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Apr 7, 2011 06:22 AM

Three memorable dinners recommendations?

Greetings SD Chowhounds! A couple of families will be in San Diego area for a week for spring break with the kids. We've arranged a few babysitter nights to have some adult time and check out the local restaurants and lounges. We would welcome any recommendations for great food, wine bars, lounges. We are staying in the Coronado area but happy to drive to worthwhile spots.

A couple of local friends have recommended Red Velvet Lounge, Searsucker, Cafe Chloe...others we should consider? Any excellent sushi places? Great Mexican (restaurant, not taqueria)?

611 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

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  1. 1500 Ocean at the Hotel Del is lovely..
    Sapori get rave reviews for Italian in Coronado
    Love Cafe Chloe but the thought of sitting in their horrid chairs for even 5 minutes makes me shudder.
    Cowboy Star, Jsix at the Hotel Solamar, Grant Grill, Searsucker would be good choices.
    If your heading up to the SD Wild Animal Park/Safari Park, I would hit up Hacienda de Vega.
    George's at the Cove for casual dinner at sunset at the ocean terrace.
    Take the water taxi over from Coronado to Gaslamp...
    Brigantine in Coronado has an everyday happy hour with great fish tacos and Marg's..kid friendly and next door is Miguels.
    Have fun and report back!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Beach Chick

      If my best friend asked the same question I would reply

      Kaito Sushi
      Cowboy Star
      Cucina Urbana (wine and shared apps.)

      If you like beer I would also add Neighborhood.
      It's kinda hipster and as a non regular you can get ignored IMO. but still Stone IPA on tap and a good burger still go a long way

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

    2. For Mexican that is not a taqueria, you don't have to travel that far.

      Candelas by the Bay in Coronado probably fits your request -

      Fridas in Otay is not that far away if you go out through the Silver Strand -

      Romescos in Bonita (it appears their web page is down, but it was recently reviewed in the Feb. 2011 issue of San Diego Magazine. I'm guessing the review is probably on-line somewhere). Romescos is probably one of the few locations in SD where you can try a good cross section of the wines of the Valle de Guadalupe without having to cross the border.

      El Agave in old town has arguably one of the best selections of tequila in town -

      El Vitral gives El Agave a run for it's money in the tequila department -

      Enjoy your stay

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

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

      1 Reply
      1. re: DiningDiva

        I second Candela's for the view alone.

      2. Kaito for Sushi

        Kitchen 1540 great view and food


        Unfortunately these are all in North County but would be worth the drive IMO..

        23 Replies
        1. re: SDGourmand

          Thank you everyone! Great recommendations. i'm getting hungry already.

          1. re: SDGourmand

            An easy 2nd for Kaito Sushi and Cafe Chloe...

            Outside of Sushi and sit-down Mexican, is the OP interested in any other ethnic eats? (Though a bit spotty, we do have a couple of good ethnic eats if it's within your sights.)

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

            1. re: cgfan

              would be totally up for something ethnic. We're coming from the Bay Area so stuff like Chinese and Indian is less interesting but throw out whatever is great.
              As far as Sushi, Kaito looks fantastic. With that said, I'm not sure if I can drag folks all the way up to Encinitas from Coronado. Any other sushi recommendations that are maybe Del Mar and south? That will keep our drive under 30 minutes.

              1. re: vis

                Good point -- be sure to factor rush hour into your plans. The Coronado bridge has some hellacious late-afternoon backups from time to time (it just takes a wreck or two to really foul things up), and I-5 north of La Jolla can be bad from about 5-6:30pm on weekdays.

                1. re: vis

                  Honestly there are only 2 Sushi bars that I can recommend in the county. Aside from my top choice of Kaito there is Sushi Dokoro Shirahama in Kearny Mesa. They are both excellent traditional Sushi bars, though for me Kaito has the edge. The only caution with Shirahama is that it is as "Japanese only clubby" as one can find around here, though that has changed somewhat since Kotani-san's English-speaking son has started to help out at the shop. (Like many Japanese nationals Kotani-san's command of English is sufficient, though he is very reluctant and seems almost embarrassed to use it.)

                  Not sure if that will make you uncomfortable, though honestly in all of my visits there I've never witnessed any of the admittedly horrendous things that some customers have reported. In general though, and this goes to all of his customers, it's best to be on one's best behavior. I've known several Japanese customers who feel intimidated enough to not go to Kotani-san's shop.

                  And as a traditional Sushi shop it's best not to request any (Americanized) rolls and please do brush-up on the Sushi bar etiquette. (BION, though, I've once witnessed Kotani-san make a California roll at a customer's request, and she [the customer] lived to tell the tale!)

