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Jan 17, 2001 09:44 AM

san diego: chow, drink, and excursions

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Taking a 7-10 day vacation to visit buddy in San Diego. He's very central in the city. i have scoured all the other posts about the area and copied down the info, but i was hoping for a little more.

First of all, good restaurants. I'm not interested in formal affairs that cost a lot of cash. (besides, the area seems renowned for its humbler fare) One pricey restaurant would be fine.

I'm especially interested in Mexican--- tamales. some BBQ wouldn't hurt. Good Vietnamese and Korean are musts as well, as well as any other kind of cuisine. what are your faves?

anybody know any good bars to go to? I have one suggestion (the Irish "the Fields"). where to catch good music (jazz, blues, funk, etc)? any place with good food or near good food? what else should i see when i come to town?

finally, we were planning on making an excursion to Tijuana. any suggestions on best places to eat/drink/visit there?

If any of you ever make it by Tampa, let me know. I'll give you the skinny. Thanks, guys.

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  1. If you're looking for good Mexican, Old Town is a very good bet. I was visiting my sister over the holidays, and she suggested I try Casa de Bandini, which I thought was fantastic. It was crowded, and there seemed to be quite a few tourists (of which I guess I was one), but if you don't mind that, it's really a fantastic place for great chow and margaritas.

    First, the portions are huge. I'm probably a little more concerned with that than most people, but that doesn't take away from the quality of the food. Margaritas are massive, by far the biggest I've ever seen. There's a lot to walk around and see in the area, so if you're going to do that, go all out. If not, be conservative. The nachos are also huge, but I'll be honest, only get them if you're hungry. They are good, but they aren't that much better than what you'll find at some other places. The actual tortilla chips, though, do make a huge difference. They were definitely fresh and made from quality tortillas, and combine them with the salsa (restaurants either take great care in preparing their salsa, or they chill some stuff that's been in a jar - this is obviously the former), and that's a pretty good starter in itself, and it's free.

    My girlfriend had a sampler of their more traditional stuff - tacos, enchiladas, chile relleno, tamale, etc. - and it was what you'd expect - huge, fresh, made with great care. Since you asked specifically about the tamales - it's one of the better that I've had, not as moist as the best, but still very good, and anything but dry (my pet peeve). I had the seafood enchiladas especiales (something like that), covered in a creamy jalapeno sauce. Again, this was just fantastic. I could not recommend something more highly. Lots of seafood (crab, shrimp, whitefish), lumped into fresh tortillas, and the sauce had me licking the plate (almost). Unfortunately, since we ordered the nachos, we couldn't finish our entrees, and reheating them at home did not do them justice.

    Okay, so that was my experience in San Diego. Like I said before, there's a lot of cool stuff to do around Old Town. The Bazaar del Mundo also had a couple restaurants I would've liked to have tried, plus there are all sorts of shops and historical buildings (Bandini's itself is in an old adobe two-story house). As for Tijuana, I spent some nights there when I was younger, but it was mostly just club hopping, and I don't really remember any of the details of those places (names, locations, etc.). Sorry.

    1. Andy,

      Ever since I started hanging around Chowhound, I've enjoyed your postings, so I wanted to answer this one, even though the semester has begun and I'm already too busy. Note that I have not lived in S.D. for a year and a half, but I still do visit there.

      When I was in S.D., Korean food was my special passion and I think I ate at every Korean restaurant in town at least once. My personal favorite is the Seoul Barbecue on Convoy. I have never had a bad meal there. And their ban chan (side dishes)are the best and most varied in town usually. The Short ribs are good--so are the cold noodles and the chap chai (please excuse spellings). I also loved the Hwoe Dup Bap (sushi meets Korean food). Others prefer the Korea House (also on Convoy)--but I had a couple bad experiences there and never returned.

      Also on convoy are two Korean tofu houses. The soontofu at either of them is superb. I ate most at the Balboa Tofu House (4646 Convoy--the only address I remember). A wonderful place for lunch.

