San Diego for a week...with child
- grandgourmand Apr 1, 2011 07:57 AM
I'm travelling to San Diego for a week's vacation in two weeks. I'm staying in Little Italy. We have a two year-old and will have a car. Hoping you can help me choose some great places.
Here's what I like:
Casual dining, mostly
Yakitori (there are a couple in San Diego, I believe)
Mexican (Toronto has terrible Mexican food)
Farmers markets (it's still winter up here...California produce, locally purchased, is haunting my dreams)
Anything unique to the area.
IF there are any spots that may not be the best for eating, but offer breathtaking views or whatever, I'm all for that too.
Cheers, and thank you in advance.
The Little Italy farmers market on Saturday mornings (beginning at the civilized hour of 9 am) is a lot of fun. Lots of people, good energy, nice mix of farmers and prepared food vendors. It's on Date between Kettner and State. Depending on where you're staying in LI, you can probably walk to it. If the market isn't just packed, the view from the East end of the market looking down towards the bay is nice, especially if the weather is good.
You won't be too far from Blue Water Grill. It's a small seafood restaurant/retail fish market. They do salads, sandwiches, plates and fish tacos. I like their sandwiches, and a lot of people like their fish tacos. Very casual; you wait in line to order, then sit down and they'll bring it to you. They were featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives about 18 months ago which increased their business substantially. I think they've lost a step since then, BUT, it's still pretty good and with a 2 y.o. you can get in and out in a reasonable amount of time.
Point Loma Seafood in the Point Loma/Shelter Island area is also a retail fish market/restaurant. Once again, it is very casual and you can take your food outside and eat by the water (or at least very close to it). If the weather is nice, this is a really great option. BWG and PLS are both very popular locations and usually pretty busy at lunch. Blue Water is open for dinner, not sure that PLS is.
If the zoo is on your agena you've got a few reasonable options for Mexican. Super Cocina is on University Ave. between Cherokee and 37th (probably about 5 miles from the zoo). They do homestyle Mexican cooking and it really is homestyle. Everything is served from steamtables, but don't let that put you off, a lot of the options are guisados which tend to be soupy and stewy and actually benefit from the warm, moist heat. The counter staff is very helpful and they'll give you a sample of whatever you want to try. Spanish is the primary language but there are enough English speakers on staff that you shouldn't have any difficulty ordering. You would also probably not have any difficulty with a 2 y.o. here. Super Cocina also does a pretty decent breakfast, having a plate of their chilaquiles before hitting the zoo might be an idea.
Also on University (at Richmond) and only about 2 miles from the zoo is Mama Testas. It's a tacos only place. Even though it's owned by a Mexican, it's more Americanized and in the higer rent district of University Ave. There is a taco that (alledgedly) represents every state in Mexico. Some are better than others. The Asi Yasado (grilled chicken soft taco) is very good as are the Empapados (hard shell mashed potato tacos) and the Yucatecos (cochinita pibil) and tacos with the housemade chorizo. The most unusual dish are the Mojados, which are short lengths of rolled tacos floating in a spicy broth. Comes as chicken or beef, with the beef being the better option. The salsa bar is fun; there are usually about 10 salsas offered, all made fresh daily. Radishes, grilled knob onions and pickled carrots are often in the salsa bar as well.
In the LI neighorhood where you are staying you might want to check out Pete's Meats and Mona Lisa for good sandwiches which can be purchased to go.
Enjoy your stay.
1417 University Ave Ste A, San Diego, CA 92103
Point Loma Seafoods
2805 Emerson St, San Diego, CA 92106
3627 University Ave., San Diego, CA 92104
I'll agree with everything DD said.
A few other options:
The Sunday Farmer's Market in Hillcrest is great as well. Also, you might want to pay a visit to Chino Farms up in Del Mar.
The best spots for beer are probably O'Brien's, Toronado, Hamilton's, Downtown Johnny Brown's and Blind Lady but I'm not sure how good any of them would be with a 2 year old in tow. Your best option might be Pizza Port Ocean Beach who makes excellent beers and usually has a few good guest beers on tap as well.
The 2 best Yakitori places are Yakitori Yakyudori and its sibling Yakitori Yakyudori & Ramen. The original is closer to where you'll be but the other one might be slightly better (and really not a whole lot further when you factor in traffic & parking). The new location is also very close to O'Brien's as well.
I'd think about hitting up one of the Mariscos German trucks for great Mexican seafood.
2nd Yakitori Yakyudori. The Convoy location is a heck of a lot easier to park at. It's also bigger inside, leaving more room for a high chair.
