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Requesting feedback for cheap eats list for San Diego visit

Hello SD hounds,

My wife and I are eager eaters of cheap, unpretentious, and often 'ethnic' food. We're in San Diego for two weeks from New York, with a car, staying central but driving all around. Following is a list of restaurants that sound up our alley cobbled together from from the last month or so of posts. Can locals suggest edits or additions to this list? I've included a few brewpubs and local foods places at the end because we like beer and it sounds like there is a strong local foods tradition.

Please advise, and thanks in advance. We are going for cheap, delicious, and utterly lacking in fancy ambience.

Also, is a visit to TJ worth it, food-wise?



Super Concina
Las Brasas
Super Sergio's
Tacos el Gordo
El Paisa
Aqui es Texcoco
Rudy's Taco Shop
Cantina Mayahuel
La Fachada

Pho Cow Cali
Mien Trung
Luong Hai Ky (VN-style Chinese)
Minh Ky (VN-style Chinese)


Tender Greens
The Linkery

Karl Strauss
Blind Lady Alehouse

Sab e Lee
Dae Jang Keum
Surati Farsan Mart
Northgate Gonzalez (Mexican supermarket w/ hot food)

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  1. May want to add a Marisco's Truck for baja fish tacos, a good truck is 2 blocks up from Super Cocina. Might want to search for Happy Hours, mostly a good value, lots of places with half price apps. There are good brew some houses in North County:

    Churchill's Pub in San Marcos
    Lost Abbey Brewery in San Marcos
    Iron Fist Brewery in Vista

    2 Replies
    1. re: cstr

      Include in your notes- Sab-E-Lee is closed on Mondays.

      Darband Fifth Avenue Grill. Good persian food, central location (near downtown and balboa park). Priced between cheap and expensive (their website lists prices).

      1. re: cstr

        The Mariscos truck on University next to Super Cocina has moved to 4357 El Cajon Blvd. Do not know if this is temp or permanent move.

      2. Glad cstr mentioned Lost Abbey. They're a stones throw away from Stone (in fact, they are in Stone's old location) and I like them better. It's a good contrast between a local craft brewer that has scored BIG time (Stone) and a very successful local craft brewer (Lost Abbey) that has chosen a somewhat different path.

        Yes, yes, yes...go to Tijuana. If you want a little preview tune into No Reservations tonight on the Travel Channel as Tony Bourdain does Baja. Unless you are a fearless driver and experienced driver in a foreign country it's probably easier to park in one of the lots on the US side of the border and walk across. There is a lot of construction going on at the border crossing and the approach to the border changes, plus it can take up to 3 hours by car to cross back. Pedistrian crossing is usually shorter (especially during the week) and taxis are plentiful and reasonable. You will need your passport to get back into the US.

        If you aren't familiar with where to eat in TJ you can use these links as a reference

        The Mercado Hidalgo is close to the border and an easy way to spend an hour or so. The south side of the market has a lot of candy vendors, there is a terrific cheese shop in the northeast corner of the market and the north side has a large Oaxacan selection, good chiles, mole pastes and medicinal herbs and spices. You can bring dried chiles, beans, dried spices, up to 5# of sealed cheese, candies, jamacia flowers back across the border.

        When you exit the market on the corner to your left is a Taco's El Gordo, you can grab a taco there and then a cab, or walk up to CECUT the cultural center and take in the exhibit there.

        Take a cab up to Avenida Revolucion. Visit the tequila store (Leyva's Liquors) at about 3rd and Ave. Revo, more brands of tequila, sotol, mezcal than you can shake a stick at, plus there are always a few open bottle to sample. The owner speaks excellent English and if you tell him what you want, he'll do his best to match you up with it. You and your wife can each bring a bottle back. Walk down the street to the Hotel Cesar and have a margarita on the patio.

        Don't miss Taco's Kokopelli at Agua Caliente & Ocamp. Delicious, inventive tacos.
        Tacos MazateƱo for super good shrimp tacos and other marisocos
        Cebecheria Erizo on Sonora a couple blocks south of Agua Caliente for wonderful fresh fish and seafood creations. Moderately priced, but other than the tacos, almost everything I've had there is sized to share.

        Most taxis are in the $5-8 range depending on how far you're going. A few taxistas speak English, most don't so just write the addresses down for where you want to go and show it to the taxista and they'll get you there in one piece. To come back, just ask the driver to take you to "la linea" and they'll take you to the line for the pedistrian crossing back into the US.

        Pretty much every place in Tijuana accepts either pesos or dollars. English is understood, if not spoken, in a lot of places, especially those frequented by tourists.

        Just go and have a grand time. The eating's good, the people friendly and you'll be safe.

        3 Replies
        1. re: DiningDiva

          Lost Abbey has a Belgium theme in all their beers, but they do carry a lot of Port on tap in their tasting room so there is balance. In Vista you also have Iron Fist and Mother Earth, so there are a lot of good choices available, and it seems a lot have visiting food trucks.

