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Montrealers in SD - the best of what we don't have

Hello SD CHers!
I'm about to visit SD for the third time in 7 years or so, and this time I hope to hit some CH-favourite restaurants while in town. On my last trip in 2010 I recall some great fish tacos in Pacific Beach, good brunch at Cafe Chloe, ridiculous sushi QPR, and ready availability of the ultimate hangover antidote (8am burritos). Other than that I'm pretty foggy; all I remember is that I didn't do a great job of researching food in advance. So this time I'd like is to eat a lot of what's missing in my beloved home, as recommended by you generous folk.

Some things that Montreal is lacking:
- Basically every "ethnic" cuisine: we have plenty of asian/indian/mexican/central american restaurants but few are good (and those that are usually have prices to match). What are some favourites here? I'll eat anything you guys think I absolutely can't miss. Bonus points for the best dirt-cheap mexican.
- Californian wines: these are sparse up here and costs are high, so much better value can be found in Old World imports that are purchased in huge volumes by our liquor board. Any good SD wine bars that are centrally located would be amazing!
- Fresh fish, namely sushi: Montreal now has some good seafood available from the east coast but sushi tends to be terrible, with a few expensive exceptions. I'll be eating a lot of it in SD so which places offer truly great value?

Some caveats:
- I won't have a car and will rarely be with people who do. Easy accessibility is a plus, either by public transport or brief taxi from gaslamp-downtown. My walking commute in Montreal is about 1.5h round-trip so I'm also happy to wander on foot while in SD.
- I blew my eating budget on a few Michelin stars this year so wont be splurging in SD. I'll happily spend about $100 or so per person with some decent wine and tip, but can't stomach uber fine-dining.
- Unless it's exceptional, no French food or wine. These are very well represented in Montreal and I'd rather eat/drink something else for a change.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. What part of SD will you be staying in? You may be close to public transportation which may open up many options for you.

    1 Reply
    1. re: cstr

      Thanks for the reply. As I mentioned above I should be coming from the core: gaslamp/marina/area. However I'll be at a number of different hotels during my stay. The last times in SD I definitely wandered a lot.. Several times walked up to Hillcrest, North Park, Normal Heights, South Park, Old Town, etc. We might be willing to take public transport to travel up into mission valley, la Jolia, and surroundings but based on my work schedule probably only one or twice.

    2. Sushi- Kaito in Encinitas (you will need a car) or Tadokoro in Old Town (you can take the trolley and walk from either the Old Town Transfer station or the Washington Street stop.

      Cheap Mexican- one of the many mariscos trucks. They're all pretty good, but El Pescador has stolen my heart. You'll need a car for that one, or a long trolley ride down to Chula Vista. Search the other threads for item/truck recommendations.

      California wines- Starlite Lounge, Cucina Urbana, many places in Gaslamp. You already know of it, and it is French, but Cafe Chloe has not lost any quality since your last visit. I'd say exceptional for SD.

      Italian? Buona Forchetta in South Park. A neighborhood you've probably not visited yet. Also mariscos trucks in that area.

      Love the Portuguese chicken and fries in Montreal. Wish we had it here.


      1. First off, Lallouz Cafe & Kebaberie in Montreal (couple of locations) is quite good--have you not been there??

        As for immediate access where you are staying, most on this Board will tell you the Gaslamp area is a vast wasteland of overpriced mediocre restaurants. That being said, I happen to like Sadaf for good Persian cuisine. Athens Market is pretty good and reliable for Greek cuisine.

        A short 5 minute cab ride on a Wednesday or Thursday to Barrio Logan for lunch will take you to Supernatural Sandwiches--quite tasty seafood sandwiches and reasonable as well--do a Google for the exact street address.....I don't eat cheap Mexican (often catered to the American palate with lots of lard), but we have some great Baja Mexican restaurants in San Diego--with the best one being Romesco's Baja Med Bistro. Unfortunately, you won't have a car so that would probably be a problem as Romesco's is located 20 minutes southeast from downtown and not close to public transportation. Ditto for Los Arcos.....you could try Blind Burro which is in between the Gaslamp and the baseball stadium--OK, but I prefer the other two. Also, not sure if Blind Burro sells wines that come from Guadalupe Valley--excellent and quite inexpensive and very good wines coming from this region in Mexico. Santo Tomas is one brand that stands out in my mind but there are even better ones.....I suppose if you wanted a uber-fine dining experience BUT at 30% less than what it would cost you in the States, you could always take the trolley down to the Tijuana border and then taxi it to highly acclaimed Mision 19--would be a top 5/10 restaurant in San Diego--depends how adventurous you are and I would only go during the week when border crossing times are noticeably shorter than during the weekend.

        Other than that and in rather close proximity to the Gaslamp by foot or trolley, I would recommend Prep Kitchen over in the Little Italy section--whatever you do, you must get their caesar salad.....for a great coffee--also in Little Italy, I highly recommend Papalecco (as close to Cafe Olympico in Mile End that you will find in San Diego)...besides California wines, you might enjoy our local craft beer culture, with great beer available from such brewers as Stone Brewing, Manzanitas, Mission, Coronado Brewing, Alesmith, Ballast Point, Societe, and more.

