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San Diego Trip

My wife and I are planning a trip to San Diego in the next few weeks. Since I'm a chef, I can get Sunday-Monday off, so we're looking at Sunday arrival, Tuesday AM departure. What are the can't miss food and drink places in San Diego? A few qualifications:

1. Assume money is no object. At least one night we're hoping for the best of the best food-wise. We've hit most of the best in Los Angeles, and many across the country, but we're interested in what San Diego has to offer.

2. We prefer contemporary "american" (whatever that means) food. Meaning ethnic food is great (and we'd LOVE recs for lunches, or a second dinner that include that), but my personal preference is for fresh, well prepared, preferably interesting food. That said, refer to point 1 - best of the best for at least one meal.

3. We're also looking for a great bar that can make fantastic cocktails. In LA we're fans of places like The Varnish, Library Bar, love a great classic cocktail list. Modern variations are great too, as long as balance and quality is on point.

4. Where should we stay? Obviously, with food and drink involved, we'd prefer not to be driving all that much. Is there a place to stay within walking distance of both? Are cabs relatively easy to come by?

5. We'd love great suggestions for things to do during the day. We're definitely game to walk around, especially if the weather is nice, and though museums aren't really our "thing," any great suggestions are worth it.

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  1. 1. TBL3 at George's

    2. Urban Solace or Carnitas Snack Shack

    3. Noble Experiment

    4. (Dunno)

    5. Balboa Park

    3 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Agree with all but would add for 2) Avenue 5 (one of the most underrated places in SD) and JSix

      1. re: honkman

        Totally agree on Avenue 5. However, I'm concerned about your slam on Nine-Ten. We've always loved it. Has something changed?

        1. re: Ms. Verde

          I like 9-10 for lunch and think their 3-course lunch is a really nice offer but we had twice their 5-course dinner tasting menu over the last year and where completely underwhelmed with the quality, creativity amd the value. When my wife and I discussed our biggested food disappointment in SD last year we had no problem to agree immediately on 9-10.(Will write up something in the future in more detail)

    2. For a lunch try the Marisco's Pescador truck in the Toys R Us parking off the 5 south by Industrial Ave.

      Romesco's would be a good Mex dinner choice.

      1. Agree with TBL3 at Georges, and if you choose to dine there, might as well stay within walking distance. There are three hotels that qualify, and also feature their own noteworthy chef or restuarant. The Empress Hotel has Manhattan, old school Italian with a NYC feel. The Grande Colonial houses Nine-Ten with well regarded chef Jason Knibb, and the La Valencia just added local superstar chef Paul McCabe to head up the food operation. None of these hotels are new, edgy or cool, but all are competent, comfortable and close to the ocean, and to George's.

        1 Reply
        1. re: mcgrath

          I stayed at La Valencia at the end of January, and they were doing construction inside. It may be done, but worth calling to make sure. That said, the view was beautiful, bed VERY comfortable, and the food was delicious. We walked to Roppongi one night for tapas, which are half-price during happy hour from 3-6 p.m. The duck quesadilla was the win out of all we tried.

        2. I'd suggest hitting up some of the places in North Park. Carnitas Snack Shack, El Take It Easy, Urban Solace, Smoking Goat, Alcemy (technically South Park) and then head back to El Take It Easy of 7 Grand for cocktails.

          Lafayette Hotel would be a central place to stay.

          Cabs are found easily enough but the cost adds up fast.

          1. I recommend staying at the US Grant downtown. Great bar and bartenders who know there stuff in the lobby bar. Then you are close to Cafe Chloe for late breakfast and Cowboy Star for dinner. And sneak into Noble Experiment for late night 'nightcap'. Craft and Commerce for Sunday brunch.

            1. I agree with TBL3 at George's (La Jolla) for Best of the Best.
              I think North Park (NP) is a no brainer for you guys, and I agree you should stay at the Lafayette. DO NOT stay downtown. Overpriced tourist central. The NP area has so much to offer. I really like Alchemy and Sea Rocket Bistro. SRB is very fresh and inventive, the sea urchin gelato is so unique and features the thing (Uni) that is better in SD than anywhere in the world.
              There are a ton of other places in the area that would be worth a visit from taco trucks to semi fine. There are also some of the better bars in the city making craft cocktails in the NP area, West Coast Tavern, 7 Grand, newly opened Polite Provisions, Small Bar and 30th Street is renowned in the beer scene. You can probably get better craft cocktails in LA, so I would recommend the local beers, but if you aren't into beer how about some tequila or mexican inspired drinks? Cantina Mayahuel and El Zarape can offer these.

