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Seeking unique, modern, fresh cuisine - can you help?

My husband and I will be in town for 5 nights - we are staying with my cousin who lives in Chula Vista. She'll have plans for us for a few nights, but on one night my hubby and I will have a date night without our 1 year old.

We are looking for a non run-of-the-mill restaurant. Any budget, so long as it's excellent food. We're coming from Boston - if you've been here, I am thinking Craigie on Main type restaurant, or Barbara Lynch's "Stir" in Boston (prep/demo kitchen restaurant) http://www.craigieonmain.com/ or http://stirboston.com/.

A restaurant that uses fresh, local ingredients whose menu is ever changing. Or a unique dining experience, but nothing kitsch or themed per se. Would also consider a molecular gastronomy type place.

Just looking for something outstanding. Any neighborhood will do....

Thanks in advance!

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  1. La Caza Club and Mision 19 would fit your desires nicely.

    La Caza Club https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Caz...

    Mision 19 http://mision19.com/

    Both are about 12 miles south of where you're staying. There is an international border you'll have to cross, but if you walk across and take taxis it's usually not too bad in the after dinner hours. Also there is light rail from CV to the border.

    2 Replies
    1. re: jayporter

      The down side would be the length of time it takes to cross back, plus there's, IMO, a danger factor being in TJ in the evenings. Must be keenly aware of your surroundings.

      1. re: cstr

        Actually, crossing back at night is faster than during the day. What you need to be keenly aware of are the drug sniffing dogs used by CBP

        Both of the restaurants Jay mentioned will call a reliable taxi service that will take you from the door of the restaurant to the foot of the pedestrian line. The worst you're going to be exposed to are some crazy drivers. Violencia still exists in Tijuana, but it is largely limited to the eastern parts of the city.

    2. Jay has excellent recommendations, Tijuana has a vibrant and growing food scene that has gotten national media attention by major media outlets on this side of the border. Having said that, if you don't feel like crossing the border you can experience some of that cuisine very close to Chula Vista. The family that owns many of the most talked about restaurants in Tijuana owns Romesco in Bonita which is a short drive from CV.


      6 Replies
      1. re: foodiechick

        Had the same thought, you beat me to it.

        1. re: DiningDiva

          This just in about Romesco's from my companion and her friend:

          "Just got back from having dinner at Romesco's. It's far away in Bonita but well worth the trip. It felt like we were in Mexico. The food was delicious. We had a Caesar salad and she had a chile en nogada and I had paella. According to [another friend], the restaurant is owned by the same family who owns one of the restaurants you and I went to in Tijuana with her."

          I've never been, but that's her report.

          Certainly sounds recommendable.

          1. re: DoctorChow

            But not new, fresh, modern, unique.

            The best chile en nogada in the world is not breaking new ground.

            Paella? Zzzzzzz......

            1. re: Fake Name


              Arrghh. Nothing new and modern! No test-tube hamburger!

              But! Although I can see it makes you want to take a nap, I also like paella.

              Some Spanish friends of ours used to grill paella outdoors on the world's second-biggest paella pan and it was a lot of fun. And terrific. Ever since I've been looking for good restaurant paella.

              1. re: DoctorChow

                Nothing wrong with good paella, although it is an endangered species and rarer than gold hens teeth.

                But the idea that we could have a conversation about paella mean its not unique. Not modern. Not fresh.

                1. re: Fake Name

                  Agree. The things they had are neither modern nor unique, but other things on the menu might be.

                  Actually, the reason for my post was to underscore foodiechick's suggestion of Romesco, not necessarily the specific items that my companion and her friend had there. Both of them are pretty picky about food, and it sounded like the food quality at Romesco was quite good.

      2. George's California Modern in La Jolla

        1 Reply
        1. re: mcgrath

          Yes. Also. As well. Plus one. Just not as close.

        2. Concur with cstr on the length of time coming back from the border and if you do go, bring your valid passport.

          I would hit up Aqui es Texcoco in Chula Vista
          Toys R Us parking lot for the food trucks in CV
          Romesco's Bonita
          Jalisco Cafe in Imperial Beach for tamales for breakfast
          Hotel Del Coronado for drinks in Coronado

          La Jolla is gorgeous and I would definitely add George's Modern to the list.