            1. re: DiningDiva

              Given that Tony Bourdain referred to TJ and Northern Baja as being as good as Napa Valley, I'd have to second that opinion. Damn, I gotta get my passport renewed.

            2. A Chau for Vietnamese sandwiches, corner of Menlo and El Cajon Bl

              Pho Hoa for Pho, Euclid and El Cajon Bl

              Cafe Istanbul for Moroccan/Med, 6th and E in downtown

              Red Sea for Ethiopian (I have not been there, but I know people who have and rave about it), not sure about the address, maybe 4600 University Ave

              I just found a new place for Japanese breakfast, called Hinotez, and located on Balboa across the street from the Chevy dealership. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but their breakfast is delish.

              I definitely give second votes for Sab E Lee for Thai and Alforon for Med. You might also like Haritna.

              1. I would add Sakura, Oton and Okan for japanese to your list

                1. +1 on Okan, Oton, Sakura
                  +1 on Yakyudori. note that yakitori is only after 5:30 pm. ramen is all day/night
                  +1 on Tender Greens
                  +1 on Surati Farsan Mart
                  +1 on Pho Cow Cali
                  +1 on Sab E Lee
                  Dae Jang Keum is good, but I prefer Buga better. Their marinade is not as sweet and the kalbi is better.

                  1. Can I just say kudos to you, jpiglet, for doing your homework? Nice list!

                    I second cstr's rec for Marisco's as an addition to your list.

                    Don't hit Blind Lady Alehouse during peak hours - it gets really busy!

                    And I would definitely choose Lost Abbey over Karl Strauss or Stone, but if you can hit 'em all, good on ya! Have a great time!

                    1. I would add Las Cuatro Milpas...Mariscos German Food Truck...Romenesco's...Carnitas snack shack...Dumpling Inn...Bahia Don Bravo.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Beach Chick

                        I'd skip Dumpling Inn, it doesn't really compare to cheap Chinese eats that you can get in NYC, IMO.

                      2. Great list.

                        To add to your LOCAL category, in the San Diego ethnicity of Sea-Surf Boy-Local: any of the fish sandwiches at El Pescador, La Jolla. They are a revelation. Request avocado and add sriracha at the table.

                        OT: Can anyone tell me where my --links-- tab has gone on my replies here? Am I missing a plug in or a cookie or a. . .

                        1. Does anyone know how late the Mexican places (particularly Super Cocina and the Mariscos trucks) stay open? I have a friend coming into town tomorrow and it'd be great to let him experience some of the local Mexican food, but we'll be eating after 8pm...

                          1. as with others for japanese, Okan, and Sakura although I'm sure you have your share of great izakayas in NYC. I still think Okan is up there with the best of them regardless of the city.

                            For Vietnamese, Luong hy ky and minh ky are redundant, I would go with minh ky(combination noodle, sate beef noodle or stirred egg and beef over rice). Not a fan of pho cow cali, Pho Hoa is better in my opinion. I also favor Hoai Hue over Mien Trung. I'm a big fan of Pho King but not for pho, the name is misleading, their specialty is Hu Tieu, a nice light alternative to the heavy stuff you usually eat during a vacation.

                            +1 Tender Greens.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: chezwhitey

                              Sakura used to be consistently good a very long time ago, (I'm talking late 80's early 90's), but has been nothing but unimpressive for the longest time now. Unfortunately there's not much in terms of alternatives right now for a good Izakaya with a broad menu. Perhaps safer would be to explore the narrower offerings of Yakyudori (Yakitori & Ramen) or Okan (kind of a Kappo, billed as an Oozara Ryori).

                              Among the available options, for the NYC visitor I'd suggest Okan. For Okan I'd suggest concentrating on the cold apps (the Oozara on the counter) - order as many as you can given the size of your group, then supplement it with perhaps one entre per from the kitchen. In my book their colds apps is the star of this restaurant - they do have excellent apps, I still continue to dream of some of them, though there's a tendency to stray from tradition, not necessarily a bad thing depending on what you are looking for. So select well from the entres, and do indulge in the cold apps.

                              1. re: cgfan

                                cgfan, has Okan brought back the cold noodles from Nagoya yet? I am blanking on the technical name.

                                1. re: daantaat

                                  I haven't been there for a couple of months; perhaps others can report on any sightings?

                            2. All great recommendations by the others, but I would definitely add Alpine to your brewery/beer list. Arguably the best brewery in the county and of the best in the country.

                              15 Replies
                              1. re: DougOLis

                                Second Alpine for sure, and agree w/ Doug's assessment.

                                1. re: Josh

                                  I did not intend to omit Alpine or anybody else with my post earlier in the thread. Rather, I was simply throwing out alternatives to DD's "a stone's throw from Stone" category.

                                  1. re: RB Hound

                                    Didn't think you were. Just love Alpine.

                                    1. re: RB Hound

                                      And I only mentioned Lost Abbey because I know it's less than a 10 minute drive from Stone making it a pretty convenient for non-locals to see 2 ends of the craft beer spectrum in a short visit. I really admire what Stone has accomplished, but let's just say I prefer drinking Lost Abbey ;-O

                                  2. re: DougOLis

                                    Really? Alpine is better than Ballast Point/Stone/Alesmith? I need to start checking out their beers. Which beers should I try?

