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San Diego, Your Food Is Horrible


Sorry, but it's true. Over the span of seven different visits to San Diego in the last two years, I have left each time so underwhelmed. I've read your posts, and it seems that many of you locals admit that the restaurants in San Diego are subpar in service and quality food. It also seems that this city lacks any ground-breaking chefs. I am from Manhattan, so come from a very biased point of view. That said, I have lived and still frequent such cities as Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, and Memphis. These areas are so much more advanced in all culinary areas. I actually feel sorry for San Diego residents.

I suppose you want to know which restaurants I have frequented. Just this summer, during my thee-month stay, I patronized:

The Linkery--found it to be overrated, over priced, and rude service
Urban Solace--limited menu, disappointing pork and beef options
Sushi Ota--hard to get into, lame atmosphere, mediocre sushi
Point Loma Seafoods--touristy (yes, I am a tourist, but still, that vibe is so lame), too many fried fish options, horrible parking options
The Marine Room--staid atmosphere, too-dry Halibut and Sea Bass, high prices, crappy wine list
Hodad's--greasy burgers, too-long lines
South Beach Grill in Ocean Beach--gut-bomb tacos with nasty cheese, grungey crowd

Face it, San Diego, you have a long way to go in the restaurant world. Sure your weather rocks, but other than that...whatcha got?

  1. Well if your comparing San Diego to the Likes of NY and SFculinary wise your gonnna be disappointed. That being said you also made some bad choices. The only ones that may have come up as recommendations would have been 1) Linkery - and there would have been as many detractors with your point of view as those recommending it. and 2) Sushi Ota - Gets decent praise but is known for being hard to get into and there are a few other recommendations that could have pointed you in some other directions.

    You would have enjoyed SD more by trying some of the great true Mexican food options that you may not be able to enjoy in the other cities you mentioned and choosing better.

    I mean I can walk into China Town in SF and have a poor Dim Sum experience or a great one based on where I choose to eat.

    1. I don't think you're being fair in comparing NYC, BOS, SF etc. to SD which is not a large metro city, I do understand you come from one of the best culinary cities in the world. I also noticed that you have only frequented mainstream well known places instead of venturing out. I agree with your view of The Linkery, Point Loma Seafoods specializes in fried seafood that is fresh but your complaint about parking has nothing to do with food, the same for the lines at Hodad's, nothing to do with the food and finally, although there are much better taco places, like the Marisco's German truck which I recommend you try on your next trip, along with some awesome BBQ'ed lamb at Aqui es Texcoco. BTW, I'm one of the 'grungy crowd' at South Beach Grill, whatever that means.

      6 Replies
      1. re: cstr

        I have to agree that you made some very poor choices on where too go. SD is limited but we do have some great places. I think being from NY you assume all the great places are in the city, but I find that in SD they are scattered throughout the county. You should have checked out Chino Farms at least and looked for restaurants that are shopping at the farm and using the produce that day. I come from Boston I know what it's like to have great food especially italian all around, it's here in SD you just have to know where to go.

        1. re: SDGourmand

          SDGourmand, I assume you were commenting to the OP and not me making poor choices, I'm not from NYC.

        2. re: cstr

          "I don't think you're being fair in comparing NYC, BOS, SF etc. to SD which is not a large metro city"

          Also, the thing people never seem to mention is that cities like NYC, Boston, DC, SF and LA all have so much more CASH than SD.

          Our fine dining reflects that.

          And the people in San Diego are not jet setting, worldly sophisticates. In fact we are the opposite of that. Hell, we don't even have an international airport.

          San Diego is done much better on the cheap with a car.

          1. re: stevewag23

            "Also, the thing people never seem to mention is that cities like NYC, Boston, DC, SF and LA all have so much more CASH than SD."

            I doubt that San Diego has much less money than other cities you mentioned. Money is not the problem why San Diego has no serious food scene.

            1. re: stevewag23

              I agree, about money in big cities. BTW - I like our little airport!

            1. re: PeterL

              San Diego is a very different animal than Manhattan, Boston, NY, and San Fran. Out here we still retain a bit of the wild west and that means you have to be somewhat adventurous and determined. We can't walk out of our urban apartment building and find the world's best something or other on the corner; here we get in the car and drive, sometimes for many miles, to get to the places we love. As cstr pointed out, you only went to "mainstream" name recognition places which are not representative of the San Diego food scene. Sushi Ota: a very dim third after Kaito or Shirahama. Point Loma: you're from Manhattan and you're complaining about parking? At least we have parking. And that's what you get for going to a "touristy" place. Marine Room: if you had done your research you would have known that the only thing this place has going for it is the view. Hodad's: it's a burger, grease is part of the point. Out here in the wild west we know how to keep our burgers in perspective (and the pretentiousness out of our food). If you're coming to San Diego looking for good eats you should be prepared to do a fair amount of schlepping into places that may not be very visually appealing. Leave your effete east coast superciliouness at home -- it doesn't impress us.

