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San Diego and Carlsbad area dining recs, have a list but is it a start?

Hi folks, thanks so much for help me out last time when I posted back in June. Unfortunately did not make it down then but am coming very soon.

This time we're going to be spending time in SD and Carlsbad. Have a 6 year old in tow and will be spending about 4 nights in SD, 2 nights in Carlsbad area. Coming from San Francisco Bay Area.

I have several restaurants and possibilities figured out but am not quite sure and would appreciate any feedback you can offer + some questions.

So far I have not found a potentially interesting seafood restaurant. Oceanaire is too pricey, and from searching the board other recs from older posts lead to similar kinds of restaurants. Are there more affordable options where the fish is wild or sustainable, hopefully local, and consistent? If not it's ok to skip.

Are there kid friendly options at Cafe Chloe?

Are there restaurants that are not fine dining or fine dining priced that use local + organic ingredients (and have kid friendly options)?

Any raw food or vegan restaurants in San Diego area? I know of a vegan fast food place (Evolution Fast Food), but are there others?

Any good health food stores that sell bulk raw ingredients in SD (similar to Whole Foods, independently owned/local but cheaper)? ie something similar to Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley, Rainbow Acres in Los Angeles?

Korean: Would like to try one Korean restaurant in San Diego but would prefer more than just soon dubu (tofu), not interested in BBQ, except I've noted that at the BBQ places, they appear to have some good selections of non spicy non BBQ fare. Considering between Buga or Dae Jang Keum.... are they extremely smokey, or is the general ventilation really good? Any other good ones? Or am I better off at Grandma's or Chon Ju Jip?

Japanese: Of the two locations of Yumeya Sake House (SD and Encinitas), which one is better? Which location(s) have teuichi (fresh hand made) udon (if I read cgfan's one post correctly)?

And how is Yumeya Sake House overall compared to Izakaya Sakura (which I also have my eye on)?

What is traffic like leaving Seaworld 6 pm going to the Convoy area?

I have a few backups in mind, including Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot. Has anyone been recently and do they now have the Pickled sour cabbage broth and pork rib broth selections like in NorCal San Mateo?

Thanks in advance.

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  1. For seafood, Blue Water Grill or Bay Park Fish may fit the bill. Both are more casual and have lower prices than Oceanaire and would be fine for a 6 year old. Bay Park Fish is very close to Seaworld. They are more sit-down restaurants than Point Loma Seafoods which is also good but geared more towards fried or smoked seafood. Fish House Vera Cruz gets mentioned for seafood here but we went there once and had a truly awful meal at the Carlsbad location.

    I recall some mentions of a fish place in Pacific Beach and one on Highway 101 on the board, but cannot recall the names.

    Ritual Tavern has local and organic ingredients and is not fine dining or fine dining-priced. I haven't been that thrilled with the fried items there but enjoy the shepherds pie.

    In addition to Yu Me Ya and Sakura you may want to consider Okan or Oton for Japanese food. We had a great meal at Okan with 2 young kids in tow about a year ago but definitely make reservations as it is very small.

    3 Replies
    1. re: JRSD

      I'd recommend Okan/Oton over Yumeya. Though I've mentioned Yumeya in several posts, they're cooking hasn't thrilled me for a long, long time. I must say, though, that they never have lost their great atmosphere, service, and Sake selection, and perhaps to many their food quality hasn't changed, but to me it's slipped quite a bit.

      While it's true that they will do a Teuchi Udon, it's been so long since I've last been there that my information may be out of date. Best to call ahead and ask if they're still featuring it, as they'll serve Udon everyday, but not necessarily the Teuchi.

      As to Okan, the traditionalist part of me thinks that their cold appetizers gets overlooked for their splashier hot offerings. For me my ideal meal there is one built out of every appetizer possible, with one to two hot entres to round out the meal.

      As to seafood, are you looking for something like an "American-styled" grilled fish platter? While not my cup of tea, given the genre I've always enjoyed Fish House Vera Cruz (Carlsbad) over other seafood grills. I find they never dry their fish out like so many others, and at one time (not sure about now) they used to maintain their own fleet of boats. And they have the best smoked Albacore around, (again not dried out like so many others), and for a really fair price. Blue Water Seafood (Morena district) is also a solid board favorite for this style, who also maintains their own fleet.

      1. re: cgfan

        I've haven't had many good American style grilled fish experiences, but seeing it's San Diego I do want to try. The recs mentioned so far seem pretty good...I'll just do more research. I like the idea of the downscale type places that offer the option of having the fish as a sandwich (or in a taco) as well as grilled on a plate.

