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four nights in San Diego; help with can't miss restaurants

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I'm looking for the can't miss restaurants I should hit while visiting your beautiful city. Here's my parameters. I eat fish but no other meat. I live in IN, so hoping for lots of fresh seafood. I like all kinds of creative cuisine especially Sushi, any Asian food, Indian, Italian, and Mexican. Pricewise, I'm looking for cheap to mid-range prices, with one big sushi splurge.

I will be staying at the Dana but will have a car. Prefer not to range too far out if possible. Would appreciate knowing can't miss dishes as well as restaurants.

Also are there any wineries in the San Diego area?

Looking forward to your input and thanks in advance.

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  1. The closest wineries are in Temecula, but there are some pretty good ones there. For Asian, Mexican and Sushi look at the current threads. Those topics are being covered right now.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Captain Jack

      Thanks, I have looked at the current threads, but am really looking more for guidance on choices. If you had only four nights in San Diego where would you eat?

    2. With your focus especially on Sushi, you must, must, must get to Kaito Sushi, the very best in traditional Sushi from a true Edo Mae specialist. For the particulars they get shipments everyday but Tuesdays and Fridays will have the broadest selection, with shipments coming in from all of the worldwide markets. Next best days are Wednesdays and Saturdays.

      Sit in front of Morita-san, their head Sushi chef, and I'd highly recommend to go Omakase (chef's choice) as almost all of their regulars do. Just let him know of your likes and dislikes, and he'll customize a meal for you.

      You'll almost never see a customer there use a menu, as menus are static while their offerings are highly seasonal. It can be tough to find as it is tucked away in a segment of a plaza that's hidden from street view and has no signage except for two window decals, but it is there! There is much written on these boards about Kaito. It truly is a San Diego gem, but fair warning: it will likely spoil you for their Sushi!

      (And though it is a palace for traditional Sushi it is not the type of place where you'll be on pins and needles wondering if you've offended them, or anxious for not knowing the right things to say. It is one of the most relaxed and easy-going restaurants that you'll find regardless of cuisine. They really don't take themselves too seriously, they don't expect their customers to be experts, and they love to play a supportive role in educating their customers about traditional Sushi.)

      1. For uniquely S.D. spots:

        The Linkery (carnivore haven)
        Kitchen 1540 (expensive... but beautiful property in Del Mar... go for lunch and get Paul McCabe's beet salad... holycrap good).
        Super Cocina (super divey... but one of the best Mexican holes in the walls in SD)
        Rocky's (for a greasy burger and fries)
        Phuong Trang (Vietnamese in Convoy)
        Yakitori Yakyudori
        Farmhouse Cafe
        Sushi Ota (or its spinoff, Hane)
        Mission Cafe (breakfast)
        Hash House A-Go-Go (super long line, tho... breakfast)

        1 Reply
        1. re: ohgodplease

          These are all cheap to mid-range

          Point Loma Seafood - both the tuna and scallop sandwiches are great. Order to go, follow scenic route signs up to Cabrillo Monument. One of the best views in all of San Diego. As a bonus bring binoculars and watch the whale migration going by. This a daytime option.

          Kaito Sushi - cgfan's lackluster endorsement doesn't truly give it justice ;-). Kaito is dinner only.

          Closer and a San Diego experience is also the Fish Market Sushi Bar (just the sushi bar though) down on the Harbor. Nice view, good fresh fish (but not in the same league as Kaito at all). Both for lunch and dinner.

          Bull Taco - interesting tacos at a campground snack bar on the cliffs above the ocean. Closes early. Come for the sunset.

          Mariscos German - Mexican seafood truck, cheap. Best location in 35th and University in a liquor store parking lot a few blocks before... Closes early, around 7:30 PM

          Super Cocina - homestyle mexican food. As a pescatarian you might have some trouble finding something to eat beyond a chili relleno - but it'll be the best damn chili relleno you'll ever have. Better luck going on a Friday when they usually have a lenten dish. Lunch or dinner. Caveat: some might find the neighborhood a bit sketchy after dark - it is perfectly safe, but again, trust your instincts.

          Mama's Lebanese Deli - good vegetarian options. Amazing baba ganoush. Closes early.