          Take a lovely drive to Rancho Santa Fe and have lunch at Rancho Valencia Resort and dine at Pony Room or Veladora for dinner.
          Stop by Chino's vegetable stand.

          1. Thanks for the suggestions everyone! I am a bit nervous about going the Tijuana route. We are leaving my 1 year old with my cousin for the night and I don't want to have any issues (danger, timing or otherwise), coming back over the border. Just makes me nervous. Those restaurants look great though!

            What about Craft and Commerce? Just happened upon that on this board as well. Seems yummy and fun, good cocktails?

            2 Replies
            1. re: krisa20

              C&C is good. Nothing wrong with it, good food, good cocktails.


              This is not [the restaurant] you are seeking.

              1. re: Fake Name

                (as he waves his hand)......

                I always suggest Addison for these requests. So, I say, Addision. Definitely a "money no object" choice. Happy Dining!

              1. re: ipsedixit

                CU is good. Nothing wrong with it, good food, good cocktails.


                This is not [the restaurant] you are seeking.

                  1. re: RB Hound

                    Jay nailed it. But our friend the OP had travel limitations I fully understand. I've not been to Romenescos, do I cannot comment on it. But the best meals I've had recently have been in Baja. Mision19, but even more, a dinner and a lunch at Corazon de Tierra in VdeG. These fit the desired description perfectly, *and nothing else does * in my experiences here.


                      1. re: Fake Name

                        So, I'm gathering from your, and most everyone else's posts (and the fact that really only 4 restaurants in all of San Diego were recommended) that you don't think there is anything in San Diego, north of the border, that fits my exact description. Is that accurate?

                        My thoughts on what has been suggested so far:

                        1. George's - looks yummy for sure, but doesn't quite have that pop of special I was looking for.

                        2. The Tijuana restaurants - these look great, but for reasons already stated, we don't want to go south of the border.

                        3. Romesco's - The small tapas menu looks good, but otherwise they seem to be a bit all over the place. Very large extensive menus. Maybe I will check them out for lunch one of the days.

                        4. Cucina Urbana - of everything, this perhaps comes the closest, at least in that it is not "run-of-the-mill." The mini mason jars are fun and the suckling pig looks great. Reminds me only slightly of a favorite of ours in Baltimore, called Woodberry Kitchen. http://www.woodberrykitchen.com/. Maybe we will go here one night.

                        OK, so it seems like I will have to "settle" for something just short of my original request, which is fine. If nothing fits the exact bill, then so be it.

                        But, what if I tweak the description a bit, then what do you suggest? Here goes, how about we focus this time on FUN, downright yummy, snacks or small plates as an option, preferably local ingredients? Check out the Woodberry Kitchen link above to see what I mean. I could totally relish a meal consisting of small plates and great sides.

                        Here is what I have that may? (you tell me) fit in that realm:

                        1. Craft & Commerce - cracker jack, fried pickles, corn dogs, yum!

                        2. Searsucker - Are Malarkey's restaurants any good or all hype? Menu seems to fit the bill.

                        What else? Thanks!

                        1. re: krisa20

                          If money is no object go to Georges for TBL3 (one table per night with special menu. The regular menu which also includes different tasting menu options is also excellent and perhaps the best restaurant currently in SD). Another option would be Kitchen 1540 and contact CdC Bautista before and tell him he should cook for you. These both restaurants might be your best options for unique, ingredient driven cuisine in SD which holds up to places like LA or SF. Other places like Cucina Urbans are nice but nothing which is unique or something you won't find somewhere else

                          1. re: krisa20

                            Even with the revised question, my rec is still Cucina Urbana.

                            Also a very user-friendly wine list.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              I like CU.

                              But "unique, modern, fresh cuisine"?

                              Polenta boards with ragĂș are undoubtedly delicious, but not what our OP seeks. Pizza? Pasta?

                              1. re: Fake Name

                                The phrase "unique, modern, fresh cuisine" has about as much meaning as things like "updated modern classics" or " contemporary homestyle cooking" or "re-imagined rustic libations".

                                But then English was (and is) my second language. And I never got admitted into ESL classes.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  I respectfully disagree.

