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Best ethnic restaurants in San Diego?

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I'm trying to discover the best of (insert cuisine) within a30-40 minute drive of downtown San Diego. Here's a list of the places that are my current go-tos. I'm sure that some of my current list can be beaten - does anyone have better recommendations? I care about the quality and authenticity of the food more much more than atmosphere or anything else like that.

Greek: Cafe Athena
Moroccan: Kous Kous Moroccan Bistro
Persian: Darband Fifth Avenue Grill (Is there a Persian place with more stews/rice dishes rather than kabobs?)
Ethiopian: Muzita Abyssinian Bistro
Mexican: Super Cocina (I also like Mariscos German)
Thai: Amarin
Japanese (Ramen): Tajima (Santouka as well)
Japanese (Sushi): Sushi Ota
Italian (Pizza): Caffe Calabria
Italian (Other): ????? (Italy totally spoiled me, seriously is there good/authentic non-Neapolitan Italian food somewhere in SD?)
Chinese: ????? (Any good recommendations?)

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  1. Peruvian - Latin Chef
    Barbacoa - Aqui Es Texcoco
    Italian Pizza - Luigi's
    Italian Food - Fugettaboutit!

    1. Persian: Sufi
      Mexican: Super Cocina (I also like Mariscos German)
      Thai: Sab e lee
      Japanese (Ramen): Santouka
      Japanese (Sushi): Sushi Ota
      Italian (Pizza): Caffe Calabria
      Italian (Other):Bencotto or Bice
      Chinese: Does not exist
      Vietnamese: Minh Ky

      1. Japanese (Ramen): Yakitori
        Thai: Siam Nara
        Peruvian: Q'ero
        Pizza: Blue Ribbon

        4 Replies
        1. re: honkman

          Didn't care for Q'ero. Thought it was over priced for the quality. My entree came out a bit dry. Nothing particularly stood out.

          For Thai I'm a big fan of Original Sab-E-Lee
          For Indian, I love Punjabi Tandoor

          1. re: yanks26dmb

            Punjabi Tandoor is good for SD, only made it so far to SEL in Santee which was OK but also had quite a few misses. For us Q'ero was excellent and much better than Latin Chef (even though we still like Latin Chef quite a lot)

            1. re: yanks26dmb

              Punjabi Tandoor has had some quality issues lately. I believe they've lost some staff to their new Anaheim outpost and the food has suffered as a result. For Indian I would pick Surati Farsan Mart instead. If you focus on their chaat and Gujarati foods, it is very good.

          2. Lebanese: Alforon.
            Afghan: Ariana Kabob House

            2 Replies
            1. re: The Office Goat

              Good on Alforon

              Sultan for Turkish
              Mien Trung for Bun Rieu and Bun Bo Hue

              1. re: Ed Dibble

                Agree about the bun rieu and bun bo hue at Mien Trung, and would add bun thit nuong to the list. Also their chao vit, for those who enjoy chao in general and chao ga in particular. No pho at this place!

            2. Italian (Pizza) - Pizzeria Bruno (its about four blocks from me, as opposed to Caffe Calabria, which is about 15 blocks).
              Italian (Other) - I like Arrivederci in Hillcrest and Cucina Urbana
              Chinese: China Max and maybe, Spicy City
              Lebanese: Mama's Bakery

              1. Italian - Bencotto, Arrivederci
                Thai - Sab E Lee, Siam Nara
                Vietnamese - Minh Ky
                Chinese (Taiwanese) - Mama Liang's
                Japanese (Sushi) - Kaito
                Japanese (Ramen) - Yakitori Yakyudori
                Korean (BBQ) - Dae Jang Keum
                Mexican (tacos) - Tacos El Gordo

                6 Replies
                1. re: Esqo

                  Interesting I agree with most of your list but I've never been to Minh Ky. I'll have to try that out sometime.

                  For Yakyudori I don't think it has Yakitori in the name anymore?

                  1. re: karaethon

                    I'm glad we both have good taste, karaethon! I think I've read a number of your posts with interest and probably tried restaurants you've recommended.

