HOME > Chowhound > San Diego >


Quintessential San Diego Food...?

We're moving to Chicago - my favorite foodie haven - in a week, and looking for suggestions of food/places that we won't find outside of San Diego...or better outside of San Diego.

My mind is blank. I started perusing the 10 Best Things to Eat in San Diego list, but a lot of the suggestions are include foods that can be found anywhere...and perhaps better...?

Thanks in advance!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. One thing you won't get in Chicago will be great fish taco's. I'd hit up a Marisco's truck before departing and maybe even Marisco's Godoy for some excellent authentic Mex seafood offerings. PS buy a snow shovel when you get there!

    1. California Gold Uni from Catalina Offshore Products, (or some live ones if you want to roll the dice).

      1 Reply
      1. re: Captain Jack

        Just want to reemphasize your point. SD has arguably the world's best uni (at least according to J Steingarden), and it's certainly the best I've ever had. It is, of course, extremely fresh here as well.

      2. Carne asada - burritos or tortas. We drive from SD to Detroit every year at Thanksgiving and after only nine days, the first place we hit here a taco shop; *any* taco shop, to fill that craving.

        I have a friend who moved to Florida in 2000. I still get the phone call, down to three times a year, to overnight carne asada burritos. I have to buy 6, freeze then pack in one of many 6 pack coolers I find on sale, box and then head over to FedEx or the Post office. It costs more to send than to purchase. She does not care.

        1. Don't forget, Chicago has excellent Mexican food.

          1 Reply
          1. If I were away from San Diego for a long time, when I came back I would seek out:

            - Local yellowtail and local(ish) sierra mackerel
            - Local avocados, figs, blood oranges, loquats and strawberries (all in season, of course)
            - Barbacoa (goat)
            - Tacos from Tacos Mazateño, or failing that, a Gobernador taco from a truck
            - Greens, specifically from La Milpa Organica and Suzie's Farm
            - Uni and abalone

            We have excellent raw ingredients here, especially seafood and produce. For the dishes, like barbacoa or Gobernadors, there are plenty of uninspiring ones available but the best are world-class.

            9 Replies
            1. re: jayporter

              What's Tacos Mazateño Jay? I've never heard of it.

              1. re: DougOLis

                A Mazateño is someone from Mazatlan. Mazatlan is famous for it's shrimp. My guess would be a shrimp taco. I'd further refine my guess and say that Jay *might* be referring to the spicy shrimp tacos (tacos de camarones enchilados) at Mariscos Mazateño in Tijuana...but that's only a guess. An educated guess, but just a guess.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  Your inference is correct, DD. I only know the place as Tacos Mazateño, and always forget the name of the taco itself, but I think in addition to its actual name they accept orders for it as a "taco Mazateño" or something similar.

                  1. re: jayporter

                    The tacos served there are Tacos de Camaron Enchilado.

                    1. re: kare_raisu

                      Thanks Jay and Kare. I might be heading down there this weekend so I'll keep Tacos Mazateno in mind.

              2. re: jayporter

                I'll be visiting SD in about a week....where would you recommend for Uni and Abalone?

                1. re: mdzehnder

                  Buy it fresh at little italy farmers market.

                  1. re: mdzehnder

                    I've heard various people say to make sure you get our local San Diego Uni, and some even emphasize obtaining the largest grades. I find that that tastewise misses the point, and depending on the local weather and kelp conditions either San Diego or Santa Barbara Uni can each top the other at any one time. And size does not have much to do with Uni quality either, though I've heard many (though not on these boards) equate size to quality.

                    I find the best and most reliable predictor of Uni quality is the Uni processor and grader, of which I've found Matsushita's product to be by far the best. They're a boutique traditional processor and supplier in Los Angeles whose product is normally bought up by the best of L.A.'s Sushi bars. However this year I've seen it in Kaito Sushi's case on well over 50% of the time. (I've heard that it's recent availability in San Diego is ironically due to the poor economy, where even some of the better Sushi bars in L.A. are holding back their purchases of the Matsushita Uni, allowing shops like Kaito to buy it up whenever available...)

                    The Matsushita Uni is consistently better than Uni from other sources. It's always very low (for Uni) in water content and incredibly dense in flavor and creamy. If one can read Kanji it can easily be recognized by the label on the tray with the name "松下". I believe they source their Uni from either San Diego or Santa Barabara, but the operative point is that they are extremely picky and careful in their process and grading.

                    BTW Maine also sources some incredible Uni, (and size-wise they happen to be very tiny as well), but unfortunately is an extremely rare find at local Sushi bars.

