top two... (That is not to say that this 3rd tier pack does not distinguish themselves from the rest of the sushi pack, and again it's only my characterization! Including the 3rd tier places I'd guesstimate we're still talking about, say, 2-3% of the sushi bars out there?)

                                            I need to work on a new (informal) survey again of promising S.D. sushi bars especially after having stumbled upon Kaga Sushi's location when looking up Hogetsu-do the other day. It didn't look as intimidating as its reputation, but than again it was closed! But my suspicions are that it'll be hard to displace Kaito given the sacrifices required of keeping their prices as low as they have so far with the low margins, high cost of scrapped goods, and the very picky customer base associated with their strictly traditional approach.

                                            (The only type of formula that I think might be able to match them in quality is one run on higher margins and larger capital budgets - hence with the much higher prices that is normally associated with quality at this rare level... I haven't said this before on these boards, but I've always seen them as very "affordable", or as much as sushi can be affordable given the quality that they deliver... Many other Kaito customers can attest to this as well... Pablo, are you out there?)

                                            I've often gotten the sense from them that they see running things in the way they do at Kaito as more of a calling rather than as a business.

                                            1. re: cgfan
                                              Ed Dibble RE: cgfan Jul 20, 2009 01:35 PM

                                              As a gaijin - you got me :-o.

                                              And make no mistake, I do love Kaito, and consider the pricing there very fair and the service and friendliness to be excellent. But for my palate, I find the gap between what you would view as 3rd level and the average purveyor of sushi to be a huge crevasse, and it does bother me some that you seem to lump Sakura (and Ota) with places like Sushi Deli.

                                              1. re: Ed Dibble
                                                cgfan RE: Ed Dibble Jul 20, 2009 03:19 PM

                                                Again what I call 3rd tier is only my characterization and is not necessarily a formal one either. I just know that in my book who clearly deserves the top two spots (in terms of cuisine alone - for attitudes towards the general public there's a lot to be said against operations like Shirahama...).

                                                If SD sushi bars were stars in the sky I'd have to zoom out pretty far in my characterization above to be able to see the only two stars that really stand out, Kaito followed by Shirahama, amongst all of the others.

                                                So I am not saying that the rest of the sushi bars are all the same, and I hope I made that clear. It's just a matter of perspective, and It's just that I never defined, nor don't feel I need to define, just who is in that 3rd tier apart from the 4th tier, 5th tier, ..., as it's never been of much practical importance to me. From my perspective whoever they' are they're all struggling to distinguish themselves from each other while never being able to leave "their local galaxy" of sushi bars (again, from my perspective).

                                                Sure removing Kaito and Shirahama and then zooming-in on the rest is like grading on a curve, and certainly before finding Morita-san at Tomiko and at Kaito and before I had found Shirahama I too had frequented a lot of sushi bars in a more even rotation. Why? Because I was always hunting for an absolute level of quality better than what I was finding in San Diego, but never finding it. (Actually I feel that with almost all cuisines. In fact don't we all recognize that in ourselves as CH'ers? Don't we often like to set an absolute level of quality that often times is left unfulfilled when limited to San Diego's choices on offer? After all we do travel and are exposed to other places around the state, country, and the world, and even if not we are not so naive to think that the best of every cuisine is presently either in San Diego or tied with San Diego?)

                                                Sure in the end during those times I might frequent one over the others but that was purely based on a social connection to the sushi chef and not based on an absolute level of quality. Basically I did not feel that I had a "sushi home" that stood on its own w/o the need for some dislaimers...

                                                But just as much as I feel this I am as much convinced that I have been changed by Morita-san's sushi. One can only wonder how much better some pursuits can be beyond one's actual experiences; it's all abstract until you're actually exposed to something substantively better. And now after having had Morita-san's sushi I have a direct experience that no doubt makes it clear just how profoundly better sushi in San Diego can be. (Finally!)