              1. re: SDgirl

                I've had good meals at Marine Room. I think the conventional wisdom about it is based on information that's 10 years old at least. When is the last time you've eaten there?

                I would also dispute the assertion that grease is part of the point when it comes to burgers. I love a good burger, and greasiness is definitely not a requirement.

                Lastly, I think it's kind of strange to defend our city's food by implying that it's the way it is because "we" don't want to be pretentious. I don't think the places he went are necessarily pretentious, and I don't think it's fair to say that cities like New York, San Fran, and LA only are recognized as dining destinations due to pretensions.

                I don't think the OP is trying to look superior. To me, it sounds like someone looking for a good meal who is frustrated by what he's had so far, and is hoping to find something better.

                I often feel like some San Diegans are too quick to apologize for our lackluster food scene. Part of what leads to improvement is an acknowledgement that improvement is needed. There are things that we do well, but as you said quite correctly, it does require a lot of digging and travel to find.

                1. re: Josh

                  Couldn't agree more. I am always surprised how people on this board are always this fast to defend the quality of food in San Diego and everybody who critizes it must be "trolling to incite anger". If people in SD would be much more critical with our restaurants we would start to see some improvements.

            2. I pretty much agree with most of your comments. Especially living in Manhattan, you have access to food that is much, much better than most anything in San Diego.

              Now, that said, I think you chose some of the weakest spots in town - with the exception of Marine Room where I've had some good meat dishes, though I haven't eaten fish there (I'm also more of a beer person, so have no idea about their wine list). I'd also say that Linkery does some stuff really well, such as their cured meats. Their city and country hams are quite good, for example.

              If you come back, you need to visit ethnic and low-priced spots to have the best food experience, IMO. Here are places I'd suggest you try:

              Super Cocina - authentic home-style Mexican cooking. Not tacos, burritos, etc. (though you can get these), but many stewed dishes from throughout Mexico. Go at lunch for the freshest food.

              Tacos El Paisa - street tacos on freshly made tortillas. The al pastor, buche, barbacoa, and cabeza are all excellent.

              Mama's Bakery and Deli - middle-eastern food. Their vegetarian items are best, though the garlic chicken is pretty good.

              Aqui Es Texcoco - this place specializes in Mexican lamb preparations. Try the consomme, the rib tacos, and the flautas.

              Izakaya Sakura - Japanese small plates, delicious cooked and raw fish items. Albacore tataki, buta kakuni (braised pork belly), gyuniku tataki, lots of good stuff here.

              Mama Testa - more upscale take on tacos from all over Mexico. It's busy now because the owner was on Bobby Flay's show, but the salsas and tacos are delicious (and no yellow cheese to be found).

              Blue Water Grill - fresh fish prepared in many different ways. Skip the blue plastic menu and order off the chalkboard, which is typically made from the fresh stuff in the cases.

              Ba Ren - Szechuan chinese food. Extremely spicy and flavorful.

              Also, if you're wanting a burger, Hodad's is among the last places I'd send you. Our best burgers are found at Farmhouse Cafe, Neighborhood, and Cafe 910. If you're wanting something more downscale, akin to Hodad's, then Burger Lounge is a better choice for sure.

              I'm sure I missed some spots, but those places should offer you a better dining experience.

              I'm not a native here, my family is from New York, and I spent a lot of time in LA growing up. San Diego's dining scene is definitely lackluster in my opinion, and the sad thing is that when we do get good places that open here, there's often not much support. Cafe Cerise was a really good French-influenced restaurant with creative twists on many dishes, and the place was frequently empty. Meanwhile, lousy chain restaurants do booming business here. However, if you look carefully among the lower end and among the ethnic restaurants, you can get really good food here.

              1. Oh, and to the OP, other than the weather, we DO have some of the best craft beer made in the US. If you haven't checked out what our breweries are doing then you are definitely missing out.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Josh

                  2nd the craft beer scene, lots of excellent brew.

                2. You made bad choices and there are better restaurants in San Diego but overall you are correct that the food in San Diego is very disappointing and might be one of the weakest in the US (for a city of this size). You will mainly find mainstream food (which unfortunately is often not even good).

                  1. Interesting points. I do agree with some, and disagree with others.

                    "It also seems that this city lacks any ground-breaking chefs."

                    Very True. The very few "ground-breaking chefs" we have tend to leave town. On a one way ticket.

                    "I have lived and still frequent such cities as Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, and Memphis. These areas are so much more advanced in all culinary areas."

                    Yes. San Diego is probably the worst dining city in America for its size. Even smaller cities have better dining. Comparisons to NYC simply are not fair. San Diego needs to be compared to places like Scranton, PA, Norman Ok, and Prescott AZ. Then San Diego seems great. Everything is relative.

