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Mar 27, 2013 09:35 PM

San Diego food questions - planning trip May 2013

Hello all! I've had great luck finding good food through chowhound for other I am headed to the SD area in May 2013 and have a few questions about local food.

We will be staying in the La Jolla area, but driving is not really an issue. We have a few day trips planned everywhere from the SD area to the LA area.

I have a few questions...

1. Local fruit. Are there any orchards anywhere around that we could go to find fresh citrus, figs, and any other fruits that will be ready in May? It might sound silly, but being from Canada I've never seen an actual citrus tree so that's one thing I want to do.
2. Related to the above, are there any good farmers markets to check out or vendors specializing in fruit?
3. What about restaurant food...anyone have any suggestions? I like a lot of different kinds of food, especially asian and indian influenced food, and my wife is into seafood, but we like a lot of things, and our 2 kids are relatively adventurous. What would you recommend to someone from out of town? Where is there good mexican food? Good BBQ? Good fusion or California cuisine? Anything else that's interesting? I hope this question isn't too open ended.
4. Stores. We booked a kitchenette suite, so where are your favorite places to go for groceries and produce (other than farmers markets?) I definitely intend to hit up a Trader Joe's since I've heard so much about it. Also planning to hit a few farmers markets, looks like there is one downtown on Sun/Wed and another one closer to La Jolla on Tuesday.

We will be traveling as far as the LA area as well, so any Southern California recommendations will be gladly entertained!

Looking forward to any suggestions anyone might have!

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  1. LA is fantastic for Asian food. In San Diego you will be looking in Kearny Mesa for most Asian food. I'm referring to mom and pop operations BTW. Pretty much the only way I do Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean food.

    Taco shops are fantastic but a bit dependent on your tastes and some are more consistent than others. If you try 2-3 you are bound to find some you like. Most places have specials for Taco Tuesday.

    Enjoy your stay! I will be back in SD in May with my boyfriend but we will be staying in Del Mar area. Best waves =)

    1. I hope you aren't planning day trips from La Jolla into LA and back. That is easily a 2 hr one-way trip, in traffic.

      For Chinese, skip anything in SD and go to the San Gabriel Valley in LA. WAAAY bigger selection AND WAAAY better food.

      If you're on your way to/from LA, the city of Artesia in Orange County is kind of like Little India. Better Indian and bigger selection of food than SD. We have maybe 2 that are decent and that's about it.

      Do a search for "Mexican" on the board and trust Dining Diva's recs. A search for "BBQ" will also give you answers.

      We have several good Japanese places on Convoy, in the Kearny Mesa area. They go beyond the "sushi" and "tonkatsu" type of fare. Do a search and you'll turn up the usual culprits. or go to KirkK knows his Asian in SD.

      Since you have a kitchenette, the best and priciest place for produce is Chino Farms in Rancho Santa Fe. Cash only and bring lots of it. However, totally worth it.

      43 Replies
      1. re: daantaat

        Great info daantaat, thank you! I'm not scared of the road tripping. I have done plenty of day trip driving, albeit not in south LA traffic. :)

        1. re: jasongogal

          FYI: it is not just "south LA traffic." There is an another whole county between SD and LA, called Orange County. It will take an hr from La Jolla to get to the southern part of OC (Laguna Beach/Costa Mesa/Irvine) without traffic and then another 45" into the LAX/West LA area. Add on traffic in all 3 counties and you're talking a 2.5-3 hr one way trip, easily. Unless you're into driving and sitting in traffic as part of your vacation, I'd recommend staying overnight in LA.

          1. re: daantaat

            Yeah, understood...I'll see how it goes and definitely will keep a stay in LA in mind.

            1. re: daantaat

              Add on traffic in all 3 counties and you're talking a 2.5-3 hr one way trip, easily

              Don't be silly.

              It most certainly does not take 2.5 to 3 hours to get from SD to LA, esp. if you are starting from La Jolla.

              I do that drive often, and I start further south in the City of San Diego, and easily make it to Downtown LA in 2 hours, tops.

