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Help! Need upscale Mexican dining near downtown

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MrAdventure Jun 23, 2010 04:24 PM

I have clients that changed a meeting from Chicago to San Diego. I had reservations at Rick Bayless' place Topolobambo in Chicago and now I am looking for something similar in San Diego. I am familiar with the area but I have not been out to dinner there for 8 or 9 years.
Seafood would be good, wine list a must, authentic, but not tacos and burritos. Something similar to Mi Casa in Cabo.

Thanks

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  1. c
    cookieshoes RE: MrAdventure Jun 23, 2010 04:46 PM

    You have two choices. Both are very decent, with the edge going to Candela's. Neither are quite at the level of Rick Bayless (few fine dining Mexican establishments in the US are). But for San Diego that's what we have for upscale Mexican downtown, so they should fit your bill nicely.

    El Vitral - next to the ballpark. It manages to be next to the ballpark yet still pulls off a quiet and relaxing vibe, even for as big as it is. If you have tickets to a game afterwards, maybe that might help impress? The back patio faces the crowd of the stadium. Can be a nice sight to see for out of towners. They make a mean mole.

    Candela's - just a little west of the ballpark by about 6 blocks or so. Smaller restaurant, but a more intimate upscale dining restaurant vibe.

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    El Vitral Restaurant
    815 J Ave, San Diego, CA 92118

    11 Replies
    1. re: cookieshoes
      DiningDiva RE: cookieshoes Jun 23, 2010 05:21 PM

      Nothing in SD even comes remotely close to Topolo, let alone Frontera or Xoco. High-end, Mexican fine dining is virtuallay non-existant here. There are basically 2 choices. Candelas has 2 locations, one downtown in the Gaslamp District and the other on the water in Coronado. Here's the link to their site - http://www.candelas-sd.com/ . I'd do Coronado over Gaslamp. It's okay to good, but not in the same league as Topolo.

      The other choice is El Vitral which is wildly inconsistent, emphasis on wildly *and* inconsistent. The kitchen shows some flashes of real brillance, but unfortunately they are few and far between. They do have an excellent selection of tequilas. Here's the link -http://www.elvitralrestaurant.com/ . The room is very nice and there is great patio dining if the weather cooperates. El Agave in Old Town also has an good selection of tequilas and mezcals. The food there focuses on moles, and like El Vitral it can be very inconsistent. Link - http://www.elagave.com/

      To find what you're requesting you can go up to Red O in Los Angeles where Rick is the consulting chef, developed the menu and trained the staff, or down to Laja or Manzanillo in the Valle de Guadalupe/Ensenada area.

      MrAdventure, I'm not down on SD dining, or even SD Mexican food. Mexican food has been my bailiwick for the last 25+ years. I've eaten Rick's food, cooked with him (and many others) in Mexico and eaten my way through quite a few of the Alta Cocina restaurants in Mexico. There is nothing in SD that is comparable. We've got some great hole in the wall place, pillars of comida casera and taco shops on every other corner, but we don't have good high-end Mexican. I think Candelas in Coronado will come closest to meeting your needs, but it's not even close to what you'd get at Topolo. Rick is absolutely at the top of his game right now, unfortunately, nothing in the way of SD Mexican is.

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      El Vitral Restaurant
      815 J Ave, San Diego, CA 92118

      El Agave
      2304 San Diego Ave Ste B, San Diego, CA 92110

      1. re: DiningDiva
        m
        mayache RE: DiningDiva Jun 23, 2010 05:23 PM

        DD, do you mean inconsistent time-to-time or dish-to-dish? Or both?

        1. re: mayache
          DiningDiva RE: mayache Jun 23, 2010 05:24 PM

          Both

          I really want to like the place because the room is well done and I love their tequila.

          Here is their interpretation of queso fundido - melt some cheese, allow it to sit for 5 mintues before it goes to the table so it's partially congealed, serve with store bought corn tortillas.

          Here is Rick Bayless' interpretation of queso fundido - 2-3 varieties of cheese, melted and bubbly hot, sometimes with beer or mezcal added, sometimes with rajas or house made chorizo added, always served with handmade and warm corn tortillas.

