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May 27, 2010 09:20 PM

Transplants from Chicago - get us started in SD

Hello San Diegans!

We are very recently (5 days!) transplanted from the Windy City. We've been pretty spoiled by all the great food in Chicago, and are looking for high-quality spots here. Yelp doesn't seem like a very good resource for SD - reports seem conflicting and reviewers don't seem to focus on the FOOD much! Help get us started :)

We've already been to the Linkery and enjoyed that very much, particularly the large availability of cask-conditioned brews. Will be checking out Kaito Sushi tomorrow night (will probably try to go early so we can talk to the itamae and avoid the Friday rush - are reservations necessary?).

Also, we've hit most of the Asian markets (99 Ranch, Zion, Nijiya, Marukai, Mitsuwa, some Vietnamese place whose name I forget) as well as Bristol Farms and other stores to figure out what's available grocery-wise. Still need to check out Catalina Offshore Produce and Girard Gourmet.

Places on our to-eat list are (in no particular order): Izakaya Sakura, Okan, Robataya Oton, Jayne's Gastropub, Urban Solace, Prepkitchen, Winesellar Brasserie, Bite, Toronado, Small Bar, El Pescador Fish Market, Cocteleria La Playita, Super Cocina, Tapenade, George's California Modern and Blanca. We'd love to hear some input - comments, additions, removals... :)

We're loving it here so far, and hope to meet some of you Chowhounders somewhere, sometime! (perhaps over a great meal at some point)

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  1. I suppose I forgot to add the important thing, which is that we're highly adventurous and are always seeking new and taaaasty things to try. Having said that, we're also looking forward to coming up with a core group of "reliable" restaurants that we can form a relationship with, as we have done in Chicago. Generally, we haven't found price to be too much of an issue, and it seems like eating out in SD is actually slightly cheaper, particularly with regards to good Japanese.

    2 Replies
    1. re: shouzen

      You have a good list. I'd add:

      Ba Ren - authentic Szechuan food in Clairemont
      Buga - Korean BBQ, also in Clairemont
      Pizzeria Bruno Napoletana - Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizza
      Lefty's - Chicago-style pizza and Italian beef made by ex-Chicagoans
      Farmhouse Cafe - French bistro fare, local ingredients
      Blind Lady Ale House - great craft beer selection, and really creative food menu. Don't miss it.

      Blind Lady Ale House
      3416 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA

      1. re: shouzen

        Welcome to San Diego! Chicago is one of my favorite food cities, and home to my favorite brunch spot, The Bongo Room. The brioche french toast there is phenomenal! That said, I'd like to recommend a few breakfast/brunch spots to you. I'm limiting my suggestions to central SD because that's my home turf, but there are great breakfast/brunch spots all over San Diego.
        I'll start with my favorite, Cafe on Park. Everything on the menu is fantastic. They have ever-changing pancake combo's, like peanut butter-granola, or the old stand by captain crunch-blackberry. The pancakes are HUGE so prepare yourself! My favorite is the cornmeal and honey batter pancake. The Bugs Benny eggs benedict is also delicious. Their jam is home made and great on their brown bread toast.
        The next place I'd reccomend is Parkhouse Eatery. They have a great little outdoor patio, which as Chicago transplants, you will appreciate being able to sit at pretty much year-round. Lots of good scrambles, great smashed potato sides, and delicious giant muffins. The must have dish in my opinion is, however, Chilaquiles. After years of going to Parkhouse I no longer order anything but the Chilaquiles.
        My last suggestion will be Hash House A Go Go, although I call it Mad House now instead of Hash House. It's become a bit of a destination restaurant and is ALWAYS busy with looong waits. The food is, however, very good (and massively portioned). My wife and I used to split the breakfast quesdilla and a biscuit when we were regulars. The owners/chef are transplants from teh aforementioned Cafe on Park. Great guys and cool service.
        Hope those are helpful and enjoy eating your way through our fine city!

        Best regards!

        Parkhouse Eatery
        4574 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92116

      2. welcome to SD! any time you start to miss your beloved Chicago cuisine, just remember that you'll never need to put on a down coat or snow boots again ;)

        it sounds like you're off to a good start with that list. any particular areas you'd like to focus on? you didn't mention where you live, and you'll learn rather quickly that Chow plans often fall to the mercy of crazy traffic patterns. in the meantime, in case you haven't seen them, here are a few threads that might help you expand your culinary exploration:

        plenty more where those came from, but they should keep you busy for a while. i purposely included a couple of threads for visiting New Yorkers since they have similarly high standards ;)

        1. at Kaito, reservations are not required but I prefer to get one, o/w it can be a long wait. Worse when you're really hungry.

