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No Pomp. No Circumstance. Just Real Food.

Listen up, good people: review sites such as Yelp! gather opinions from thousands of people from thousands of backgrounds. Reading them, if you’re lucky, may help you piece together the collective mind regarding a particular restaurant. Sounds wonderful and democratic...except you don’t know these people! What’s worse, you don’t know what they know (and don’t know) about food.

A critic, the sort who shows up week in, week out in your weekly Readerher, you know. (And him, you know — hi, Ed!) Her history, her gastronomical education, her sense of place, her pet peeves and soft spots — it’s all there for you to read. What they write will resonate with your own personal experience. Because while there may be a collective mind, there is no collective palate.

I could go on, but I don’t want to get in the way. Dig in. Ambrose Martin

Top Picks: Gaslamp/Downtown/East Village


425 Island Street, Downtown San Diego

(No longer in business.)

This local branch of an international Milanese chain is the Italian restaurant that local foodies have been waiting for — at least foodies who follow the cuisine of New York’s Mario Battali. Milan sent us a pair of its best chefs, chef de cuisine Mario Cassineri and sous-chef and divine pastry-maker Francesca Penoncelli, to prepare traditional but creative Italian “slow food” — unfussy dishes showcasing local-grown fresh vegetables and full-flavored craftsmanly products such as superb cheeses (and condiments to complement them), imported cured meats from specially fed pigs, handcrafted pastas with personality, breads with character, and indulgent, non-clichéed entrées, on a menu that changes every three weeks to reflect the newest farm crops and seasonal fish. Try Buffalo mozzarella with bottarga or with prosciutto; gooey burrata mozzarella with Chino Farms cherry tomatoes; house-made calamarata pasta with clams; tender filet of black cod with pesto-and-celery-root sauce; panna cotta with almonds and balsamic syrup, or other light, not-too-sweet desserts.

Bice's cheese bar

Bice's cheese bar

The decor combines streamlined black-and-white Milanese modern (including a thick dark carpet that succeeds in keeping the noise level down) with the rustic chic of a no-reservations cheese-and-salumi bar popular with singletons and couples. The charming, helpful servers are glad to bring most of those salumi-bar choices to your table — they act as if they really want you to be happy. The dining room is up a short flight of stairs, but there’s a hidden wheelchair elevator. The wine list is part Californian, mostly Italian, arranged by color and region, and it educates you with the names of each region’s typical grapes. There are plenty of choices by the glass, plenty of under-$30 bottles along with heavy hitters; beers include Moretti on tap. Those well-trained servers can help you choose wines for your tastes and price range. Appetizers run to the low teens, pastas to the upper teens. Entrées top out at $30, but if you’re sharing plates with friends, it’s easy to get away with food costs of about $35 each for a hearty grazing dinner with a shared pasta and entrée. — Naomi Wise

JJ’s Sunset Deli by the Bay

200 Marina Park Way (behind the Convention Center), Downtown San Diego

(No longer in business.)

Eating’s not just about eating. For me, atmospherics and attitudes are just as important. So when I think “best,” I think best experience, not just that the steak was good and tender. It should be about food and fun. And the place where I’ve had the most fun eating downtown may be the last place you’d expect: JJ’s, a hard-to-find little eatery I stumbled on after deciding to run up the 100 steps of the convention center and down the other side into the trees of Embarcadero Marina Park. JJ’s sign hangs on one of the kiosks, right where the land comes to an end. It’s a little round booth with outside seating but also an ambitious menu and a fabulous view, so different from other, bigger places at, say, Seaport Village. JJ himself is a laid-back retired Navy guy who seems to enjoy running his little “club” out here. He has standard breakfast items, such as an egg sandwich with cheese and sausage or ham or bacon and breakfast burritos. Lunch is the most interesting, with tuna subs, roast-beef sandwiches, burgers, and hot dogs. Every day he advertises a rib-eye steak sandwich on the sandwich board for around ten bucks, including beans and soda. A pork-chop meal (two chops) costs around the same. But the one that keeps me coming back is the Wednesday and Sunday special: a half-rack of BBQ baby back ribs, with ranch beans, garlic bread, and potato salad or coleslaw or fruit cocktail. Plus soda. All for about $13. You can add a 20-ounce Stella Artois, on draft, for $5. There’s something about eating out among the trees, sipping Stella, feasting your eyes on that million-dollar view: a fishing pier, and then the blue bay, jumpin’ with yachts, tugs, barges, ferries, pelicans, and a brisk breeze whipping the tops of the waves. You can almost touch Navy destroyers as they glide past. The only sounds are gulls squawking on the wing. What restaurant in the Gaslamp can beat this? Prices $3–$13. Open daily, 8am–5ish; and till 3:30pm Mondays and Tuesdays. — Ed Bedford

Honorable Mentions: Gaslamp/Downtown/East Village


416 Third Avenue, Downtown San Diego

(No longer in business.)

Candelas on the Bay

1201 First Street #115, Coronado

Still the local sine qua non of upscale French-influenced Mexican cooking. Nothing rivals its refinement in dishes like chef Eduardo Baeza’s signature Langosta Baeza, a meltingly tender Maine lobster tail over an intriguing bacon-mushroom stuffing, plated atop a mysteriously delicious coral sauce. Shrimp in tamarind sauce and a terrific steak are also on the bill. Wonderful starters (not even counting the choice of three different white rolls) include avocado layered with chilled seafood, and airy little blimps of stuffed calamari. Handsome Spanish-style decor. Also enjoy a blissful happy hour at the new, view-endowed location at the Coronado Ferry Landing. Expensive. — N.W.


327 Fourth Avenue, Downtown San Diego

Royal Thai cuisine in a regal setting, with a small fountain in the front room and a wall-length waterfall in the banquet room. Palace-trained chef shines in dishes like superb Tom Kha soup and Choo Chee curry, with coconut milk squeezed from coconuts, not cans. Try street-food dishes rarely found elsewhere, such as grilled Issan sausage, or Gai Quay (caramel chicken with rice noodles), and mix them with palace dishes like pineapple fried rice, stuffed chicken wings, and Ho Mok (seafood in a coconut shell). If you request “spicy,” you’ll get “medium.” Upper-moderate. — N.W.

