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Best San Diego cheap eats? Also, advice for Region, Laurel

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I'm visiting SD this weekend and have heard good things about Region and Laurel. Are they nice for dinner?

Also, how is the restaurant at the Loews? A friend is a chef there and we might stop by?

And most importantly, where can we find great cheap eats? Like taco trucks, or anything else SD is known for? We are adventurous!

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  1. I would pick Region, Winesellar & Brasserie or Cafe Cerise for dinner.

    1. Sadly, San Diego itself is not known for taco trucks, but everyone seems to want to try a few fish tacos.

      El Zarape on Park Blvd in University Heights has good fried fish tacos for $1 and they offer other interesting seafood options for a couple dollars more. Everyone recommends Mama Testa on University Ave in Hillcrest for authentic Mexican taqueria food. I also have heard may recommend Super Cocina way down the street in City Heights for family-style mexican, but I wasn't so impressed after one visit.

      Vietnamese food is on of San Diego's strengths, especially when price is a consideration. Kirk has a whole list of great Pho and Bahn Mi places, where beef soup can be had for under $5 and a foot-long sub for $2. For accessibility I recommend K Sandwich in Linda Vista, and Kim Chan off of El Cajon Blvd (check out Kirk's blog for the hidden location) for a more challenging Bahn Mi experience. I enjoy the efficient service, good parking and $4 bowls of Pho at Pho Da Cao on El Cajon, but if you are up farther north towards Mira Mesa, Lucky Seafood is the best, according to Kirk.

      Other good options for cheap eats are Mama's Bakery in North Park for Lebanese food, most any noodle place you pick along Convoy up in Kearny Mesa, Bronx Pizza in Hilcrest for some of the best thin-crust pies on the west coast, yummy pupusas at El Salvador on Imperial to the east of downtown, and hand-made icecream (try the fruit flavors) at Mariposa Ice Cream in my neighborhood, Normal Heights. You can find all these places on Google Maps, as you probably know.

      Link: http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com/mmmyoso/2...

      1. I was last at Region in early April -- would definitely recommend it. It sounds like you're there weekend only, but they have a prix-fixe dinner on Monday nights that's a bargain at $31 for 3 courses.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Kivarita

          Not Monday. Region is closed on Monday. The special dinner is on Tuesday nights.

        2. I was last at Region in early April -- would definitely recommend it. It sounds like you're there weekend only, but they have a prix-fixe dinner on Monday nights that's a bargain at $31 for 3 courses.

          1. Can't believe nobody recommended Super Cocina. That's the best Mexican in San Diego, hands down. They're on University, 5 blocks west of the 15 freeway. If you're adventurous, then you should NOT miss this place. Homestyle Mexican cooking, like they eat in Mexico.

            Cafe Cerise is a good dinner destination if you're looking to spend a little money.

            You should also check out The Linkery in North Park. They have a very creative menu, and they really do pay attention to their food in a way that few restaurants do.

            1 Reply
            1. re: JS

              Super Cocina is very good, but not for the easily intimidated. If your only exposure to Mexican is El Torito or Taco Bell, be prepared for some different dishes. Their spicy pork is very good as are the carnitas when available. I also like the sopa de res (beef soup) on cold days.
              Cafe Cerise wasn't there the last time I checked. Maybe someone can confirm this?
              I second The Linkery in North Park. Very good food with an owner that cares about his craft. Believe it or not, their burger is worth a try if you can share it. Just don't miss out on the delicious sausages.

            2. Laurel is fabulous for dinner. They have a very cool bar and a dramatic staircase for making those grand entrances. Food is worth a visit. Pricey without beign outrageously so.

