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New Yorker needs advice for the BEST food experience of SD

We'll be in San Diego - first time - and would like a great dining experience. I do not necessarily mean top of the line fine dining but places where the chefs use fresh local ingredients creatively. We'd like to get a bit of local flavor, something we can't get in NY- so Mexican, Californian, American seafood, etc. French or Italian elements are OK but don't want a formal French restaurant.

Thanks for whatever help you can give me!

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    1. re: honkman

      Is this a worthy splurge? We were considering Addison for our 5 year anniversary, but this sounds excellent. We have dined at Addison, and would love to go back, but we also love trying new restaurants.

      1. re: Dagney

        TBL3 evokes San Diego terroir at its best. Addison takes you on a fairytale journey to a faraway land. It depends on which you prefer.

        1. re: shouzen

          hmmmmm....Husband is worried that George's will be like a souped up Anthony's, though I have assured him it is an established solid choice in San Diego.

          The great thing about Addision, (and this is for the NY guy) is that you know you will be taken care of by people who give a damn and know their craft, from the back of the house to the front.

          1. re: Dagney

            I've only eaten at Addison once. I felt like I was in Miami Beach or Vegas. One of the least memorable of my SD-- or life-- dining experiences. Not to mention it's owned by Doug Manchester. Just typing his name sends shivers up my spine.

            George's is as local and as fine a place as SD has ever produced. Trey is revered among city chefs young and seasoned. The service is good and the view incomparable. It's a perfect example of a place that locals still patronize even though tourists besiege it during summer months. I'm not even a fan of SD, and I'm a fan of George's.

            1. re: pickypicky

              Dearest pickypicky,
              What do you mean by "I'm not even a fan of SD?" I was going to launch into a fierce defense of my beloved hometown, but thought I'd give you a chance to put your comments into context first.

              1. re: melee

                Sorry, melee. I've lived here 12 years and must stay because of my husband's job. I've tried to love southern CA. I surf, I have lots of friends who grew up here, I garden year round, my son graduated from La Jolla High, I'm a good neighbor -- but San Diego is not in my top 3 of places I've lived. I do count my blessings regularly, and George's is one of them. As I grow older "home" is more important and more specific to me than beach and weather. I made the comment above to try and sound impartial about a good restaurant. I didn't mean to offend anyone.

                1. re: pickypicky

                  Fair enough. You're certainly enttitled to your opinion and i always welcome hearing someone else's point of view. Here's the reason I wanted you to provide more background on your blanket comment about not liking San Diego: this is the OP's first visit to our beautiful city and they are looking for an authentic San Diego dining experience. They live in New York and have already stated that they're not necessarily looking for fine dining. So, let's focus on the unique dining experiences we offer - great sushi from Kaito or Ota, fish tacos from Mariscos German or The Brig, fresh produce from Chino Farms that you can gobble up in the car while taking a drive through Rancho Santa Fe, grabbing cafes con leche and gauva pastries from Azucar before walking along Sunset Cliffs, grazing on a Saturday at the Little Italy Mercato with a view to the SanDiego Bay, cocktails and appetizers at George's with a view to the Pacific, grabbing a growler of great beer from Pizza Port/Ballast Point/Karl Strauss or any of our other great local breweries, and finishing the night with a carne asada burrito from any of our amazing little Mexican taco shops that I missed so dearly during the periods of time I lived away from home. Let's get them excited about their trip.

                  1. re: melee

                    Or Mama Testa's! Holy Mother of Jehovah! We just ate there today for the first time. I had the house-made chorizo tacos and my husband had the pastor tacos. Both were excellent and left us debating ordering a second round (which we resisted). The service was efficient and very friendly and decor was beautiful and authentic.

                    1. re: Dagney

                      I love Mama Testa's. I'm partial to the mashed potato tacos and my girls love their beans. In fact, last time we went they insisted on getting seconds - and they usually eat like birds.If you're visiting the zoo it's a great place to stop for some tacos and a cold beer.

                      1. re: melee

                        Yes! We visited the Japanese Gardens today after lunch.

                        1. re: Dagney

                          Melee, As I've posted many times here before, my NYC, Chicago, and UK friends LOVE San Diego visits. I always entertain them well and ALWAYS introduce them to most unique dining experiences SD has to offer, from Barrio Logan to La Jolla. Even on this thread I write winningly of the city. Being honest about a place-- its pros and cons-- is not giving someone the wrong impression.