              A day trip between SD-LA-SD is most certainly doable, esp. if you start your day off early (e.g. 7 a.m.) and don't mind ending it late (e.g. 10 p.m.).

              Hit the road by 7, arrive in LA just in time for breakfast (go to Nickel Diner), then stroll around LACMA to work off breakfast and grab a late-ish lunch at Ray's (at LACMA), then stroll through the Farmer's Market or hit Beverly Hills for some window (or actual) shopping, then head to Providence, Mozza or Animal for dinner, then hit the road by 8 and be in bed by 10.


              1. re: ipsedixit

                Any estimate of whether there will be traffic or not is somewhat of a crapshoot. While most times there will not be significant traffic, when I was coming back from Staples Center after the Sweet 16 last Thurs. it took over 2 hours to get to Encinitas. Today it took 1 hour from Laguna Niguel to Downtown at 6 AM so 2 hours from La Jolla at 7 is no guarantee.

                Thinking that a trip to LA is always a breeze is silly but if you miss the worst part of the traffic (I would suggest leaving more like 6am vs 7) then it is not too bad for the day.

                1. re: JRSD

                  It's never taken me more than 2.5 hours, ever, to go from DTSD to DTLA.

                  The times it takes more than 2 hours is when there is an accident somewhere in the Norwalk/Downey portion of the 5 fwy. And I'm saying this having driven that route (SD-LA or vice versa) at all times of the day (except between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m.) and every single day of the week, incl. Sat. and Sun.

                  For the most part the 5 fwy between SD and LA is almost traffic free until you hit LA County and the 5 fwy narrows down to 3 lanes from like 6 in OC. Same is true going south.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I am thrilled for you that is the case but it took me 3 hours to go from DTLA to near SDSU today. No accident but a truck was broken down in the middle near Seal Beach. It is unlikely to take that long to La Jolla but it is not exactly rare that there are accidents that back traffic up in all parts of the counties.

                    You are really saying that because it never happened to you that it can't happen? I won't disagree that most times it wont happen but to imply that a 125ish mile drive could never take more than 2.5 hours is not accurate.

                    1. re: JRSD

                      Is it possible it might take 2.5 hours? Of course.

                      Heck it's possible it might take 5.5 hours.

                      In fact it's possible it might take 5.5 hours to drive from National City to La Jolla depending on severe traffic or weather conditions.

                      But that's not the point.

                      I was responding to daantaat's post up above that it "easily" takes 2.5-3 hours one way. As easily, maybe, as untying a Gordian knot perhaps.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        The point is that you now have two people here saying it has taken them a very long time to drive either to or from LA. Be as dismissive as you want (apparently very) but it is not the virtual impossibility as you wish to imply.

                        1. re: JRSD

                          Some people have to be contradictory. I've never gotten to LA in fewer than two hours, and most of my trips are over the weekend (throughout the year.)

                          It's safe to err on the side of caution by warning touirsts of the potential to be on the road upwards of theee hours.

                          1. re: JRSD

                            I wasn't trying to be dismissive, and certainly didn't mean to come off that way.

                            I was only trying to be corrective.

                          2. re: ipsedixit

                            I consider winning the lotto with diplomatic plates on the 911s, hauling ass to and from LA, with just a wave from America's finest.
                            Tops about an hour.

                            1. re: Beach Chick

                              Me thinks it might be better with a Veyron. Then I could get my time down to about 55 minutes - in rush hour.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                Show off...
                                I'm just a simple 911s chick with white and cork interior.

                                You seem like a Fisker chica to me.
                                ; )

                            2. re: ipsedixit

                              2 hours- 3hours? Maybe, maybe not, but those hours are such a penalty I won't do it. Hell, I won't do one hour in traffic.

                              Like TJ- I'm not afraid of narco violence, I just hate the border wait.

                              1. re: Fake Name

                                La Jolla, Oceanside, San Clemente, Anaheim, LA - it's all "north of 8" to you anyway, isn't it Fakey?

                                1. re: Fake Name

                                  Would you do it for a CAB?

                                  If you ever do the drive, Taco Village in (yes, the irony is delicious here) in Montebello does one fine CAB.