Chino Farms is great, although you are right next to the Little Italy farmer's market.
2nd Mama Testa's.
Oton and Okan in the Convoy/Clairemont Mesa area are both terrific and 2 y/o friendly.
1417 University Ave Ste A, San Diego, CA 92103
3739 6th Ave, San Diego, CA 92103
On the Yakyudori rec I'd say that the better one is which ever shop Nabe-san happens to be on the grill at the time. However outside of his time on the grill I'd say that I've had better meals with the folks at the Convoy location over the original Hillcrest shop.
That being said the original location does offer more Yakitori items, though the Convoy location has a broader non-Yakitori menu. OTOH the Convoy location has the big advantage of having a much, much larger counter, which is definitely the way to go with Yakitori!
In reality you can't go wrong with either location, far better than the few Yakitori shops that have come before or since to S.D.
Further up on India St, Shakespeare has great fish & chips and a pretty good beer selection. Strawberries are tasting sweet, you can find them at the farmers market or directly at the farm stands. Neighbor, Ritual Tavern or Jaynes Gastropub for nice craft beer selections and pretty good food, 2 yr old should be OK if you go early.
4095 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104
Thanks for the suggestions, folks...keep'em coming.
A few questions...Toronado is a place in SF I had planned on going to, but never went. I'll try to check out the San Diego version. My brother is travelling with us, so maybe we get a night off and check it out, without the little one.
Yakitori Yakyuodori sounds great. How is the ramen at the "&ramen" location?
Something else I love...oysters. I remember at Farmers markets in SF and LA just buying them from the local vendors. Is that possible in San Diego? Also, any restaurants with good oyster selection would be of interest.
Ok, I just looked at Point Loma and Blue Water menus...I'm sure we'll hit one of these spots.
Point Loma Cafe
4856 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
The best uni in the world is harvested just off San Diego. You can buy uni at the LIttle Italy farmers market. The vendor will cut it open for you to eat on the spot. Can't get better than that :-)
The topic of where are the best oysters in SD gets discussed on the board with some regularity. If you do a board search you can probably turn up a few of the old threads.
The ramen is excellent at Yakitori Yakyudori & Ramen. I would check out some of cgfan's posts on it if you want information but the ramen alone probably tips that location for me.
Carlsbad Aquafarms has some very good oysters and they'll sell them or shuck them for you at the Hillcrest Farmer's Market. I'm not sure if they're at Little Italy though. There is another fish guy at Little Italy that does sell oysters but they're not quite as good as Carlsbad.
While Yakyudori serves several styles of Ramen, their real strength is in their Shio ("salt") Ramen, which happily is my favorite Ramen style. They really do excel at their Shio broth. They also do a Shoyu ("soy sauce") and Miso ("fermented soy bean paste") Ramen, but I still haven't found a shop in San Diego that truly excels either of these styles. For a Tonkotsu ("pork bones - read 'marrow' ") style I'd suggest Santouka in the Mitsuwa Marketplace, which being in Kearny Mesa is very close to Yakyudori.
(BTW just to avoid future confusion, Yakyudori's Ramen location is called Yakyudori Ramen & Yakitori, while the original "non-Ramen" location is called Yakitori Yakyudori.)
For oysters I'd suggest the oyster bar at Oceanaire. S.D. really could use a much wider selection of well-stocked oyster bars, but Oceanaire is just about the only one (besides, perhaps, King's Fish House, but given your location Oceanaire's the obvious choice...).
Though not an oyster bar if you also love Sushi you'll have to make room for Kaito Sushi in Encinitas, our best destination for traditional Sushi hounds. In fact I'd call it a destination restaurant. They regularly source some of the most flavorful Kumamoto oysters I've tasted yet, even tastier than the ones farmed elsewhere including the Kumamotos from the famed Hog Island Oysters of Tomales Bay. (They get their Kumamotos from an oyster farm in Washington state...)
3739 6th Ave, San Diego, CA 92103
130-A N El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024
San DIego, CA, San DIego, CA
4240 Kearny Mesa Rd # 119, San Diego, CA
King's Fish House
825 Camino De La Reina, San Diego, CA 92108
Ok, yes, Sushi Kaito is on our list. There's some flexibility to have adults-only meals (three adults, so rotational babysitting).
A couple questions...what's the cost for the omakase? And, does anyone know if there's been a disruption to their offerings due to the earthquake in Japan?
Their Omakase will of course vary depending on what you end-up eating. For me I find it usually falls within the range of $50-70 before drinks. Having Sashimi as part of your course will tend to nudge the range a bit higher.