The Westgate Room

Westgate Hotel, 1055 Second Avenue, Downtown San Diego

In the Westgate Hotel’s grand but less formal (and less expensive) new ground-floor dining room, replacing the stuffy Versailles Room, French chef Fabrice Hardel (top-ten chef and secret molecular gastronomy practitioner — in moderation) uses modern techniques (e.g., astonishing little cubes of soy “jello”) to create thrilling fresh dishes offering a pleasure value well beyond their price — especially with seafood that’s fresher and more exciting than at popular local fish houses. Great wine list with affordable choices, trustworthy sommelier. Upper-moderate to very expensive. — N.W.

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant

Omni Hotel, 675 L Street, Downtown San Diego

This place is geared for businessmen and baseball bigwigs, but, surprisingly, its happy hour is definitely for the rest of us. Get a drink ($4–$7) and you qualify for a bunch of $2–$5 dishes that include steamed mussels, buffalo wings, potato skins, breaded zucchini, chicken satay, California roll, even a half-pound cheeseburger with French fries. All presented with the flatwear and napkins a $50 customer would expect. Happy hour: 3-7pm, and 9:30–11:30pm, daily. — E.B.


777 G Street, East Village

What ex-UCSD law student Arsalun Tafazoli loved most on his travels to Beijing, Tokyo, and Spain were the bars. So sociable. “I wanted to create a place like that here,” he says, “specializing in craft beers, but less fanatical, where you could also eat basic food like burgers, but made better.” The food’s not the cheapest, but it’s simple, filling, and eco-conscious. You can’t go wrong with the Neighborhood Burger (with caramelized onions and blue Gruyère) or steak tartare, chorizo corn dog, poached black mussels. Try any of the neighborhood beers, just don’t ask for Bud Light. — E.B.

New Café

901 E Street, East Village

A Chinese-American couple gives maybe the best value downtown at this tiny corner cafe. Locals on fixed incomes love it. All-day breakfasts, bargain burgers, and solid standard Chinese fare. Most expensive is the fried rice with chicken, pork, and shrimp. Cheapest (under $2) is the cheese or egg sandwich. Prices $2–$7, cash only. Kitty-corner to the main post office. — E.B.

Top Picks: Little Italy/Midtown/Old Town

Bertrand at Mister A's

2550 Fifth Avenue, 12th floor, Bankers Hill

San Diego’s iconic urban view restaurant offers panoramas all around, ranging from close-up views of planes descending for a landing at Lindbergh to the pastoral vistas of Balboa Park. For more panoramas or a postprandial smoke, a wraparound patio offers a few prized tables and a light menu. The interior is comfortable and quiet and the tables well spaced, so this is a favorite of patrons planning to propose marriage — or business deals. And cell phone use is frowned upon.

Bertrand at Mister A's

Bertrand at Mister A's

This doesn’t mean the atmosphere is stuffy. Forget about board shorts, but you can leave your suit or glitzy cocktail dress at home, unless you’re a proposer or proposee — casual elegance (i.e., nice clothes) is the official style. Of course, under veteran restaurateur Bertrand (Mille Fleurs) Hug, servers are trained to high standards — an easy but professional friendliness that makes you feel welcomed.

Alsatian chef Stéphane Voitzwinkler offers California-French flavors in a seasonally changing but mainly conservative, business-suited menu, currently including fricassee of chanterelles and morel mushrooms, grilled Brandt Beef USDA Prime rib-eye cap with sauce béarnaise, short ribs braised for 48 hours, and roast duckling with blood-orange sauce.

There’s plenty for vegetarians at relative bargain prices (e.g., a main course sampler plate of three dishes for $25). The huge wine list includes much from France — not all exorbitant first growths, although they’re there, too. Minimum ante is about $50 a bottle. BYOB is out of the question, with Hug’s arcane, snarky corkage pricing. And you pay plenty for the view: Dinner prices are among the highest in the area, with most entrées $30–$40 and not much mercy in the appetizers. If you mainly want to enjoy the sights, lunch prices are about half that, although choices are narrower and plainer. The happy-hour menu is atypically pub-grubby. The good news: free valet parking, whoop-di-doo, garage entrance around the corner. — Naomi Wise

25Forty Bistro and Bakehouse

2540 Congress Street, Old Town

(No longer in business.)

Nobody expected that these guys would last. An East Village–type bistro in Old Town? For starters, it’s not on San Diego Avenue, or in the Plaza, but on less-traveled Congress Street. The house is old (1917), and everything around it has that Old Town atmosphere: pink walls, red tile, cactus, yellow stucco, old wagon wheels, purple bougainvillea drooping in the drowsy heat. 25Forty, on the other hand, is all black and white, with a glass barrier protecting gray marble tables, and glinty metal chairs with black woven plastic backs sitting on a big hillside terrace. It looks way upscale. But it turns out that Mark Pellicia, the chef-owner, wants this to be a true bistro, a “small and unpretentious restaurant.” And just look at the menu: breakfasts, all $7. Lunch salads or sandwiches, $8. Snacks, like pissaladière (I had to ask — it’s a kinda mini-pizza), all $3. Prices at night are pretty much the same, though entrées can be a bit higher. Pasta runs $13, meat dishes, $16. And, yes, after months of begging, they’ve finally got a wine and beer license.

25Forty Bistro and Bakehouse

25Forty Bistro and Bakehouse

Especially notable is the beautiful presentation. Like, for a $3 snack, you get solid knives and forks on a dramatic super-thick paper napkin. The $2 coffee comes in a French press, along with a tall ex-wine-bottle of chilled water. The food feels like California-Italy-Asia fusion. One of the breakfast dishes is fried rice with egg and soy sauce. The roasted-pork sandwich with homemade sauerkraut and Dijon mustard is delish and Deutsch, and the crêpes are oh-so-French. The basic crêpe has vanilla custard, brown sugar, and splashes of Grand Marnier. Simple, sexy.

