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Free-range, non-commodity restaurants in San Diego

Hey everyone,

After watching Food, Inc. I completely reformed the way I eat. I'm now looking at organic, free-range foods and have switched to being vegetarian completely. I do want to start eating meat again, but want to make better educated decisions about what I eat.

What are recommendations in San Diego for good, local high quality ingredients, focus on sustainable foods, organic, cage-free, farm-raised foods?

I'm looking to hear your recommendations on the best available here in SD. I live in Hillcrest but I'm open to drive wherever.

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  1. Linkery is one obvious first starting point (also look through Jay's blog) and also the restaurant which follows this philosphy most in San Diego. There are a lot of restaurants which use now for some (not all) of their dishes frrom time to time organic/free-range meat. It might be good to check online menus before going to a restaurant or just give them a call since dishes can change often or the availablity of different meats.

    1. San Diego is pretty short on this kind of place, I'm afraid. Linkery is really the only game in town if that's what you're after. Burger Lounge, Farnhouse Cafe, Toronado, and Small Bar serve burgers made with Tallgrass grass-fed beef. Whole Foods market in Hillcrest and La Jolla carry organic and pastured beef, pork, and poultry. At the farmer's market on Saturday in Little Italy you can get pastured meat raised locally by Da Le Ranch, though you have to ask him specifically what he has that day - some of the beef they sell is grain-fed. Homegrown Meats in La Jolla carries beef raised on Palomar Mountain on grass, but they also sell some USDA Prime, so again, caveat emptor. Lastly, Curtis Womach sells pasture-raised chickens at the Hillcrest farmer's market on Sundays.

      Oh, and you should definitely check out People's Co-Op in Ocean Beach for the best organic produce in town. They also sell cage-free, fertile eggs which are quite tasty.

      1 Reply
      1. Mama Testa's taco shop uses free-range meat and organic ingredients when possible (according to the menu and interviews the owner has done)

          1. re: stangoldsmith

            Alchemy restaurant on 30th uses all free range organic meat and farmers market produce, they also do a vegetarian tasting menu every wed. from farmers market. Check it out.

            Alchemy Restaurant
            1503 30th St, San Diego, CA

          2. CuppySD-- a suggestion: patronize your great Sunday morning Farmer's Market in Hillcrest, and ask the farmers there who they supply. A few I know-- La Milpa, Schaner Farms, Sage Mountain-- will tell you which restaurants they sell most to. They are great resources. Oh, AND if you can find a copy of Edible San Diego (does it still exist? I just picked up a copy of Edible Austin while in Texas for Christmas. . .) they have terrific articles about restaurants and farmers.

            1 Reply
            1. re: pickypicky

              Edible San Diego still does exist and I believe they just put a new issue.

            2. just came across this blog post which is directly linked to what you are asking about: meat.

              according to this website there are six "humane" certified meat serving restaurants in san diego:


              1 Reply
              1. Does whisknladle count? I'm not sure about their source of ingredients (organic, sustainable etc.) but they seem like a place that would care about that. They try and make everything in house as far as I can remember.

                1 Reply
                1. re: deeznuts

                  They do. I live in La Jolla and frequent both their restaurants. You occasioannly see either chefs walking throught the dining room with white T-shirt bags filled with produce from Chino Farms or you see hippies delivering boxes. I believe they do mostly Chino, La Milpa and Crowes Pass

                2. As stated by others, The Linkery is probably the best option but there a few others (all pricey) that meet your criteria for most items: AR Valentien, George's California Modern, Market, and Farmhouse Cafe.

                  1. cuppy, i eat the same way you do: 1/2 vegetarian but when i do eat meat i'm selective about choosing naturally/humanely raised proteins. it's nice to hear there are others joining this path, as i catch so much grief from others (co-workers, relatives, friends etc) for my choices. many days i find it easier to say "i'm vegetarian" vs. "i only eat humanely raised, sustainable meats." people give you the weirdest looks if they think you're going to launch into a diatribe they don't want to hear.

                    starlite and ritual tavern would also suit your needs, and are pretty well regarded here on CH. side note on burger lounge, it's problematic to my mind that they go so far to tout their use of organic beef (applause), but use foremost brand milk in their milkshakes (boo). why wouldn't you extend the same natural/organic principle to the milk yielded from cows if it's such a principle in your use of beef? puzzling.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: beachbunnySD

                      Not to quibble, but if you're going to excoriate Burger Lounge for using Foremost milk, then why are you giving Starlite a pass for using Brandt beef? Brandt beef is corn fed, and the corn is shipped in via train cars. I have no idea how Brandt got any cachet as a better option than commodity feedlot beef, but it's farcical. Sure, they probably do avoid crowding, and it's probably not quite as bad in terms of the cows treatment, but in the end cows aren't meant to eat corn. So you have feed shipped in, fed to the cows, and that's somehow supposed to be viewed as a sustainable option?

                      I love Ritual, but Niman Ranch beef is also corn-fed, so that is a big sustainability no-no. The Niman pork, which they also serve, is great, but is a very different product, which you can read about if you check the Niman website.

                      So given that, I find Burger Lounge to be a much better choice for me. I also need to check out O'Brother's, downtown, who apparently use locally raised beef from Palomar Mountain, which is pasture raised and not fed corn.

                      1. re: Josh

                        regarding Niman Ranch: didn't Bill Niman leave his eponymous Ranch and start a new one that is sustainable/pastured/grass-fed? Do you know which Niman Ritual uses?

                        1. re: DougOLis

                          Bill Niman left to do pastured goats. He lost the rights to use his name, so I'm not sure what the branding on that is. Ritual uses the normal Niman brand.

                          On another note, I heard that Curtis Womach is now starting to do pastured meat beyond poultry.

                          1. re: DougOLis

                            Bill Niman and his wife Nicolette Hahn Niman raise heritage turkeys (which are available on the market already) and pastured, grass-fed beef (which, last I heard, were not yet ready for slaughter) on his land in Bolinas, California. This meat is marketed under the name "BN Ranch".

                            The Niman family does still raise goats but last I heard the goats are being sold into the commodity market instead of being marketed (which is a damn shame, they are amazing tasting goats).

                            Anything sold under the name "Niman Ranch" is not part of Bill Niman's operation, that company is owned by a big meat corporation, I am too apathetic about the details to look up specifics.


                            1. re: jayporter

                              Jay, do you know much about the goat meat market? I know that locally, there's a fair amount of goat meat at ethnic restaurants. I know some comes from Australia, some from local sources, etc. Is there a commodity goat raising practice (i.e. goat CAFOs)?

                              1. re: Josh

                                I don't know the specifics of commodity goat. So far, in my time sourcing meat, I've learned that, basically, if you don't know otherwise, any animal or fish was raised on corn and soy. Those feeds are so heavily subsidized by our government (and globally) that animal and fish farmers are always better off economically to find the cheapest possible land (or water area) and ship in corn/soy to feed their animals, even if it makes the animals unhealthy and requires antibiotics to keep them alive, or even if it means changing the breed to respond better to corn.

                                The quality of commodity goat, in my experience, tends to be quite poor, which further reinforces my assumptions.

                                Any, if it's a ruminant or a fish, and I don't specifically know its provenance, I assume it's fed corn and soy, and skip it. There's surely a little bit of well-raised stuff that ends up in the commodity market (like Bill's goats), but it seems to be few and far between.

                                It's corn's world, we just live in it.

                      2. Gentlemen, thank you for a very, very interesting discussion.