                                  Try to get to Baja. Believe me, I'm not a "Mexico person" who's been going there since I was an infant, believe there is no danger in travel, and believe a four-hour border crossing is just part of the fun. No, that's not me.

                                  But I am a convert, and "unique, modern and fresh" were exactly the words that came to mind at dinner and lunch there.

                                  Truth is, however, these are all copyrighter tricks. Just like "my own spin on" or "with a modern twist" or "deconstructed".


                                  1. re: Fake Name

                                    FN, I don't doubt your evaluation of Baja.

                                    All I'm saying is that terms like "unique" "modern" "fresh" etc. are so amorphous and linguistically mushy when it comes to describing food and cuisines, that they elude archetypal examples.

                                    Again, not saying what your conclusions about Baja are wrong, or even that your recommendation is inapt, just making a point about descriptions such as the ones we're discussing here.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      What comes to mind when someone says something is "unique", foodwise, is that it's a creation that stands out as being very different from similar or maybe not so similar dishes found anywhere else. (Think Cronut.) "Modern", to me, simply equates to "the latest fashion or "trend". (Remember when it was considered "modern" to decorate the plate with garnishes all the way to the edge and present the food like it was a work of art to be viewed until it was cold and not disturbed?) "Fresh" conjurs up food that's been made with very fresh ingredients and that has been brought to the table quickly and not left sitting in the kitchen too long, although sometimes that term seems to be used interchangeably with "modern". Just musing.

                                      1. re: DoctorChow


                                        To me:

                                        Unique = not available anywhere else.

                                        Modern = not mired in the past.

                                        Fresh = a new approach not yet experienced.

                                        1. re: Fake Name

                                          I think we pretty much agree about "unique".

                                          1. re: DoctorChow

                                            I respectfully disagree, also, that the words don't have clear cut references to food.

                                            To me:

                                            Unique - same as above, hence the "non run-of-the mill" request.

                                            Modern - as Fake Name suggests

                                            Fresh = fresh ingredients, not canned, etc. I know, I know, I shouldn't define a word with a word ...

                                          2. re: Fake Name


                                            Hmmm. I think I see your viewpoint:

                                            Modern = not unique, but eschewing older established styles of preparation or presentation and currently widely accepted

                                            Fresh = not necessarily unique or modern, but a new variation not previously tried

                                            Is that what you mean?

                                            1. re: DoctorChow


                                              I assume the ingredients will be fresh, with the notable exceptions of aged beef, bacon, pickled products (presumably a peck of pickled products) and 1000 year old eggs.

                                        2. re: ipsedixit

                                          And please throw in To Die For.

                                      2. re: ipsedixit

                                        So what's your primary language?

                                  2. re: krisa20

                                    Let me tee this up a bit, since you are a welcome visitor to our humble board.

                                    While I might consider myself lighthearted and unfussy, others here might say that's a positive way of describing unsophisticated and pedestrian of taste.

                                    You've received some great suggestions here- certainly Georges, TBL3, Craft and Commerce are all north-of-the-border solid choices, I'm going to offer something else.

                                    The Hake.

                                    Went there again for lunch Tuesday, and had the Most Innovative North of The Border Meal. Their ceviche and hamachi dishes were very clean, fresh and delicious. I suspect their entrees are not on the same par as their small plates (a burger is clear pandering to that one member of the table who refuses to step outside the phone booth), but those smalls. YUM. And the Smoke/Honey cocktail.....

                                    I know- others here will pile on with their bad experiences- I think it's just them bringing their bad mojo to the table (<<< I'm kidding here!) but I encourage you to at least try them for apps.

                                    Valle de Guadalupe it's not, but I think the best NOB option to fit your description.

                          2. Like I and the Honk have stated George's Modern is your best bet with TBL3 in La Jolla..closest to rival Craigie's on Main in BOS.

                            It doesn't get much better than dining with stunning ocean views in La Jolla..
                            I would go for drinks first at the Marine Room in LJ.

                            Go for lunch at the places I suggested in the earlier posts since your in CV..Aqui es Texcoco, Toys R US food trucks in CV and Romesco's.