        Thanks for the additonal rec on Fish House in Carlsbad.....I actually was thinking of doing Kaito in Encinitas after a day at Legoland. Likely will have to sit at the table since the little one will need the udon to be satisfied. Looking forward to sampling a bunch of nigiri and seasonal offerings. Definitely won't/can't partake in a full blown omakase as much as I would love to. How much are nigiri a la carte prices on average or range? Maybe Fish House will be the lunch stop on the way back to SD on the last day...

        Thanks for the rec also on Wa Dining Okan. It certainly looks great....reminds me of our one or two kappo ryori places and this one ko-ryori restaurant in NorCal. I've had my eye on the place when I was scoping out restaurants but originally thought it was all counter seating. The lunch options are definitely economical which I like. Does this place offer more ni-mono / simmered during dinner, maybe a good ni-daikon or mixed veg, or sakana no nitsuke? No terribly into buta no kakuni/stewed pork belly these days.

        Are sea urchins harvested off the coast of San Diego area somewhere? Read somewhere about Point Loma sea urchins... are they in season now and is it common finding them at sushi restaurants in town? Any abalone? Had some wicked NorCal Mendocino sea urchin and abalone not too long ago.

        1. re: K K

          Don't think that you should necessarily rule out counter dining at Kaito if with child; best thing would be to call ahead of your arrival to see if they can accommodate. They usually are very open to having kids at the Sushi bar, though if you go on a crowded day it might make more sense to take a table.

          Sorry I don't have much of an idea what their Nigiri prices are - almost no one grabs a menu, and anyway I expect all to be at market prices. However I generally find that they charge a very fair price given their stellar quality.

          (If you're in town for a couple of days, you might want to target one of their traditionally heavily stocked days. Since they almost completely start from scratch everyday, their selection is at the daily mercy of what comes in from the fish markets. [If your Sushi bar is always consistently stocked, I'd think twice about their sourcing... :) ])

          As to Okan, yes, their lunches are a great deal, though you'll miss out on the wide assortment of cold appetizers featured in their Oozaras.

          As to Uni, yes, San Diego is known for their Uni as is Santa Barabara, both due to the quality of the kelp beds. And predictably the quality and availability goes down whenever our kelp beds takes a beating from violent storms. They are both quite good, but the really good stuff comes from the specialty processors regardless of the waters they came from. (I'm really a big fan of Matsushita Uni, regularly featured at Kaito. They only produce the highest grades, and the Uni they produce is consistently richer, creamier, and less watery than Uni from other producers.)

          Don't recall seeing any abalone lately, though generally when you do it'll be the smaller farm-raised ones. As they also do with their scallops, Kaito preps their abalone as a multi-part serving featuring all parts of the clam that's edible - fringe, abductor, liver, etc. Kaito's been having some really wicked Aoyagi lately, though.)

    2. The Fishery in PB will probably fit your seafood request. Good food, using local or sustainable varieties as much as is humanly possible.

      Another would be Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. They are also using locally caught, susatainable fish and the chef is doing some really creative and tasty dishes. (Kid friendly)

      While there are a few place locally doing "farm-to-table" where it's more lip-service than fact, there really are a surprising number of places in San Diego that are doing a reasonably good job at the local/sustainable farm-to-table genre.

      * The Linkery http://thelinkery.com/blog

      * Sea Rocket Bistro http://www.searocketbistro.com/

      * JSix http://www.jsixrestaurant.com/

      * Local Habit http://www.mylocalhabit.com/

      * Terra http://www.terrasd.com/

      * The Range http://www.therangesd.com/ .

      * Carnita's Snack Shack - http://carnitassnackshack.com/ - opened this week and says they are based on Slow Food principles. I think all of these would be, more or less, kid friendly with a 6 year old.

      You can get from Sea World to Convoy using surface streets. While there will be some traffic, it won't be rush-hour stop and go. Probably would take you about 15 minutes, 20 if you get mostly red lights.

      I'm not sure you're really going to find something like Rainbow Grocery or Berkeley Bowl here, but you can check out Jimbo's or the Sprout's/Henry's locations. They are locally owned, independent shops. Can't help you with the raw/vegan request, not my thing....

      1. I don't believe our little sheep has the sour cabbage and pork broth options, but don't quote me on it. Best bet would be to call them.

        Sakura is currently closed, not sure for how long though. There was a fire next door at the hookah lounge(go figure) that forced them to close down. I'd go to okan. Okan is my favorite for small plates (anywhere).