                          1. re: pickypicky

                            My point was simply that these are first time visitors looking for the best San Diego dining experience. We should certainly be candid and specific as possible about where our dining scene falls short, but a comment like ":I don't even like San Diego" is not particularly helpful. They're looking for advice on where to eat; not to discuss the merits of living in San Diego. I read your posts regularly - you are clearly very interested in the local dining scene and you're a fair critic. I'm sure you are a lovely host andyour visting friends are lucky to have a knowledgable person show them the varied and unique dining experiences here. I guess as a native I'm looking to act as a host in a way to visitors of this board and focus on the good of our city. Does that make sense? Truce?

                            1. re: melee

                              Absolute truce. What I value here is the willingness of commenters to go beyond likes and dislikes, to larger questions and values. And. . .I envy anyone who's found the city of their dreams!

                  2. re: pickypicky

                    Picky- your response made me chuckle because it made me think about how home is so specific for all of us. I'm currently in Philadelphia because of work but I would really love to get back to San Diego, where I grew up. The beach and the weather is actually what signifies home to me. I just never feel at home with the "seasons".
                    Actually, my favorite place I ever lived was Santa Barbara. But San Diego would be a close second.

      2. Starlite Lounge.

        There's others. But every time I go, they deliver on all counts.


        1. TBL3 and which is your top end dining experience as well, but it fits the bill and you may want to try and schedule now. 170 or 250 w/pairings pre tax and tip.

          The skyroom at la valencia just reopened and it looks promising for another top dollar tasting.

          Flavor Del mar is another option for a beautiful view, largely seafood focused with a Japanese and even sort of Italian influence.

          Do you like sushi? I know you can get very good quality sushi in NY, but SD has very, very quality stuff as well - and our own local sea urchin and our proximity to Japan :) Kaito is a gem, Ota is very popular as well. I had some of the best San Diego urchin I've tasted at Akinori in Hillcrest the other night.

          Mexican - Super Cocina is likely going to get the nod

          Fish Tacos - I say Oscars in Northern Pacific Beach/Bird Rock or one of the Mariscos Trucks.

          You can get new american type stuff most anywhere these days, but San Diego does do it exceptionally well and these two were doing farm to table/local ingredients before it was so en vogue - Urban Solace, Linkery.

          Don't go to any Malarkey places if you want a celebrity chef that's actually still a chef, and good food - RGang Eatery.

          1. TBL3 at George's and have drinks before or after at the Marine Room in LJ
            Eddie V's in LJ
            Addison at the Grand Del Mar
            Kitchen 1540 at L'Auberge Del Mar
            Flavor Del Mar
            The Lodge at Torrey Pines

            1. I'd add The Linkery it's a great fun place.

              1. Dinner after dark in the front patio at Delicias in Rancho Santa Fe is a culinary experience not to be missed. The serenity of the village setting well complements Chef Paul McCabe's inspired menu, which features locally sourced produce and seafood. Fun little touches like a variety of house made charcuterie as sides give balance. I had the whole roasted fish and a small side of delicately smoked pork speck, along with the organic beet salad. Culinary nirvana for this San Diegan. Unfortunately, our server kept forgetting little things, but this was just a slight bump in the road. Highly recommended to a New Yorker looking for a night of dining unique to San Diego.

                4 Replies
                1. re: mcgrath

                  Have you been lately to the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe?

                  1. re: Beach Chick

                    So Chica, now that I'm getting around to replying, you've deleted most of the original post!
                    I was going to mention that SD staycations with fine dining are looking more and more attractive to me these days. And, that the person you mentioned who has taken over the Inn at RSF has a connection to one of the chefs we all hated to see leave town, Gavin Schmidt. JM's sister and nephew opened and ran Blanca until it closed a year ago. Maybe Chef Gavin could be coaxed back to town.

                    1. re: mcgrath

                      Sorry on the deletion..was hoping you'd read it.
                      I didn't know Blanca's chef, Gavin was connected to JM sister and nephew.
                      Maybe that is the plan..
                      When Rancho Valencia opens up, you could stay at the Inn, dine at Delicias, brunch in the library at the Inn and lunch after tennis at RV...drinks on the patio at Mille Fleurs..
                      Hit up Thyme for a deli sandwich and a slice of pie.
                      Ahhh, the life in RSF..