                            Rancho Valencia Resort in RSF...stunning and great food
                            Have lunch at the Lodge at Torrey Pines AR Valentien at the famous Torrey Pines Golf course then drive the coast route up 101 to Carlsbad.

                            Chula Vista is South Bay and imo, I wouldn't spend much time there but to eat some local foods as suggested, hit up Coronado.

                            The West Coast is gorgeous and a completely different animal than the East coast.

                            3 Replies
                              1. re: Fake Name

                                Don't take any advice from a guy with one 'avatar' eye..

                                1. re: Beach Chick

                                  or someone who air drums Steve Gadd.

                            1. Okay, completely left field suggestions:

                              What about Kaito or Shirahama?

                              Do you enjoy sushi? Both places compete for the top sushi spot on this board. Both use fresh ingredients, some local, though some I am sure imported too. Kaito's Omakase is legendary here, and Shirahama is a truly unique, truly special, Japanese dining experience.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: Dagney

                                As someone who lived in Boston from 1983-2011 and began his hospitality career in the gourmet food business I think I can state that SD is not even in the same league as Boston. That said, Boston's sushi doesn't come close to SDs best, noted above. If the OP enjoys sushi and the perception of safety I endorse the previous posters suggestions. Btw, I have not yet been to TJ for dinner but it looks like a great adventure. However, when I mentioned it to the baby momma her first response was, "no, it's not safe." And she grew up in SoCal.

                                1. re: globalevent

                                  Some day when you're feeling particularly bold, you really do need to put on your bullet-proof vest and go to a TJ restaurant that's not on Revolution Avenue (except maybe Ceaser's) for dinner. The food quality, menu choices, preparation, and service in many restaurants in TJ and environs are absolutely wonderful, and things "feel" and taste very different than here.

                                  I'm not now talking about places that serve up tacos and burritos and beans and such. If there's one thing that many people who haven't been to Mexico (or who've only been on Revolution in TJ) don't appreciate, it's that Mexicans embrace cuisines from a great many other cultures; prepare those cuisines with excellence; create thier own unique crossover offerings; and provide service at the table that has a particular Mexican suavity you'll only experience if you go.

                                  1. re: globalevent

                                    No need for a bullet proof vest. Baby momma is misinformed. If you go to places in Tijuana that are frequented by local families, during business hours you will not only have no problem, but you will receive the most appreciative and gracious service that you can find in our area.

                                    Behave as you would at home in SD. No need to be on side streets or highways at 2am. Unless you are a drug dealer.

                                    Can you tell I am tired of the "dangerous hyperbole"?

                                    Common sense people.

                                    1. re: foodiechick

                                      I hope you understand that I was being friviously facetious, foodiechick, about the bullet-proof vest thing. I have no compunctions about going into TJ. Like NYC, Chicago, LA, etc., one simply needs to be somewhat streetwise after midnight.

                                      Agree about the appreciative and gracious service.

                                      1. re: DoctorChow

                                        I know DC that you are appreciative of those dining opportunities...I was using your humor in response to "globalevent"s response.

                                    2. re: globalevent

                                      GE. . .Your better half is off the mark on Tijuana. Certainly there are parts that are pretty dicey and best avoided, but those parts are also not generally frequented by tourists. The eastern section of Tijuana is definitely off limits. Luckily, the bulk of the culinary scene is nowhere near the eastern region and about as dangerous as going to El Cajon.

                                      You are correct in you observation that the food scene is interesting. The food *is* innovative, interesting and reasonably priced. It's an eclectic mix of Asian and Italian influences blended with some traditional Mexican filtered through California cuisine. Seafood and fresh produce abound.

                                      I grew up in SoCal, in fact I am a native San Diegan. I visit Tijuana on a semi regular basis and mainland Mexico multiple times a year and have not experience much in the way of danger or violence. Crossing back North is a royal PITA. The border is a war zone and much more dangerous than going on a culinary adventure to TJ

                                      1. re: globalevent

                                        As with most places, just be aware of your surroundings and be careful after sundown.

                                        1. re: globalevent

                                          I do enjoy sushi, very much. Did you ever get to O Ya while you were Boston? It got a lot of press from the NY Times, so I'd be interested to know where that fits in with the SD sushi scene. I've had a couple of excellent meals there.