              1. Sounds like Joseph made some good recommendations - I am an SD native and I printed his message myself, in order to go and try some of the places he mentioned! I have a couple of additional suggestions - Las Cuatros Milpas - in Barrio Logan is a great taco stand. The customer service is not the best, but the food is fantastic. They have a limited menu - I recommend the pork burrito and the rolled tacos. Another good taco stand is La Posta in Hillcrest. El Zarape is also good but a little "fancier" - better decor and atmosphere and some interesting menu additions, like vegetarian dishes and a good chicken mole burrito. Across the street from El Zarape is a Persian restaurant called Soltan Banoo that is pretty good. I also really like Saffron, in Mission Hills on India at the bottom of Washington, for Thai noodle dishes and grilled chicken. The dining room is decorated with Chihuly glass, something you might not expect in a carry-out restaurant. While you're in town, try an In n' Out Burger (if you're from outside of So Cal)

                I personally am not that impressed by Region and Laurel - but they are centrally located and you might have a good experience, based on the reviews from others. There are some other recommendations and comments on my blog (favorites section on the right hand side and list of favorite food experiences). Have a good time!

                Link: http://aliceqfoodie.blogspot.com

                17 Replies
                1. re: Alice Q

                  Sorry, gotta disagree on Los Cuatros Milpas. Over hyped, over rated and not worth standing in line for, even if it is cheap. This native San Diegan thinks there are other places in town that can do street food better.

                  1. re: Gaylaq

                    Not my favorite kind of tacos at Milpas (of the deep fried variety), but the beans with chorizo are my favorite in town, especially covered in their greasy hot sauce. Different strokes for different folks.


                    1. re: Stevuchan

                      Okay, I'll give you the beans and chorizo, that's actually pretty good :-). And I will also agree with the oily salsa with meat in it. I've never seen that anywhere, even in Mexico. It's got a nice bite and and works well with what they serve, but jeez, the grease intake here could lube a big-rig.

                      1. re: Gayla

                        Like the Big Rig reference. I got a large cup of salsa to go once, arrived home and into the refer it went. Later in the evening I opened the cup to reveal a solid 4 inch puck of congeled orange grease. Kind of gross, but looking back I should have rendered that puck down and sauted something in it. Although not too sure how much flavor the puck would have absorbed. Time to workshop this idea, adding it to my project list.


                    2. re: Gaylaq

                      Do you have any new recommendations for places that "do street food better?" Back in November you mentioned Mama Testa, Super Cocina, La Posta, El Cuervo, and Porkyland.

                      1. re: Joseph E

                        There's a tamale (singular is tamal) cart in front of the liquor store at 35th (or is it 37th) and El Cajon. The woman sells, chicken, pork, cheese, and pineapple tamales, and they're good. $1 each.

                        As for tacos, my original comment was about skipping the tacos at Las Cuatros. Street tacos like you'd find in Mexico are not that common here, perhaps in part because of the Health Department and perhaps in part because pork is not high on the list of meat choices for many Americans. Mama Testa really does have good tacos, but you need to be careful with what you order, some of them are a little on the sloppy side and most Mexican tacos are neat little packages eaten in 2 or 3 delicious bites.

                        Try the gilled chicken tacos from the "blanditos" part of the menu. They are very good, far better than the carnitas or al pastor. The tomatillo sauce that is served with the grilled chicken tacos is one of the best balanced salsas around and matches just perfectly with the chicken. Also remarkable are the pibil tacos, which isn't often found in San Diego. The pork is rubbed with an achiote based paste and wrapped in banana leaves to marinate. It's succulently good. I like the Muchos Machos tacos which are filled with cheese and strips of roasted poblano chiles. I'm also quite fond of the chorizo tacos called "Atasco" on the menu, not to be confused with the "Doble Atasco". Cesar makes his own chorizo and it's the closest to Mexican chorizo that I've found this side of the border. The Astaco chorizo is fairly dry and crumbly with just a sprinkling of diced onion, chopped cilantro and wedge of lime for garnish, which is exactly how it's served from the majority of taco carts in Mexico. The Doble Atasco uses the same chorizo but is soupier. My current favorite is the Empapados, crunchy tacos filled with divinely good mashed potatoes. With 26 varieties of tacos on the menu you just kind of have to work your way through them and figure out which ones you like and which ones you don't. I like the Astasco, and although very similar, I'm a lot less enamored of the Doble Astasco.