          I'd add to Josh's list:
          Yu Me Ya in Encinitas
          Mama Testa's in Hillcrest
          Yakyudori Ramen and (soon to be) Yakitori on Convoy (original Yakitori place5tttr is in Hillcrest)
          Cavaillon (including Sun brunch. Can't beat the outdoor patio.)
          Coffee Cup Cafe in La Jolla
          Surati Farsan Mart
          Punjabi Tandoor
          Copper Chimney lunch truck (Fri pms and Sat afternoons only)
          Lucky Pho
          Pho Cow Cali
          Wine Vault and Bistro
          Cafe Chloe
          Tsuruhashi Japanese BBQ
          Sab E Lee (the ONLY place in SD for non-Americanized Thai)

          Mama Testa
          1417 University Ave Ste A, San Diego, CA 92103

          Cafe Chloe
          721 9th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

          Surati Farsan Mart
          9494 Black Mountain Rd, San Diego, CA 92126

          Punjabi Tandoor
          9235 Activity Rd, San Diego, CA

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

          3904 Convoy St Ste 106, San Diego, CA 92111

          Coffee Cup
          1109 Wall St, La Jolla, CA 92037

          10 Replies
          1. re: daantaat

            Hi daantaat, does your handle mean "daantaat" as in egg custard tarts? :) If so, do you happen to know any place where there's reasonable dim sum in SD? I've accepted the fact that it's essentially impossible to get stellar dim sum in the USA, but I just need something decent to scratch the occasional itch.

            1. re: shouzen

              It depends on your definition of "reasonable". If you mean "edible and has some nutritional value", then yes, such places do exist. Anything past that might be asking for trouble. Your best bet might be a day trip to LA. There are other threads about dim sum in SD if you poke around a bit:

              for instance.

              1. re: shouzen

                I wait to go to the San Gabriel Valley (Alhambra, Monterey Park, etc), Las Vegas or San Francisco to have my dim sum fix. All three cities have good-excellent dim sum and easily outpace what SD has. The SGV is about 1.5 hrs drive w/o traffic on a weekend and King Hua in Alhambra is very, very good. Made for a very good Father's Day lunch that day!

                Yes, my handle is the egg custard tarts! :-)

              2. re: daantaat

                This is an excellent list to go with, so I'll just add a couple more...

                I'll need to add Ume no Ya for homestyle Japanese. So far I haven't met a single Japanese national who's lived here for some length of time and does not treasure this humble little Mom & Pop restaurant. Very good homestyle Japanese dishes, but with very "patient" service. (You'll need to be patient to dine here...) This is the place to go if you don't feel like cooking and don't want to fuss with a restaurant. It's really like eating at someone's house with a very good Japanese cook, though one must forgo the English menu and order off of the Japanese menu and particularly off of the specials board. Word is that they'll soon be moving to the Convoy area...

                For the largest Sake selection you'd find in S.D. with very competent and informed service and great atmosphere is at Yumeya, though I'm not as crazy about their menu. However make sure you have their Teuchi (hand-made) Udon whenever they have it available. Their father used to run a Teuchi Udon shop in Japan and now makes it for the shop whenever he has the time. Just ask to make sure they have it available.

                As the thread below starting talking about fresh foods, the best of the Japanese markets I find is Nijiya. While smaller in format to Mitsuwa, the shelves are stocked more compactly and shows the signs of a quality and selection-minded buyer. And excellent produce from their own organic farm.

                A good supplement to a trip to Nijiya is Zion market. Crazy prices on produce and of much better quality than Ranch 99, and a good place to get a fair number of Japanese pantry items at a lower cost than at the area Japanese markets. And of course it's always fun to go through their wide Panchan selection and their pre-marinaded meats for the grill.

                For Wagashi (Japanese confections for tea) make sure you check out Hogetsu in Chula Vista. Having grown up with L.A.'s Fugetsudo's Wagashi, I never liked San Diego's version until I had it at their shop. Now I go back there whenever I can! So avoid the Wagashi you see in the stores even when they're locally produced and save it for a trek to Chula Vista instead.

                For absolutely wonderful Japanese baked goods, save a spot for Sun Flour Bagels in La Costa. Only on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am, they feature various Japanese-style baked goods, about a 50/50 split between savory items and desert items. This is where to get your best Anpan, Cream-pan, Melon-pan, as well as Japanese savory "donuts" such as Kare-donatsu and Yakisoba-donatsu and similarly savory sandwiches. They also sell their own Shoku-pan (Japanese white bread) as well.