Yes, there’ve been complaints about confused serving and some slip-ups during its early months, but this sure didn’t happen when I was there. Everyone seems genuinely happy to see you. Then you think: This can’t last. Prices are going to double, success is going to spoil them. But till then, 25Forty (it’s their street address) could be the best thing to happen to Old Town since Judge Roy Bean escaped from the Old Town jail and hightailed it to San Gabriel. Prices: $3–$16. Open daily except Tuesday. Evenings, Thursday–Saturday. Ed Bedford

Honorable Mentions: Little Italy/Midtown/Old Town

Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant

2600 Calhoun Street, Old Town

Fresh food and antique architecture in Old Town. This restored stately hotel houses a fine, reasonably priced new restaurant. Chef Amy DiBiase cooks up a seasonal California/upscale-Mexican menu of local produce, natural meats. The long, tasty appetizer list invites grazing meals. Among entrées, carne asada with nopales does honor to the dish, Prime top sirloin is “like butter.” Dessert churros with Mexican-style chocolate dipping sauce are astonishing. Varied, affordable wine list, but also consider near-forgotten old-timey cocktails, especially the dreamy-creamy Rum Raymos, which tastes like liquid key lime pie. Moderate. – Naomi Wise

Cucina Urbana

505 Laurel Street, Bankers Hill

Hip, crowded, noisy spot for tasty modern Italian cuisine, with faux-rustic decor and your choice to order a little (grazes, small pizzas) or a lot. The playful, classy trattoria food offers a flexible choice of starters, pastas, and entrées, emphasizing seasonal vegetables and interesting combinations. Downside: it’s hard to score a reservation. Seating encompasses normal tables, communal boards, or the long bar. Wines are just $7 over retail, with a wine room that you can visit to choose your bottle. Moderate. – Naomi Wise

Puerto la Boca

2060 India Street, Little Italy

No fancy decor at this simple spot, frequented by South Americans, just authentic Argentine food, including flavor-packed, healthy, grass-fed steaks, parillada mixta (mixed grill, including some organ meats), and morcilla (moist sausage resembling Irish black pudding gone to heaven). Seafood’s treated lovingly, too. To start, enjoy empanadas (beef, corn, cheese, spinach, etc). Great happy hour: Argentines dine late, so they’re masters of teatime snacks. Moderate. – Naomi Wise

Pete's Quality Meats

1742-1/2 India Street, Little Italy

I’m sorry, but you can’t beat a sausage made on the spot, and Pete makes his own. Always has. Pete’s Meats used to be a butcher shop. Then Pete’s daughter and sister-in-law had the idea of setting up a grill inside the shop. Now aficionados line up (’specially on festa days) for Pete’s Sicilian treats, like Italian sausage sandwich, with caramelized onions, peppers, and a background flavor of fennel. Prices: around $5. – Ed Bedford

Wet Stone Wine Bar and Cafe

1927 Fourth Avenue, Bankers Hill

Christian Gómez is a lucky man. He slipped on a wet stone in Brazil, fell 50 feet over a waterfall, and lived to create this wine bar café. He started life in Logan Heights, conquered Hollywood, traveled the world. Now he makes food so artistically presented you hate to stick a fork in it. Tastes? Try the baby greens, peaches, plums, Danish bleu cheese, and pumpkin seeds of the Stonefruit Salad. Great soups, good paninis, and ten bucks will get you in and out if you don’t buy wine. – Ed Bedford

Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop

1810 West Washington Street, Mission Hills

I asked the guy behind me in line (and there’s always a line), what was best. “Four things,” he said. “Quesotaco, surf-and-turf burrito, TJ hot dog with the bacon wrapped around it, and rolled tacos stuffed with potato.” He was so right on every count. The quesotacos have melted cheese fused to the tortilla, with marinated steak inside, cheese topping, avocado slices, the idea taken from La Ermita in TJ, where one of the cooks used to work. And have a TJ hot dog, just to remember your good times down there. There’s also an outstanding salsa bar. Run by the brothers Rojano-García.
– Ed Bedford

Hillcrest / North Park / Kensington

Top Pick Naomi Wise

Farm House Cafe

2121 Adams Avenue, University Heights

(No longer in business.)

Across the street from a park, you can believe that you’re eating at an actual farmhouse, a neat cottage with rural decor featuring parades of carved little ducks, with a cute fair-weather patio. But the sunny chef, Olivier Bioteau, has his ducks lined up in a row: the cuisine is very French, light and modern, and free of the shoddy shortcuts and heavy, tourist-food clichés that blight some better-known “neighborhood French” eateries. Little wonder the chefs of top local restaurants hang out here on their off-hours.

The food is both rustic and sophisticated, not to mention clever, with combinations you don’t expect. Chef Olivier is a devotee of the Slow Food movement, favoring sustainably raised produce, humanely raised meats, and artisanly care in cooking. His own artisanship shows in his ravishing chicken-liver mousse, house-made pastas, and exquisite hand-crafted chocolates, served as a dessert. Fish (fresh and mainly local) are treated like superstars; meats come out light, rather than stifling; and of course, there are some good choices for vegetarians. Wines include lots of good, affordable French-grown finds.

On Sunday mornings, you can awaken to joy. Sunday brunch is not a glorified Grand Slam cholesterol fest but an array of delicacies — especially the airy, fragile ricotta pancakes with citrus segments and orange butter and the scrambled eggs with truffles served with polenta. The sausages that come with certain dishes (or as a side order) are the rarely found fresh (not cured) Bruce Aidells chicken-apple sausages that burst with sweet liquid when you bite into them. Prices for all meals are moderate, making this one of the city’s “best buys” for culinary pleasure.

Hillcrest / North Park / Kensington

Top Pick Ed Bedford


3442 30th Street, North Park

(No longer in business.)

I have seen the future, and it is un-hamburgers. This little eatery is the HQ of the revolution. Rachael Fogg and the rest of the crew here try to make it easy for us unenlightened carnivores by fixing foods so like standard meat dishes we won’t know we’ve crossed over. Their “burgers” are the methadone to get us off the real thing, the antimatter to Lefty’s Chicago Pizza (next door) and Eddie’s Philadelphia Steaks/Hoagies/Burgers (opposite). The amazing thing is that they sell, mostly, not salads but burgers. Premium burgers — except, no ham in the burger. Meat patties are called “meaty” patties. The Western Burger, the biggest, most expensive (almost $9), has a “meaty” patty piled with “bacon,” cheddar cheese, onion rings, and the usual lettuce and tomatoes. You have to wonder if all this gunge is any better for you than what you’re giving up. But Alice, one of the ladies here, says there’s no comparison. Look at what’s in the “meat” patty: “We make it from peppers, broccoli, carrots, onions, and mushrooms.” Got to admit that sounds healthy. And their giant-disk sweet-potato fries are outstanding.



There’s also a difference in the drinks. No sodas, just weird bottles of tea, like Kombucha 2000. “It’s fermented tea, from the kombucha mushroom,” says Alice. “Really great for energy and antioxidants.”