                                                But I think it can be better, and so does Morita-san. Perhaps it'll be him to bump it up to the next level or perhaps someone else, but one cannot stop the music now while San Diego's traditional sushi scene is still in it's infancy and freeze the "classified growths of our sushi world", to borrow an analogy from the world of Bordeauxs, and claim Ota, or for that matter Kaito, as a permanent winner. It can all change in the future just as much as the period before I had found Morita-san or Shirahama I felt that the San Diego Sushi scene might never change despite a huge and perplexing growth in the number of "Sushi bars". (If all Sushi bars were run traditionally the need for available talent in the U.S. would have been quickly exhausted many hundreds or thousands of Sushi bars ago!) I feel that finally someone has arrived on the San Diego scene that is a clear cut above the rest, which is something to be celebrated rather than looked upon with suspicion or guarded as an unwelcome threat. It's all healthy, and at this time I'd say that in San Diego Kaito clearly takes top toque, not by a smidgen, but by a wide margin.

                                                It'll be a paradigm shift for San Diego and perhaps there will be skirmishes along the way, but ultimately better Sushi will be the result. Eventually more would have had a chance to try Kaito's Sushi and decide for themselves, as opposed to the current situation where many ardent San Diego fans of Sushi have not yet had a chance to experience Kaito's Sushi.

                                                To me this is a part of a broader change in the overall San Diego Japanese dining scene. I never accepted that San Diego will forever be burdened with the generic Japanese Tempura-Donburi-Menrui-Nabemono-Sushi-etc template that San Diego's been given a start with. Or even Menrui-only shops that only does the Ramen-Udon-Soba trio without specialization. It's due time the training wheels can come off. San Diego diners are more sophisticated, and now our patience is rewarded with truly specialized purveyors in the likes of Tsuruhashi, Yakitori Yakyudori, Santouka, Oton, and Okan. And yes, Kaito has truly "specialized" in Sushi beyond what other shops have "deifned in practice" as being "specialized".

                                                I'll next look forward to the time when there would be more than one choice of outstanding Japanese food in each specialty category; I'm always looking for more! Folks, let's not settle for anything less!

                                                ...and Sushi Deli as 3rd tier behind Kaito and Sushi Ota? I hope you never heard me say that... Not sure where you got that idea.

                                                Phew! Now I'm tired...

                                              2. re: cgfan
                                                Pablo RE: cgfan Jul 20, 2009 05:13 PM

                                                For me Sakura is not a sushi shop, sushi is a very small portion of what they do. That being said, the sushi has always been good, but the selection is so much more limited than Kaito. You may see more Japanese customers at Sakura, but I see more Japanese chefs eating at Kaito if that's any indication of quality.

                                              3. re: Ed Dibble
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                                                daantaat RE: Ed Dibble Jul 20, 2009 09:18 PM

                                                Ed, I too enjoy Sakura and Kaito but for very different reasons. I love Sakura's vast menu and the subsequent obsessing over what I want to eat (again) and what I should try in order to expand my tastebuds. But when I want the real deal/whole enchilada for the sushi/omakase experience, Kaito was a step above Sakura. I agree that Sakura's sushi is good and a nice part of an overall izakaya style meal. However, if I'm really craving sushi for sushi's sake, I'll head to Kaito.

                                                1. re: daantaat
                                                  cgfan RE: daantaat Jul 20, 2009 09:57 PM

                                                  I think the issue here is the casting of an Izakaya as a Sushi bar. For me I've always thought of Sakura as a wonderful Izakaya, standing on its own in terms of food quality except for its very, very un-Izakaya-like feel. I've often said that for the Izakaya-feel Yumeya has a heads up, but in terms of the kitchen Sakura beats it by a long-shot. Not that Yumeya does not have a wonderful kitchen, but to me it's just not an Izakaya. (I usually recommend Yumeya on these boards mostly because of its atmosphere and uniqueness, and not as an Izakaya. It's menu is far too limited, and a tad noveau, to really work as an Izakaya.)