                            3. re: ipsedixit

                              +1 for last paragraph of, I've driven to and from los angeles about 70(140 round trip) times in the past 365 days and aside from rush hour, the narrowing near firestone blvd causes a half hour traffic. I'm not going to mention my speed but it normally takes me 2 hours(minivan) from dtsd to Burbank via 405. Majority of traffic jams aren't accidents, just a wall of all lanes going 40. If you are persistent enough, you can get ahead of 90% of traffic jams.

                              That being said, if the OP wants to do los angeles day trips, try to start with stuff near the 405 as you can take the 405 at the split and avoid most of the traffic, then try to end maybe with 88 bakery in rowland heights so you can take the I 15 which has no traffic ever aside from rush hour. I 15 will pass by a casino, fallbrook(avocado town), escondido/wild animal park, rancho bernardo etc. so you can possibly make the trip back useful.

                              1. re: polldeldiablo

                                Wow. 2 hours to Burbank, esp. via 405, is really impressive.

                                Was that even during "Carmageddon"?

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  So Jasongogal, I think you can get see the cats are out of the corral again ;-)...driving from SD to LA is an experience and one that will probably take longer than you think, but not as long as some may lead you to believe.

                                  The time will take what it takes, there are no hard and fast rules for how long. Just be aware that people will drive fast even when they shouldn't and that drivers in SoCal tend to be aggressive because we think it's our god-given right to do so. Traffic may be heavy in places, but it will move. Oh, and you should probably be comfortable sharing the road with big trucks and perpetual hiway construction zones.

                                  The freeways are well signed and the signs usually start appearing miles before you need to really take action. Just pay attention to them, and don't wait to the last minute to get over or try and exit. The SoCal freeway systems can be intimidating because of the volume and speeds, but they are really pretty easy to navigate, especially if you avoid AM and PM drive times as much as possible. You'll be fine, just relax (you are on vacation after all <gg>), go with the flow and pay attention to the traffic around you.

                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                    Haha yeah, thread jacked. Some interesting and valuable discussion. I'm pretty optimistic. I've driven on some pretty intense highways before, so I know it will be intense, but I'm game to at least try it. And really I'm not planning on going deep into west LA except for maybe once. Disneyland, for example, is just off the 5. And Buena Park and San Dimas (water parks) are not near LA, so really I'll just give it a shot and see how it goes. We have 11 days to figure out what works and what doesn't first hand.

                                    1. re: jasongogal

                                      Now you tell us your going to made it sound like you were going to LA on daily whims..
                                      Couldn't imagine a bigger nightmare for your vacation.

                                      1. re: jasongogal

                                        HeeHee...the reality these days is that Buena Park and San Dimas are pretty deep into LA traffic. It's not just localized around downtown any more.

                                        Orange County has horrid traffic because there was land...the developers saw it...built on it...and now more people than seems humanly possible live in what used to be pleasant, rolling hills dotted with orange groves. I'll take LA traffic over the OC traffic any day of the week...

                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                          So is there any time to be saved on a trip to San Dimas by heading up highway 15 to dodge the LA insanity?

                                          1. re: jasongogal

                                            In May, when you visit, I think it's going to be still a bit too chilly for a water park.

                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              They're open! And hey, I'm from Canada. "Chilly" might mean different things to us. :) Especially no lines!

                                            2. re: jasongogal

                                              You would definitely save your sanity taking I 15 there, you would also prob shave 30 mins going that way partially because there's no scenery to distract drivers like the 5. If for some reason you head to Los Angeles on a weekend, I've personally almost never encountered traffic of any form during a weekend. It's also when people aren't in a rush to get somewhere so you'll have less aggressive drivers on the road. Make sure to get in car pool lane w/e you see one.

                                        2. re: DiningDiva

                                          By the time Jasongogal reads all this crap, he'll need a sedative and something for a migrane. Maybe some recs in SD like strawberries are hitting their peak right about now, there's the small farm off, I believe broadway in CV, that's excellent and reasonable. Also, hit the farmers market in Little italy on Saturday, great fun, your kids will have fun as well. DD, get out some kitty litter for the rest of this mess!