It should be, at $4.35 each bottle.

But this is a friendly little place, with a small, two-umbrella patio, cream-and-chocolate-colored walls inside, decorated with bamboo and rattan and tiki carvings and Chinese fans. A string of Buddhist-style flags gives the Chinese characters for love, happiness, peace, wisdom, tranquility, courage. There’s definitely a feeling of camaraderie — “We, the few, the proud” — which gets everybody talking. Vegans explain things to their reticent carnivore mates, as though teaching a kid. It’s not hard to learn, with two dozen “burgers” and hot “dogs” to try. No reason this little refuge can’t become a delicious center for dialog between our two cultures. Open 11:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m., Monday–Thursday; 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Friday; noon–10:00 p.m., Saturday; noon–9:00 p.m., Sunday.

Hillcrest / North Park / Kensington

Honorable Mentions

Kensington Grill

4055 Adams Avenue, Kensington

(No longer in business.)

This “neighborhood restaurant” in an upscale neighborhood is airy, handsome, rather noisy, and done up in woodsy Craftsman style. In good weather, the front patio offers quiet and people-watching. The menu is very “green” (local and organic when possible) and changes seasonally according to the zesty inspirations of the chef, alpha-griller Hanis Cavin, whose fine rapport with his kitchen staff assures consistently well-executed dishes of California cuisine with Asian touches. Recent price reductions and affordable wines put the tab at moderate. – Naomi Wise

Kous Kous Moroccan Bistro

3940 Fourth Avenue #110, Hillcrest

Tucked downstairs (with nearby elevator) is your Arabian knight, aka witty, hospitable chef-owner Moumen Nouri, presiding over this no-frills Moroccan bistro (with pretty fabric art), where he treats everyone like an honored dinner-party guest. Western-style table seating meets authentic North African cuisine, with its wealth of savory spices in dishes like B’stilla (filo-topped chicken pie), merguez (lamb-beef sausage), and lamb shank tagine, stewed with honey, fruit, and almonds (plus the requisite kebabs). Vegan heaven, with grazes and a rich entrée. Affordable wines. Grazing inexpensive, otherwise moderate. – Naomi Wise

Pomegranate Russian-Georgian Restaurant

2312 El Cajon Boulevard, University Heights

The decor is frankly dumpy but comical, with multilingual graffiti scribbled by diners all over the walls and rather antic Slavic service to match. But the Georgian food is a revelation of complex, sometimes spicy flavors, including knockout, meaty, herb-strewn borscht (nothing like the bottled version), superb house-smoked fresh-caught fish and meats, richly exotic stews. It’s a joyous voyage of discovery. Moderate. – Naomi Wise

Station Tavern & Burgers

2204 Fern Street, South Park

Come in here at dusk, and you can’t help wondering: Is this a bar, a burger joint, or a preschool playground? Kids play in a giant sandpit, dogs race around trees, moms hold wineglasses at plank tables, guys group around the inside-outside bar chewing burgers and downing beers. Station is a uniquely family- and cool-cat-friendly place built on the site of the old triangular Snippy’s Tavern (the old — like, 1880 — trolley tracks once sliced through this block). Burgers are excellent. Can’t miss with the vegetarian spicy black-bean burger plus sweet-potato-and-garlic fries. Prices: $6–$10. – Ed Bedford

Peking Restaurant

2877 University Avenue, North Park

Talk about continuity: the same family has been running this eatery since Grandfather arrived from Canton at the age of 27, setting up business in 1931. Since then, pretty much nothing has changed. Auntie Anna and Auntie Maria still bring your food out on three-tier stainless-steel serving trolleys, along with the free pot of black tea and drinking bowls. The prices have stayed low, too. Order chop suey, just because it’s the traditional Chinese-American (but not Chinese) dish of meat and veggies on rice. Decor is part of the experience: circle-glass swing doors, big cushioned red booths, mother-of-pearl pictures of misty Ming palaces, red-tasseled black hanging lanterns with translucent pictures of songbirds, huge painted fans — five feet across — on the walls, the shouts in Chinese from the kitchen. Prices: $5–$13. – Ed Bedford

Pizza Fusion

Yes, it’s a Florida-based chain, but the pizzas are all organic, and they claim everything in the place is green. Corn-based drinking straws, tabletops made from wood from a demolished chicken barn in Northern California, renewable bamboo floors and walls, countertop of recycled bottles. Even the beer, Mate-Veza, is organic and “naturally caffeinated from yerba mate.” Best deal: Happy-hour personal pizzas. Add sweet Italian sausage for flavor. – Ed Bedford

Beaches: Coronado / OB / PB

Top Pick Naomi Wise


4000 Coronado Bay Road, Coronado

In this lovely room with panoramic views of the bay and the downtown skyline, some of the picked-today organic herbs and veggies are grown right on the grounds of the Loews Coronado; the rest come from nearby farms. The menu changes with the seasons, of course, and the cooking style is imaginative, cliché-free French-California. The chef is the prodigiously talented Patrick Ponsaty (one of our top-ten chefs, as he was ten years ago when he cooked at El Bizcocho).

Most appetizers are gossamer light, showcasing those great vegetables and often paired with delicate seafoods like Dungeness crab or earthy mushrooms like morels. If you’re very good, you may even luck into the occasional special of Ponsaty’s layering of velvety poached foie gras with eel (yes, eel, an amazing combination that won a major chef contest award in Europe). In fact, order any special that’s offered to you — the regular menu is fine, but in the specials, chef Patrick can break loose from the limited palates of hotel guests and business parties and really get cooking!

After several renovations, the look of the dining room is airy, casual, and Mediterranean. It’s quiet (unless a large party is seated in the bar area), with the tables and banquettes well spaced, and every table has a water view. The venue remains one of the most comfortable and romantic restaurants in this area. Better yet, you need not dress up fancy, nor bring a heavy platinum card — it’s a bit of a splurge (most entrées in the $20s) but a relatively lightweight splurge (not the least bit exorbitant). No vegetarian entrées, but this veggie-endowed kitchen can accommodate most dietary restrictions (except maybe kosher or hallal) upon request. Validated parking at hotel porte cochere.