                                                  In fact I've probably used Izakaya Sakura more than any other Japanese restaurant in San Diego to entertain visiting relatives and guests in spite of its insignificant distance from where I live. Izakayas are like that for me; when I just feel like kicking back and shooting the breeze with relatives or guests that are also "from the tribe" over food and drink, it's always an easy choice for both them and me. Forget the menus. Just about anything that I or my guests or relatives can think of that's soulful to eat would be served up at an Izakaya. In this way it all feels so natural and relaxing, somewhat akin to asking Mom what to make for dinner! (A good part of the food served at an Izakaya would never be served at more formal Japanese restaurants - at the Izakaya it's the home away from home; it's all about enjoying comfort food! As much as I love Sushi it will never be a comfort food, at last for me...)

                                                  So when I go there I never order Sushi or Sashimi. I subconsciously don't even see the Sushi bar as that's food for another cuisine and seems out of place. None of my guests or relatives either have ever ordered from the Sushi bar here, and they all love Sushi just as much as I do! At the most perhaps some incidental appetizer like Shiokara or Takowasa, but that's to complement the drink and not as an end in itself! I'm here to be at an Izakaya! I'd be willing to bet that if one looks around at Sakura that for the most part, especially amongst the older crowd, the Japanese are not ordering Sushi or Sashimi from the tables. That's what Sushi bars are for and they're a whole different specialty and focus.

                                                  So I do like Sakura a lot, but as an Izakaya. I've been going there since my arrival in San Diego in the early eighties back when they used to be open until 3 in the morning! It was comforting to know for this night owl that no matter how late it was that I always had access to a meal that reminded me of the home cooking that I grew up with.

                                                  So other than a horrendous period when their kitchen quality dropped to dreadful levels and scared me away for up to a year or more, Sakura's been one of my favorite places to have a meal, especially when entertaining. (That is only after apologizing for its non-Ikazaya-like looks!) Just not for Sushi. (And I have tried it as a Sushi bar after hearing so many raves about it on CH! Sorry!)

                                                  1. re: cgfan
                                                    Ed Dibble RE: cgfan Jul 21, 2009 10:15 AM

                                                    Sorry, I just haven't made myself clear. My point was not that Sakura is the equal to Kaito as a sushi bar - just that I usually leave Sakura just as happy and satisfied (and broke).

                                                    Over the years, I've had a braised kampachi head, two baby squid with diced tomatoes, cabbage roll, 4 mushrooms with bacon, tofu, and asparagus, uni and spinach, pork belly and numerous other treats from the kitchen that are excellent and satisfying dishes. Even an unagi donburi or a good chirashi there can be a very good thing.

                                                    If I had unlimited income and lived in San Diego, I might well have my chauffeur drive me to Kaito just for sushi one night and then drive me to Sakura for just izakaya dishes the next night. But that's not my circumstance (or many other folks either).

                                                    In other words, I think that Sakura offers an extremely wide range of excellent tastes and might well be a good choice for a visitor to San Diego.

                                            2. d
                                              daphnac RE: bensop Jul 16, 2009 08:13 PM

                                              You must rent a car otherwise you will be wasting precious time and money trying to get anywhere.

                                              7 Replies
                                              1. re: daphnac
                                                s
                                                stevewag23 RE: daphnac Jul 16, 2009 11:57 PM

                                                Disagreed.

                                                1. re: stevewag23
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                                                  trauty32 RE: stevewag23 Jul 24, 2009 01:38 PM

                                                  I agree you must rent a car unless you plan on staying in a one mile radius of your hotel. Cab is expensive, Trolley is hideous and who wants to ride the bus system in a strange city? It is definately worth the money to be able to get to all the great restaurants in the city and the surrounding areas. How would you get to Super Cocina, Blue Water Seafood, George's, Hillcrest Farmers Market without spending a fortune on cab rides?

                                                  1. re: trauty32
                                                    s
                                                    stevewag23 RE: trauty32 Jul 27, 2009 05:53 PM

                                                    "How would you get to Super Cocina, Blue Water Seafood, George's, Hillcrest Farmers Market without spending a fortune on cab rides?"

                                                    Blue Water Seafood = $7 cab ride from W hotel
                                                    Hillcrest Farmers Market = $11 cab ride
                                                    Super Cocina maybe $20

                                                    George's = free. skip it.