                      1. re: Beach Chick

                        Sounds like the Ranch is your 'hood.

                2. I'll get shouted down here. . . but. . . the best we have to offer is not necessarily food. By all means listen to those above, but also work in a place with a view, just because that's what San Diego does best. George's, Eddie V's, JRDN. We ate last night at JRDN, on the terrace overlooking the Pacific. (Relatives were in town; didn't eat fish.) The food was ok. The wine list brilliant. The crowd exotic. The sunset unforgettable.

                  My NYC friends (who include a former NYT cocktail columnist) love George's, JRDN's open air bar, fish tacos at Don Bahia, The Fishery for fish, El Pescador for their insane fish sandwiches, the Terrace at A R Valentien, and going to Tijuana to eat.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: pickypicky

                    OK now I need help narrowing it down to 4 dinners, one lunch and one lunch or brunch. We're staying in Coronado area if that helps.

                    Seems like I definitely have to go to George’s Modern and El Take it Easy!

                    I'd possibly like to try one Mexican - thinking of Candelas? My boyfriend hates sushi so we're eliminating that category. And, I seem to have culled the list below from all your comments for which I thank all of you and reading their menus online!

                    Wine Vault & Bistro
                    Kitchen 1540
                    A R Valentin

                    Suggestions as to what I should eliminate?

                    1. re: nyperr

                      I'm partial to ARV, particularly dining on the terrace. Haven't been to Delicas . Not been to Kitchen 1540 in a few years.

                      I finally tried Wine Vault & Bistro last week. It's one of the few places on CH which never garners bad remarks. And, true, there was nothing wrong with it. The food was tasty, for the most part. But there was something about the place that felt odd. Not at all like a real restaurant. Maybe it's the game you play with the wine selection, which was comical trying to get straight among the four of us (all doing something different.) In a way, our meal felt like a catered dinner at a wedding. The service was adequate but not polished. (We had to continually flag someone for more wine). The food tasty but kind of cheezy-- a maple-soy glaze on planked salmon. The interior dining room is VASTLY superior to the outer room, and maybe if we'd been there, I'd have felt more like I'd truly dined out.

                      If it were one of my few dinners in SD and I were from NYC, I would have been disappointed. Wine Vault could be anywhere in the US, and "vault" describes where I felt like I was. That said, the prices are down right reasonable. And my name IS Picky Picky.

                      1. re: nyperr

                        Are you doing TBL3 at Georges by chance?

                        I think those are all great choices, but (without visiting) I would eliminate Wine Vault, and I would make sure to do the dessert tasting at 1540.

                        Supercocina would be a good choice for Mexican, or if you're looking for Mexican Seafood (fish tacos) try Oscars in North PB or one of the Mariscos trucks.

                        1. re: Rodzilla

                          We weren't planning to do TBL3. If our 2nd restaurant choice is El Take it Easy, any recommendations of how to narrow the list down to 2 more dinners?

                          1. re: nyperr

                            I've said it once, and I'll say it again: Starlite Lounge. Don't let the "Lounge" word fool you- this is no W Hotel bar, neigh some hookah lounge done up in purple paint and white leatherette, piping in the latest from Ibiza. It is: an excellent bar/restaurant with spot-on service that leaves you alone at the right times etcetera. Reserve a corner table, or even sit at the effing wonderful bar, and you'll most likely have a wonderful time. The other customers provide a great show, and the kitchen has remained steady since opening, and- I swear to god- seems to get better each time I go, and I've been going for years.

                            Local ingredients, great staff, great drinks. D. Draper would've taken Megan here. Post-hipsters done good, I declare.


                            1. re: SaltyRaisins

                              Ha - love "D Draper wouldv'e taken Megan here." Spot on.

                              I agree with Salty Raisins on Starlite. It's a good one to consider. Of the four that you've narrowed it down to my other pick would be AR Valentin. The Lodge is so beautiful and the dining room there is lovely with solid food and service.

                              I do love WineVault, but I'm not sure it would be in my top 4. It's a great spot if you're looking to eat well on a budget but doesn't necessarily represent the BEST of San Diego.

