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San Diego's Convoy Street Gems

On a street known for good food and good deals, what are the stand-outs and reliable choices, regardless of cuisine?

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  1. please include your city in the title.

    3 Replies
    1. re: toodie jane

      Thanks for the correction, this was my first post. Until now, I have just lurked and learned.

        1. re: PolarBear

          Thanks! I feel like a veteran now, instead of just a lurker. It is so great to see some of my favorites taking the time and thought to give great responses to my questions!

    2. I've always found Phuong Trang to be a reliable choice for Viatnamese, though it has been a few years since I've visited.

      O'Briens Pub has a nice selection of beers, and serviceable food for a pub.

      Pacific Honda is a good place to eat your paycheck and pride.

      22 Replies
        1. re: RB Hound

          Too many friends and family (including myself) have gotten bugs in their food at PH. I haven't been there since the early 90s. Maybe it's different now.

          1. re: RB Hound

            Maybe too obvious a choice, but the Original Pancake Factory is on Convoy. Pretty good breakfasts.

            1. re: RB Hound

              It's the Original Pancake House, RB, not "Factory," and, IMO, they don't offer just pretty good breakfasts -- it's the best breakfast chain in America, the best breakfast restaurant in many markets, and among the best in all markets where they operate. I've been eating there since 1973 (starting in Chicago) and have visited probably 75% of their locations nationwide. I rank the Convoy OPH in the upper half of the entire chain on food but not on service or atmosphere, not that there's anything really wrong with either.

              1. re: Harry Nile

                What would you recommend there? I've had good stuff there, but keep hearing about OPH so just curious to hear from regulars.

                1. re: royaljester

                  It's hard to go wrong, royaljester, but my favorites on the menu ( http://originalpancakehouse.com/ ) are the Apple Pancake (big, sweet, puffy, juicy -- lots of apples, sugar, butter, and cinnamon), 49'er Flap Jacks (thin, gooey, and chewy -- use their good butter and maple syrup on top), Swedish Pancakes (crisp and thin at the edges, soft and thin in the middle, served with lingonberry sauce and butter), and French Crepes (depending on the location, filled with fresh or frozen strawberries or with strawberry jam and served with whipped cream and strawberry syrup; hint: also request tropical -- orange -- syrup).

                  In addition, the sides are very good, both the fresh juices and the meats, especially the thick-cut bacon. Eggs are excellent and properly cooked, and the outstanding omelets are the puffy type finished in the oven. (I really like the spinach and cheese, which I request tender and moist just to get a little extra goodness.) And the potatoes are always good, sometimes excellent to my taste when cooked well done.

                  If you ever get a chance to go to one of the Walker Bros. OPH's in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago (especially their local flagship in Wilmette) or to the original Original in Portland, do it -- these are the best. But the chain is remarkably consistent throughout the country, including California. I've been to all of them in my home state, and my only food complaint has been the coffee in the Orange County locations, where it varies from barely drinkable to fair. Why, I don't know.

                  Original Pancake House
                  3906 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

                  1. re: royaljester

                    I highly recommend the The Dutch Baby. Their Corned Beef Hash is good, but I think the quantity is a little small for the price. Most diner places will at least give you a side of hash browns with the hash. Their's was a relatively small serving of hash, eggs with a side of toast and it was around $10.

                    1. re: royaljester

                      I always get the potato pancakes. I grew up with traditional latkes, and these are the opposite. Light, thin, crisp, and not heavy or greasy.

                      I am not a fan of their omelettes, however. a) they're too big, b) the eggs are overcooked, c) the fillings are undercooked.

                      If you want to try something insanely decadent, get the bacon pancakes. I think I've eaten them 2 times in my life, and that was enough.

                      1. re: Josh

                        Josh, I've never had the undercooked-fillings problem that you mention. Which ones and how often has it happened? Did you complain to the waitress? Etc. I should say that over the last twenty years, I've probably ordered an omelet only a couple of times at the Convoy location, so they could well have this particular problem without me noticing.

                        On overcooked eggs: that's almost a legal requirement in American restaurants, no doubt for the same reason that we get overcooked hamburgers these days. (I once showed a young brunch cook how to prepare an omelet properly, and she was shocked to learn that in the classic French technique you don't fry it to death on both sides, pancake style, and then fold the stiff body around fillings.) The puffy OPH omelet is baked in the oven, of course, and most of their restaurants do leave it in a bit too long for my taste. That's why I recommended asking for the "tender and moist" version. You might want to try that with a simple ham and cheese omelet, where undercooked fillings are not an issue.