Beaches: Coronado / OB / PB

Top Pick Ed Bedford

Clayton's Coffee Shop

979 Orange Avenue, Coronado

There are certain things about a diner you’ve gotta have. One, it must be small and intimate. Two, it’s been around long enough so you know it’s not the creation of some corporate image-exploiters. Three, it needs a U-shaped counter scattered with mini-jukeboxes where you put your quarter in and hear the tunes you grew up with, right there at the counter. And four, there should be cheerful people behind the counter and someone running the joint who really puts heart and soul into it.

Mary Frese, a gal from Tennessee, certainly does that. She took over Clayton’s a couple of years ago and infused it with life, from the apple pies she bakes daily to the free dinners she throws for Navy boys every Thanksgiving, to the face-lift she and her family gave the place. They painted vertical beige and cream stripes on the walls, put in a new acoustic ceiling, but didn’t change the essentials. The ancient wooden phone booth’s still there at the back, a genuine 1940s mechanical NCR cash register’s still what they ring you up with, and the Seeburg jukebox is alive and well, with remote push-button selectors scattered around the counter and at every booth, playing time-warp tunes like “A Summer Place,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Moon River.” Everyone seems to love the menu, items like the $8 “Garbage” omelet, stuffed with three eggs, ham, bacon, spicy sausage patty, links, mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and Swiss, cheddar, and American — with hash browns and toast. Burgers go for around $6, with fries or coleslaw. The meatloaf sandwich is around $6.50, and a chef’s special, like a plate of spaghetti and meat sauce with salad and cheese bread, costs around $7. Not bad for someone paying top-dollar rent for the best corner in town. The fact that Mary actually bakes those apple pies rather than buying them has become a bellwether for the way locals feel about the place: it’s theirs. Just like Clayton’s Mexican Take-Out (in the rear section of the restaurant, but with its own Tenth Street entrance) pretty much belongs to their kids. Prices $4–$10. Open daily from early till late.

Beaches: Coronado / OB / PB

Honorable Mentions

1500 Ocean

1500 Orange Avenue, Coronado

Chef Brian Sinnott (another top-ten chef) knows what you want to eat, and what you want to eat with it. His exquisite seasonal vegetables are full partners with their proteins or pastas. (Lacto-vegetarians will be in hog heaven here.) The restaurant, a bit cramped, is open to the Hotel Del beachfront; some tables have views. Quickest route: enter Del premises by road-level gateway to the left of the hotel stairs, take path heading to the right. Several shallow stairs to restaurant door. Very expensive, with entrées about $40; best deal is the four-course tasting menu for $75, your choice of any four dishes from whole menu. Validated parking.
– Naomi Wise

Costa Brava

1653 Garnet Avenue, Pacific Beach

In a big, old house overgrown with foliage, you’ll find zesty Spanish cuisine, with many recipes from the mother of the handsome, extroverted owner-host, Javier Gonzales (and many ingredients from his motherland). Choices include nearly 30 tapas and outstanding paella, along with other mains, and Javier will help you navigate the affordable Spanish wine list. Parking and wheelchair access via the alley behind the restaurant; try the sheltered garden-patio in fair weather. Atmosphere is casual, civilized, Euro, with service until midnight — ¡olé! Paella to serve more than four requires advance request. Moderate. – Naomi Wise

Sushi Ota

4529 Mission Bay Drive, Pacific Beach

What becomes a legend most? How about a strip mall with a 7-Eleven? Ota has expanded into the next-door space, but it’s still cramped, plain, and ear-breaking noisy. Yet Japanese businessmen make reservations for Ota before they book their first-class plane tickets. (For Ota-san’s own station, reserve at least three months ahead; for any other sushi-bar seat, about a month ahead.) They do have American-style fancy rolls, but the specialty is traditional, simple sushi and sashimi garnished lightly to flatter the fish species. The omakase sashimi is sheer fun. Sakes run the price gamut. Food expensive unless you exercise superhuman restraint. – Naomi Wise

World Curry

1433 Garnet Avenue, Pacific Beach

What’s more seductive than a burning vindaloo curry? Trouble is, there are a thousand curries, but nobody knows them in San Diego. So World Curry’s creators, Momo and Bruce, had this idea: Why not introduce all the curries in one place? Indian, Thai, Japanese, even curries from England. To prepare, Bruce went to cooking school in northern Thailand. They have tamed most of the curries down, so ask for hot if you want. And make sure you get your fix of chutneys. Interesting beers, too. Himalaya Blue from Sikkim goes well with the vindaloo. Prices $7–$12. – Ed Bedford

Point Loma Beach Cafe

1424 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, Ocean Beach

(No longer in business.)

Sunset Cliffs? Only serious surfers need apply. And this is their eatery, a cute little cottage 100 yards from the cliffs, with a chalk signboard announcing “Best Breakfast In Town!” They come for smoothies and the semi-legendary surfer breakfast burrito of eggs, bacon, black beans, and Monterey jack. Any given day, you see surfer and bike-rider types sitting on the two-table sidewalk patio, wolfing that baby down. Broke? Breakfast tacos cost half the burrito. Prices $3–$7. – Ed Bedford

Peace Pies

4230 Voltaire Street, Ocean Beach

When they were starting out, J.P. and Jeff, with their Rasta hats and their crazy raw pies, looked like hopeless idealists in a cook-everything world, trying to sell raw cashew hummus pizzas, and wraps wrapped in big veiny collard leaves. Now, many markets later, they’ve made enough to start their own little café. People are picking up on their message that, for the human body, dead cooked food is no match for the enzymes in live raw food. Prices from $3. – Ed Bedford

La Jolla and North Coast

Top Pick Naomi Wise

Kitchen 1540

1540 Camino del Mar, Del Mar

After last year’s thorough renovation, the restaurant is bright, modern, airy, with blond-wood tables and an open kitchen. You can even watch your food being prepared. There’s no view per se, but behind the hotel lobby next door there’s a new back patio with an ocean panorama. Parties of six or more can be seated in their own tented, curtained cabanas on a heated patio. The feel (and the typical garb) is now resort-casual. You’re here to have fun.