                                          1. re: cstr

                                            DD, get out some kitty litter for the rest of this mess!

                                            Don't worry, I've got a lifetime supply ;-)

                                            1. re: cstr

                                              I'm really hoping to find citrus and figs, plus any other kind of fruit that is around...strawberries are pretty common wherever you go. I have no interest in blueberries since I pick those wild out in the bush. Blackberries, bring them on. Fruit products get inside of me.

                                              1. re: jasongogal

                                                Blackberries can range anywhere from $.99 for a 6 oz basket up to $3.99 for a 6 oz basket depending upon the time of year. Costco, however, sells a big ol' container of them pretty inexpensively most all the time. They are not local and most likely are international imports, but they do taste good. Blackberries are not, or at least to the best of my knowledge, indigenous to San Diego. Remember we are basically a dessert here, so the Mediterranean trifecta of citrus, olives and grapes do better here in the dense, clay soil than do a lot of berries.

                                                Citrus is ubiquitous, meaning it's almost always around the county somewhere. Best bet would be either Little Italy or Hillcrest farmers markets - Sat/Sun respectively - as each one has several vendors selling local citrus. If you're going out to the Wild Animal Park in Escondido (sorry, I have no idea what the new modern name is) you could always swing over to Fallbrook and maybe find some farm stands there selling citrus along with local avocados, but I wouldn't necessarily count on it. It would be a nice drive and you'd get to see the semi-rural side of SD.

                                                I think you're too early for figs. I seems to see those later in the summer and into the fall.

                                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                                  A few webpages I have found suggest that figs will be around in late May - at least one variety. The calimyrna ones are definitely later in the year.

                                                  It sounds like things look promising for checking out a citrus grove. I have even stumbled upon hints here and there that there may be some unusual citrus varieties here and there, like blood oranges, finger limes, etc.

                                                  1. re: jasongogal

                                                    Yes, there is some exotic citrus is being grown in the Fallbrook/Escondido area. In general, however, there is not easy access to the farms for the general public as many are privately groves with limited public access.

                                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                                      Very interesting. I hope I can somehow sniff out some of that kind of stuff, although I won't be holding my breath. Exotic fruit is a big thing for me. I try to get my hands on it all the time. The stuff I usually find is from asian grocers - alphonso and kesar mangoes, jackfruit, mangosteen. Figs from Costco. Cherimoya from an Italian grocery. Not stuff that grows locally in SoCal I guess. On that note, if I stumble by good ethnic grocers, I will definitely pop in. The Italian farmer's market in SD sounds promising.

                                                2. re: jasongogal

                                                  Oh, I think you'd be surprised about our strawberries, quite different and picked at peak ripness than most parts of the country. I have a hard time buying them anywhere but here.

                                                  1. re: cstr

                                                    +1, our strawberries would make a child switch from candy to fruit by choice.

                                                    1. re: cstr

                                                      I will definitely pick some up. The fresh real deal are very tasty, I have grown strawberries at home and picked at local u-picks as well. But who knows, maybe California ones will sway me :)

                                              2. re: ipsedixit

                                                It's actually a city called Sylmar further north, just figured Burbank is more recognizable.

                                                Carmageddon was nothing compared to that time a rock band decided to block a highway downtown and play on top of their bus.

                                                Also as far as driving in socal goes for the OP, mostly what DD said but also remember that just because you have the right of way doesn't mean someone else cares. Try to be hypervigilant and watch out for people that change lanes in front of you without a signal.

                                                Btw, today's special at chloe is quiche with butternut squash and goat cheese.

                                                1. re: polldeldiablo

                                                  Why do you know todays special is at Chloe?
                                                  Do you work there?

                                                  1. re: Beach Chick

                                                    No, I'm eating breakfast with my mother and finishing up right now.

                                                    1. re: polldeldiablo

                                                      How lovely...have they changed out their chairs?

                                                      1. re: Beach Chick

                                                        Unfortunately I don't have a point of reference as my first time going there was 2 months ago. I have time to kill so I'll walk by and take a picture/upload it so those who know their chairs can compare.