                        Right now I'm craving esquites which I have not found in San Diego anywhere. If you've seen the corn on the cob slathered with mayo (or crema), cotija cheese, lime juice and chile powder, you've got an idea what esquites are. Similar, but the corn is removed from the cob and the cobs used to make a corn stock seasoned with epazote. And you need to use old field corn, not the achingly sweet, overly hybridized drek that passes for corn in the U.S. these days. The corn kernels are cooked in the broth, semi-drained and then severed hot in a plastic cup with the same garnishes as the corn on the cob. I'm guessing that if I was willing to make the pilgrimage to one of the South Bay swap meets, I'd find them. But it's a long schlepp from the East County almost to the border and I just haven't been quite that motivated.

                        Just about anything passes for street food in Mexico. The oddest thing I saw on my last trip was the tamal torta, a telera roll filled with a generously sized tamal. Talk about carb overload!!! Plus the thing swas enormous. It was typically served in the morning and people would buy and eat it on their way to work.

                        Start with the tamale cart on El Cajon, work your way up to tacos. Start with Mama Testa and then work your way down El Cajon or University trying just tacos. Tacos al pastor, de cabeza, carnitas, whatever strikes your fancy. They will vary wildly in taste and quality, as do taco carts in Mexico. If the majority of patrons are Latin and/or everyone is speaking in Spanish, you've got a fighting chance of finding a decent taco. Part of what makes street food satisfying is the thrill of the adventure in sourcing it out. For every good taco you find, you'll probably eat 3 or 4 not so good ones. It just goes with the territory with something like this. Then, when you've had your fill of tacos and can't stand the though of looking at one more, head across the border and down to Ensenada for the Mariscos - the ultimate Mexican street food - at the Ensenada fish market.

                        1. re: Gayla

                          Ok, now you're just showing off :-) We eat Mexican food from our local taqueria every Friday night and once a week is pretty much all I can take (see grease references above) so I don't get a chance to try new places very often. Maybe I am behind the times. The one we go to is Saritas in Casa de Oro. It's pretty good - though we preferred the grittier atmosphere at Rolobertos on Adams in our old neighborhood.

                          Maybe I should brush up though, since I call myself a "foodie" on my blog!

                          Link: http://aliceqfoodie.blogspot.com

                          1. re: Alice Q.

                            Uh........no, not really showing off. Mexican food is my particular area of expertise and I used it (Mexican food) when I was working on a Master's degree in Latin American Studies at UCLA. Okay, NOW, I'm showing off ;-).

                            If your impression of Mexican food is that it's all greasy, you've not experienced true Mexican. It's very much a land/agriculturally base cuisine - much like Italian and Chinese - and not really especially grease laden. But that is one of the main reasons I don't care for Las Cuatros Milpas. The bulk of the Mexican food I've eaten in Mexico is not grease or fat based, not top heavy with cheese and protein.

                            Chilango's in Hillcrest is probably the mainstream restaurant that comes closest to reflecting what Mexicans typically eat, espeically those in central Mexico. It can be uneven at times, but it usually pretty good.

                            1. re: Gayla

                              I will have to try Chilangos again - I haven't been there in a while and I have read a lot of positive comments on here about it. Thanks for the detailed info on the rest - I was kidding about the showing off - it's always cool to read about new stuff on here.

                              Link: http://aliceqfoodie.blogspot.com

                          2. re: Gayla

                            Thanks, Gayla! We'll have to try the tamale lady; we live in Normal Heights just a few blocks away. I'm a little hesitant of trying all those places along El Cajon to the east of us, but I suppose someone has to take the risk. How else would we have heard of Punjabi Tandoor, Mama Testa and all the other great places? Let us know if you find any good esquites. I agree with you about North American corn; as a kid I picked and ate the yellow corn my family grew in our country garden each summer. I think it was sweeter than field corn, but the stuff you get now in San Diego markets is almost cloying; how could you ever put butter on something so sweet? It's a shame we only get super-lean, modern pork now. I wonder if there is someplace around here that imports mexican field corn and mexican pork and lard.

