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Short visit in San Diego -- what are some can't-miss food experiences?

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My girlfriend and I are making our way down to San Diego for the first time from Feb. 17-19. It's a very short trip, unfortunately, but it's all we could fit in as a sidetrip from Los Angeles. We're from Toronto and have heard amazing things about the cuisine in San Diego.

I know this is probably well-charted terrain and I did search through the archives, but couldn't find anything that speaks to what we're looking for exactly (still, hope I'm not stepping on any toes with this thread). I know that where we're staying (Hotel Indigo) is in the Gaslamp Quarter, and from recent threads, I know that's not exactly San Diego's culinary center.

So, since we'll probably only have 6 or so meals in San Diego, we're hoping to make the most of them. A bit about us: we're both in our mid-20s, we love all kinds of ethnic food (especially looking forward to the Mexican in San Diego, since it's one thing that is not done well in Canada), and we're mostly looking for casual, good-value options wherever possible -- we're happy to splurge on one great meal, but otherwise would prefer to be able to spend, say, $20-25 or less on an entree.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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  1. Do you have the ability to drive?

    I'll keep the recommendations to La Jolla and south, but there are some great places a little further north as well

    I'd say what sets San Diego apart from other cities is craft beer and bistro dining.

    Mexican (lunch):
    - Super Cocina
    - Mariscos German Truck

    Splurge meal ideas:
    - Tasting menu at Bali Hai (you will get a great view of the San Diego skyline while dining)
    - Tasting menu at 1500 Ocean

    Beer:
    - Blind Lady Ale House

    Other places to go:
    - Cafe Chloe - bistro food - walking distance from your hotel
    - The Cottage - brunch
    - Sab E Lee - Thai
    - Bencotto - Italian (do you consider that ethnic?)
    - Gourmet Food Truck Gathering (these pretty much happen somewhere in SD every weekday/saturday and it will give you a nice sampling of lots of food options)

    3 Replies
    1. re: karaethon

      Thanks very much for the recommendations (Josh, too). We will have a rental car, so even any far-flung ideas are welcome.

      1. re: neilpath

        If you have good Thai available to you at home, I would skip any Thai food here. Asian food in general is not our strong suit.

        If you want to eat some great Asian food, I'd slot that in for your drive down to San Diego from Los Angeles. Garden Grove, off the 22 freeway, has great Asian food available, stuff that really puts anything in San Diego to shame. The California or Los Angeles boards should have discussion of places there.

        I would suggest a trip to The Linkery for one of your meals. There's no other place in San Diego quite like it.

        1. re: Josh

          Josh, I think the one exception to your comment is the Japanese food in SD. We have several Japanese places of different styles that are all very good to excellent on their own turf.

    2. Mexican:

      Super Cocina
      Aqui Es Texcoco (don't miss this place, it's incredible)
      Mariscos Beyer, German, or El Pescador taco truck

      1. One thing that sets SD apart is our local fishermen and very fresh fish. The Fishery serves locally caught fish. And I highly recommend the amazing, messy, and only-in-San Diego fish sandwiches at El Pescador. (Make sure you add avocado and Siracha)

        Don Bahia Bravo doesn't have the city's best Mexican, but what it does have is a bit of outdoor seating and a view of the Pacific, which mixes well with their fish tacos and cold cervesa. (This is a locals place and usually my out of town friends' favorite.)

        -----
        El Pescador Fish Market
        627 Pearl St, San Diego, CA 92037

        Fishery
        5040 Cass Street, San Diego, CA 92109

        Bahia Don Bravo
        5504 La Jolla Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037

        1. Will you share with us the comments you've read about the amazing cuisine here? Interested in the source...

          For me, two items unique to Southern California are the taco shops and seafood trucks.

          I'd take you to my favorite- Super Sergios- for a Carne Asada Burrito. Some time thereafter (not soon- the CAB sticks with you) I'd head on over to the Mariscos German taco truck for a marlyn taco. Or two. There are plenty of other items there, just as you've received many worthy suggestions from other posters.

          Have fun, and please report back to us- it helps keep us in perspective.

          1. Being in your 20's and from Toronto, you want to hit up beach places that offer cold Mex beers and great Mex/seafood..

            Here's my take:

            Bahia Don Bravo's in Bird Rock/La Jolla..nothing like a couple of fish tacos, Pacifico on the back small stand up patio watching the sunset and the waves roll in..very local place.
            El Pescador in LJ for lunch for fab seafood sandwiches..grouper is one of my faves.
            George's at the Cove..ocean terrace overlooking the Pacific, splitting some sea bass tacos and having a drink.
            The Cottage for breakfast in LJ

            South Beach bar and grill in OB..
            Roberto's taco shop in Del Mar..Carmel Valley location..carne asada burrito/quesadilla with guac.
            Point Loma Seafoods for a scallop sandwich or calamari sandwich...watch the sky rat gulls!
            Mai Tai's at the Bali Hai in Shelter Island..
            Head over to everyday happy hour at the Brigantine for some great fish tacos and a brig brew
            Happy hour at Island Prime on Harbor Island on the bayfront patio
            Fish Market downtown bayfront deck for drinks or sushi/oyster bar is outstanding...do not do the downstairs restaurant!

            Drinks at the Hotel Del...take the water taxi over from the Gaslamp..yeah, I said it!
            Mariscos German in City Heights for a couple of gobernators
            Aqui es Texcoco has the best potato taquitos on the planet.
            Pitcher of beers at Lahaina in PB..super dive oceanfront and then hit up a taco shop..rent bikes at Hamels and ride along the boardwalk and then hit up the Belmont Park roller coaster!

            Have a great time and let us know how it all worked out..

            www.sdhe.com

            2 Replies
            1. re: Beach Chick

              If I ever run into another chica on Bahia's back porch holding a cold pacifica, I'm gonna ask if it's you. (read my comment above)

              1. re: pickypicky

                Ha!
                Could be the 'other' chica..the comida kind..
                ; )