          1. re: DiningDiva
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            shouzen RE: DiningDiva Jun 23, 2010 07:16 PM

            Having eaten Bayless' queso fundido less than a week ago, I can attest to the glory that is Frontera's interpretation. Absolutely delicious!

            1. re: DiningDiva
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              TheeAce RE: DiningDiva Jun 29, 2010 04:39 AM

              Ahh pues...Bayless' is tastier, by far. And yet the stiff, congealed variety is what you'll actually get in Mexico. Hate it when that happens.

              1. re: TheeAce
                DiningDiva RE: TheeAce Jun 29, 2010 06:17 AM

                Me too :-)

          2. re: DiningDiva
            d
            DougOLis RE: DiningDiva Jun 24, 2010 06:54 PM

            Laja is definitely the best bet. I hope Jair's consulting at El Take It Easy helps to develop it into something almost as good.

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            El Take It Easy
            3926 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104

            1. re: DiningDiva
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              MrAdventure RE: DiningDiva Jun 25, 2010 09:39 AM

              Thanks. I am going to try Candela's.

            2. re: cookieshoes
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              MrAdventure RE: cookieshoes Jun 25, 2010 09:38 AM

              Thank you. Candela's looks pretty good. Baseball would be fun but they are not that familiar with the game. Soccor/football is their thing.

              1. re: cookieshoes
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                stevewag23 RE: cookieshoes Jun 29, 2010 09:45 AM

                Yeah, compairing El Vitral and Candela's to Frontera is like comparing a flashlight to The Lighthouse of Alexandria.

                1. re: stevewag23
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                  Island RE: stevewag23 Jul 8, 2010 12:02 PM

                  Never been to El Vitral, but at Candela's on 3rd I was served a mooshy lobster tail in one of their "signature" dishes about 2 years ago and have't been back since. That was a big turn off.

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                  El Vitral Restaurant
                  815 J Ave, San Diego, CA 92118

              2. k
                kriot RE: MrAdventure Jul 5, 2010 05:57 PM

                I've never been to Candela's or El Vitral so I cant comment on that. If you're looking for Mexican food and more upscale you could try Romesco's. Its not in downtown its probably about 10 min drive south. But its decent enough. Not as good as Topo or Frontera but I gotta say, Topo is deserving of praise, Frontera (although good) like most everything else in Chicago is way over-rated.

                Its a shame San Diego doesnt have a really solid high end Mexican restaurant.

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                El Vitral Restaurant
                815 J Ave, San Diego, CA 92118

                9 Replies
                1. re: kriot
                  honkman RE: kriot Jul 6, 2010 09:23 AM

                  When were you the last time at Romesco ? It is on our list of restaurants to try but we heard from a few people that the service and food went downhill over the last few months and it would be good to get some more opinions.

                  1. re: honkman
                    k
                    kriot RE: honkman Jul 6, 2010 11:41 AM

                    Dont tell me that!!!! Its probably been around 8 or 9 months since I last went. It was quite good then. I'll be going this coming weekend, I'll post the day after and let you know how it went.

                    Honestly, high end Mexican food is hard to come by outside of Mexico. About 3 years ago I went to Manzanilla in Rosarito, apparently the head chef Benito wasnt there and it showed, we were totally unimpressed. Anyways, thats a place I wouldnt mind returning to on a day when Benito Molina is there.

                    The best place for upscale Mexican food is my house!

                    1. re: kriot
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                      Island RE: kriot Jul 8, 2010 11:54 AM

                      kriot so now what was that address again and what's on the menu? :>)

                      1. re: Island
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                        kriot RE: Island Jul 8, 2010 03:29 PM

                        Yah knoooooow! My wife and I have been talking about doing a close door thing here in GH. I dont mean to hijack the thread but I'm wondering if there's many people doing that here.

                        My Wife has worked at some pretty fantastic places (i'm the helper/dishwasher) so I'm sure the food (presentation/quality/etc.) would be better than anything else you cold get around town. Anyways, I'm just thinking out loud.