                    As for Minh Ky, I say the place is more Chinese-Vietnamese with a heavy emphasis on noodles/soups. My faves are the duck noodles, wonton noodles and the spicy curry noodles (broth on the side).

                    1. re: Esqo

                      I took a peek at the menu and it seemed similar to Luong Hai Ky or Tan Ky Mi Gia...

                      I'd be a fan if their quality of wonton noodle is closer to Hong Kong quality

                      1. re: karaethon

                        Have you tried wonton noodles at Sam Woo in 99 Ranch? It's pretty good.

                  2. re: Esqo

                    +1 for Siam Nara - my brother and his wife (who is Malaysian) suggested this last night with our kids; i love this place; SO good; had the summer surf and turf fish dish in basil sauce; outstanding; makes me wish I still lived back in SD

                    1. re: tavmark

                      - 1 for Siam Nara. I went there yesterday and the food was bland. The papaya salad lacked spice; it was not spicy whatsoever. The waiter did not ask about spice level, which is fine with me if the food is spicy when it is supposed to be spicy. Come on, you can't serve Som Tam like that. I addition, the beef (Weeping Tiger) was overcooked (well done). Again, the waiter did not ask how I wanted my beef. I looked forward to eating here, but was rather disappointed. I'd rather go to Sab E Lee or Supannee House of Thai.

                  3. Italian: Pomodoro Ristorante (one of my favorites)
                    Thai: Sab E Lee
                    Vietnamese (Pho): Pho Ca Dao in Mira Mesa
                    Nepalese: Himalayan in La Mesa
                    Chinese (Mongolian): Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot
                    Chinese (Dim Sum): China Max
                    Chinese (Other): Spicy City, Spicy House, Sam Woo

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: JadyS

                      Have you tried Pho Cow Cali down the street in Mira Mesa? I think it's on a whole other level. The broth is outstanding.

                    2. Had lunch with friends on Saturday at Muzita. Very good food and wonderful service. Each dish, sauce, side was explained by our server (who even brought out small amounts to taste for a couple of sides), and - important to note based on recent CH complaints - we were NEVER RUSHED. Great spot for vegans, vegetarians, or omnivores.

                      1. Sultan in El Cajon. Excellent Turkish in El Cajon?? Who knew. The food is good. The service is good. Their lentil soup is to die. The flatbread is made to order. They have a house-made selection of Baklavas that will make you cry. .

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Dagney

                          Kebab Shop has several locations around town and is an excellent Turkish shwarma place. The only one I've found in so-cal besides Spitz in LA that's on the level you find all over Europe. The lamb shwarma wrap is my favorite.

                            1. re: Fake Name

                              Jehovah, jehovah....sorry...Berlin, Berlin

                            1. re: Ed Dibble

                              I know! Ugh!! The owner still runs the Baklava half of the restaurant though, so you can still get excellent Baklava. There is a Persian restaurant there now.

                            1. re: pine time

                              Surati Farsan Mart was a real disappointment! Has it gone downhill lately? I ordered samosas with cholle to take out about a month ago and my son ordered another chaat (I forget which; it wasn't as bad as mine). My samosas were very small and the crust had a hard, overly-reheated texture; there were NO chutneys either! Any Indian restaurant should be able to make a decent samosa; even the Indian pizza restaurant in Joshua Tree makes a better samosa! I can recommend Madras Cafe in the same Black Mt. Rd. shopping center as Surati; their South Indian lunchtime buffet is excellent. Complimentary dosas (not much filling but what there is, is good!) and excellent sambar and rasam and unusual South Indian dishes you don't get anywhere else. Just don't go to Madras Cafe on weekends; too many babies and harried staff.

                              1. re: maryambaker

                                Thanks. Have been mostly underwhelmed with Surati Farsan. I make samosas at home, so not looking for those in a restaurant, though. May give the Madras Cafe another try--it was okay, but it's been awhile since I was there. Appreciate your ideas.