                        And, yes, OPH serves big omelets -- bring a friend!

                        1. re: Harry Nile

                          Sorry, not buying the legal requirement on overcooked eggs. I've eaten far too many omelets that weren't overcooked. I think it's because the omelets too big, so they have to bake too long.

                          OPH does a good job with scrambled eggs, though.

                          1. re: Josh

                            At any OPH, when I've asked the waitress not to overcook my omelet, telling her that I like it "moist," which seems to be the best word to use, and "soft," it has always come out properly cooked, moist, but fully done. So it can't be that the large size requires overbaking. Whether they overcook because of legal concerns or ignorance or simple carelessness, they don't have to.

                            By the way, can you point to some of those properly cooked stovetop omelets you mention? The only good (folded) omelets I've had in the whole state have been at Bette's Ocean View Diner in Berkeley. I'm sure that some of our French restaurants produce excellent ones when the occasion demands, but I'm talking about places that regularly serve breakfast. Thanks if you can help.

                            1. re: Harry Nile

                              I'm not a frequent restaurant breakfast eater anymore, but over the course of my life I've eaten omelets at delis, French bistros, and a variety of places, and can't recall ever encountering tough eggs like those at OPH. If I was looking to eat an omelet these days, I'd probably try Cafe Chloe. Their breakfast dishes are quite good.

                              1. re: Harry Nile

                                Cavaillon has Sunday brunch and the best eggs I've ever had!

                                1. re: daantaat

                                  Sounds promising, daantaat -- thanks. What about omelets? Does Cavaillon turn out the luscious, tender, tri-folded French kind, or do they cook them pancake-style on both sides and then fold around fillings? French are my favorite, but the good thing about oven-baked omelets is that even cowlick cooks can get them right (assuming prep is correct) by pulling them from the oven at the right point -- no deft hands required.

                                  Cavaillon Restaurant
                                  14701 Via Bettona, Suite 200, San Diego, CA 92127

                                  1. re: Harry Nile

                                    Cavaillon is owned and run by Phillipe Verpiand, who used to be the head chef at Tapenade many years ago. It's been a while since we've had brunch there, but his scrambled eggs were the softest and fluffiest eggs I've ever had (better than Payard). We've had the omelettes but for the life of me, I can't remember how they were cooked. I have a memory of it being large and fluffed up with really good tomatoes and Italian parsley.

                                    1. re: daantaat

                                      Cavaillon looks good for many reasons in addition to omelets. I'll try them next time I'm in SD -- thanks for the recommendation.

                  2. re: RB Hound

                    Phuong Trang is a bit underrated, IMO. The difficult part is that PT tends to be judged on the quality of the pho (pardon the broad generalization) and it's their weakest dish. Their com tam (broken rice plates) are more than decent and I love their beef wrapped in caul fat. The grilled catfish is also a pretty good bet there... it's a little more charred than I prefer, but it's delicious and a great meal to share with friends.

                    1. re: geekyfoodie

                      I've heard that if you want pho, you go to a place that has "pho" in their name, not a "general" Vietnamese restaurant like Phoung Trang.

                      1. re: daantaat

                        Indeed, so true.

                        ...and amongst those who are specialty Pho shops there are still plenty of mediocre ones. Just like Sushi bars, really...

                        1. re: cgfan

                          On a related note, do you know any good pho places in the San Bernadino area?

                          1. re: daantaat

                            Sorry I can't help you there... Sounds like a challenging combination of place and cuisine!

                            1. re: daantaat

                              When I lived in SD my friend (from Vietnam) took me to a place in PB for Pho. I believe it was called Pho Sao Bien. I haven't lived in SD in two years but it might be worth a try if you are in the area.

                    2. Tofu House (next to O'Brien's)
                      Yogurt World
                      Tapioca Express
                      Crepe World
                      Izakaya Sakura
                      Tsuruhashi BBQ
                      Chopstix (is sliding a little)

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: daantaat

                        Did you place the names in any particular order (best first)?

                        1. re: Lochita

                          no. just what came to mind first.