                        I'm hoping Romesco's comes thru this weekend, it would be a shame if they've fallen off.

                        1. re: kriot
                          DiningDiva RE: kriot Jul 8, 2010 03:31 PM

                          As long as you don't get busted it'll probably fly

                      2. re: kriot
                        kare_raisu RE: kriot Jul 8, 2010 08:55 PM

                        He now has 3 restaurants SIlvestre, Manzanilla, and Meulle 3 and his focus is more Baja-Med than Alta cocina.

                        They are also all located in Ensenada or the Valle.

                        1. re: kare_raisu
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                          kriot RE: kare_raisu Jul 9, 2010 10:33 AM

                          Which of those three would you say is the best? Or the one he actually spends time at? We were pretty much let down at Manzanilla but again, he wasnt there so I'd like to give it another shot.

                          1. re: kriot
                            kare_raisu RE: kriot Jul 9, 2010 09:41 PM

                            Silvestre is summer only and I would guess he spends most of his time at Manzanilla which is at a new location.

                        2. re: kriot
                          k
                          kriot RE: kriot Jul 14, 2010 02:04 PM

                          I went to Romesco over the weekend, on Sunday actually. Well, i wouldnt say its fallen off, but I wouldnt say they're working on improving things either. We had the ceaser salad (good, but not as good as times passed), gambas al ajillo (tasty, nothing spectacular tho), pollo tampiqueno (a little bit of a letdown, not bad but not great), crab tostadas (again, acceptable) and the short rib cazuela, (the best of everything, very very good, presentation could be better tho) It was a sunday which is the day we Mexicans like to go out with our families, i shoulda known better than to go out that day, too many families, a bit too casual (which seems Romesco is leaning towards). Anyways, it was nothing too impressive, i was a little disappointed that it was so casual. Also, they're doing a lot of pasta dishes which i'm not excited about.

                    2. d
                      DougOLis RE: MrAdventure Jul 9, 2010 09:08 AM

                      Is the new Tikul in La Jolla upscale Mexican? Is it open yet? Has anyone been?

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: DougOLis
                        DiningDiva RE: DougOLis Jul 9, 2010 10:13 AM

                        Where is it in La Jolla, would certainly be willing to give it a whirl and see what it's like. The only thing I've found on it are some reviews of the "awesome" fish tacos, which doesn't bode especially well for alta cocina.

                        1. re: DiningDiva
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                          DougOLis RE: DiningDiva Jul 9, 2010 10:52 AM

                          I think it's near George's but I'm not exactly sure where. That's kind of disappointing if it all comes back to fish tacos. I think it is supposed to have a seafood influence though based off its Puerto Vallarta roots.

                          1. re: DougOLis
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                            Island RE: DougOLis Jul 9, 2010 12:29 PM

                            Hadn't heard of Tikul until I read these posts. These links mention it's a "top restaurant in Puerta Vallarta. Occupies the same space where Pasquale's used to be on Prospect....what ever that was.
                            http://www.sandiego.com/entertainment...
                            http://sandiego.modernluxury.com/dini...

                            1. re: DougOLis
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                              littlestevie RE: DougOLis Jul 9, 2010 01:22 PM

                              Yeah I'm pretty sure its right next to George's. Umm, that does not bode well for Tikul unless they are really spectacular.

                              1. re: littlestevie
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                                RB Hound RE: littlestevie Jul 9, 2010 05:08 PM

                                How coincidental - my wife (who works in that area) was just telling me that a coworker read about the place, and they were thinking of giving it a whirl soon.

                                I'm not sure why you'd say that location doesn't bode well for Tikul. It probably is quite costly in terms of what they pay for a lease, but you can't get more La Jolla than that.

                                1. re: RB Hound
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                                  littlestevie RE: RB Hound Jul 12, 2010 09:09 AM

                                  My feeling is that when your place is right next door to one of SD's best restaurants, you had better be on the mark or you won't survive. Yeah you can get the tourist trade, but I really don't think that will keep you in business. Alfonso's is right across the street and while their Mexican food is of dubious quality at best, they have been there for years, built up a clintele that likes the food and I am sure their lease is a lot less than Tikul is paying.