Great that you're interested in their Omakase, the only way to go to truly "get" Kaito. From observing many of their customers I find that invariably their meals tend to completely bypass a true Kaito experience as soon as they request a menu.
From the standpoint of the number of offerings, I have not sensed any disruptions since the quake. One can get an idea of this "first hand" by monitoring their Twitter feed of ingredient arrivals, though they don't post everyday - http://twitter.com/#!/kaito_sushi
Keep in mind that Kaito gets deliveries from two major fish markets in Japan, so they're well-covered. Add to that deliveries from the east coast, the northwest Pacific, sometimes European waters and of course local or Santa Barbara Uni, they're well-covered.
Jaynes, Ritual Tavern, The Linkery, and URBN North Park all offer a great beer selection and are perfectly kid-friendly. Toronado is very cool, but unfortunately won't allow the little one in, so put it on your babysitter list. Cucina Urbana is more upscale, but also still manages to be casual. They have a make your own pizza thing for kids which really keeps them entertained.
Kings Fish house has a great oyster selection *most* of the time. I hate to give props to a chain restaurant when SD has so many fantastic local places. However, I have to say that they are so accomodating with little ones that it has become our go-to oyster place.
We take guests to George's Ocean Terrace for lunch, sometimes the food is meh and the service can be spotty, but if it's a nice day, you can't beat the view. Also, a nice splurge with a view is A.R. Valentien up in La Jolla.
3794 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104
4095 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104
George's Ocean Terrace
1250 Prospect Street, La Jolla, CA 92037
Apologies, I've mistaken my location. I'll actually be in Mission Beach. We had been looking at a rental in Little Italy, and I assumed that's where we were still going (my wife does all the trip planning, I just map out where we eat).
Anyhow, the suggestions you've provided so far will still be useful. We've got a car, access to bikes, etc.
I've got a few more specific questions now...of note, I'd like to know a good spot for happy hour nearby. I've stumbled across a recommendation for South Beach Bar & Grille. Happy hour, with half-priced apps, fish tacos, etc...I love that stuff. Is that the kind of place you can bring a 2-year old? Obviously, we're not planning on staying until last call with the kid, but some places that are more adult-oriented can be accessible for families if you get started earlier in the day/evening.
Thanks for the Uni and oyster recommendations, I'll be all over that. I've only had Uni a few times and it was amazing. I imagine that it can only be better when it's so fresh.
Looking at the San Diego map on google, jeeze you guys sure have lots of parks. I'm really looking forward to the trip. 2 weeks away.
South Beach Bar & Grill in Ocean Beach can get a bit wild, not sure it's the appropriate place for a 2 y.o. at happy hour. Great view though. In the same general vicinty, tho', is Pizza Port with a pretty decent selectin of craft brews and decent pizza.
You'll be in beach communities during Spring Break, except some college craziness to ensure. I think you're going to have to do a little bit of exploration once you've arrived and settled in and then use your judgement as to what might work with your little one.
Personally, even though you have a car, I would stay away from heading anywhere inland or north of La Jolla. I'm a huge supporter of the Convoy area, but for people who are only in town for a week, I think you can skip the Convoy area. Besides the restaurants, there is not anything else up there. In fact, it's pretty much a converted business area where asian restaurants have popped up between the car dealerships and the auto shops. Visitors need an area that has good food AND walkability or shops and sights. We have plenty of areas in San Diego where you can get a good bit of both.
Neighborhood (Downtown) -> Craft Beer + Original/Interesting Burger Menu.
Hodad's (Ocean Beach or Downtown) -> This was featured on Food Network. Downtown just opened. There's usually a line around the block. And to many, the burgers here are really just a slightly modified version of the burgers from...
In-N-Out-> The california chain that put fresh burgers on the map. Drive thru, etc.
World Famous in Pacific Beach. Just down the street from Mission Beach. Great variety in the menu and cheap drinks, but what you're really coming here for is to be able to eat that breakfast and stare at the ocean, which is literally right outside the windows of the restaurant. Good people watching too.
La Puerta in the Gaslamp for Mexican street tacos and burritos (go early) or better yet La Vitral next to the ballpark, and sit out on the back patio drinking margaritas. For a nicer, slightly more refined Happy Hour, Cowboy Star serves amazing cocktails and "mini" versions of their entrees. The place has the best steaks in town, and the happy hour allows you to get some nice dishes like Mussels or a small Steak Frites.