        1. Chopahn, for Afghan food, located on 6th Avenue immediately south of F Street. Chopahn is ever so slightly a "nicer" room, but not a budget hog.

          Cafe Istanbul, also on 6th Avenue and down the street from Chopahn has excellent Mediterranean food, and it is a small, inexpensive place.

          For Mexican, I would suggest hopping on the bus to City Heights for Tacos el Panson, Super Cocina, and El Borrego. Tacos el Panson has good Carne Asada burritos, Super Cocina is more like home-cooked Mexican food, and El Borrego has good barbacoa.


          Almost forgot, Alforan for amazing Lebanese food. Located slightly east of City Heights but still on an accessible bus line.

          Pho Hoa, in City Heights has some of the best Pho EVER.


          1. A couple of thoughts -

            1) From what I recall, Montreal has some pretty restrictive importation rules when it comes to beer to protect local breweries (I recall seeing this in a blog post a year or so ago, where the writer had some beers smuggled in for him). So, try the offerings from as many local breweries as possible.

            2) For dirt cheap Mexican, you want a taco shop. The best taco shops in the Downtown area are (IMHO) the following:

            Lucy's Taco Shop on C Street, between 1st and 2nd Ave (closer to 2nd). Good, classic taco shop.

            Rolando's Taco Shop, also on C, between 8th and 9th. Again, a solid taco shop, though maybe not as good as Lucy's.

            Mexican Fiesta, corner of India and Beech, is also good if you order correctly. The al pastor (really an adobada, since the pork is cooked on a grill, not on a trompo) is probably as good as any you can find in the City.

            Keep in mind that there are better, more authentic places in the South Bay, but these are pretty easy to get to.

            3) Since you said you can go into the urban core, I'd try Wine Steals (either the Hillcrest or Point Loma locations) for a good wine bar.

            1. 28th & C...Panchita's, excellent Mexican panaderia. I wouldn't call it dirt cheap, but it is very inexpensive.

              It's kind of a long walk from downtown, but the #2 bus to North Park & Golden Hills via 30th should get you close enough.

              1. A bunch of great suggestions so far.

                You'll find California wine almost everywhere you turn, so no problem there! Walk into almost any decent-looking restaurant or bar.

                Since you'll be on foot and in the Gaslamp area, I'll toss in a couple of additional places and treats that you might want to check out -- not ethnic, just for fun:

                Steamed shellfish (your choice) at the Fish Market's oyster bar; Mussel bisque at Dobson's; and the "late night" (9 - 10) buck-a-shot oyster bar at Oceanaire.

                I'll also add the Hive, for sushi, to the list.

                These are in easy walking distance, and enjoyable experiences all.

                Hope you have a great time!

                1. Think about getting a zipcar. It will greatly expand your zone of deliciousness.


                  1. I just returned from a trip to the motherland - I had a new baby in tow so I didn't get to even half the places I wanted to in Montreal, but it was great to be home all the same.

                    One thing I think is lacking in Montreal is a variety of Japenese cuisine. Sure, there are lot of "Japanese" places, but not so many that are only ramen, or only izakaya, etc... Most of these are located on the Convoy corridor and you could make an easy afternoon-into-evening, hopping from place to place (and finish up with karoake!). Places to consider would include: Izakaya Sakura, Santouka or Tajima (ramen), Yakitori Yakyudori or Hinotez, Otan and/or Okan ("homestyle" japanese). Many places are open quite late on the weekends and can get pretty hopping.

                    On a "been-there-done-that" side, you might consider a poutine stop at Alchemy in South Park (only on the brunch menu) and then a trip to Hamilton's, next door, to go beer crazy.

                    I don't really know downtown or the marina, but, if you go back to PB, I've got a few recommendations...

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: CampySD

                      Yes, but how to get to Convoy from the Gaslamp area? Forget buses. Maybe ipsedixit's suggestion is the way to go, at least for one night out.

                      1. re: DoctorChow

                        I don't use the bus, if at all possible - been there, done that. However, Google says it's an easy trip from the Green Line to the Old Town Trolley Center and then the 44 bus (1h trip)...
                        If it were me, I'd just rent the car and be done with it!

                      2. re: CampySD

                        Wow. I can't believe how many replies I've received already. You guys are great! We arrived in SD last night and have already been putting these recs to good use. I'll report back in a few days! Thanks for the advice and keep it coming!

                      3. I really enjoyed the omakase at Azuki sushi, fairly close to DT or easy cab ride. I think a fun night would be drinks at Prepkitchen in Little Italy followed by dinner at Bencotto or Monello.Are you here for SFN?

                        1. I don't know if this is off-the-wall silly, but Slater's 50-50 Burger in Liberty Station is offering a special Thanksgiving turkey burger with stuffing and cranberry sauce during the month of November. Slater's is known for its burgers and beer selection, and both categories are something San Diego excels at,

                          The Thanksgiving twist is uniquely American, IMHO.


