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Old Timer Coming Back...

I lived in San Diego/Escondido/Oceanside for the first third of my life 25+ years ago. The second third was in Los Angeles and the last third has been in the Bay Area.

I'm coming back for four days at the end of the month with a new husband and need to find some worthy eats for us. I'll be researching a book I'm writing on Oysters so my first day will be hanging out with the folks in Carlsbad's aquafarm. But I need to find dinner for us for four nights.

Way back then, my favorites were Piret's (gads, I miss the days of the Mungers!), Ichiban on University, Ida Bailey's in the Gaslamp... There was also a cool bar near Spreckles, a Greek restaurant in Hillcrest (well, anywhere in Hillcrest was cool back then!), and the original Filippi's Pizza Grotto (one of which now exists in Napa and is not nearly what I remember it to be).

The caveat is that while I know Mexican food is plentiful and all the rage, I get enough of it in San Francisco. Okay, maybe ONE Mexican to placate my new brother-in-law who is flying in from Charlotte, North Carolina.

I'm looking forward to showing my husband Balboa Park and the Maritime Museum (we love visiting submarines!) But look for guidance on where to eat! We are staying at the Catamaran Resort and while I'm comfortable driving around, it is unlikely we'll be heading to La Jolla or anything. Just the city.


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  1. Right now, for anyone asking for a couple of places to hit while in SD that are among our best, I'm suggesting Cafe Chloe, Georges (alas, in LJ), and Cucina Urbana. When JSix re-opens, that'll be included, but they're closed until February (?) or something like that.

    Have a great time here, and I hope it brings back fond memories.

    Things have changed a lot, though...

    P.S. I also lived in NC for a number of years. Beautiful pines and great pork BBQ there!

    I think your brother-in-law would like Romescos in Bonita. I do. It's like a TJ restaurant. Not in the city, but worth the 20-30 min drive.

    1. Walk across Mission Blvd. and catch sunset from the patio at California Kebab.

      1. Welcome back!

        Piret's was my introduction to fine food. I miss it too!

        I think North Park is kind of the new Hillcrest. Lots of great restaurants with a focus on using local ingredients and places to sample our local craft beers. If you're interested in seeing the transformation of North Park, I'd suggest checking out Tiger Tiger, Smoking Goat and Urban Solace. On the fringes of North Park is Carnitas Snack Shack. It's a fine place to check off your Mexican dinner and close to Balboa Park.

        I second the recommendations for Café Chloe (near the new ball park), Cucina Urbana (with a stop at Mr. A's across the street for a Sunset cocktail), and Calfornia Kebab for pitchers of local craft beer (I think there's a microbrewery on site?) and tasty kebabs. The only other recommendation would be Starlite (just down the street from El Indio).

        Hope you enjoy your visit!

        1 Reply
        1. re: melee

          Just to add to your comment. Cali Kebab has many local microbrews, as well as non-locals and imports - one of the many reasons to like it.
          The onsite microbrewery is Amplified Aleworks (http://www.amplifiedales.com/). They normally have 2 of their own brews in the rotation of the other beers on tap. Their own beers are pretty solid, too!

        2. That "cool bar" near Spreckles was likely Dobson's.

          4 Replies
          1. re: deckape

            Dobson's! That was it - thank you…

            I remember spending an evening there with two crazy French Horn players and getting absolutely blitzed on Martinis.

            I am so appreciating all this advice, everyone! I'll be running it by the husband in a week or so; he's best if I just lay out the suggestions at the last minute.

            1. re: CarrieWas218

              You'll be happy to know that Dobson's is still where it always was, although the bartender has moved on to Currant nearby.

              I don't remember when Dobson's first introduced their wonderful mussel bisque, but if you end up having martinis there again and haven't before had it, you might want to consider giving it a try.

              Great call, deckape.

              1. re: DoctorChow

                Paul's original chef, Jacques, introduced the mussel bisque when they opened in '83. Jacques was from Bordeaux with a massively thick accent and explosive temper. He was prone to screaming at the bar customers to "shut up" when the bar got too loud for his sensibilities - which was quite often in those days. Occasionally, he would accompany the demand by slamming a large metal serving tray onto the tile floor startling everyone but halting the cacophany for only moments. However, his food was brilliant and, in my opinion, Paul has yet to find his equal in talent.
                Also, Doc, there have been a number of superb bartenders at Dobson's over the years, it's only a matter of which one you're referring to.