                                                    Plus, its good for the enviornment.

                                                    1. re: trauty32
                                                      j
                                                      jayporter RE: trauty32 Jul 27, 2009 06:17 PM

                                                      Staying at the W makes super easy to ride the bus and trolley, and our bus system (to the surprise of many) is pretty good if you are only going to established areas (that is, downtown, the historic neighborhoods and the beaches, not the high-tech campuses and suburbs).

                                                      All buses and trolleys cost $5 for an all-day pass.

                                                      So, to answer your question:

                                                      Super Cocina -- the #7 bus

                                                      Blue Water Seafood - blue line trolley (this is possibly quicker than driving, from the W to Blue Water).

                                                      George's -- #30 bus

                                                      Hillcrest Farmer's Market -- #7, #11or #15 bus

                                                      And, to Coronado, you can take the ferry or the 901 bus.

                                                      The MTS website is hard to use from a mobile phone or blackberry, so I put a web page together with a collection of links directly to route maps and schedules:

                                                      http://30thstreet.org/transit/ .

                                                      If you also load Google Maps onto your phone (and use its "Transit" option), taking the bus here is like having your own personal driver. I am 95% car-free (I drive or ride in a car a couple times per month) and find San Diego quite easy to get around on buses.

                                                      1. re: jayporter
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                                                        stevewag23 RE: jayporter Jul 27, 2009 06:34 PM

                                                        Good point: "Blue Water Seafood - blue line trolley "

                                                        That would be super easy.

                                                        1. re: jayporter
                                                          Captain Jack RE: jayporter Jul 28, 2009 09:31 AM

                                                          Hey Jay,
                                                          You are a much bigger fan of the San Diego bus system than I. Occasionally I take the #30 downtown to meet friends for happy hour at the Yard House. I hop on around 4pm and the bus is packed with all the gardeners and housekeepers heading home from work in La Jolla making it standing room only. This makes for a very unpleasent, stuffy, and stinky ride, especially in the summer, even with the ac on. Coming back is not so bad. I also use the #30 north to get to the La Jolla restaurants. Heading home to PB, on several occasions, the on the half hour bus has not showed up, which left me sitting on the bench for close to an hour, bored, stuffed, buzzed, and tired. Not how I like to finish off an otherwise nice evening.

                                                          1. re: jayporter
                                                            thirtyeyes RE: jayporter Jul 28, 2009 02:48 PM

                                                            That's a cool web page.

                                                            I agree, the MTS site is hard to use on the iPhone, but the google transit features sure are nice. I wish they would allow you to force all bus or all trolley routes.

                                                    2. Dagney RE: bensop Aug 1, 2009 12:49 AM

                                                      In the Kaito vs Shirahama vs Sakura vs Ota sushi noise, you should know these places are all distinctly different.

                                                      Kaito- Kaito offers up a prime Southern California experience. They use the best, most fresh ingredients available. The atmosphere is fun, cool, relaxing, very "Encinitas." The chef is wonderfully warm and truly happy you are dining with him.

                                                      Shirahama- My personal favorite. Shirahama is a tiny little room wit one sushi chef. His son is the host. They do not serve noodles, or tempura, only sushi. The quality of the fish is simply the best, and the flavors of their fish are rich and distinct. One caveat, Shirahama is a uniquely quiet, understated, Japanese dining experience. The chef has been criticized on this board for not being "friendly," however, he was extremely gracious and polite to my husband during our meal with him. Shirahama is not the place for a raucous, rollicking dinner, but rather a quiet shared evening with loved ones.

                                                      Sushi Ota- They are located in PB, dude. The food is good, not nearly as ramrod traditional as the Shirahama or Kaito, but good. Sushi-Ota IS more appropriate for a large group or a gathering of old friends. The atmosphere is hip, in crowd, filled with beautiful people who are movin' n' shakin.'

                                                      Izakaya Sakura- They serve excellent food. They have a fairly wide selection of cooked fishes, noodles, and tempura. I have only had wonderful meals there, although the surroundings are fairly basic. This is not the ideal choice for a romantic evening, but rather a casual dinner.

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