                          1. Since you'll already have a passport with you, why not take the trolley down to the border and visit Mision 19 in Tijuana one night for dinner? Do you have a NEXUS card? If so, you can use it to get back across the border really easily too.

                            1. Blind Burro Gaslamp
                              Bali Hai Shelter Island
                              Fathom for craft beer/sausages on pier
                              Tender Greens Gaslamp
                              Prado Balboa Park for drinks and apps
                              Mozza opens Nov. 18th
                              Fish Market Oyster Bar or Sushi...not the downstairs resto!! Drinks on bayfront patio.
                              Cucina Urbana
                              Taco shops rule out here..carne asada burrito/taquitos/street tacos..
                              Las Cuatro Milpas is one of my faves..

                              La Jolla..go to Georges at the Cove for casual lunch on the ocean terrace..sunset drinks at Marine Room..drive up the coast..rent a car for a day..

                              1. Hello again! I'm sorry for not posting a report sooner but it was a hectic trip and an even more hectic few weeks back. First some responses to specific posters:

                                SaltyRaisons- I actually stayed in Old Town several years ago and visited Harney Sushi, I believe, but didn't get back out to this area this time around. We did, however, have dinner and plenty of excellent, interesting, and affordable (!!) wine at Cucina Urbana. My last time in town it had just opened and was totally booked up, but this time we managed to sneak in with just a few minutes notice. We had a very good bottle of Langhe and a stunning Barolo along with a delicious octopus appetizer, lasagna, and a seared arctic char. Great restaurant, and astonishing prices by my usual standards.
                                Of course despite my initial plans I ended up visiting Cafe Chloe on both my first afternoon and last night in town. The happy hour was just too good a deal to pass up, and it really is an inspiring space. I like it better than any Parisian-style bistro we have in Montreal (and there are A LOT of them here!). Definitely felt like a local while I was sitting at the bar.

                                El Chevere- Lallouz was quite good and certainly reflects some of Montreal's quality middle-eastern offerings, but its now closed entirely, to the best of my knowledge. This was a sad loss to a street that has already lost most of its decent restaurants. We were quite busy in the SD downtown core so got few chances to escape very far. However we did check out Prep Kitchen and Papalecco. I liked both, and the latter definitely served the best cappuccino of my trip. Great suggestions!

                                jmtreg- Our importation laws aren't quite that restrictive. We can personally bring in reasonable amounts of whatever beer we'd like, but our selection of US-imported beers tends to be lacking. It's basically impossible to find even common brands like Dogfish Head. So I definitely tried a much local brew as I could, notably a number of exceptional stouts (a cream ale-stout, a milk stout, and a potent coffee porter stand out, though names escape me). I also ended up at ALL of your dirt-cheap Mexican suggestions, both intentionally and accidentally. Each was totally satisfying from the perspective of getting massive amounts of delicious unhealthy food for pocket change. A hangover-fighting breakfast burrito from Lucy's was also particularly appreciated.

                                Campy- I totally agree with you about Montreal’s long history of generic Japanese restaurants, though since Kazu opened a few years back the flood of izakayas has been almost as tiring. It seems like a new one opens every few weeks (if you’re ever back in MTL definitely try to get to Kazu, Cafe Sardine at dinnertime, or maybe Big in Japan/Imadake if you’re desperate and the lines are too long elsewhere). We tried Hamilton’s on a previous trip but sadly did not make it back this year.

                                Some general responses:
                                - We would have loved to get down to Tijuana, but our trip there 7 years ago included some getting robbed, arrested, and having to bribe the police, all in a 1.5 hour weeknight visit to the otherwise deserted downtown. Also given visa issue it wasn't worth the risks.
                                - I looked into Zipcar but it was kind of complicated to arrange on short notice. But to be honest it was nice to walk between Hillcrest, North Park, Little Italy, etc. etc. We really only took cabs to get up to Ocean Beach and over to South Park.
                                - We ended up at some great bars not mentioned specifically here. For beer I really enjoyed Knotty Barrel, Neighbourhood, and Southpaw (the latter 2 also offering phenomenal cold brew coffees). For cocktails we unintentionally returned to Craft & Commerce for a 2nd and 3rd time this trip and enjoyed the obscenely large portions of food. The drinks were also great, though tended to be heavy on the simple syrup and oddly missing vodka-based options. We also made it back to several Hillcrest gay clubs and Booty Bassment at Whistle Stop where we had the same ridiculous adventures as 3 years ago. All were very welcoming.

                                This was an excellent trip food-wise this year, and I owe many thanks to you folks for guiding lots of these choices. I wasn’t able to get to as many places as I would have liked, a byproduct of being in town with a very large group (yes, Ela, it was for the SfN meeting). But despite this, the quality of food on this trip was great, and the portion sizes are absolutely unbelievable. My eating budget would be 50% lower living in SD vs Quebec, though I imagine I’d do a poorer job of keeping off the pounds than does your shockingly fit populous.
                                Thanks again!

                                2 Replies
                                  1. re: Fintastic

                                    Really nice trip report. Thanks for posting back