                An excellent shop for quality teas is Infusions of Tea in the Costa Verde shopping center. I'm particularly enamored with their Tin Guan Yin Oolong. I've been buying theirs for years now and haven't found a better one save for one that my sister brought back from China. The owner of the shop has studied Chado under the Urasenke school for many, many years and employs a very knowledgeable and helpful staff.

                1246 N Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA 92024

                1. re: cgfan

                  Yay, it seems like Infusions of Tea is just over a block away from where we live. We are avid tea drinkers (originally from Asia via Chicago via Toronto, haha) so that's a big plus, thanks!

                  1. re: shouzen

                    Great for you! I'm sure they can fulfill most of your tea needs, but if you need to go beyond what they have a good store to keep in mind is Halcyon Tea in South Park; they specialize in Asian teas.

                    Outside of that then it's up to L.A. for Chado Tea Room in Pasadena and Santa Monica and Ten Ren Tea in San Gabriel.

                    1. re: cgfan

                      I haven't been for a while, but Tea Zone off Clairemont Mesa Drive sold Ten Ren Tea.

                      1. re: daantaat

                        Yes, one can find boxed Ten Ren Tea at many places, including at various Tea Station cafes which is one of their brands. But the tea selection I'm referring to is altogether different if you go to one of their specialty stores, the only one of which I'm personally familiar with is their San Gabriel store off of Valley Blvd. near Del Mar Ave. It's across the street from the new Hilton hotel in the commercial strip just north of Focus Plaza's parking lot.

                        At this Ten Ren Tea there's a huge selection of Gong Fu teaware and pre-packaged teas, but most important an impressive selection of bulk teas spanning an amazing price range, and particularly so in their Oolongs. They also frequently run a Gong Fu tea service in the middle of their store.

                        1. re: cgfan

                          cgfan, do you know if they have yixing teapots? (or any place that sells yixing teapots?) My family has one that has been passed down, but it has been seasoned with strong oolong-type teas, and I'd like one to use just for green tea.

                          1. re: hye

                            They certainly do, as well as tea trays, aroma cups, tea scoops and towels, you name it, they'll have it.

                            I can understand what you mean about your existing Yixing pot, but my general understanding is that the more delicate the tea, such as with the lighter Oolongs and most green teas, the more that high-fired porcelains or other less porous materials are preferred. The thinking here is that the rather porous clays can "steal" some of the aromatic compounds from the brewing tea.

                            Though I'll sometime use my Yixing pot for my Oolongs, most often I find myself using a tiny and lightweight borosilicate glass teapot instead.

                            However you might want to first check at the relatively limited selections in S.D. first. Your first stop might be at either Infusions of Tea in the Costa Verde center or at Halcyon Tea in South Park. Best to call ahead; both of them will have relatively limited supplies of Yixing ware. A place to find a somewhat wider assortment of Yixing ware would be at Whole Leaf Tea in Ocean Beach. However they have extremely limited hours, but they'll also open up by appointment.

                            If these don't fill your needs then I'm sure you can find sources possibly as close as South O.C., perhaps in one of the many stores in the East Irvine area near the Sam Woo off of I-5.

              3. I'm also someone who has lived in food-cities. San Diego has a few restaurants worth eating at (Linkery is not bad, for example) and many that are not worth eating at (see George's).

                However, SD is an absolutely world-class city for home-cookery. 99Ranch, Zion, Nijiya, Mitsuwa, Lucky Seafood, North Park Produce, Iowa Meat Farms, Little Italy Farmer's Market, Hillcrest Farmer's Market, Bristol Farms, India Food & Grocery - and the store across the street whose name I currently can't remember, the teeny stands that sell ostrich eggs near the Wild Animal Park, and various other grocers around the city. Good times.

                If you're looking to have fabulous food in a restaurant, drive to L.A. (less than 2 hours if no traffic). If you're looking to cook fabulous food, see any, or all of the above.

                Iowa Meat Farms
                6041 Mission Gorge Rd, San Diego, CA 92120

                Lucky Seafood
                9326 Mira Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA

                Hillcrest Farmer's Market
                San Diego CA, San Diego, CA

                5 Replies
                1. re: Indirect Heat

                  That was extremely helpful, thanks. In our normal routine, we typically cook 6 nights a week and eat out one night. We have yet to check out any farmer's markets, but will definitely do so this weekend. I must say i was pretty disappointed with the selection at Bristol Farms (wasn't very impressed by their butcher, or cured meats and cheeses). Surprisingly, the Whole Foods near us (we live in UTC) had a wider selection than we had expected.