Chef Paul McCabe (a top-ten chef) cooks farm-to-fork, with hormone-free meats, sustainable fish, and local vegetables, but he brings imagination, some ultra-modern techniques, and a sense of humor to the stove. His foie gras cooked on a rock scattered with Pop Rocks is famous (off menu, but usually available by request), but the truffled diver scallops with a blasted fresh popcorn purée sauce is no laughing matter when it comes to knockout flavor. Delicate white corn agnolotti with chanterelles is another signature appetizer, and baked sweetbreads with smoked almond milk and Blis maple is sassy and luxurious. McCabe may also have been the first local chef to pair ye olde beet and goat cheese salad with pistachio brittle. And those are just a few of the starters. Main courses are more traditional, although vegetable pairings with the proteins are unexpected. You’re welcome to eat in the style you like, whether grazing through starters or following the classic order — but don’t miss desserts, they’re clever, too. Lacto-vegetarians will find lots to eat, and even vegans will find several animal-free dishes, including one of the chef’s favorites, the organic Farm House Salad.

The global wine list just won a major Wine Spectator award and fully deserves it, not only for the breadth of choices but the breadth of prices. There are plenty of bottles under $50 and some remarkable bargains at the higher end (a Romanée Burgundy for $210 is merciful compared to typical fine-dining restaurant prices, as is a 2003 Pichon-Longueville Grand Cru Bordeaux for $92). The food, too, is in the lightweight-splurge category, with most main courses in the mid-$20s, plus the option to graze on creative starters. Validated free parking.

La Jolla and North Coast

Top Pick Ed Bedford

Tip Top Meats

6118 Paseo del Norte, Carlsbad

This institution gives incredible deals with its meals, from breakfast to dinner. They’re not super-low-cholesterol, but they’re probably unbeaten in the county for sheer value. Tip Top Meats is the brainchild of Big John Haedrich, a six-foot-six, third-generation butcher who grew up in postwar East Germany, worked his way through school as a heavyweight boxer, went to the Helsinki Olympics, got a Maester Brief — an M.A. — in meat sciences in Berlin, and emigrated to the U.S. He built this business up from nothing twice, once in Glendale and again in Carlsbad, and received the Ronald Reagan Businessman of the Year award in 2004.

Tip-Top Meats

Tip-Top Meats

The shop is in a white building with red tiles, blue canopies over windows with blue windowboxes busting out in red and green geraniums. It looks like a tourist photo of some Bavarian village. To get to the eatery you pass through the garlicky, sausagey, cabbagey food smells of the deli. If you’re having breakfast, go for the Big John: for $6.98, you get three eggs any style, home fries, toast, and all you can eat of their smokehouse bacon, pork link sausage, polish sausage, bratwurst, or ham. The biggest deal has to be the $9.98 “Steak and Stein” meal, with bacon-wrapped filet mignon, or New York strip or top sirloin, plus three sides, including mash or baked potato and choice of veggies or salad — with a glass of German or domestic beer or a glass of wine tossed in free. Served anytime after midday. “Ja, Ja!” says the menu listing above the counter. “Es Ist Wunderbar! Schmeckt Sehr Gut!” (It tastes very good.) You’d better believe it. A similar $9.98 deal, but available Friday–Sunday, 4:30–8:00 p.m., promises a “massive portion of prime rib, served with mashed potatoes and gravy, baked potato or French fries, red cabbage, sauerkraut or broccoli, soup or salad, and a dinner roll.” Open daily, 7:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m.

La Jolla and North Coast

Honorable Mentions

George's California Modern

1250 Prospect Street, La Jolla

Trey Foshee (a top-ten chef) creates delicacies that can be unforgettable. (His Prime beef braised short ribs probably set off the whole local short-rib craze.) This is yet another farm-to-fork restaurant emphasizing prime, seasonal, sustainable, and humanely raised ingredients, handled deftly and imaginatively, and with minimal amounts of starch on the plate. Dressy and very expensive. – Naomi Wise

Bare Back Grill

4640 Mission Boulevard, Pacific Beach

Chef Bernard Guillas (top-ten chef, a repeat from 2000) brings worldwide flavors to a cuisine firmly based in rigorous French technique. It’s flashy, show-biz food, just like the awesome high tides that occasionally whack the windows of this beachside restaurant. Weeknights often feature bargain prix-fixe meals, frequently with matched wines. Weekends are still expensive. – Naomi Wise


910 Prospect Street, La Jolla

Nine-Ten was doing farm-to-fork cuisine long before it became fashionable. Chef Jason Knibb (a top-ten chef) and his collaborator, dessert chef Jack Fisher (a match made in culinary heaven), continue this tradition, bringing bold imagination, modern high craftsmanship, and a touch of adventure to the genre. The Tuesday–Saturday prix fixe for three courses (your choices of starter, entrée, dessert, or a cheese) is $45, or $60 with paired wines. The noisy dining room features such evil acoustics you can hear your neighbor more easily than your tablemates. – Naomi Wise

Deli-icious Deli

1237 Prospect Street, Suite J, La Jolla

This is the Jewel’s hidden jewel. A little deli situated in an arcade off Prospect that’s filled with artists’ studios and outdoor eateries. Somehow the guys at Deli-icious, Jeff and Kyle, manage to keep their prices down. One of the coolest-tasting sandwiches is the toasted Monte Cristo ($7.25), with a quarter-pound of hot turkey, ham, olives, and melted cheeses. Try the curried chicken sandwich ($6.50), or the antipasto garden salad (ham, pepperoni, salami, provolone, $7.25). Half-sandwiches are almost half price. Ask arcade artist Abbas Derissi about Salvador Dalí and Marc Chagall. He knew them. – Ed Bedford

Juanita's Taco Shop Estilo Tepatitlán

290 North Coast Highway 101, Encinitas

Maybe the most famous taco joint in North County. Surfers give them at least half their business. Their carnitas taco ($2.25) is a rich, overstuffed pork taco, with onions and tomatoes and cilantro and a big swab of guacamole, in corn tortillas. Not worth traveling 50 miles for, but great if you’re passing. – Ed Bedford

Hide Away Cafe

150 S. Acacia Avenue, Solana Beach

It’s hidden all right. Even its big “CAFÉ” sign is covered in vines. It’s an ex-single-car garage that has been standing since 1892, now converted to a tiny eatery. Breakfast is the deal here. Bite into their California French toast: Hawaiian bread dipped in orange-zest batter, with brown sugar and butter. Good plump omelets. Whatever you order, make sure a side of green-onion potato pancakes comes with them. Outstanding. – Ed Bedford

Top Chefs

Jack Fisher

Our culinary Ramblin’ Jack began as a professional body-boarder before discovering a passion for pastry. After partnering with chef Michael Stebner at Azzura Point, Nine-Ten, and Region, he began roving — but now he’s back to where he best belongs, at La Jolla’s Nine-Ten, collaborating with Jason Knibb, another top-tenner. A questing spirit impels him to explore varied food-crafts (e.g., cheese-making, exquisite chocolates). His desserts (never icky-sweet) often include surprising flavors, such as exotic spices or summer tomatoes. His ice creams and sorbets are arresting. Best of all, his trembling panna cottas define the words “sweet-flavored air.” Never mere afterthoughts, Fisher’s extraordinary desserts are playful, serious cuisine.