Definitely the Hillcrest location of Yakitori Yakyudori. The Convoy one has ramen, and more menu options. But for area and location, you can't beat the Hillcrest one. Convoy has a ton of great asian restaurants, but that's really all it has, and it's a 20 minute drive north. It's great for asian food-lovers, but not really something to recommend a visiting family to make the time for. Especially since the Hillcrest location is in a much better part of town, right next to Balboa Park.
Las Cuatro Milpas in Barrio Logan behind the ballpark. A historic hole in the wall. They only take cash, they only serve pork and chicken, and the tortillas have lard. It's a beautiful thing. Welcome to San Diego. There are a ton of mexican places in San Diego, and this is the one I think that all visitors should go to. It is VERY casual, but you're coming for the food.
Blue Water on India. Great fresh seafood on plates, salads, and sandwiches. A lot of people swear by Point Loma, but if given the choice between a menu which serves lightly grilled fresh fish (Blue Water) or deep fried (Point Loma only really serves the fresh fish as a butcher shop) I'd take Blue Water anyday. They serve local Ballast Point beer, they have a MUCH nicer place to sit and enjoy your food (i.e. it's not the theme park setup that Point Loma is) and they always have dub music playing. What's not to love?
Fresh salad fare:
Tender Greens in Liberty Station. You have to go to Cabrillo Monument for the view of the city alone. On your way back down the hill, stop at Liberty Station, where you can go to Trader Joe's or Vons to stock up on supplies. Behind Trader Joes is a gem of a casual restaurant called Tender Greens. Get an amazing salad, or a plate with mashed potatoes, sandwich and side salad. You get the choice of your protein: steak, roasted chicken, or yellowtail. They serve beer and wine too, and the cupcakes/cookies are great. Affordable as well and very nice to sit out in the sun and watch the planes fly overhead.
Dining with a View:
George's at the Cove in La Jolla. Reserve a spot at the window on the open-air Ocean Terrace. Great food and an amazing view of the ocean below. Perfect after an afternoon of exploring the cove.
Pizza Port in Ocean Beach. Even though you wouldn't know it from the name, they make some of the finest beer in all of San Diego. They are consistent medal winners, specializing in some of the best IPAs and Pale Ales in the county. If you grow a special attachment to one of the beers, you can always take some back to the hotel in a growler.
Definitely the Mercado in Little Italy. If you happen to stop for food while you're in the area, I'd recommend picking up sandwiches from Mona Lisa Deli, or Mimmo's (also a deli, but with sit-down and side options - good but not as out-of-the-park tasty and authentic as Mona Lisa. Between the two it's Mona Lisa by a mile, but you can't deny the convenience/comfort of Mimmo's).
Re: Yakitori Yakyudori - We had ramen several times for lunch at the Convoy location but never Yakitori. Last night we went for the first time for a late night ramen and also tried a few items from the Yakitori menu and we can finally understand why Yakitori Yakyudori is often mentioned as a good place for Yakitori. We went a twice before to the Hillcrest location and found it to be very mediocre (and definitely nothing you want to send visitors to or even people living in San Diego) and not worth the visit but the Convoy location is much better.
Re: Burger - Try the ones at Starlite or Alchemy
You know, I hear that a lot from people, but I myself have never noticed it. I've been going to the main one for a few years, and also to the ramen location consistently since it opened. I always sit at the bar, and when sitting at tables at either location, the food delivery can suffer just due to having to wait for the servers to bring the skewers over. Which obviously is never an issue when you're sitting at the bar. Funny enough, I've found that the yakitori at the ramen location is no longer the best when Nabe himself is on the grill. My impression is that he has a lot going on at that location when he's around, and the better skewers are now being prepared by Tatto, who is the dedicated griller. The guy who does the grilling at the Hillcrest location was Nabe's backup when he was still there, and the quality has always been consistent when we've gone. It's great that we have both, with the obvious edge to the Convoy location.
Also a fan of the burgers at Alchemy and Starlite.
ANother question about Kaito...this one might very well be for our special night out (i.e. without the little one). We're in Mission Beach (I mistakenly wrote Little Italy in the original post). How much time should I allocate to get there? Is it a nice drive, scenic at all? What are the good nights to go? We'll probably do omakase.
I would say about 25 minutes at most to get to encinitas. If you want to take the scenic route, going through pb to la jolla and up the coast highway (definitely worth it) I would allocate about an hour so you aren't rushed. I highly recommend doing the scenic drive, especially if you can time it during sunset which is between 7:15-:730 these days.
Not to your specific question but a recommendation since we're now talking about time. I feel that Kaito is best enjoyed when one can plan for, say, around 3 hours for the meal. Definitely a leisurely pace is the best way to go, particularly so if one is going Omakase. It's a highly social atmosphere where you'll find much Itamae/customer interaction, as well as between customers themselves.