                      2. Here are my votes:

                        Nijiya Market - (best Japanese food market in S.D. County)
                        Okan - Oozara Ryori (specializes in cold appetizers)
                        Sushi-dokoro Shirahama - Sushi (2nd best in S.D. County after Kaito Sushi)
                        Izakaya Sakura - Izakaya (Japanese small plates pub, food-wise better than Tajima further up Convoy, but unfortunately suffers in the atmosphere department - I like to call Sakura the most "un-Izakaya-like" Izakaya!)
                        Tsuruhashi - Yakiniku (Japanese style Korean BBQ on charcoal grills)
                        Tofu House (the one adjoining Katzura) - Soon Dubu & Bibim Naeng Myun (Korean soft Tofu stew & Korean spicy cold buckwheat noodles)
                        Sab E Lee - Thai (though technically on Ulrich @ Linda Vista Rd)
                        Big Joy Family Cafe - baked goods and cafe (probably the best Lattes to come from a "regular" "non-3rd wave" "non-espresso Nazi" cafe; the clear taste of coffee is not hidden along with a "just right" taste of naturally sweet cream from the milk)

                        also rans:

                        Pho Convoy has gotten better and is probably the best Pho bet in the Convoy area

                        Tajima is alright but is eclipsed by the better and more abundant kitchen offerings of Izakaya Sakura. Their Ramen has never been excellent but if you're looking for something other than Santouka's Tonkotsu than Tajima offers Shio, Shoyu, and Miso Ramen. They're also open 'til 3 am during "Ramen Nights" and actually offers a far better ambiance than Sakura.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: cgfan

                          Thanks for taking the time to vote, and especially for giving specific dishes and giving the thoughts behind the votes-I found this especially helpful. Because I work nearby and my church is also close to the area, I would love to learn more about what is available.

                          1. re: Lochita

                            "... for giving specific dishes and giving the thoughts behind the votes-I found this especially helpful."

                            Ditto -- I wish everyone did that everywhere on the board. cgfan has also gotten me interested in the Big Joy Family Cafe.

                            Big Joy Family
                            4176 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

                          2. re: cgfan

                            I'll have to check out Big Joy on my next visit to San Diego. That wasn't on my radar.

                          3. If you want to try a pretty close approximation to a Korean Chicken Hof, try BBQ Chicken (which my husband just discovered actually is a Korean chain when he was in Seoul last week). Wasn't such a big fan of the bibimbap that I ordered one time, but the fried chicken is good and they have some nicely priced chicken/beer combos.

                            1. Let's not forget Convoy's dim sum. My favorites in order are Jasmine, Emerald, and China Max. However, after many mediocre performances Emerald recently threw a good game and is creeping up on Jasmine. Their sister restaurant in Rancho Bernardo, Pearl, is still the best in the San Diego area.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: thirtyeyes

                                There were several recent posts that China Max has gone downhill. Jasmine and Emerald were average, at best.

                                1. re: daantaat

                                  While I enjoy bashing San Diego's food as much as the next guy, I don't understand your statement.

                                  I guess I've been to about 10 or 15 dim sum places in the SF bay area and I'd say Jasmine would actually be BELOW average up there and down right bad compared to Koi Palace, but if you want to get dim sum in San Diego they're pretty darn good. And so I'd have to say they're "reliable choices, regardless of cuisine."

                                  Go to Lucky Star or Yum Cha Cafe a few times and you'll be singing with joy when you visit Jasmine.

                                  1. re: thirtyeyes

                                    My point, if it wasn't clear, is that Jasmine and Emerald are pretty poor examples of good dim sum. If you want to call them "reliable choices, regardless of cuisine," then they are "reliable poor examples of dim sum." If I want good dim sum, I'll save my $$ and calories and head out of town.

                                    1. re: daantaat

                                      I get it. Just like the purist who won't eat a bagel except when he is in New York. Or sushi except when he is in Japanese. I don't have the money to pursue that philosophy.

                                      Unless you've been eating dim sum at Koi Palace or in Hong Kong, Jasmine and to a lesser extent Emerald is a reliable choice. When you have more experience you can avoid the bad choices by site and make intelligent choices.

                                      1. re: thirtyeyes

                                        I don't think it's quite that extreme. Perhaps a better example might be if one is craving sushi but all that's on hand are California rolls from Costco.

                                        1. re: Josh

                                          Thanks Josh, it is not that extreme.

                                          To thirtyeyes, I have had plenty of experience eating dim sum my entire life and at this point, I don't have time or $$ to waste on sub-par food in general, Cantonese dim sum or not. Jasmine has been one of the forgettable dim sum experiences out of many I've had. Emerald is somewhat better, but again, there's much better food to be had in SD.