Trey Foshee

At George’s California Modern, Foshee provides consistent deliciousness, using the finest local produce (Chino Farms, mainly) and top-grade meats on a seasonally changing menu. A protégé of Roland Passot of San Francisco’s acclaimed La Folie, and a veteran of southwestern resort restaurants, Trey’s creativity may be somewhat constrained by George’s popularity with vacationers and upscale locals celebrating special occasions. The food runs to the conservative side but is always outstanding, with luscious textures and memorably rich flavors.

Bernard Guillas

Flashy! Guillas’s food at Marine Room is as flashy as the high tides smacking the windows. After a standard rigorous French apprenticeship in his native Normandy, Guillas indulged his wanderlust in French Guiana and Brazil. While working in Washington, DC, he accepted an assignment from his culinary mentor in France and moved to San Diego. He’s been here ever since, though he’s continued to travel, incorporating the exotic flavors of jaunts to Australia, Asia, etc. Guillas is one of two chefs (Patrick Ponsaty is the other) to appear in both the 2000 and the current “top tens.”

Fabrice Hardel

Apparently you don’t get to be a famous chef by working at the luxurious, old-fashioned Westgate Hotel. But French-trained Fabrice Hardel has been doing just that for years, and now, with the opening of a new ground-floor dining room (with air! — not to mention lower prices), he’s come into his own. Sure, he has to cook lots of stuffy conservative meat dishes for the hotel’s banker guests, but with his seafood, he shows that he’s made of more adventurous stuff, with discreet touches of “molecular gastronomy” in tasty, mysterious garnishes that had me and my tablemates wondering, “How did he do this?”

Jason Knibb

Trendy farm-to-fork California cuisine is often excellent but, dare I say it, a little boring. Not at Nine-Ten, where Jamaican-born, So-Cal raised Jason Knibb (a protégé of Trey Foshee) uses great sustainable products to take off into fresh directions. My last meal there included the best Maine lobster (poached for an appetizer) anybody at my table of New York émigrés had ever tasted, as well as surprise jellied balsamic cubes (looking like beet cubes, only soft) on a salad. He’ll have you gobbling up vegetables (okra!) you think you don’t like. Knibb’s food is not just clever, it’s also impossibly delicious.

Paul McCabe

After suffering through a year at Top of the Cove, McCabe spent several more years as one of the best chefs ever at Star of the Sea. He bounced up to L’Auberge del Mar’s rather prissy J. Taylor’s, then came fully into his own after the owners renovated the property to create the airy, less formal Kitchen 1540. Now his food bursts with creativity. Not just local and seasonal but audacious, McCabe’s dishes may include foie gras with Pop Rocks, scallops with “blasted” popcorn, or a surprisingly rewarding springtime risotto with local ramps and nettles. He has fun with his food, and so will you.

Patrick Ponsaty

A repeat honoree (from our 2000 top ten list, when he reigned at El Bizcocho), Ponsaty’s food at its best can actually evoke tears of joy, so sympathetic is his grasp of the emotional impact of combined ingredients. French-raised, he was rigorously trained in his homeland and at a top avant-garde restaurant in Spain; these influences bring deep sophistication to his cooking. At the lovely Mistral, he can draw on the hotel’s own gardens for fresh herbs and vegetables. Cautious tourists and business parties do present some constraints — so order the night’s specials to enjoy his best inventions.

Gavin Schmidt

After Blanca’s last hotshot chef (from New York) departed, they snagged a San Francisco hottie, a veteran of several of the best kitchens there. He’s proven worth the getting. His focus is on artisanal cooking — homemade charcuterie, salumi, and pastas and main courses that engage the mind as well as the palate (such as his “Day at the Farm,” covering a pig from head to haunch, and veggies from sprouts to flowering). He has a wonderful waste-no-flavor approach: guinea hen on the menu? Then guinea hen–liver mousse on the charcuterie plate! His food makes grown-up eating a blast.

Brian Sinnott

Sinnott arrived here after working and/or consulting at several top San Francisco restaurants to become chef at the much-missed Molly’s at the downtown Marriott. The Hotel del Coronado lured him away to run the kitchen at deluxe 1500 Ocean. His locavore menu encompasses So-Cal ingredients from Santa Barbara to Cabo San Lucas and may include brilliantly garnished sashimi or elegant rethinkings of Mexican classics, along with house-made pastas and more traditional plates. Elegant it always is, with particular éclat at choosing and cooking the produce that accompanies the proteins. “Eat your vegetables” becomes a joy, not a duty.

Philippe Verpiand

Provence-born Verpiand worked in numerous Michelin-starred restaurants in France before coming to San Diego at the request of Jean-Michel Diot of Tapenade Restaurant (who also deserves a top-ten slot, or maybe a hall of fame citation for introducing modern French food to San Diego). After seven years there, he opened Cavaillon, a relaxed bistro with spectacular, adventurous Southern French cuisine, including world-class panisse (chick-pea fries), sautéed scallops with corn and Tahitian vanilla froth, and braised pork cheeks with creamy apricot polenta. But when special ingredients come in — e.g., black truffles for Cavaillon’s early-winter Truffle Week — then ooh, la la!

New Food Trends

Old: Seared Foie Gras
This French invention, the silk-velvet-textured liver of a fatted goose or duck, is one of the world’s greatest luxury foods, but PETA has had considerable success scaring restaurateurs out of serving it.

New: Gourmet Hamburgers
For lean times, a cheaper choice that may cost the same as the foie but is more than a starter. Ground beef: it’s what’s for dinner.

∗ ∗ ∗

Old: Seared Pepper-Crusted Ahi
Some famous Japanese chef in the late ’80s came up with crusting and searing only the edge of a slice of fine tuna, and next thing you knew, it was on the menu at top-class French restaurants, too.