                  In contrast to Shirahama Kaito is as friendly and free-wheeling a traditionally-focused Sushi bar can get. They never take themselves seriously, and they are very friendly and open-minded to any of their (invariably new) roll-ordering, menu-requesting, Wasabi-sludge dipping, chopsticks-rubbing, customers.

                  As to other ethnic eats, I'd also throw in Wa Dining Okan, wonderful for their cold appetizers served from dramatic Oozara (large plates) arranged on top of their wrap-around counter/bar.

                  Also worth a consideration is Yakyudori (Yakitori in Hillcrest, Ramen & Yakitori in Kearny Mesa). If you're a Ramen lover and particularly for Shio (salt) Ramen, check out Yakyudori. And their Yakitori's excellent whenever Nabe-san's on grill. When he's not it can be quite variable and at times may not be worth it if you have a consistent Yakitori shop in the Bay Area.

                  We love our ethnic food in San Diego, and I'm sure the other local CH'ers can chime in with other suggestions...

                  1. re: vis

                    Chinese and Indian is much better in the Bay Area and the pickings are very slim down here so no worries on that. I 3rd/4th/5th Kaito if you can get your group to schlep up to Encinitas. Maybe make a 1/2 day out of it and head to North County before the traffic starts, check out the area and then go to Kaito for dinner.

                    Okan is excellent and one of my faves. Not sure if you have this type of Japanese in the Bay Area, but what they do is very good and very different than the usual sushi/udon/teriyaki deal.

                    Cafe Chloe is excellent, a neat gem of a place.

                    If you can bring Burma Superstar down here, I will be forever indebted to you!

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

                    1. re: vis

                      Sushi Ota is in Pacific Beach and right off the 5. Ota is super busy all the time, but they do take reservations- make them well in advance. Be warned, they are in a strip mall and next to a 7-11, but you would never know it once inside.

                      Just do a Chowhound search for "best sushi"and you will see most threads end up pretty closely split between Ota and Kaito.

                      Sushi Ota
                      4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

                      1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                        Thanks the handle. i've been to Ota the last time in SD and love it. We may hit that one up and then go grab a drink in PB afterward.

                        1. re: vis

                          You're staying in Coronado on vacation, so it's a little crazy to tell you to drive 40-50 minutes one-way to get to a nice restaurant in a strip mall (Blanca) or a great sushi restaurant in a strip mall (Kaito). It's one thing if you live here and want to seek out the best. But otherwise, enjoy your time off, and don't bother heading north of La Jolla. Reiterating some earlier suggestions...

                          Gaslamp: Searsucker (hip fun American), Cowboy Star (quality steakhouse and more), Taka (sushi), Cafe Chloe (cute French bistro)
                          Banker's Hill (just north of the Gaslamp): Cucina Urbana (lively Italian)
                          La Jolla: George's Ocean Terrace (good food with a great view), Whisknladle (farm-to-table for foodies)
                          Coronado: defer to others, apart from Candelas

                          I love Sushi Ota, but wouldn't send an out-of-towner there just due to the setting vs price disconnect (but if you've been before and have liked it, all the better). JSix is quality but unfortunately can be slow some nights and feel more like a hotel restaurant, despite the good food and intentions.

                          1. re: CTDub

                            "You're staying in Coronado on vacation, so it's a little crazy to tell you to drive 40-50 minutes one-way to get to a nice restaurant ...." - I guess it depends how much your are in general interested in food (but since we are on CH I assume it's high) but I tend to prefer to drive a bit more to have a really good food experience instead of having just some more average (or below) choices. Compared to some of the suggestions (e.g. Banker's Hill, Cucina Urbana, George's Ocean Terrace, Whisknladle) it definitely worth the drive to get some of the unique restaurants of SD which even would stand up against restaurants in more food-centric cities like LA or San Francisco.

                            1. re: honkman

                              I kind of viewed my post as just such a softball waiting to be hit... ;)

                              I don't disagree with you. But, I do think that while locals on this board are looking for the best or most interesting places, visitors might have more of an equation like: best + fun / distance + hassle. So, for example, George's. Is it the best food? Of course not. Is it credible enough to make many people happy to have dinner on their terrace as the sun sets over the ocean? I think so.

                              There's nothing wrong with pointing them towards the best. It just may not always be practical for, say, people with kids and friends and a babysitter. Sending them from Coronado to Encinitas isn't wrong, but it might not be quite right for them either. Still, I meant my post to be more of a reality check than any criticism towards the North County recs.

                              (BTW, I meant Banker's Hill as a geographic location (for Cucina Urbana), not as a restaurant recommendation.)

                              1. re: CTDub

                                When we are in other cities like LA or SF driving 30-45 minutes is at least for us quite normal so I assumed it's not to unreasonable for others in SD.
                                Georges downstairs is really good but the terrace not so much - yes, it has a nice view but the food is surprisingly disappointing.