        1 Reply
        1. re: chezwhitey

          @ DiningDiva, thanks for the suggestions, especially the ones near Seaworld. Getting out of SW after that Shamu show at 6 ish and quickly arriving at a restaurant will be quite the priority, versus getting stuck in traffic on the freeway. Watch big fish...then eat little fish :-) Now I get the Shamu jokes at the sushi bars.

          @chezwhitey, thanks for the heads up on Sakura. Looks like I will have to make a stop at Okan then!

        2. You may want to visit People's Food in Ocean Beach for the raw ingredients. I think it's the closest you'll find to the markets you mentioned.


          1. Bug and DJK both have decent ventilation. You can see a tiny bit of haze when they're crowded but it's not like walking through a smoke blower.

            bulk raw ingredients--try Henry's, aka Sprouts.

            I 3rd Okan or Oton. If you want udon, Hinotez Kitchen on Clairemont Mesa Drive is pretty good.

            Cafe Chloe has kid-friendly options. Our friends take their 5 y/o there all the time and she loves it.

            5 Replies
            1. re: daantaat

              While I'd love to say otherwise, I've been pretty disappointed in Hinotez so far. After 3 visits and 3 different orders, everything's been very underwhelming. No doubt he has something great in the Yakitori and Ramen, but so far I'm just not getting Hinotez.

              (Though thumbs up for having what I think is San Diego's first Japanese breakfast menu, though it seems to be more built to put together a reasonably priced meal vs. the more elaborate traditional breakfasts one gets at a Japanese Ryokan [traditional Japanese inn]).

              Although I don't think so, perhaps a part of it is due to the cognitive disconnect of seeing what is a rather simple Shokudo (diner) menu done in a space that looks far fancier, and even has some elements of a nighttime drinking establishment with their Ippin-mono (savory appetizers) selection (though they are still waiting for their liquor license).

              Someone please tell me that I've just been unlucky and there's something on the menu that truly stands out.

              OTOH I was recently caught by surprise that of all places Ichiro's Tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) was incredibly good, though all of the sides were just as incredibly awful and even a bit out of context. Still a win for me as lately I've been craving a good Tonkatsu, and so far I haven't found one in S.D. as good as the one I had just a couple of weeks ago at Ichiro's. (Though I like to think that partial credit might go to Umenoya's chef going to Ichiro's some time ago when the former establishment closed their doors, though I don't know if that's still the case and how it can explain the rest of the plate...)

              1. re: cgfan

                hmm, was wondering your take on Hinotez. I'm not an udon expert, but was pretty happy w/ the hot udon. I did notice the last time (probably the 4th-5th time I was there) the broth seemed to be much saltier than before. The Hinotez roll was ok, nothing special, but decent enough to give me some protein w/ my udon. I think we got the potato croquette at one point (hot, crispy) which was good (was also starving at the time).

                I do agree w/ the disconnect between the decor and the menu. The decor is much more formal/dressier than one would expect from a noodle place.

              2. re: daantaat

                Thanks a lot daantat! I think at this rate the udon stop will probably be Okan and/or Kaito. Not terribly crazy about ramen or the prospect of waiting a long time for it.

                We might hit up a Korean place in Garden Grove or Buena Park area for dinner before Disneyland the next day.... not entirely sure yet if we should skip Korean in SD and eat up there, or not.

                The only meals I'm not looking forward to is being forced to eat lunch inside Seaworld and Legoland...have to wait until dinner during those days to enjoy something better!

                1. re: K K

                  I think someone has posted that there was a fairly decent BBQ place inside Sea World

                  1. re: K K

                    skip the Korean food in San Diego, there's nothing really special around here. A few places are solid, but not necessarily worth your time. At the same time, you might want to consider doing korean down here if that means it frees you up for vietnamese in westminister/garden grove.

                2. Thank you so much to everyone's input. Lots of valuable information and I will have to figure out what fits best and on which days. Really appreciate it!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: K K

                    Had some tasty fresh fish and scallop sandwiches at the Pacific Beach Fish Shop. Very casual. http://www.thefishshoppb.com/
                    More upscale in Carlsbad try Paon. http://www.paoncarlsbad.com/

                  2. Thanks again everyone!

                    Would like to visit a few of the local farmers markets in the area. On the list are Little Italy Mercato (going to that one for sure). May do Hillcrest but if so it will be very little time spent there if at all as that day is already packed (if anything more so for stocking up on a few pieces of fruit...will they let me bring it inside Seaworld? or San Diego Zoo?). Is UTC Certified FM worth a visit? I know it is much smaller, but if it takes less than 10 minutes to finish browsing everything then maybe I'll skip it.