          Searocket Bistro - sustainable seafood. Seems your a wine drinker, but this is in the middle of Beer Blvd. otherwise known as 30th St...

          Also of note on Beer Blvd./30th St. -- North Park Fish Market (decent sushi and tasty cheap fish off the grill) The Linkery (we're not fans but gets plenty of love from others), Urban Solace (funky comfort food), Spread (funkier fusion vegetarian comfort food), Ranchos (sub-par Mexican food but everything can be made vegetarian/vegan which counts for something), Toronado (beer, beer, beer) and Ritual Tavern and Jayne's Gastro Pub (both bistro/brewpubs). Everything here is open late.

          Cafe Chloe - French bistro - one of our favorite places but limited menu for pescatarians. Closes early for downtown, late enough for a long dinner.

          3rd Corner Bistro and Wine Shop - nice wine selection, very reasonable and tasty bistro food. Kitchen is open incredibly late for San Diego.

        2. Orfila is a winery in Escondido and their wines are better than anything in Temecula!

          4 Replies
          1. re: 4wino

            Agree that Orfila is better than any winery in Temecula. That said, an out of towner here for a limited time should find plenty to do OTHER THAN visiting Orfila or any other nearby winery. Why bother? Orfila, while good for SD, would be just average if compared to wines in the major wine regions of the state. If you like beer, visit some of the emerging and highly acclaimed breweries of the region. If not, find something else to visit besides wineries.

            1. re: mcgrath

              True. But if they go to the SD Animal Park, then it's right there ;-)

              1. re: 4wino

                If you are at all into zoo's and animals, you should make the trek to Escondido and visit the Wild Animal Park. There are very few places like it.

                Then by all meand do visit Orfilia. Then you can have dinner at one of three places in Escondido: Tango Restaurant and Wine Bar (on Grand, downtown), Hacenda de Vega (Mexican on Center City Parkway), or Stone Brewery Gardens (great if you like beer too).

                1. re: 4wino

                  You used to be able to get a coupon for Orfila when you visited the Animal Park. I believe it was for a free tasting.

            2. I would recommend South Beach Bar & Grille for Fish Tacos - it's really cheap during happy hour, and happy hour lasts all night on Mondays. (There are other specials that occur on other days of the week as well.)

              I haven't really tried many Indian places, and there does not seem to be large discussion re: cheap Indian food in San Diego, but I would recommend Annapurna (South Indian cuisine), as it is rather inexpensive. A good friend recommended it to our group of foodies, and we went there and had a very tasty meal. I don't know that they have a whole lot of vegetarian/pescatarian dishes, but their dosa is pretty good.

              Other boards seem to recommend Punjabi Tandoor (North Indian cuisine), which I've been to a few times. They are really cheap (hole-in-the-wall cheap), but I find that they add a lot of cream to many dishes. Also, whenever I ask for water, it tastes REALLY funny, which worries me. I haven't been back for a few years.

              I don't know that there are many good and inexpensive Italian places in SD.

              I haven't had the opportunity to try Kaito yet, but I plan to go one of these days. If I were coming from Dana Point, then I would definitely choose it as my sushi splurge. There are certainly other sushi places in SD that are also quite good and that some people (not cgfan, obviously) prefer, but I doubt any of them are going to be as nearby as Kaito in Encinitas.

              In fact, I would recommend lurking around the LA board: they will undoubtedly have suggestions for the Costa Mesa/Anaheim/Irvine that may be a little closer than any suggestions from us SD folks.

              EDIT: I forgot to add Sab E Lee and Sab E Lee 2, but again, quite a ways away from Dana Point.

              22 Replies
              1. re: hye

                I feel like a broken record, but I feel strongly that recommendations for South Beach Bar and Grill for fish tacos only come from people who last investigated fish tacos 5 or 6 years ago.

                There are NUMEROUS better options than that place for this item.

                They use flour tortillas, yellow cheese, and ranch dressing - all three serious no-nos.

                You owe it to yourself to pay a visit to one of the Mariscos German taco trucks so you can see just how far off the mark South Beach is.

                1. re: Josh

                  After posting, I just saw your numerous posts on fish taco places in SD, which are all on my to-do list now.