              The best attraction for people visiting San Diego are the beaches and Balboa Park, in my opinion. North Park is just North (duh!) and east of Balboa Park and take some time in La Jolla before Georges to explore the shores and the area around the cove.
              Cabs suck in SD.

              a couple other random recs that are uniquely SD (not by NP), Cuatro Milpas, Tacos El Gordo, and Starlight Lounge. A stop at Chino Farm in Rancho Santa Fe might really be worth it for a chef with a car.
              Good Luck.

              1 Reply
              1. re: sabotage

                North Park needs a nice botique hotel. The Lafeyette is in the right location, and great for a drink by the pool - but it is not nearly as nice / comfortable as the downtown hotels.

              2. 1. Addison

                2. Anywhere around 30th Street and University Avenue

                3. hmm...

                4. Old town. It's a bit of a touristy-trappy area, but it is located directly next to a cross section of bus lines, the trolley, the freeways, and cabs would be easy to catch there.

                5. Balboa Park, The Harbor area by the Midway, Harbor Island, Shelter Island, and Point Loma.


                1. 1. Mision 19 in Tijiuana (walk over the border and there are official cabs right there to take you on the 5 minute ride to the restaurant).
                  2. Urban Solace
                  3. Noble experiment
                  4. Downtown / bayfront
                  5. Balboa Park, Little Italy farmers market Saturdays

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: bocasdeltorro

                    so as much as I wish Mision 19 was in San Diego - it's not. So why don't we show off the best of what we have?

                  2. 1. TBL3 at Georges - they do the best job of showcasing what makes the SD food scene special.

                    2. Stick with the best of - you only have 2 days, Try Nine-Ten for a second dinner - even lunch, check out what McCabe is doing at the Marine Room at La Valencia Hotel.

                    If you want something quick - Oscars for Fish Tacos in Bird Rock/ Pacific Beach

                    3. Georges has a good bar program, or you could go to Whisknladle for drinks and bar snacks - probably not the best in SD but a good time.

                    4. SD is huge, trying to make it all over to some of the best spots would be more stress than enjoyment. I would just stick to La Jolla and that vicinity to make sure you meet your #1 priority. Depening on budget - La Valencia, Grande Colonial, or even the Holiday Inn in Bird Rock

                    5. Check out Seal Beach, Museum of Art in LJ - there are also a ton of shops and galleries, or rent bikes at Mission Beach and take in the scenery.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Rodzilla

                      Great recs...my 2 cents:

                      1. TBL3
                      2. Mediterranean Room (sorry, not Marine Room in LJ Shores) at La Valencia for dinner, but the setting is very formal. Chef McCabe's new menu is in place, but don't bother with lunch.
                      3. Whisknladle is back baby. Another solid place for a second dinner, much more relaxed.
                      4. We usually book our out of town guests staying in La Jolla at The Empress Hotel. Cheaper than La V and Colonial. Rooms recently redone, not luxury but upscale and comfortable - plus walking distance to museum, beaches, shops and restaurants in the village. Can usually find some really good deals on those inter-tubes travel sites.

                      1. re: Rodzilla

                        Not to thread jack, but +1 on Seal Beach for Taste of New York Pizza. And Seal Beach is great little city.

                        1. re: Rodzilla

                          Hell no on 9-10 for dinner. It is a good option for lunch but horrible for dinner

                        2. I would suggest La Jolla area to eat and stay..

                          Head up the PCH to L'Augerge Del Mar for drinks at Kitchen 1540 and then go east to Rancho Santa Fe and dine at the stunning Rancho Valencia Resort..lunch at the Pony Room.
                          Hit up Chino Farms on the way back..where all the celeb chef's get their produce.

                          AR Valentien for dinner at the Lodge at Torrey Pines is wonderful.
                          Georges at the Cove for TBL3 for dinner and lunch at the ocean terrace for casual lunch.

                          Drinks and apps at the Marine Room..waves crashing on the glass.

                          Estancia resort (near Torrey Pines), Empress hotel (village location) and La Valencia hotel.
                          Great deals on Kayak.

                          Oscar's or Bahia Don Bravos for Mariscos..
                          Drinks and apps at Tower 23 in PB..oceanfront

                          Have fun and report back.