                                1. re: honkman

                                  I used to live in LA and would drive 45 minutes just to go to a bar. While I miss the food up there, I don't miss that. I also used to live in SF and can't quite imagine how you could drive 45 minutes to eat (Napa excluded).

                                  I still agree with you that posting on CH means you might be interested in such a journey. But I'm not sure all the visitors are -- I think some are just looking for reasonable advice (and in this case, the OP has said that the trek to Encinitas is a little out of the question). So again, by all means mention Kaito. But send them to Cowboy Star instead if they're staying at the Hotel Del.

                                  I've eaten at Blanca several times and really liked it. But it's very good, not stunning. If I had driven there from Coronado through traffic at the merge on vacation and brought several friends with me, I'm not sure it would have met expectations.

                                2. re: CTDub

                                  When I'm on a trip by myself, I'm willing to drive most any distance to check out a particularly noteworthy place -- an hour is no big deal in that case. However, when I've got my family of five in tow, CTDub's visitor equation is definitely in effect. I look for the best food I can find within a reasonable distance that isn't going to be a hassle to get to/park/get seated/etc.

                            2. re: Stiflers_Mom

                              Saying that the best sushi threads are split between Ota and Kaito is a bit misleading. There just are a lot of Ota is best proclamations because Kaito has not been around that long. I can only recall one or two posters on Chowhound that have been to both places that would select Ota over Kaito.

                                1. re: RB Hound

                                  My reference to the chowhound thread was not meant to be misleading. When Vis said, "not sure if I can drag folks all the way up to Encinitas from Coronado. Any other sushi recommendations that are maybe Del Mar and south?" I thought I would try to be helpful and reference other chowhound links and direct them to Ota. I will be careful to "use my words" better next time.

                                  1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                    Ota probably is the best "south of 56" recommendation, or at least one of the bests. From time to time, a local upstart seems to get mention, but they often fade quickly. I'll leave it to the better traveled to throw in other suggestions.

                                    Was just being pedantic about the "split" comment. :)

                                  2. re: RB Hound

                                    Agree wholeheartedly... To argue that Ota is one of the best in S.D. just by sheer volume of reviews is to just go by the skewed momentum of old reviews during a time when critical and informed Sushi criticism was just non-existent.

                                    The broader food media is still very clueless with regards to Sushi, but at least on Chowhound and to a lesser extent on Yelp people are starting to notice that San Diego can do much better than Ota.

                                    Times have moved on and many San Diegans have gotten sophisticated enough to recognize a game changer when it exists, and that is what we have in Kaito. But I suspect that for as long as Ota exists they will continue to have more customers than Kaito. A crowd begets a crowd and the masses will tend to go to where the preponderance of reviews will lead them.

                                    I do hope that San Diego someday has a Sushi bar that is on par or even better than Kaito. Some may say we already have that with Shirahama, which I think ranks second and there's no third place yet in my list. However it's still a bit premature when there are enough Sushi diners out there that cannot seem to tell the dramatic difference in the Sushi experience between Kaito and Ota...

                                    But I'm glad we at least have Kaito and Shirahama, though a county of our size could use at least two more... Maybe within the next 5 years or so, perhaps? I'll be waiting!

                                    1. re: cgfan

                                      I think you are expecting too many good restaurant options for just one cuisine. Many cuisines have one (if we are lucky, many have none) good representation in SD, e.g. Italian, French (bistro-style), French (haute cuisine), Spanish, Thai, Greek etc. and that's just looking at a whole country and not at any regional differences, e.g. Basque etc. which is quite depressing looking at the size of SD .

                                      1. re: honkman

                                        I actually think we're actually in total agreement here, so yes to all of your points!

                                        I'm very pleased that we have two Sushi bars I can recommend to others, and yes, we are certainly lucky to have any at all. I've been in San Diego long enough (since '83) to know that, sorry, one can't trust the opinion of the vast majority of locals (BTW is that what's being called the "SD hype machine" on CH?) in assessing the absolute quality of our cuisine, and particularly so with ethnic cuisines.

                                        I still seek a single espresso cafe that I can recommend without reservations, (though Caffe Calabria's getting close to getting out of the doghouse after much steady improvement in quality and consistency over the past year or two, and no, as much as I like Zumbar it is actually further than one may think from getting an unqualified rec...), nor a place for Italian cuisine, nor a Neapolitan pizza place, and not even an unqualified rec for Yakitori despite my love of Yakyudori!

                                        In other words there will always be a best of what we have, but at least in the more serious CH discussions regarding the quality of our establishments I'm in favor of absolute levels of quality, and most importantly, consistency...