                    Is there any decent food (with kid friendly and vegetarian options) at Kobey's Swap Mee on a Saturday, or it is just the regular hot dog, burger, nachos type stuff?

                    Phuong Trang on Convoy - what else is good there besides cha gio, perhaps the egg noodle soups, and 7 course beef? The menu is very impressive variety-wise.

                    Ramen - is the best one Yakyudori? Better than Tajima or Chopstix? Most importantly, which one has the least amount of MSG (ie won't make you uber thirsty after the meal, which is why I left out Santouka as an option). What are the wait times like at each place if I arrive between 6 to 7 pm vs 5:30 pm?

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: K K

                      Sea World will let you in with fruit.

                      UTC FM-nothing really exciting, little italy and hillcrest are much better.

                      Phuong Trang-I believe their specialty is their vietnamese crepe. Unless this is your only vietnamese option because you want to stay in the convoy area, I highly recommend going down to city heights to get your vietnamese fix instead, Minh Ky, pho king, and hoai hue are 3 of the better vietnamese restaurants in san diego and all within 50 yards of each other.

                      Ramen: I prefer Tajima, but I also like santouka the best so take it's for what it's worth. Chopstix doesn't even qualify. Around 6-7 they'll start to get packed, yakyudori is pretty small so I'd imagine they'd get filled quicker than tajima.

                      Note that there is a tajima 1 and tajima 2. 2 is bigger and I like their menu slightly better, ramen is served at both.

                      1. re: K K

                        Yakyudori is the best ramen. They do take reservations, but if you don't make them, go by 5:30 pm to avoid a wait. Around 6-6:30 pm, it has filled up. Yakitori starts at 5:30 pm.

                        Chopstix has gone down considerably in the last several years. Last time we were there, the broth was lukewarm and watered down. Feh.

                        re: Phuong Trang and other Asian places, go to Kirk K's blog, mmm-yoso.typepad.com. His reviews are spot on regarding anything Asian. The last time we went to Phuong Trang, it was ok, but not great. Since you're coming from SF, land of great Asian food, I would skip it and go somewhere else.

                        1. re: daantaat

                          Second on Yakyudori for their Shio Ramen. Outside of Yakyudori there's Santouka, but you can get Santouka at many locations but Yakyudori's only in San Diego (and Nagoya)...

                        2. re: K K

                          The only food for sale that can be eaten at the Swap Meet (as opposed to packages of cookies or things that are meant to be taken home) is sold by the Kobees vendors. It is just usual hot dog stand fare. These days, if we go to Kobey's we will usually go by Azucar Bakery in Ocean Beach afterwards for a treat. They have a limited number of savory items and sandwiches as well as wonderful sweets.

                        3. Made it to Yakyudori tonight and enjoyed my shio ramen. Really hit the spot and simple. Great neighborhood izakaya vibe and I also dug a few of the skewers. If only they had seseri, nankotsu, bonjiri etc. Got there around 5:30 pm and only counter seats remained. Place was packed when we got our orders.

                          Ended up at Do Rei Mi Thurs night. Would have been a great meal, except the smoke from the cigar lounge next door broke into the restaurant stinkin the place up. Ten kinds of banchan but no japchae, all decent. Still hoping to be able to hit a grilled fish place.

                          1. Hi KK, didn't see your post until now. If you're staying through Saturday, the Vista Farmers Market is not far from Carlsbad, is year-round and has several prepared food vendors. I enjoyed it very much in August for the citrus, and there's probably more citrus in winter.

                            Last year I had dinner at Wa Dining Okan - sorry didn't get around to posting about it - but as others have mentioned, it's quite worthwhile. Here are my photos:
                            I particularly liked that there were many vegetable choices, also liked being able to take a look at the food displayed on the counter to make decisions.

                            Okan is next door to Nijiya Market where you can buy organic Asian vegetables grown on its local farm.

                            While you're in Carlsbad, you might want to try to check out Chino Farm. I got there minutes after closing . . . the farmstand was sold out anyway . . . so go earlier.

                            Don't know if OB People's Organic is any cheaper, but it does have more of a Rainbow Grocery vibe than Whole Foods. In any case, you'll enjoy walking around the OB neighborhood.

                            Chino Farm
                            6123 Calzada Del Bosque, Rancho Santa Fe, CA

                            Nijiya Market
                            3860 Convoy St # 109, San Diego, CA

                            Wa Dining Okan
                            3860 Convoy St., #110, San Diego, CA 92111

                            OB People's Organic Food Market
                            4765 Voltaire St, San Diego, CA 92107

                            Vista Farmers Market
                            325 S Melrose Dr, Vista, CA 92081