                  And yes, I keep hearing that people who want good food drive to LA :) I suppose we'll try that at some point (I particularly want to check out Providence and Urasawa), but we're still getting used to driving anywhere, period -barely used our car in Chicago! Thanks again!

                  1. re: shouzen

                    Bristol Farms is not my favorite. It's basically a really deluxe commodity grocery store.

                    You might want to check out People's Co-Op in Ocean Beach. They have really good produce - no meat, though.

                    1. re: shouzen

                      Providence is awesome. We've only eaten there once, but it's by far the best meal we've had on the west coast.

                      I hear you on the car bit. We put less than 5000 miles a year on our car when we lived in Baltimore, primarily going on trips to Washington, DC and NYC. We put more like 15000 miles a year on it now, most of it tooling around SD.

                      I primarily use Bristol Farms for their vinegar and oil selection. Also, the butcher there is capable of ordering in special things if you ask (we got a whole pig from them with only 4 days notice last summer, everyone else said it would take 10 days to get a pig). We primarily use Whole Foods for their cheese and charcuterie. And 99Ranch for everything.

                      We eat out *much* less than we used to, mostly when it's inconvenient to cook, not as a treat. There are so few places that we're excited to eat at here.

                      That said, off to L.A. for the long weekend. Gonna have some good eats while we're there.

                      1. re: Indirect Heat

                        Just a friendly reminder, please do post about your L.A. area finds and recommendations on the L.A. board. Let's keep the focus of this board on the great food and drink that are available in San Diego Country.


                      2. re: shouzen

                        for cheese, Venissimo in Del Mar and Hillcrest is excellent! They are generous w/ their tastings and save your purchases on file.

                    2. One thing that you'll discover pretty quickly is that we've got a good variety of fresh produce almost all year long. I'd recommend checking out some of the local farmer's markets. The two heavy-weights at the moment are Little Italy on Saturday mornings, and Hillcrest on Sundyay. You can find everything from fresh uni out of San Diego waters, to locally made popsicles in great flavors, to baby squash, flavorful citrus and non-commodity meat. Both farmers markets have some interesting food stalls, some moreso than others, but you can eat and stroll the market at the same time.

                      Then there is, of course, the vaunted Chino Farms in Rancho Santa Fe. Pricey but stellar produce that is almost always worth every penny.

                      If you're willing to head south, Chula Vista has a couple of little gems. One is Aqui es Texcoco which does without a doubt the best lamb barbacoa in SD. The salsa negra they serve with it is addicting. Also in CV is the Torta Ahogada food truck (Toys R Us shopping center) doing that Guadalajara favorite the drowned torta sandwich. Much more upscale and quite good is Romescos in Bonita strip mall. Think fresh Mexican with Mediterrean influences.

                      The two best options for Mexican markets are Gonzalez Northgate on 43rd just off the I-805. Love their produce department where the quality is good to very good and the prices usually low to lower than anything elese. They also have a full service cheese counter, ceviche counter, 2 meat counters, a poultry counter and a full service bakery. That doesn't count the deil and food court. Everyone needs to make at least one trip to Northgate. It's kind of like the Disneylandia of Mexican markets. Pancho Villa Market on El Cajon where it crosses the 805 is also quite good, if not considerably smaller. I actually like the masa and bolillos better at Pancho Villa.

                      Blue Water Grill on India serves up some good fish tacos and their fresh fish market is excellent (and stocked by Catalina Offshore as I understand it). They got a shout out on FTV Diners, Drive-in & Dives and were slammed as a result and had a hard time keeping up. Hopefully, things have returned to sanity.

                      In Point Loma check out Tender Greens in Liberty Station for tasty salads, and wonderful desserts. Also in Point Loma are Con Pane (slated to move into Libert Station very soon) which serves the absolute best cinnamon roll in SD and their sandwiches are great. The Elegant Truffle in Scott St., very close to Shelter Island makes these really decadent chocolate covered caramels that are pretty sinful.

                      Charlie's Best Breads out of PB are wonderful, as is Isabel Cantina a few blocks away for breakfast.

                      Best gelato goes to Pappalecco at State & Union on the fringe of Little Italy

                      Tucked away in the Uptown shopping center in Hillcrest is Terra. It's been around 20+ years and can usually be counted on for a good to very good meal. Their Blue's Thursdays start up here again soon.

                      I think that's enough for the time being, I have to go to bed

                      Santa Fe Cafe
                      445 Santa Fe Dr, Encinitas, CA 92024

                      Pancho Villa's
                      3245 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92104

                      Point Loma Cafe
                      4856 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92106

                      Tender Greens
                      2400 Historic Decatur Rd, San Diego, CA 92106

                      1602 State St, San Diego, CA 92101