                            Oh, and we recently ate in Puerto Nuevo (mediocre lobster; too much of a tourist trap in the summer) and Popotla (excellent fresh blanco fish!) for our anniversary trip to Baja. I'm really craving more authentic Mexican. Have you seen any good Mexican seafood places in town with truly fresh fish?

                            (Is there a way to see just the new posts? I'm always missing comments on the older threads)

                            1. re: Joseph E

                              Try the places on El Cajon or University for lunch or on the weekends, they're pretty safe at that time of day. Yeah, you might be something of an oddity, but once you get in the door no one really cares what color you are, how old you are or what you look like.

                              American pork is too lean for a lot of Mexican dishes, heck, it's too lean for a lot of American dishes too. Try Pancho Villa Market on El Cajon where it crosses the 805. They've got a Mexican butcher in back and a lot of Mexican cuts. I think you can get lard there. If not, try Iowa Meat Farms on Mission Gorge for lard, or render you own from leaf fat.

                              Let me think for about the fish question. It's not something I've been actively seeking, so I can't give you a recommendation right off the top of my head.

                              1. re: Joseph E

                                "(Is there a way to see just the new posts? I'm always missing comments on the older threads)"

                                Use Chowhound's Hot Posts, linked below.

                                Link: http://www.chowhound.com/hotpost/hotp...

                                1. re: PolarBear

                                  Thanks! I hope the "sell-out" will make this sort of thing easier to find.

                              2. re: Gayla


                                Can you tell me more about the old field corn you mentioned in this post? Is it a heritage food?


                          3. re: Alice Q

                            Saffron is an overrated restaurant which for some unknown reason gives people the impression to serve good thai. There are plenty of thai restaurants in SD which are much better than Saffron. Especially their grilled chicken is absolute overrated (dry and tasteless).

                            1. re: john66661

                              completley agree, Saffron is staggeringly mediocre. Don't even bother.

                              1. re: john66661

                                I have yet to find a good Thai in SD. That said, if you choose wisely, Saffron has some dishes that are much better than the Americanized stuff that stands for Thai. Their daily specials, dirty rice, spicy noodles and seasonal soups are very good. They are not afraid to make things spicy and still flavorful. Skip the soup noodles on the regular menu--I thought the broth was watered down and was underwhelmed. Pad thai is ok here, I generally don't order it b/c I prefer spicier food. The grilled chicken can get dried out, esp the white meat or if it's been in the fridge for 5 days. However, slather on the Sriracha sauce, eat it with a big bowl of rice and you have a good, cheap meal.

                            2. this is an old thread but i saw it.

                              san diego has ONE amazing taco truck off Linda Vista and Comstock.

                              its only there at night in the Joe's 99cent parking lot.

                              1.25$ for carne asada/al pastor/cabeza/pollo/lengua.

                              tons of sauces, grilled onions, and toppings

                              very quick, very delicious

                              i highly suggest it

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: clayfu

                                Clay, what time does it show up? I am sometimes not far from there at Mesa College.

                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                  It's actually active "after dark" fill in the blanks....it's pretty good. Didn't take any photos though. i'll be back. Thanks for the recommendation clayfu!

                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                    like kirk said, anytime at night. I usually go from 6:30-7:30 still going strong.

                                    it does get a lil oily tho. I think they drench their tortilla in butter, (its slopping wet and dripping in something before they put it on the grill)

                                    and only pretty good kirk? i expect nothing short of excellent! haha man the chicken there is just so tasty, and the grilled onions on a taco? interesting but delicious.

                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                      Is this taco truck still around 10pm on a friday or saturday night?

                                  2. We had a great dinner at the finer dining resteraunt at Lowes. They also have a great wine captain. On Thursdays they do wine tasting.

                                    I have heard that Region has closed. The owners relocated out of state.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                                      Yes, Region closed and the owners moved to AZ