                            2. re: nyperr

                              They all get great feedback, but given that you're in Coronado 1540 will be just a bit closer than Delicias in Rancho. I still need to make the visit myself but I know they have a very, very talented team, and I have had their pastry Chef's desserts which have been some of the best I've had anywhere.

                              1. re: Rodzilla

                                Are you meaning 1500 Ocean at the Del, or Kitchen 1540 in Del Mar? Both have new chefs within the past 6 months and I haven't been to either since then.

                                1. re: mcgrath

                                  I meant that because they are staying in Coronado, going that far North is a bit of a trip. I haven't heard much feedback on 1500 since Martinez left.

                                  I don't think they could go wrong with Kitchen 1540 or Delicias, I've been to Delicias and really enjoyed myself. I know that the staff at 1540 is incredibly talented as well, and that their dessert chef has made some of the best Dessert's I've had anywhere.

                                  Delicias also has very good desserts, but they're much, much more traditional.

                                  1. re: Rodzilla

                                    Thanx 4 the advice on Delicas. Since we're working long hours in SD, we'll definitely eliminate it. Not that many of you have mentioned Candelas...maybe that's one to eliminate. What's the best semi upscale Mexican in SD?

                                    1. re: nyperr

                                      You'll find a lot more semi-upscale Spanish but not so much Mexican. I've seen others recommend avoiding Candelas.

                                      the best Mexican is not upscale, but they are sit down. You'll get the upscale mexican inspired from El Take It Easy

                                      So to echo DiningDiva from the other thread - Super Cocina

                                      1. re: Rodzilla

                                        I heard a rumor that Candelas--downtown may be closing.

                      2. No one mentioned Market Restaurant and Bar with Carl Schroeder that Zagat gives a very high rating? Any comments???

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: nyperr

                          Zagat ratings are like Yelp reviews

                          1. re: honkman

                            Actually, I don't find Zagat ratings to be entertaining at all.

                          2. re: nyperr

                            You can get a good meal at Market, a better one at most of the other places listed in this thread. Moreover, the ambiance at Market leaves a lot to be desired. Just not the type of place to send an out-of-towner who wants some real local flavor.

                            1. re: mcgrath

                              Agreed. The food is decent but the ambiance is like a fine dining restaurant in search of a keg party.

                                1. re: Beach Chick

                                  lol!!! right? We ate there for my birthday one year, and I thought, are you kidding? We drove to Del Mar to have someone upsell me to sparkling water?

                                2. re: Dagney

                                  I think the food is better than decent and it's probably the best fine dining in north county, but still not knock down drag out food.

                                3. re: mcgrath

                                  Thanks - I'll skip Market...still trying to narrow down for 4 notes.

                                  1. re: nyperr

                                    I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss Market. It won't fit if you want a place with a killer view but the food is very good. If you are visiting sometime soon, you can hit up del mar race track and then have dinner at Market. There is a reason Schroeder is constantly recognized nationally and by Beard. I went again recently and it was a great meal with top notch service. You won't be sorry.

                                    1. re: mjill

                                      Market is easily one of my favorite restaurants in San Diego. If you like Cal-Cuisine it's one of the best.

                                  2. re: mcgrath

                                    I've only visited once, I thought the food was good but not anything better than what I could get at Georges Modern or Flavor Del Mar which both have two of the best views of SD and better service in my experiences.

                                    The dining room of Market leaves a lot to be desired, and I don't like that you can't order items from the sushi bar menu to the table. I understand having rules for running the restaurant more efficiently, but it didn't seem like much of an issue in the early evening of a slower weeknight.

                                    1. re: Rodzilla

                                      Honestly, Flavor's entrees leave a ton to be desired. I love the apps, love the dessert, but have yet to find an entree worth eating there.

                                      1. re: chetatkinsdiet

                                        I liked the Maine Diver Scallops when I had them, but the Lobster Prosciutto Bouillabaisse (currently soft-shell) was the real highlight from the entrees for me. Have you tried either of those?

                                4. San Diego has a major craft beer scene as well. There are dozens of great breweries here, and many places will have our craft beers on tap. Be sure to try local beers when you see them. If you aren't familiar with West coast ales, be sure to get some advice from your server.