                                    1. re: jmtreg

                                      I am not comfortable using "better", because the different breweries have different emphases. Alpine's specialty is IPAs, in my opinion, so people with an IPA bend will prefer them. I think that Alesmith does better with the stouts / barleywines / scotch ales / etc., but that may just be me.

                                      If you can find Duet, I think that is an excellent starting point. A lot of people love Nelson, too. a lot of their beers can only be found at their brewery, but Toronado, O'Brien's, and Hamiltons often have quite a few selections on tap.

                                      1. re: jmtreg

                                        Like Mr. Hound notes, "better" isn't the precise wording I'd use either. However there is a subtlety and nuance to Pat McIlhenny's beer that puts him in some pretty rarefied company. Jeff Bagby is another guy I'd put on a similar pedestal when it comes to local luminaries.

                                        I'll second Duet as an excellent starting point, or Nelson, though Nelson is definitely all about the Nelson hop and if you're not a fan of that hop, you might not care for the beer. It's got a very distinct flavor and aroma.

                                        1. re: Josh

                                          Cool. . .we really should have a sticky thread on Chowhound all about our favorite local breweries.

                                                1. re: gator28

                                                  Send a requeset to the list mods? Perhaps mention it on the Site Talk board?

                                            1. re: Josh

                                              For me the key different taste of the Nelson IPA is the added rye. Which I like but agree not everyone will. Duet is my current favorite IPA around.

                                              Public House in LJ usually has Duet available and sometime Nelson (both in bottles). I just wish the food there hadn't been so unremarkable on most visits. Olive Tree Market in OB gets Alpine beers in every two weeks (used to be every week until they got "popular") but often sells out within days, so you have to be pretty dedicated to snag one.


                                            2. re: jmtreg

                                              Alpine is fun to visit and most of the beers I've tried are really, really good. Love Duet, love Nelson, don't love their vanilla beer, bleech :-(

                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                We also have Vinny's Pizza in Alpine, which is on par with Bronx. The fact that we have epic beer AND pizza is proof that Alpine is the chosen land.

                                            1. No need for Karl Strauss, IMO. Not only is their beer just OK, but I don't think they're good members of the local beer community because they only serve their own beer. No other brewpubs in San Diego pull that kind of move, apart from Oggi's, which is similarly not any place you need to concern yourselves with.

                                              Swap out Pizza Port Ocean Beach for Karl Strauss.

                                              You might also want to check out Monkey Paw Brewing downtown. They make very good beers in house.

                                              Your list is otherwise pretty solid.

                                              For a mariscos truck, I suggest doing that on your visit to Aqui Es Texcoco. There's a fantastic one, and the best fish tacos I've had in SD, near there in a Toys R Us parking lot. There's also a place there where you can get tortas ahogadas, which is a very rare Mexican specialty that's hard to find anywhere in the US. That's also from a truck in that same Toys R Us parking lot. Both of these are very close to Aqui Es Texcoco. It's a lot of food though, so you might want to do something else in between. :-)

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: Josh

                                                I think Josh is a bit hard on Karl Strauss (some of their more recent attempts are pretty tasty), but it hardly is worth a trip during a 2-week visit when many better options exist. I find it amusing that KS has been chasing the San Diego Brewers, though - having cask nights, building a tasting room at their main brewery in Bay Ho, etc.

                                                Interesting that you mention tortas ahogadas - the "Grubby Bitch" column in CityBeat covered that truck today. The author of that column is around Chowound from time to time.


                                                1. re: RB Hound

                                                  I am hard on them, yes. For years they made really average brews, and it wasn't until relatively recently they started playing catch-up. I've had some interesting beer from them, but I think their practice of only selling their own beer isn't very neighborly.

                                                  1. re: Josh

                                                    You can link KS playing catch up to a particular event, but I'd rather not be too morbid on this list, so I'll pass on identifying said event.

                                                    I have a sneaky suspicion that you soon will see them doing guest taps. KS follows everybody else. :)

                                                    1. re: RB Hound

                                                      KS playing "catch up" is a positive trend. I agree that much of their line-up has been middle of the road, for the reason RB Hound refers to obliquely. Though I've been very impressed with their Two Tortugas and it's become part of my highly anticipated holiday line up along with Delerium Noel and the Abyss! They are clearly trying and IMO worth paying attention.

                                                2. re: Josh

                                                  Even Oggi's now has a few guest taps. I'm not a big fan of Oggi's (dislike is a better term) but do wind up there for kids events some times. The Carmel Valley Oggi's had Sculpin, Hop Head Red and Ruination at my last visit.

                                                  1. re: steveprez

                                                    Good to know. That's a big change for them.

                                                3. Thank you SD CHers for all the great feedback. I am updating my list accordingly (unfortunately, except for the TJ posts--I just realized my passport is expired, which I didn't think of because the rules were different last time I visited). I will write a trip report early July-ish. Thanks again for all your generous recommendations.