                    BTW "fresh" Uni in the shell is always fun, but it can be a bit of a gimmick. LIke most Sushi Neta the flavor intensifies and concentrates over time. There is also no opportunity to remove some of the moisture out of the Uni, nor to grade the Uni. Opening up an Uni is like a spin of the roulette wheel in that you will not know the final grade until it has been opened. Thus the advantages of sourcing pre-graded and traditionally processed Uni. Of course one can do the processing at home, but you're still left with the initial gamble in quality vs. buying pre-graded trays from a reputable and traditional processor.

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

                2. Treat yourself to some incredible handmade chocolate caramels from Elegant Truffles to savor during your travels. On Scott St in Pt Loma. http://www.trufflemaker.com/

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Island

                    OMG, this is a great suggestion. Love their caramel

                  2. I'm actually also moving from SD to Chicago in a few months and I'm also looking forward to all of the restaurants there. I agree with the others that the food from the mariscos trucks will be hard to match. That is something I'll definitely miss. But the place I'll go to several times before leaving is Super Cocina. I'm sure there is great Mexican food in Chicago, (Though the places that get mentioned most often are high end and that is not really my thing) but I don't think I'll find a place just like it anywhere else. Over the last few years it has drastically changed my idea of what good Mexican food is.

                    Oh and I'll miss the super hoppy beers here in SD. I'll likely make several trips to Alpine Brewery to get growlers of their IPAs before I leave.

                    Super Cocina
                    3627 University Ave., San Diego, CA 92104

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: jasont

                      Jason, I think you will find the hole-in-the-wall Mexican you're looking for, plus a whole lot more regional Mexican than we've got here. Rick Bayless not withstanding, Chicago has some pretty decent Mexican food.

                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        I remember reading somewhere that Chicago also has the 2nd biggest Mexican population in the US.

                        1. re: stevewag23

                          I'm not sure if it's the second largest or maybe even the largest by now, I do know Chicago does have a very substantial Mexican population. Jason would be well served to check out the Chicago board here and on eGullet for places to go. If I get to far into this topic the list mods will delete it. Suffice it to say, he'll probably be able to find better and more diverse Mexican in Chicago than he can in SD.

                          1. re: DiningDiva

                            Thanks. It's great to here that there will be such good Mexican food in Chicago. I'm looking forward to exploring Mexican restaurants there and I've started browsing that board a bit.

                            1. re: jasont

                              Since I just made the move in the opposite direction, let me direct you to www.lthforum.com, which is probably the best food forum in the Chicagoland area. You will find a knowledgable and friendly food community on that website.

                              I'd definitely recommend gorging on avocadoes before you leave. The ones in SD I've had so far are exponentially better than the imported stuff we got in Chicago.

                              1. re: shouzen

                                SD is the largest producer of avocados in the US and CA is a major producer of avocados as a crop. Up until the Cedar Fire a couple of years ago the State of California had a ban the importation of avocados from other sources, most notably Chile and Mexico.

                                Because the fire did damage to the crop and trees, and coupled with the on-going water shortage which does affect our local farms, the State began allowing imported avocados. I tend to agree that they aren't quite as nice as a good old California avocado. Check out the avo vendor at the Little Italy farmers market. They usually have several varieties available, are generous with their samples and fair with their prices. The fruit (and avocado is a fruit) they sell is usually ripe or ripe within 24-36 hours.

                      2. re: jasont

                        I predict that Goose Island, Surly, Three Floyd's, and Bell's will make up for whatever you miss about San Diego beers.

                        1. re: Josh

                          True. I'm most looking forward to Three Floyds. I really like their Gumballhead. Also there is a new small brewery in Chicago called Half Acre that is making some good beers.

                          1. re: jasont

                            If you like spirits, also make sure to try the gin from North Shore and Death's Door distilleries :)

                      3. Beer and burritos. Remember, San Diego does burritos differently than the rest of the country.

                        1. You'll probably miss being able to get awesome ripe fruit and IMO, some of the best, especially strawberries, and veggies around. I'd really get my fill of those precious berries before treking out to Chicago. On a good note, you'll have the ability to choose from many great chophouses in the area. I'm not a fan of deep dish za, so I can't say that I'd be looking forward to that and I'm also not a fan of neon green relish on a hotdog.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: cstr

                            Contrary to popular belief, Chicago is not all deep dish pizza.

                            1. re: stevewag23

                              I think the deep dish pizza is over hyped.

                              1. re: littlestevie

                                One of my dislikes is that the dough is like pie crust, just not my taste.

                            2. re: cstr

                              I agree with the fruit and veggies being just incredible here. The strawberries this year from bewise have been just amazing. get down to the farmers market and make the most of it before you go!

                            3. Sushi! We have some decent spots in Chicago, but honestly the quality of seafood pales in comparison to what's available on the West Coast

                              1. This is a fish taco town filled with extremely high quality local seafood as well as fresh local, and sometimes exotic produce, eat the fish tacos and greens and know you have sampled the San Diego equivalent of New England Clam Chowder or pork BBQ from the Carolinas.