                                1. re: maryambaker

                                  That samosa doesn't sound right at all - but then their samosas have never been great. As for the chole samosa, it is usually served with chutneys mixed in - I'm guessing they would oblige if you you asked for some on the side. As Iv'e said before, their strengths lie in the Gujarati food domain - everything else is mediocre at best
                                  Madras Cafe remains as underwhelming as ever. Almost everything is underspiced and rather poorly executed in my opinion. My biggest issue with the place has been a lack of effort. On a recent visit the rasam was overdone with asafoetida.

                                  On a different note, I had a surprisingly pleasant meal recently at Taste of the Himalayas. They advertise as Indian/Nepali cuisine. Their momos were the real deal (though a couple on my plate had broken - not a good thing). The biryani was also good, as was the Kerau paneer we tried. They had dal soup served complimentary - probably a nod to the staple Nepali dalbhat, which for some reason, is not on the menu. Still - the dal was cumin-y and garlicky, the way it should be. Our friends ordered achari chicken and it actually had pieces of achar (mango pickle) mixed in - the real deal! This is based on just one visit, but we will return - which is more than can be said for 90% of Indian restaurants we've tried in SD.

                                  1. re: ipsit

                                    Thanks, ipsit--will drag Mr. Pine to Taste of Himalayas!

                                  2. re: maryambaker

                                    Rhonely family and I ate at Surati Farsan just before Thanksgiving. We all enjoy Indian food but were pretty disappointed with our latest offering. The Samosas, weren't crisp at all, the seemed rubbery on the outside and dry on the inside. Sauces they were served with were pretty good. The Dosa was really bad. Very rubbery and tough with very meager and bland filling. Based on the textures and general condition I would say both items were not fresh and were definitely microwaved (too long) until they got that funky microwave rubber texture.

                                    Won't be going back anytime soon.

                                2. Two days ago I got take out from one of my go to Chinese places, Dumpling Inn. My usual offerings were good. All the dumplings, Xiao Long Bao, Beef Curry, pot stickers, etc were tasty, The Seabass in black bean sauce is always a favorite and didn't disappoint. The satay lamb with Chinese greens was also pretty good. But their 3 ingredient pan fried noodle was fed to my dogs. Horrible. Very very stinky seafood smell and taste and the shrimps were literally mush. They had obviously been sitting a long time and had long ago gone bad. They were like nasty stinky paste that dissolved at the touch.

                                  Overall our meal was pretty good, but those pan fried noodles were so bad, I question the kitchen that made that dish and let it go out. I guess they don't care about repeat customers?

                                  1. if you like Persian food, I can recommend the little restaurant in the back of Balboa International Market. Their produce and their homemade Persian breads are great, too!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: maryambaker

                                      The Persian place in the Black Mtn. Indian mall has jars of house made Torshi you can buy, and I ordered some with my food and it was awesome. They also have Sabzi Gormeh on the menu always, my favorite.

                                    2. Cuban / Puerto Rican: Andres (old school)
                                      Pizza (Naples): Bruno's (crust is thin, not crispy, but great char)

                                      1. Thai - Supannee in Pt Loma. Outstanding! Fresh, creative, authentic, friendly, clean and attractive, great value

                                        Taste of Himalaya - haven't had better in SD

                                        Mexican - la Forchada in Barrio Logan

                                        2 Replies
                                          1. re: globalevent

                                            from one "global" to another:
                                            I'm wondering why La Fachada isn't recognized more on this board. What do you recommend to get there?

                                          2. For Chinese.....Chef Chin's on Convoy. You have to ask for the "secret menu" though or you will be eating orange chicken!

                                            33 Replies
                                            1. re: dbwave

                                              Is there a particular dish or two that you'd recommend from the "secret menu"?

                                              1. re: DoctorChow

                                                Just ask for the "authentic or Asian" menu. I have tried a lot. They are all good. The one that stands out is the liver. Supposedly the chef cooks liver and kidneys a certain style that is authentic and not done anywhere except china. Enjoy and report back your findings!