                                  1. re: littlestevie
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                                    RB Hound RE: littlestevie Jul 12, 2010 11:30 AM

                                    I think that your point about Alfonso's being there is much better than the point about George's. There are a lot of places within a block of George's that don't always live up to the Prospect Avenue Hype Machine, and having George's nearby doesn't seem to make them any better. Top of the Cove may have failed because of the proximity, but that was because they were essentially serving the same niche.

                        2. DiningDiva RE: MrAdventure Jul 9, 2010 07:46 PM

                          Remember the old Prego site in Hazard Center?

                          It's now Maria Maria, a restaurant owned by Carlos Santana...yes *that* Carlos Santana...and the guy that brought us Bing Crosby in Fashion Valley. They spent nearly 3 mil renovating the interior and exterior spaces. Art work from local Mexican artists and artists from Mexico will, apparently, be featured.

                          They're consulting Exec. Chef is Roberto Santibanez, who I do happen to know. I've take several classes with him in Mexico. He is originally from D.F. and has been involved with famous and upscale Mexican restaurants in the U.S. and just opened his own place(Fonda) in NYC this year. The menu isn't necessarily "wow-ing" me, but given what I know about Roberto and his recipes, I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt until I've eaten my way through a good part of it.

                          Since this is way closer to me than Tikul, I'll probably be trying Maria Maria first.

                          http://mariamariarestaurants.com/low/

                          -----
                          Bing Crosby's Restaurant
                          7007 Friars Rd Ste 394, San Diego, CA 92108

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: DiningDiva
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                            sdnosh RE: DiningDiva Jul 12, 2010 09:09 AM

                            Just to clarify, would *that* Santana be from Santanas taco shops, soon to be MXN?

                            1. re: sdnosh
                              DiningDiva RE: sdnosh Jul 12, 2010 10:01 AM

                              No, that would be Carlos Santana as in Oye Como Va, Black Magic Woman, famous guitarist who grew up in Tijuana and is now a shoe mogul Santana.

                              But thanks for clarifying :-)

                            2. re: DiningDiva
                              m
                              mliew RE: DiningDiva Jul 12, 2010 10:58 AM

                              Took a look at the menu and I agree that it's not exactly screaming authentic. More like mexican fusion at best. The place kind of reminds me of a mexican version of The Yardhouse.

                              Carlos Santana has some very interesting business ventures I would have to say. While restaurants aren't too much of a stretch for musicians to attach their name to I believe he also has a line of women's handbags which strikes me as very odd. Somehow I don't see him being associated with chic and upscale fashion.

                              1. re: mliew
                                stevuchan RE: mliew Jul 12, 2010 11:21 AM

                                Had a look as well, looks a lot like Cozymels, On the Border, Chili's, etc. Nachos, Chimichangas, some kind of weird Torta on a Kaiser roll. The "meat" section looks a little more interesting. Hoping for the best, 3 million on a reno sounds like a lot.

                                -----
                                On the Border
                                103 Fletcher Pkwy, El Cajon, CA 92020

                                1. re: mliew
                                  phee RE: mliew Jul 12, 2010 11:45 AM

                                  I own a pair of wedges made by his company, and I get compliments on them all the time - plus they're very comfortable! Go figure.

                                  There's a Maria Maria's in Phoenix, and I have friends who love it. That's not to say it's authentic, but it could be good. This one on Friar's is right down the street from where I work, so a group of us may try it this week.

                                  1. re: mliew
                                    DiningDiva RE: mliew Jul 12, 2010 12:34 PM

                                    Actually, I don't think it's that much of a stretch when you consider his shoes and bags as just being another form of creative expression. Music, art, art, music, they're all related art forms. I don't think his fashion lines are so much about being chic and upscale as they are about being hip, trendy and a way to make a personal statement.

                                    As I said above, I know the exec. chef who developed the menu and I can't believe some of the stuff he's put on here. But before I condemn him, I'll have to taste the menu to find out how they're interpretting these things. What we think when we see the menu may not really be an indication of how the item is executed on the plate. I hope they at least got the flavor profiles right...

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