                2. re: hye

                  The 3 best places for non-Americanized Indian in SD are:
                  Surati Farsan Mart (chaat and all vegetarian menu)
                  Punjabi Tandoor
                  Copper Chimney catering truck--not a restaurant and you'll either be eating standing up or in your car, but the food is good.

                  1. re: daantaat

                    Have you tried Punjab on Midway (in the same funky shopping center as Mardi Gras Cafe)? I've only been there once, but thought it was quite good. A better experience ambience-wise than any of the three you mention: tables with tablecloths and a fairly nice environment, service is quirky (I assume the owners teenage daughter), but enthusiastic.

                    1. re: mikec

                      Second Punjab, Mike. Our team from Bangalore told us about it when they were here in October, and I've been there about half a dozen times now. Always very good, always fresh, and service is usually quite good (but I did have "quirky" service once!).

                      1. re: mikec

                        I have not and it's on the list to try. I think the only reason I haven't gone yet is that it's further away from me than the other 3. Do you have the address?

                        1. re: daantaat

                          Address AND website!

                          3185 Midway Drive

                          http://www.punjabsd.com/

                          1. re: phee

                            thanks!

                    2. re: hye

                      Not sure if you get it but the Dana is on Mission Bay, not Dana Point in the OC

                      1. re: Captain Jack

                        Thanks everyone! Very helpful. If you had one night in San Diego to eat dinner (any cost) where would you go? (Besides Kaito which seems to get much love here and will likely be my sushi splurge, not to start a fight, but either that or Sushi Ota) see I've been reading :) and yes I am staying in Mission Bay and then at a conference at Town and Country Resort (any good restaurants close to that one?)

                        1. re: profgal43

                          Kaito > Ota

                          1. re: Josh

                            Ota in San Diego and Ikko in Costa Mesa are two extremely highly rated sushi place you shouldn't miss out on. For cheap, tacos al pastor 5 for $5.50 at Los Tacos in Oceanside; they also have really good fish tacos and Tijuana hot dog.

                            I'm flying to Cali today and hitting all these places this weekend.

                            1. re: joebloe

                              High ratings mean little especially with such undeveloped Sushi criticism as we have in the States. If high ratings mattered then Harney Sushi should also be on your list.

                              To me taste is all that matters, and that is what led me to Kaito.

                            2. re: Josh

                              Kaito > Shirahama >> Ota

                              1. re: cgfan

                                I think quite a few sushi places are better than Ota, but it remains highly-rated. Not sure if there is some cognitive dissonance there with the rather brusque service and general business of the place, but it's not someplace I'm interested in going back to.

                                Like cgfan, I doubt there are people who both rave about Ota and have actually tried many (good) sushi places. (and I say this without yet having gone to either Kaito or Shirahama.)

                                1. re: hye

                                  So much for not starting a fight ;)

                            3. re: profgal43

                              My guess is that one will find very few who believe Ota has the S.D.'s best Sushi who also have gone to Kaito. I personally do not know anyone who has gone to Ota, (which is just about every serious "traditional" Sushi diner in San Diego), AND Kaito who still thinks that Ota is best. (Have we heard from any CH'ers who have tried both and have found Ota to be better?)

                              Sushi Ota is in a very central location, easily accessible from most parts of the county. Kaito Sushi, on the other hand, is in North San Diego County. Kaito does not advertise and barely has any signage. It is a restaurant that runs on word of mouth alone. Other than through Chowhounders or Yelpers (http://www.yelp.com/biz/kaito-sushi-e... ), one does not readily stumble upon Kaito's name.

                              If more Ota fans would try out Kaito their supremacy would be more widely acknowledged. However it is still only a rather small community of Sushi diners that have had a chance to try Kaito, and only a tiny fraction of those actually post on Chowhound.

                              To put the situation in other words: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6649...

                              1. re: cgfan

                                how can a Kaito rookie go in on their first time and be sure to be seated in front of Morita-san?

                                That minor detail seems to be lacking in most of these discussions ;)

                                1. re: MrKrispy

                                  You can just request for him before they seat you. His station is the one that's closest to the front.

                                2. re: cgfan

                                  I do not know of any, no.