                                                1. re: dbwave

                                                  I am going to try this. We ate at Din Tai Fung, (I think I got the name right) in SGV recently, and the food blew us away. If we could get that quality in San Diego.....oh my.....what a dream!

                                                  1. re: Dagney

                                                    The closest that SD has to DTF is Liang's.

                                                    The sad part about that is DTF isn't even all that great.

                                                    Next time you make the trek to SGV and are jonesing for some XLB, hit me up, or post, or use this chart as a rough guide http://blogs.laweekly.com/squidink/20....

                                                    1. re: ipsedixit


                                                      You guys are code-talkin, aintcha?

                                                      1. re: Fake Name

                                                        Sorry Fakey.

                                                        XLB = Xiao Long Bao

                                                        DTF = Din Tai Fung (a chain originating in Taiwan famed for their XLB, which has now spread to China and parts of the US, mostly LA)

                                                        SGV = San Gabriel Valley (aka Montebello around these parts)

                                                        Liang's = Taiwanese chain originated in SGV, but now has spread up and down CA, as well as Vegas and parts of the NE and PNW.

                                                      2. re: ipsedixit

                                                        Have you tried the pork liver at Chef Chin's, ipse? I'd be interested in your take. I thoroughly enjoyed it at lunch today.

                                                        1. re: DoctorChow

                                                          I take it you are talking about the stir-fried (or pan-fried) pork liver (or aka 爆炒豬肝)?

                                                          Was your dish essentially slices of pork liver, stir fried in what should have been a mixture of cooking wine, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, salt, as well as perhaps some green onions, carrots, etc.?

                                                          I've had this dish before, but not at CC's.

                                                          I am glad you liked it. I'm not generally a big fan of stir-fired pork liver at restaurants, if given the choice I prefer ordering the stir-fried pig's blood, which is much harder to replicate at home.

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                            Yes. The menu is in Chinese with English translations under, as you said. I don't recognize the Chinese that you wrote out here, but it said "fried" pork liver on the menu, without additional specificity (stir- vs. pan-fried).

                                                            And yes, it was very thin slices of liver about 1-1/2 - 2 in. long and 1" wide, plus some 3 in. dia x 3 mm thick black mushrooms, along with scallions, a few water chestnut slices, and a flavorful thin sauce.

                                                        2. re: ipsedixit

                                                          LOVE this! Thank you...We need to make an LA trip sometime in the next two weeks for a Xmas gift. XLB in our near future.

                                                      3. re: dbwave

                                                        This solved my problem of deciding where to go for lunch today.

                                                        The “secret” menu isn’t really that terribly secret -- they have both piled on the counter in front, but knowing that it’s the black-colored one is useful. I had to say “authentic” and “Asian” about three times before the server (who seated me and didn’t speak English well) understood that’s what I wanted, but I finally got it. I ordered the pork liver, per your post.

                                                        A cup of hot and sour soup -- part of the “lunch special” -- came out first, of course. Sadly, it was terribly nondescript, a flat, generic, obviously Americanized toned-down bland recipe. Uggh. Very disappointing, so I was prepared for the worst.

                                                        But then came the liver and it was delicious. I’ll let others speak for authenticity and uniqueness, etc., but this dish is excellent, IMO. A person has to like liver to enjoy it, but if they do, they're in for a treat.

                                                        Right on the money, dbwave. Thanks for the tip.

                                                        1. re: DoctorChow

                                                          What else was on the "secret" menu ?

                                                          1. re: honkman

                                                            That'd be secrets, now wouldn't it?

                                                            1. re: honkman

                                                              It was a thick menu -- as thick as the (red) regular menu -- many pages of items. But I didn't look through it. I was specifically searching for the liver, which was right on top of the second page (along with kidney).

                                                              I definitely plan to go again, and when I do I'll peruse the "secret" menu more thoroughly. For now, maybe dbwave can answer your question.

                                                              1. re: DoctorChow

                                                                Its been a while. I remember the liver, jellyfish and a spicy fish. The hostess/owner was extremely friendly and impressed with Caucasians eating the food we did. She was recommended dishes for us.