                                  1. I have had a bunch of great meals in San Diego that weren't mentioned here.
                                    Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant is beautiful and delicious, plus it's off the beaten path a bit. It's a splurge, probably about $50+/pp if you drink.
                                    One of my most memorable meals has been at Wine Vault, they do a prix-fixe menu most days of the week and it is very affordable, thoughtful and well executed.
                                    Creative/fresh/local: check out El Take It Easy. They are the sister restaurant to the Linkery, also great, but a bit more unpredictable with a truly authentic Mexican slant.
                                    For a superstar local chef in a humble, fun environment and a cute baby-neighborhood: Counterpoint in Golden Hill. Chef Chad White from Sea Rocket Bistro (GREAT seafood, beautiful and simple) moved over to Counterpoint recently and is pushing the scene further than I've seen it lately.

                                    However, my highest recommendation has to go to Sushi Dokoro Shirahama. It is by far, hands down, the BEST sushi in San Diego. I am from SF and I will say it's the best sushi I have ever had. It is tiny, and can get busy at night (need reservations) but they open for lunch most of the week. It also gives you a change to chat with Kotani-san, whom (according to yelp) can come off as rude at times, but he is just very polite and reserved unless you draw him out. He is very proud of his work and will happily answer questions and chat with you. As close to "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" as you can find here! The attached photo is of the beautiful Iwashi (sardine).

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: loghia

                                      Love Wine Vault. they do a heck of a lot food wise on very little. The chef there used to work for Schroeder too.

                                      1. re: loghia

                                        Second Shirahama. I can see where Kotani-san comes off as rude if one enters his establishment with a "party on Wayne" approach to the dining experience.

                                        Shirahama is a small, quiet place that focuses on excellent quality and is the anti-thesis of a hipster scene.

                                        1. re: Dagney

                                          I've seen it mentioned as being on par with Kaito and have put off visiting for far too long.

                                      2. You really should give Romesco's Baja Med Bistro in the Bonita section of Chula Vista a try....outstanding fresh baja cuisine (ahi tostada, grilled octopus, gobernadores tacos, original Caesar salad recipe as served at their sister restaurant in Tijuana where it was invented, and outstanding and very reasonably priced wines from the Guadalupe Valley in Ensenada)....come to think of it, a trip to Tijuana to visit their flagship restaurant, Mision 19, that is run by acclaimed chef Javier Plasencia is also worth a visit.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: El Chevere

                                          I think Romesco's tends to be a bit uneven, but I whole heartedly second your suggestion to take a side trip down to Tijuana and Misión 19. I was there a couple weeks ago (and will be again in a couple weeks) and it was an impressive meal.

                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                            What about Tacos El Gordo in CV? Pretty great place...

                                            Cheers, Diva.

                                              1. re: SaltyRaisins

                                                Have not been to Tacos El Gordo--will have to give it a shot along with TJ Oyster House....I am a big fan of Los Arcos, however--great lunch specials and very tastey baja fish tacos served with great chips and salsa, small salad with chipotle dressing (delicious), and white rice, all for $ 7.95.

                                                Another place for non-Tijuana phobes to check out when down south of the border ; Juliet Bistrot on Ave. Paseo de los Heroes....excellent.

                                                1. re: El Chevere

                                                  It's really good. I like to order their cabeza, a few de adobada and a mula with chorizo. Tortillas and sopes are fresh made and nicely small to facilitate a multiple meat fandango without overdoing it, and the pastor guy is a maestro with the knife: I recently watched him prepare an order of 32 tacos for a Korean church group in under five minutes. No fish, but the menu does not lack. There's even a "Taco Azteca" of nopal for vegetarians.


                                          2. Las Cuatro Milpas in Barrio Logan is the most legit Mexican you can get in SD with out crossing the border which I would strongly encourage you to do if you have the time.

                                            1. A couple of places I did not see mentioned yet; Winesellar and Brasserie serves excellent quality food and the service is wonderful. Their food is maybe a bit old-school, it's not the most progressive restaurant, but the martinis are made PERFECTLY and the atmosphere is conducive to a pleasant dining experience.

                                              Farmhouse on Adams Avenue is a wonderful little neighborhood place that serves country French. It's a little cramped and can get loud at times, but the staff is fantastic and the food is to die.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Dagney

                                                I can't ever remember Winesellar having a full bar- am I mis-remembering?