      My two favorite Vietnamese places are also on Convoy. One is Phoung Trang (sp?) and the other one isn't. They were in adjacent strip malls and I always confused them, even though the food and menu choices were different. If you have time, I'd suggest trying each of them. There is also a small decent Vietnamese place in Pacific Beach on Mission Blvd a couple of blocks south of Taco Surf, but its menu is very limited. I've also had good Vietnamese at Saigon and Ah Dong, but they were in a different part of town from where I lived, so I ate at them only a couple times each, but if your friend likes either, I'm sure you would do well.

      You've probably already read postings about Anthony's, Humphrey's and George's on the Cove for fancier fare. For a somewhat more modest (but still nice) seafood house, I always did well at World Famous--which is close to the boundary between Mission and Pacific Beaches just off of Mission Blvd.

      As far as things to do--Old Town, though a reconstruction, is interesting. And there is a decent Latin American restaurant (Berta's I think) nearby. And many Mexican places of repute as well. Young folks all rave about Rockin Baja Lobster, but I've never been there.

      I also love Balboa Park (with or without going to the "world famous" zoo). In addition, I spent many, many hours walking around Mission Bay, as there is a nice walking trail that runs from Belmont Park in Mission Beach to Crown Shores park in Pacific Beach (about 3 1/2 miles one way).Excellent scenery and vistas. Another great walk is the beach boardwalk which runs along Mission and Pacific Beaches. The human scenery is incredible when the weather is nice. Imagine Bay Watch with more people and much more interesting body art. Tattoos and piercings you won't believe.

      For blues, Blind Melons in PB is the best spot I know of. Humphrey's also has music, if you wanted to do an eating/listening evening.

      In Tijuana, I used to just walk across the border over to Revolution street and play tourist. I know there must be incredible food there somewhere, but I usually had cheap Mexican food that was readily available. It was hard for me to walk past some of those vendors with the al pastor roasting on the spit, and not at least sample a taco.

      I sincerely hope some of this is helpful. Please report on any places you find there because I still get to S.D. often and I'm always looking for something new, different, and good.

      good luck!

      1. Andy-for a Mexican treat try Mi Rancho ( tiny place) on Park Blvd just south of Adams Avenue (Just under the big street sign). They offer fresh scallop burritos that are mind-blowingly good (as are the lobster ones.)

        We also like JV's on Morena Blvd for top notch carne asada burritos. They are the size of a small football and delicious. It's hard to finish one.

        I find most of the places in Old Town way too commercialized but La Pinata is pretty good.

        Hope this helps

        Bob Foster, San Diego

        1 Reply
        1. re: Bob Foster

          Oops, the branch near me is Mi Rancho, that restaurant is called Zapato's

        2. San Diego has an extensive Vietnamese community as well as a Cambodian subcommunity in the same area. There are good Vietnamese, Cambodian and Cantonese restaurants along University Ave. and El Cajon Bl., roughly between the 4000 and 6000 blocks of these streets. Be aware, however, that part of the area, especially the western part of University Ave., is a little bit on the rough side. Typical places would include Minh Ky, 4644 El Cajon; Duong Son, 4650 El Cajon; Duong Son, 4658 El Cajon, and a great Chinese hole in the wall BBQ, Tom's Chinese BBQ, 4414 University. There's also sort of a Chinatown in the Clairmont Mesa area, especially along Convoy St. Best bet is Jasmine Seafood Restaurant, 4609 Convoy St. Not as good or as cheap as you would find in Los Angeles, but good enough.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Chandavkl

            Ooops. It's Pho Bolsa at 4658 El Cajon. (Named after Bolsa Ave. in Westminster.)

            1. re: Chandavkl


              I am looking for a person who speaks cambodian and good english. (just for few hours).
              I will appreciate if you can recommend me someone.

              Thanks in advance.


            2. You can get great Mexican food at El Indio on India Street just North of downtown San Diego. This is a tortilla factory that makes everything from scratch. It's mostly takeout oriented, but there are places to sit. Old Town is very touristy but very fun, note that the giant margaritas are usually long on mixer, and the more authentic places will give you a much smaller drink that's more like a tequila martini with just a hint of lime juice. Hope this didn't come to late for your trip.