                                3. re: profgal43

                                  The Town & Country resort is an old anchor on Hotel Circle which is pretty much a no man's land when it comes to other than chain dining. You are, however, very close to Hillcrest and the Adams Ave. area.

                                  1. re: profgal43

                                    Town and Country is not that far of a drive from Convoy, the street of lots of cheap and good Asian food. Roughly 10 min, tops. Lots of posts on the Convoy area on the board.

                                    And yes, Kaito>>>>>Ota. Any day.

                              2. Its my opinion that if you come to SD and don't go to Super Cocina for breakfast or lunch - you've missed the boat.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: kare_raisu

                                  While we're on the topic of breakfast: Park City Diner in University City. We were in SD in early June, had brunch there on Saturday, and loved it so much we went back on Sunday. They do serve other meals, I believe!

                                  1. re: truman

                                    Where is this place? That is my neck of the woods, and I've seen nothing by that name around here (but I've been know to blank on the obvious). Google reveals nothing by that name.

                                    1. re: RB Hound

                                      I wonder if the poster meant Park House in University Heights?

                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                        Yes, sorry, I think it was Park House in University Heights. 8 months wiped some of the details from my brain... but not the tasty chilaquiles and berry pancakes...

                                  2. re: kare_raisu

                                    It's on my list, thanks...problem is I've got four night and about 10 restaurants on my list :)

                                    1. re: profgal43

                                      Super Cocina should definitely be on your short list. Best meals are lunch and breakfast.

                                      1. re: Josh

                                        yeah, I just read the breakfast menu and it sounded muy yummy

                                  3. Las Cuatro Milpas under the Coronado bridge pretty much kicks it for great Mex..

                                    1. OK, Here's my short list of places I hope to try, plus a question first. Could someone please give me a good updated description of where to find the Marisico's German trucks? I've been seeing conflicting info on where they are located and would prefer not to get lost trying to find them :)

                                      must:
                                      Kaito's (I give :)
                                      Super Cocina
                                      Pizzeria Bruno
                                      Point Loma Seafood
                                      Marisico's German

                                      Maybe:
                                      Sab E Lee (any help on finding it would be appreciated)
                                      Saffron
                                      Punjab
                                      Wine Vault Bistro
                                      Cafe Chloe

                                      and will likely visit the winery and Wild Animal Park if time permits. I know San Diego is not prime wine country but I enjoy visiting wineries everywhere I go, it's just a thing for me. They are all unique and reflect the character of the place they reside, even in Indiana :)

                                      Heading your way Saturday, can't wait!

                                      15 Replies
                                      1. re: profgal43

                                        If your going to the Wild Animal Park, I would dine at Hacienda de Vega for lunch or dinner and stop in at Orfila Winery...both are minutes from WAP.

                                        www.haciendadevega.com
                                        www.orfila.com

                                        1. re: profgal43

                                          I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned here but I would highly recommend you add Cucina Urbana to your list. Californian-influenced Italian (or Italian-influenced Californian) you won't find in Indiana. You mentioned you eat fish, their braised black cod is spectacular, as are the fried squash blossoms. As an added bonus, wine (excellent list) is priced retail + $7 corkage.

                                          I would cross Saffron off your list if you don't eat meat. The special there is the roast chicken, and even that I found disappointing.

                                          1. re: mayache

                                            Oh that does sound good. Italian of any sort is sorely lacking in Indiana and I grew up in Boston (and am Italian) so I miss that influence. I will see if I can squeeze it in (to my schedule and to me :) thanks!

                                            1. re: profgal43

                                              If you plan to go, I would try to get a reservation ASAP. They tend to be very busy. http://www.opentable.com/rest_profile...

                                              1. re: profgal43

                                                I didn't realize Saffron was on your list. It's nothing special, don't go out of your way. I'll eat there once in a while because it's convenient and it doesn't suck, but it's certainly nothing remarkable.

                                                1. re: profgal43

                                                  I haven't had Cucina Urbana, but another Italian place to consider IMO is arriverderci not far from Cucina Urbana. I love their squid ink risotto

                                                2. re: mayache

                                                  I've heard mixed things about Cucina Urbana. Is it really good? What do you suggest getting?

                                                  Dad wanted to go for his birthday this Friday so I made reservations. Nice to know it won't be a waste of a night out.