                    "Sushi Ota--hard to get into, lame atmosphere, mediocre sushi"

                    It is hard to get into, the atmosphere is lame, but it is not "mediocre sushi". It is actually very good.

                    "Point Loma Seafoods--touristy (yes, I am a tourist, but still, that vibe is so lame), too many fried fish options, horrible parking options"

                    Not sure how a fish market translates into a "lame vibe".

                    Nor do I understand how sitting by the bay, watching seals and getting a postcard view of San Diego equating a "lame vibe" either.

                    I have mentioned before on the fried food issue: don't order the fried options at PLS. There are plenty of non-fried options which are the best things to get.

                    "Hodad's--greasy burgers, too-long lines"

                    All burgers are greasy. We do have long lines in summertime, and Hodads has been getting alot of media coverage.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: stevewag23

                      Puleez - fairer comparison cities would be Denver, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Minneapolis.

                      SF, NYC, LA are just on a totally different scale. There is also no extensive hinterland for SD (except maybe parts of AZ).

                      Having lived for years in Columbus OH and on the Monterey Peninsula, I have a lot of respect for the variety of interesting dining spots in SD. But if it makes you feel good to be so miserable, well that's your choice, I guess.

                      1. re: Ed Dibble

                        I agree that NY or LA might not be a fair comparison (due to their size) but so is Cleveland etc.. I think cities should be compared by their size of the population and the potential money available. (In the end restaurants are just shops who try to sell something. And every shop will look on the market size and its available money). Based on this it is fair to compare SD to SF, Boston etc.

                        1. re: honkman

                          Do you really think SF and SD are comparable????

                          SF has a history as a dining/clubbing mecca since the Gold Rush. SD was a sleepy Navy town until WWII

                          SF Bay was the terminus of the 1st Transcontinental RR. None ever came to SD

                          SF is the center of a giant conurbation that extends east to Sac, north to Napa/sonoma, South past San Jose, Silicon Valley etc. , sortof like Manhattan though on a smaller scale. In the greater SF area there are 2 pro baseball teams, two pro football teams, two pro Basketball teams, and it isn't considered especially a sports crazy area.

                          People come to SF for dining & clubbing - not for beaches, climate, etc. My family back in the 50s and early 60s would travel nearly 500 miles every couple of years just to eat and drink in SF. I probably had been in SF 6-7 times before I went off to college.

                          Apples and oranges, sorry.

                        2. re: Ed Dibble

                          "Puleez - fairer comparison cities would be Denver, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Minneapolis. "

                          Don't get so defensive, I was playing around.

                          But if you spend time in Columbus OH, I am sure San Diego must seem like a god send.

                      2. Woooohee! This is going to be fun...

                        Now that "Clover01" has thrown open the doors to a city by city comparison of cuisine, I propose a little contrast of my own:

                        Memphis- some good barbecue and a handful of decent restaurants, but not close to San Diego by a longshot- nowhere near the diversity and quality of ingredients.

                        Seattle never struck me as so much better than San Diego- just as many hyped places there as there are here.

                        San Francisco- certainly good- my hat is off to you, fair city.

                        Manhattan- sure, the sheer numbers dictate that there's a lot of mind-blowing food per square mile (I'm a big fan of the city, nothing personal here), but if you base your appraisal on population density, LA has NY beat, handsdown. Take an honest look at the general state of food in NYC: there are, without an inkling of doubt, way more bad eats and absurdly mediocre restaurants per capita out there than here.

                        You missed:

                        Starlite Lounge (superb burger, local ingredients, creative menu)
                        Santouka ramen
                        Chin's Taiwanese brunch
                        Yakitori Yakudori
                        A.R. Valentien
                        et al to name some others we have been praising on this board for a while now.


                        3 Replies
                        1. re: SaltyRaisins

                          Tell us more about Chin's Taiwanese brunch. Sounds intriguing.

                          1. re: Josh


                            Saturday and Sunday from mid-morning through the afternoon at the Miramar location (although things are a bit better earlier on), a secondary menu appears with many Taiwanese specialties involving flatbread and thinly-sliced, cold, star-anise scented meats, very good beef noodle soup, fresh soymilk with "oilstick" (basically Taiwanese savory churros with hot-chocolate, but with soymilk), pea-greens and other less common veggies, scallion cakes...many others. Prices and portions designed so that you order lots of these from the menu. As is often the case, the menu descriptions can be misleading, so get a good look at what's going on on other tables and ask questions- the staff never looks down on pointing.


                            1. re: SaltyRaisins

                              How is the rest of their menu? Are meals besides that breakfast worthwhile?

                        2. We've had to remove a number of angry responses from this thread, and the discussion as a whole is increasingly unfriendly. We're going to lock this topic now.

                          Please do feel free to start new discussions to discuss specifics about San Diego chow that were raised in this thread. However, broad comparisons of one city's cuisine vs. another's doesn't really help anyone eat better here and now, so we'd ask folks to please give that tangent a rest.