                                                              2. re: honkman

                                                                It's not really a secret, it's just a menu that has English subtitles.

                                                                Without overgeneralizing, the Chinese menu has a combination of Sichuan and Shanghainese specialties

                                                                So you'll have traditional Shanghainese favorites like sea chickens (or field chickens), red braised meats (esp. pork in all cuts/varieties), lion's head meatballs, smoked duck, etc.

                                                                Oddly, you'll also find a spate of Sichuan dishes like water boiled fish, liang pi, MaPo tofu, cold pickled dishes made with intestine or offal parts, as well as jelly fish, etc.

                                                                The also have "faux" XLB. They cop to it, not a derogatory term by me.

                                                                The real gem of Chef Chin's isn't so much the "secret" menu, but that it serves Chinese/Taiwanese breakfast fare. And while it's not great, it is in fact spectacularly mediocre. Probably only place to edible Taiwanese breakfast outside of Rancho Penasquitos at Yenchim (which also has "secret" menu, FWIW, but this time with no subtitles).

                                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                  Which brings up the question if there are any other (most likely asian/chinese) restaurants which have "additional/secret etc" menus with better/less americanized food. (Some of the menus might not be really secret but if you don't know thay they exists it is hard to ask for). The only one I was aware of (and use) is Golden City.

                                                                  1. re: honkman

                                                                    If they have a real chef in the back just about any Chinese restaurant in SD will have a menu reserved for more authentic dishes.

                                                                    For example, I don't think I've ever really looked at a China Max's menu.

                                                                    If you know what you want or tell them that you'll take what's good (a sort of Chinese omakase, if you will) you will get the "secret" menu.

                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                      @ipsedixit: Do you know if Liang's has a "secret" menu?

                                                                      1. re: DoctorChow

                                                                        No, not in the sense of Chef Chin's as Liang's does not cater to the "lauwei" (or 老外) clientele.

                                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                          Agree that Liang's regular menu already has some interesting and unusual items on it. Speaking, that is, from a lauwei's perspective.

                                                                          1. re: DoctorChow

                                                                            Depending on what strikes your fancy on Liang's menu, you might also like the stuff at Yes! Pingo, which has more Taiwanese street food/snacks than does Liang's, which is more Beijing (and Fujianese)-influenced Taiwanese fare.

                                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                              Thanks! Never been to Yes!Pingo -- I'll definitely check it out.

                                                                              1. re: DoctorChow

                                                                                Had a nice bowl of Dan Zai Mein at Yes!Pingo today. A simple dish, very plain but satisfying on a cool day.

                                                                                The darn shrimp just kept staring at me, though. I had to turn the eyeballs upside down.

                                                                                1. re: DoctorChow

                                                                                  That's why the "secret instruction manual" tells you to suck and eat the shrimp heads first.


                                                                          2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                            More jargon.


                                                                            I'll never learn anything.

                                                                      2. re: honkman

                                                                        Walmido (alas, gone now) used to have a separate "Korean" menu, and it had their best dishes on it. That also wasn't advertised or offered -- you had to know about it and ask. I can't name any other specific places, but I suspect ipse is right about there being others out there.

                                                                      3. re: ipsedixit

                                                                        specifically what do they have that is good at Yenchims? I live nearby but had the impression it was nothing special. I would love to be proved wrong.

                                                                        1. re: koreansoup

                                                                          It isn't anything special.

                                                                          They've got some Sichuan stuff (water boiled fish, dry noodles, mapo tofu, fish head stews, etc.), as well as some casseroles and offal dishes.

                                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                            umm..... yeah....

                                                                            just tried tonight for the first and unfortunately the last time.

                                                                    2. re: DoctorChow

                                                                      Hi. When we first went for dinner, we were seated and given the "american menu". We had to ask for the "secret one". I have not been since summer. When we went last, we shared the liver with a friend who was a bit squeamish, I would recommend dinner if possible with lots Tsing Tao beer!