                                                  1. re: Ewilensky

                                                    In fairness I've only been there once, but we had 5 people and pretty much shared all our dishes among us so I got to sample a wide variety. I thought it was great, especially for the price (seems it has gone up a few bucks? not sure though), among my top 10 or maybe even top 5 restaurants in SD.

                                                    Definitely the braised black cod and fried squash blossoms as above. The polenta with ragu of the day (ours was oxtail) was fantastic. I had the duck confit tagliatelle which I quite liked, reaction was mixed to that one though. Chicken liver pate and ricotta gnocchi were also standouts. It was a few months ago so I don't remember everything but those are definitely the memorable ones.

                                                  2. re: mayache

                                                    Saffron has lots of vegetarian options and will make nearly all of their rice and noodle dishes w/ tofu. It's a good stopping place to and from the airport.

                                                  3. re: profgal43

                                                    Mariscos German truck - 35th and University in the Liquor Store parking lot. This is just a few blocks West of Super Cocina and it might be smart to combine the two (although that'd be alot of food).

                                                    From Town and County - 8 East, to 805 South, to University St. Exit. Hang a hard right onto University and head East (right) back over the Freeway. It's just a few blocks up from there on the right hand side. I'd say a 10 minute drive. Super Cocina is about three minutes past that, same side of the street.

                                                    1. re: profgal43

                                                      there are 2 Sab E Lee's. The original one is in the Linda Vista area, on the corner of Linda Vista Rd and Ulric. However, the cook left for the new Santee location, which is a good haul away from your hotel. I haven't had a chance to go back to the Linda Vista one after the Santee location opened up to compare the food.

                                                      1. re: daantaat

                                                        Thanks so much everyone! I promise I'll report back. Can't wait!!

                                                        1. re: daantaat

                                                          I thought the cook stayed at the original location, and that a new cook was hired for Sab E Lee 2. Are you thinking about Kobe/Koby, the restaurant owner?

                                                          1. re: hye

                                                            I do believe you're correct, hye. The chef at SEL2 formerly worked at four-star hotels in Thailand, and thus the slightly different items on their menu.

                                                            1. re: hye

                                                              I may be thinking of Koby. Thanks for the correction!

                                                        2. Thanks so much to everyone for your input on restaurants. It was a great week! I had perfect weather until the day I left and had some fabulous meals. Not in any specific order, I ate at:
                                                          Pizzeria Bruno and had a wonderful pizza with buffalo mozzarella, It was reminiscent of some of the yummy pizzas in Italy, simple wonderful ingredients and the yummiest crust.
                                                          Marisico's German (twice!) and had, yes, the best fish tacos. The corn torillas were the best I've had. The second time I ordered a ceviche tostado that someone else had and so loved the fresh seafood. still drooling thinking about it :)
                                                          My first night I enjoyed a bowl of steamers and a grouper taco at South Beach Bar and Grill which WAS the perfect fun bar on the beach to get into the San Diego state of mind. The food was really good too.
                                                          My last dinner was Sab e Lee. I had Pad See Yui with seafood and devoured every delicious bite. My favorite dish and they did it perfectly. Reminded me of my favorite little hole in the wall place in Chinatown in Boston, which is no longer there :( They were so nice to me!
                                                          I had a good crab sandwich at Point Loma Seafood after a whale watch. Simple but stuffed with real crab and very good on fresh sourdough. Even better tho was the hunk of fresh smoked salmon I bought and ate for breakfast the next day.
                                                          Finally, I did not make it to Kaito. Sushi Ota was right up the street from my hotel and because of its closeness, I had dinner there. Honestly, it may not be the best in San Diego, but it was damn good. Right up there with other favorite sushi dinners from Portland Maine and Seattle Washington and a million times better than anything we can get in the midwest. I let the chef pick and he fed me well. Tried some new fish and their specials and enjoyed it all tremendously. It was pricey, but worth it (110 with two glasses of wine) I sat next to a nice Japanese family who were regulars who also had omakase and I was treated equally well, For what its worth it was a lovely dinner.

                                                          So thanks all for your guidance, I loved your beautiful city and you made it a delicious week as well. -Karen