                              2. I had so far only lunch at Sakura but went with a japanese collegue for dinner this week and we didn't have single average plate. Highly recommended.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: honkman

                                  Forgot to ask you earlier...what did you eat?

                                2. Does anyone know of a decent Italian place around Convoy? It does not need to be the best of the best; this is for a work Xmas lunch.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Dagney

                                    Godfather's on CM Blvd just past convoy would be your best choice. It is actually pretty good.

                                    1. re: stevuchan

                                      2nd that, though it's actually called "The Godfather".

                                  2. In order:
                                    Tsuruhashi BBQ - the best yakiniku, pickles, and dolsot bibimbap by a mile in San Diego. Perfect deserts and Sapporo on draft. Open til midnight, on Fri/Sat starts getting full the minute it opens at 5pm so be early on those days.

                                    Oton - I'd recommend their oysters (grilled or raw), nabe, kushiage, grilled beef tongue. There's a lot of other dishes you rarely get at Japanese in San Diego (Yumeya being the exception).

                                    Sab E Lee - Excellent and authentic thai food

                                    Okan - Homestyle Japanese cooking. Now has lunch set.

                                    Sage Cafe - Best French patisserie in San Diego, all made by one guy. Similar style to what you'd find in Japan, not super sweet and dense like you'd find in Americanized cakes. Very subtle flavors, 100% consistent every day down to the taste, texture, size, and color. I bet you money if you walk in there he's going to be making some cake in the back like his life counted on it, because I haven't seen him take a day off in 3 years yet. I'd recommend the Cheese souffle or mousse, but every one is good. Warning: This is not an American cake, it will have flavor, be fluffy, and not be any sweeter than it has to.

                                    Crepe World - Nutella and banana

                                    Tea Station - Tapioca milk tea with boba to go

                                    Little Lamb Hot Pot - Chinese/Mongolian style Shabu shabu, for sides I recommend meat, vegetables, and the frozen tofu, and noodles. Very ethnic in terms of herbs used for the broth. Has a $10 lunch set.

                                    Tajima - One of the better typical Japanese restaurants, for those that aren't adventurous. Compatable with western tastes. They do great grilled fish, and a proper wafu hamburg. Great tempura side dish too. Nice lunch set last time I tried.

                                    Sakura - Some dishes better than Tajima, some things you can't find elsewhere in Convoy. Has an epic lunch set. Some people love the sushi here but haven't had a chance to try it.

                                    Korea House, Buga, Do Re Mi, Tofu House - if you want standard Korean food with panchan. Korea House has a pretty good lunch set. Great place to be 90% vegetarian if you forego the BBQ.

                                    K Sandwitch - Vietnamese French bakery with cheap baguette sandwitches baked in-house. Recommend the roast beef sandwitch, which has sweet/spicy peppers. Very ethnic. Be sure to try the Vietnamese iced coffee. If you don't know what that is, you should really find out.

                                    Jasmine's Express - dim sum to go. Some great stuff, some okay stuff, but fast and cheap. China Max has some great sit-in dim sum. All depends on how important dim sum is to you, as these are at the borderline between yes and no.

                                    dantaat and cgfan have great taste in Asian dining as always, and you can't go wrong with their lists.

                                    3 Replies
                                      1. re: royaljester

                                        So you like Korea House? Truth be told I haven't eaten there in over 10 years because of a couple of bad meals years ago. Back in those days, I preferred Seoul BBQ.

                                        Nowadays neither of them gets mentioned much on these boards because Buga has become sortof the Korean standard.

                                        What do you like at Korea House? What do they do well?

                                        1. re: Ed Dibble

                                          You're right because even 5 years ago things were different at the Korean places we've mentioned. If you haven't been in Seoul BBQ either in a while they had a total changeover years back too. Honestly, they all seem change periodically which is why I named them all. Korea House and Buga both have a rotation of pancha that I like, and I usually order a light dish like bibimbap or the grilled chicken lunch special at Korea house. Sorry I don't have a more comprehensive answer, as I basically go for the side dishes. =)

                                      2. Has anybody been to the new Chin's that was under remodel a while ago (not sure if it's open yet)? Wonder if they'll be doing Chinese brunch at this location as they do at the Miramar location.

                                        1. Husband and I ate lunch at Tajima (the one on Convoy, not Mercury) yesterday. I had the Yakisoba and he had the Kimchi with Udon.

                                          The food was wonderful. The pork in my dish was savory and juicy (not salted to death). The vegetables were flavorful and crisp, not overcooked or soggy. The service was super efficient and friendly.