                1. re: deckape

                  That's some interesting history. I've been a periodic patron at Dobson's since they opened, but I don't think I had the bisque until well after '83. I don't recall the antics you described -- wish I'd seen "Jacques" in action!

                  Yes, many changes in staff over the years, no surprise. Always happy with the bartenders there. I was referring to the most recent one, "Alex".

          2. The beer craze has hit San Diego ridiculously hard. Currently, there are close to 80 breweries in San Diego, and about the same number of breweries are in the planning stages. I'm not 100% sure why that is, but I'm not complaining. So, while you're here, check out 30th street (30thstreet.org). I recommend the Ritual Tavern for good pub food with fantastic beer.

            If you want something closer than North Park, I'd say go to the Stone Brewing outpost in Liberty Station. I haven't been, but I hear good things about it. Another bet would be Fathom Bistro and Tackle Shop, which to me, is about as San Diego as you can get - it sits on a fishing pier (hence the tackle shop), serves great beer, and okay-ish food.

            4 Replies
            1. re: jmtreg

              Not sure why the discussion geared towards beer... I'm not that big of a fan (except if it is REALLY dark and thick), but my husband likes a decent Pilsner. I moved north to be part of the wine industry and my preferences still tend towards grape-based beverages.

              We leave tomorrow morning and I appreciate all the feedback! I'll definitely let you all know where we end up!

              1. re: CarrieWas218

                I suspect jmtreg brought the craft brewery scene up because that is something that has changed in San Diego since you were last here. Of course, it isn't like that hasn't been big in the Bay Area as well.

                Not too many craft Pilsners in San Diego, so that probably won't hit your husband's fancy. On the other hand, many San Diego entities do the "dark and thick" thing pretty well.

                1. re: RB Hound

                  Yes, that's exactly why I raised the point about craft beer. San Diego is the #1 beer city in the U.S. - we're well past Portland with close to 80 breweries, and another 70-80 in development. So, its a much bigger deal here than even in the Bay Area. I'd suggest your husband look for a kolsch style beer if he likes lagers.

                  From what I hear, a fair number of farmers in the county are switching to grapes and olives because of drought conditions. On one hand, drought is bad, on the other, better local wine.

                  1. re: jmtreg

                    Kölsch is actually an ale, but very much like a lager in flavor and appearance.

            2. Right up the street from the Cat is Kono's off of Mission and Garnet. Great local PB beach style place for breakfast. Just got back from Kono's after having their Big Breakfast #2 easily enough for 2 and then some. It's cash only and the lines aren't bad before 8am.

              1. While in Carlsbad, you can hit up Paon in downtown Carlsbad.

                Since your at the Cat hotel in PB, I would hit up Tower 23 for drinks and apps.oceanfront hotel/resto in PB.
                Oscar's in PB for taco shop Mariscos in PB..really good.

                LJ is the next coastal town up from PB and just stay on Mission Blvd and left at LJ Blvd..
                George's at the Cove is lovely for casual lunch on the ocean terrace or Eddie V's.
                Drinks at sunset at the Marine Room in LJ..waves crashing on the floor to ceiling glass.

                Fish Market Downtown Oyster Bar for freshly shucked oysters..NOT the downstairs resto!
                Top of the Market upstairs is quite good.
                Bali Hai in Shelter Island..fab mai tai and Aloha cuisine.
                Point Loma Seafoods for scallop sandwich or calamari..go early right when open.

                Blind Burro in the Gaslamp

                Aqui es Texcoco in Chula Vista..heard its a great place for lamb.
                They have the best potato taquitos too!

                1. Here is a first, 36-hour report...

                  We've been eating breakfast at the Catamaran because it has been included in the room. My husband and his brother both enjoy the offerings while I am less impressed. Thus far we have had chilaquiles (under-seasoned in my opinion, but they have been ordered twice by the brothers), a frittata with smoked trout and potatoes (all the trout was on the edges, with the potatoes in the middle), a mushroom and parmesan omelet (surprisingly small) served with potatoes (meh), and a bagel with salmon and all the fixings (the best offering yet). Everyone has enjoyed the twice-ordered grilled pineapple with vanilla sauce.