BTW if you are a interested in seeing what is happening behind the bar in terms of what the Itamae does and his technique, the best place to sit would be at the seats fronting the windows. You'll get a very clear "behind the Sushi bar" view, and if it's your kinda thing, the best place to take photos "of the action".
Thanks cgfan and chezwhitey, very useful information.
Here's the situation...my wife is pregnant. While she can eat sushi, she doesn't feel comfortable eating too much of it. Is there a decent cooked dish/raw dish balance in the omakase? I've read that the sushi chef at Kaito will challenge you if you don't like something - in a good way...as in to make you like something you previously thought you didn't. Will they accomodate a request to go, say 50/50 cooked and raw? Or is that even possible?
I've never had omakase. It sounds like a lot of fun.
Oh no problem at all. I've seen so many special requests there, and yours is actually very, very common. Some of the "tougher" requests that I've seen them take, without even flinching, were vegetables only and no Soy products...
Regarding ordering cooked items my recommendation would be to simply ask the Itamae directly. They'll guide you honestly to what's good. And particularly with their head Itamae Morita-san, whom I recommend to find a seat in front of, he'll often make something up and cook it himself on the spot if there's a lull at the Sushi bar.
I am not that brave (or selfish, more accurately). I mentioned above that she's OK eating sushi, but isn't comfortable eating a tonne of it. So I want to get them to balance out the raw and cooked dish ratio accordingly.
I'll eat what she eats, to be fair. Or, let the chef decide how to work it out.
Hello everyone. Thanks again for your suggestions, I could not use them all, since my schedule wasn't as flexible as I had hoped. In no particular order, here are the noteworthy destinations I hit:
Little Italy Farmer's Market: It might not be the best in San Diego, but for a denizen of the north, it is a source of great envy. We arrived pretty early so the crowds were small. I had a half dozen oysters from the Carlsbad stall (delicious) and a whole uni from the other seafood stall. Wow, what freshness. I've never had it taste so much of the sea. And it was a great attention getter (if you're into that) when you're eating in the middle of the walkway and people stop to ask you about it.
Blue Water: this was a last minue decision for food because the Izakaya place was closed. But what a fortuitous turn of events. We had a great casual seafood meal (just missing a big lineup too). As is usually the case, I had plate envy over what my dining companions ordered. My brother had the tuna sashimi with salad. Nothing crazy going on here, but really nice and fresh tuna. My wife had fish and chips...a great big serving. And I had the halibut sandwich. We also ordered a dozen oysters. Not as good as the Carlsbad ones, but definitely tasty. And a pitcher of beer, I think it was Ballast Point.
Sushi Kaito: Great quality sushi, but you already know that. I'm going to caveat things…I had "the other guy", not chef Morita. Although I had an excellent experience, I couldn't help but noting the really interesting plating and originality enjoyed by the people next to me (I was on the dividing line). In any case, the itamae was very friendly, courteous and conversational, making our dinner very enjoyable. And the quality of the fish was outstanding (although selection was a bit slim, it was a Wednesday night). In terms of fish highlights, I probably had the best piece of toro I've ever had, and the uni was divine. I'm not sushi expert, but I can differentiate between excellent and average. Impeccable fish, the texture/flavour of the shari, a subtle use of wasabi, things like that. This guy hit them all. EXCEPT, he had this big affinity with a japanese hot pepper paste that he'd put on one piece of each pair of nigiri. I really found it had an off-putting flavour and I ended up wiping it off. About $70 for the omakase…very good value. Lastly, a 30-minute drive is really nothing major to get some top-class sushi. To San Diego visitors, it's worth the trip.
La Playa taco shop: my sole good dining experience in Mission Beach, where we were staying. It might not be the best taco shop in San Diego, but in my Toronto-standard books, it was awesome. Too bad I didn't get to try the Pozole.
Lastly, the beer scene…I love beer, but I really do fine a lot of craft beers taste the same. Especially IPAs, which are predominantly a hop-assault, in my view. I like them and all, but I can't say that there are any that I recall with any particular fondness. That is not to say I didn't have any memorable beer in San Diego. Stone Levitation…WOW. Had it in the bottle, and it was a beer that really made me stop and say to myself (and others) "wow, this stuff is delicious". I think it cracked my top-10 favourite beers of all time. Truly a delicious brew.
We ate at some other places...can't say I remember them too well. Enjoyed grilling some tri-tip in the condo we rented, but not Santa Maria style, I'm afraid.