                                                        On a side note I'll prob head over to donut bar providing anyone here knows if I should bother going there if they're already sold out.

                                                        1. re: Beach Chick

                                                          Pics of chairs for cafe chloe.

                                                          Sorry for thread jacking OP.

                                  2. 1. Go to San Diego Botanic Garden (they have a great children's garden/playground) & stop at Chino Farms on the way to pick up fruit/veggies that were picked that morning.

                                    2. We love the Little Italy Mercato on Saturday mornings. Beautiful spot to stroll & graze near harbor. You can combine this with Maritime Museum & Midway or Balboa Park & the Zoo. We love the panini, crepes (the one with the long line) and Popsicles from Viva Pops.

                                    3. My kids love Mama Testas for Mexican, Buga for Korean BBQ, and Sessions Public for great bar food (we love the variety of local craft beers & they have good food for grown ups and kids). Search this board for more kid friendly recs & see what appeals to you.

                                    4. Trader Joes should have just about everything you need to stock your mini fridge & load up on snacks, munches.

                                    Make sure you pack sweaters - it's cool here at night.
                                    Have a great trip & please report back.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: melee

                                      August 2012 I caught one of the cook's at Buga taking a leak behind the restaurant. Decided not to go there! Just an FYI ;)

                                      1. re: melee

                                        Great info, melee, thanks, will do!

                                        1. re: jasongogal

                                          Glad to help! My kids are same ages as yours, so I hope my info is helpful. Not sure I'd bring them to Nine-Ten or AR Valentin as Ms. Verde suggests below - not because those places aren't great or my kids don't have good manners, those places just don't seem to be very inviting for kids. I've posted before re: kid-friendly spots in SD. If you have any specific questions please ask :-)

                                          1. re: jasongogal

                                            A few more thoughts for you;

                                            By La Jolla Shores - Cheese Shop for great sandwiches to take to beach, Marine Room for sunset cocktails (not dinner)

                                            By Zoo - Carnitas Snack Shack

                                            By Midway/Maritime Museum - Liberty Station has a few great choices, including Con Pane for great cinnamon rols & sandwiches, and Tender Greens for great salads, etc. Both are perfect for take out if you want to picnic.

                                            By Sea World - Grab breakfast at Ingrid's Cantina in Pacific Beach or late lunch/early dinner at California Kebab for beautiful view of ocean and nice selection of craft beers

                                            On way to Legoland/Disneyland my kids are content with a swing through In-N-Out burger. It's handy if you're on the go.

                                            1. re: melee

                                              As silly as it sounds, I'm really looking forward to In-N-Out burger. Maybe it's all hype, but I've read so much about it thst I have to check it out, and I know my kids will be into it.

                                              More good info melee, thank you!

                                        2. If you're staying in La Jolla, I would suggest checking out Jonathan's and Bristol Farms for a gourmet grocery store. Trader Joe's is great, but caters more toward convenience foods. For a healthier bent, try out Whole Foods.

                                          In LaJolla proper, I'd look into Nine-Ten for inventive farm to table and AR Valentien's at the Torrey Pine's Lodge adjacent to the famous golf course. Enjoy your trip. Weather is hard to plan for in May. You could have coastal overcast or warm beach days.

                                          Oh, and the farmer's markets at Little Italy on Sat. am and Hillcrest on Sun. AM are both excellent and should have citrus, avocados and strawberries in May. If you want to see citrus and avocado groves, consider a trip to Escondido or Vista inland in the north part of the county. You won't find much in "Orange" county anymore. Used to be I'd smell orange blossoms on the way to Disneyland in the Spring.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Ms. Verde

                                            Thanks Ms. Verde, that's good info! I will check out those locations for citrus groves. Whole foods is mentioned in Stehly Farms' blog, so that seems that much more promising.

                                            I'm not too concerned about weather...if we desperately need days of sun, we should be able to find it somewhere!

                                          2. Chino Farms for sure. Some of the best produce in the country.

                                            Melons and strawberries should start getting good around then. Probably is a bit early for figs. Maybe a little late for citrus but you should still be able to get some good stuff.

                                            1 Reply