                  Our first evening was spent walking across the street for kebabs, but the boys wanted to go to World Famous instead. We shared a handful of appetizers:
                  - Lobster taco (nice, thin tortilla that helped showcase the abundance of filling)
                  - Grilled artichoke (a bit over-cooked, making the artichokes somewhat mushy and I found the accompanying chipotle sauce a bit too spicy)
                  - Crab-filled mushrooms (decent, but mostly unmemorable except for the excess of melty cheese and garlic juice that was better of the artichoke and bread-dipping)
                  - Grilled scallops (nicely prepared, large scallops that I enjoyed more than anything).

                  I spent this afternoon heading to Extraordinary Desserts for my necessary-fix and was thrilled they are still there and thriving!

                  The boys want to go to The Gaslamp for the evening so we will probably wander and just read menus to decide where the evening meal will come from.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: CarrieWas218

                    Skip the Catamaran tomorrow morning and hit up La Playa for a breakfast burrito or, better yet, huevos divorciados.

                  2. Our Friday night dinner was spent at Cafe 21 in the Gaslamp. We loved the look of the menu and - ultimately - it satisfied, but not without some serious hiccups.

                    We walked in at 6:15 to inquire about a table for four. The manager indicated he would take a chance that some other reservations wouldn't show up (or something of this ilk) and seat us. We ordered the sangria sampler to start while we perused the menu.

                    To share, my husband and I ordered the pear salad, the fondue, and the lamb loin. Our kin ordered the same salad, spinach flat-bread, and the braised lamb shank. At this point, it was around 6:30 or so...

                    Around 7:00 - after having finished the sangria - I prodded the waiter (several times) about our salad. He looked obviously uncomfortable. By 7:10, I went to the manager and indicated 35 minutes was way too long to wait for a salad. He apologized and went to inquire.

                    At 7:20, a full hour after we arrived, EVERYTHING we ordered arrived at once. So, instead of leisurely being able to work through a meal in stages as we had planned, we were suddenly inundated with starters and seconds and mains.

                    Now the food was really, really good. But we were all getting punchy for being so hungry and something was obviously going wrong in the kitchen. The manager, to his credit, comped our salads and then brought out comped cheesecakes for dessert. He also indicated that the owner was in the kitchen, beleaguering the staff on plating presentation or something and that two eight-tops came in shortly after we were seated. It still killed the evening. Again, the food was very, very good - but at this point, I don't really remember how the food tasted 'cuz I had to eat it all simultaneously.

                    On Saturday, we went through ANOTHER frigg'n breakfast at the resort (sheesh - I know my bro-in-law gets his for free with his room package, but I was hoping we could at least *try* something different!). Whatever. Because of the Whale Festival, we headed to Balboa Park instead and because of the late, heavy breakfast, noshed lightly at the Japanese Tea Garden. The siblings had udon noodles while the husband and I ate sparingly on edamame, seaweed salad (overcooked and slimy), and a mochi. I did have the most amazing Tea Pavilion Blue Lady which I loved so much the DH bought some to take home.

                    The light lunch was to prepare us for Cafe Chloe which was delightful. Still trying to eat healthy, DH and I shared zucchini soup and salad with squash, pomegranate seeds, and crottin. We then also decided to share the Niçoise tart and were considering the Pommes with Duck Confit when the waitress suggested the nacaroni and cheese with prosciutto would have more meat to it. I got to taste my sister-in-law's Brussels sprouts and wished I had gotten that instead of the pasta. It was good, but HUGE and would have been better set in the middle of the table for all to share.

                    I finally got my peeps to Extraordinary Desserts and was SHOCKED at the line. For 20-some years this was a place I could always walk into for dessert. The line wrapped around to the outside of the building onto the side walk. The family were reasonably content with waiting it out, but were getting obviously antsy 45-minutes into the wait when we got near the front of the door and realized they only had one person taking orders. A group of 10 girls in front of us to a total of 13 minutes to have their order placed (yep, my sister-in-law timed it). With all that success, I'm surprised Karen Krasne hasn't invested in a second register.

                    Once seated, our order came VERY quickly; a strawberry shortcake and a slice of Linzer torte to share for the four of us and we will left behind some leftovers. God, I love this place and will always make it a destination, but never on a weekend night during prime time.

                    Sunday is my last day here and I have at least convinced the husband to breakfast someplace else (hooray!) and I don't know where our final meals will take us, but it will probably be somewhere around the maritime museum (looking forward to the submarines!)

                    Thanks everyone for the help in all this. What great weather for my homecoming and it for showing my family what an amazing city this is! I know my husband is anxious to come back...