                                        1. re: cgfan

                                          Whew.........logistics can certainly add or take away from a dining experience. Primavera in Coronado is the best food. Candelas best happy hour. Tartine, Rhinocerous, and Tent City for the bird eaters. Swadee Thai gets a mention along with the bar staff and fish tacos at the Brig. Head down to Imperial Beach for a mexican breakfast at Jalisco's and rub shoulders with the locals just so you can say, "I was in America's most southwesterly city."

                                          1106 1st St, Coronado, CA 92118

                                          Tent City
                                          1100 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118

                          2. 1540 at the Del. Sapori for Italian at the end or Orange Avenue. I usually am not a fan of Miguels but they do a nice Mexican breakfast at their little sidewalk cafe. Tartine for breakfast/lunch and take out pastry. Canedelas for Happy Hour drinks and view but would not pay full price for din-din. Fish tacos (flame me now CH's) at HH at the Brigantine near the Del.

                            1106 1st St, Coronado, CA 92118

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: foodiechick

                              I think your flame-proof on the fish taco rec ;-) I think there is a loose consensus that the happy hour fish tacos at the Brig are a good value and pretty good

                            2. Greetings everyone and thanks for the's where we went:
                              Cafe Chloe (dinner for 8) - it's a tiny restaurant and they sat us in the small room near the kitchen which we had to ourselves. Although I would much prefer being in the main restaurant to have a cafe/bistro feel, this worked for our group since we were able to talk loudly and also have privacy. The food was fantastic! I had the lamb shank and we also got a bunch of appetizers to share...high marks to the mushroom & bleu d’auvergne tart as our favorite appetizer. Another main dish that was very well received was the's a common dish and something that can be prepared well at home which is why we were all impressed at how great it was.

                              Bronx Pizza in Hillcrest (2 dads and 4 kids): good NY style pizza in a whole in the wall location. I won't be sending people on a long car drive to get to this spot but if in the area it's a good spot. Also, they let us grab beers from the liquor store next door since they don't serve alcohol...and juice boxes for the kiddies of course.

                              Taka Sushi in Gaslamp: what can i say, I'm not a gaslamp fan but I couldn't get my group to drive to Kaito (or Ota for that matter). With that said, the sushi at this spot was pretty good and the fish was fresh. A bit on the pricey side but I would send people there if they're looking for a sushi option in the Gaslamp...i guess i'll have to save Kaito for the next trip.

                              Red Velvet wine bar (dinner for 6): this place is tiny. they basically wrapped us around one of the bar corners, which i was worried about but it worked. We did the tasting menu (6 courses for $69/person). I must say it was great. each dish was well prepared and presented and we also had a great bottle of white (from Croatia) and a red to complement the meal. The menu is limited and the kitchen is tiny but each dish (tiny on its own but left us full in total) worked for us.

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

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: vis

                                Im glad you tried Taka Restaurant. It amazes me that this place does not get more kudos. Perhaps its because of the stigma associated with Gaslamp ("touristy") restaurants or the price. I live in Seoul and travel to Japan frequently and I can tell you that TAKA is close to some of the best sushi restaurants I have been to in Japan (local recommended). I have tried Sushi Ota and I think for pure sushi/sashimi, Taka rules (and my sushi-loving asian wife agrees wholeheartedly). For those who dont mind spending a little more, make a reservation with Maru at the bar and see what you are missing.

                                Sushi Ota
                                4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

                                1. re: GF_Hunter

                                  Hi there I'm so happy to see this post b/c we are ALSO coming from the Bay Area (SF) and are looking for 5-6 dinner (and a few lunch) recs...but, we are staying in La Jolla (at La Jolla Shores beach) so I am wondering if anyone would be so kind as to narrow this list to restaurants that you would recommend that are not hellish drives from that area? we own restuarnats in SF but honestly, we are not looking for fine dining...our ideal would be great fish tacos and drinks...or great mex food...but we are open and want to sample the best of SD - but maybe not spend an hour in the car each way!

                                  many thanks. I love this CH resource!

                                  1. re: laaronson

                                    For fish tacos, I'd recommend South beach in OB or Brigantine(multiple locations). Since you are in La Jolla, if you just want to walk, you can go to Whisk n Ladle or Prep Kitchen for nice lunches or dinners. For breakfast/brunch, the Cottage in La Jolla is another solid choice.

                                    1. re: laaronson

                                      If you're looking for good fish tacos, I'd suggest hitting up the Mariscos German taco truck in North Park, then heading to one of the fine beer establishments nearby to sample some of our world-class local beers. Some people are fans of South Beach for fish tacos, but their use of flour tortillas, yellow cheese, and ranch dressing makes it a tough spot to recommend. If you do go to South Beach, the best way to enjoy their tacos is to ask for the sauce and salsa in the side, as they tend to drown them with condiments to the point where you can't taste the fish.

                                      Mariscos German
                                      3515 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104