New: Ahi Tartare/Ahi Poke
As sushi’s popularity grew, America lost its fear of totally raw tuna. Happily, tartares leave the chefs leeway to get brilliant with dressings and accompaniments.

∗ ∗ ∗

Old: Caesar Salad
Supposedly, Baja chef Caesar Cardini matched leaves of romaine hearts with croutons, Parmesan, and a dressing based on anchovies and raw egg. It lives on (like a trendy vampire) in bastardized forms, with the egg banished, cooked, or pasteurized.

New: Iceberg Salad with Bleu Cheese and Bacon
Retro! We want to eat like Mad Men! And it’s got bacon! Bacon! Woof!

∗ ∗ ∗

Old: Tiramisu
(ladyfingers soaked in rum and/or coffee with a pouf of mascarpone-based cream, topped with instant espresso and shaved bitter chocolate). Escaped from Italian restaurants to sweep the nation in the ’90s. It’s easy to make…

New: Crème Brûlée
…and so is the simple custard, Crème Brûlée. Any competent cook can prepare both — so a restaurant can offer dessert without hiring a pastry chef.

∗ ∗ ∗

Old: Garlic Mashed Potatoes
These started out as a tasty enhancement of Mom’s mash, and then budget-conscious restaurateurs discovered they could get away with a thrifty, butterless, creamless version (with garlic broth or a touch of olive oil). And garlic mash swept the land.

New: Mac ’n’ Cheese
More goo, Mommy! Feeding the inner child also lets chefs go wild (cheap lobster meat? truffle oil? Brie?) with an old favorite.

∗ ∗ ∗

Old: Fried Calamari
Only “ethnics” ate squid until this Italian classic caught on about 20 years ago — proving that Americans will eat nearly anything fried in batter.

New: Steamed Mussels
Carlsbad aquacultured mussels have inspired local chefs to offer them cooked in wine, beer, anything short of Coca-Cola — though fried squid are still hangin’ in there.

∗ ∗ ∗

Old: Molten Chocolate Cake
This gooey, comforting favorite can be found in Depression-era cookbooks as “Chocolate Pudding Cake.”

New: Chile-Spiked Chocolate Anything
Back to the Aztecs’ sacred drink, hot chocolate with powdered hot chiles — now in any solid form (cakes, cookies, chocolates). Bland dinner? Hot dessert!

∗ ∗ ∗

Old: Corn-Fed Midwestern Filet Mignon
This classic signifier of wealth in the ’50s is the tenderest, blandest piece of a fattened steer, often served with a rich butter-based sauce to jazz up the flavor.

New: American Kobe, Bison, or Sustainably Raised California Beef
Diners are starting to want beefier flavor, healthier meat, and more humane ranching practices — even if it means sacrificing some tenderness to chaw on a local-raised chuck flat-iron.

∗ ∗ ∗

Old: Big, Pricey Steaks
Those huge dinosaur loins are really tasty, but most of us now sense that too much of a good thing is…too much (and too costly in these times).

New: Meatloaf
More of the recession’s “back to Mom’s” trend — affordable comfort food over exorbitant gourmet food. It’s another dish with which creative chefs can have fun.

∗ ∗ ∗

Old: Osso Buco
The Italian classic of veal shanks served on the bone seems to be fading, along with the general appetite for veal. (Perhaps the brutal factory-meat treatment of calves wrecks the appetite.)

New: Braised Short Ribs
Short ribs are suddenly everywhere — inexpensive, often delectable, and a hassle to cook at home. Top chefs even use Prime-grade beef or American Kobe to distinguish theirs from the pub-grub versions.

∗ ∗ ∗

Old: Prosciutto Con Melone
Nothing wrong with this age-old Italian classic, but it doesn’t offer much fresh excitement.

New: House-Made Salumi/Charcuterie Plate
Inspired by the Bay Area’s Paul Bertolli, local chefs have turned to making their own cured and smoked meats, sausages, and pâtés.

∗ ∗ ∗

Old: Brined Free-Range Chicken
Brining is a superb technique to imbue flavorful (i.e., free-range or organic) chickens for roasting with moisture, salt, spices. It was a good trend while it lasted, but now everything’s coming up Jidori.

New: Jidori Chicken
Jidori chickens are small, well raised, and tasty, but their name is no guarantee the chef won’t cook them to cardboard.

∗ ∗ ∗

Old: Seared Duck Breast in Sweet Sauces
We went from whole-roasted ducks in sweet sauces (orange, cherry, etc.) to magrets (boneless breasts) in the ’90s — much easier to cook, since it takes mere minutes to sauté a breast (compared to 90 minutes of monitoring to roast a whole quacker).

New: Duck Leg Confit
For 20 years, we’ve been wondering what the abandoned legs have been doing. Now the legs come marching in — braised, then salted, preserved, and reheated in duck fat like carnitas. But — no extra carbs! ■

— Naomi Wise

Local Harvest

Chef Gavin Schmidt is such a fan of local food that he serves up plates of dirt to show off his just-picked vegetables. He calls it “Day on the Farm.”

“It’s a celebration of what our local farmers do,” he says of Blanca restaurant’s signature dish. The “dirt” is finely ground cocoa nib, pistachio, and leek ash, which Schmidt tops with spouts, peas, and full-grown vegetables. “And on top of that is pork done seven ways,” he says. “All the different parts. If you were cooking on a farm, you’re not just going to throw out the ugly bits because this is a pig you have raised.”

All over San Diego, chefs are shunning silver Sysco trucks in favor of pickups packed with farm-fresh veggies. But you don’t have to be a chef to fill your fridge with local greens.

“Anyone can go to a farmers’ market and build up a relationship with a farmer,” says chef Christian Graves, of Jsix restaurant. “You’ll make a friend, and they’ll make sure you get the best food.”

According to the San Diego County Farm Bureau, there are about 50 weekly farmers’ markets between Fallbrook and Imperial Beach that offer everything from apples and eggplant to bread, honey, and wine.

“There are basically two ways for people to eat locally,” says Jeff Jackson (executive chef, A.R. Valentien). “One is to go to the farmers’ market. The other is to join a community-supported agriculture program, or CSA, where you get a basket of goodies each week.” For a fee, people pick up a bin of fresh produce weekly. The vegetable basket available from Suzie’s Farm in San Diego can be picked up at one of 15 locations for $25 a week. The contents of most CSA baskets are determined by what is growing on the farm, but Seabreeze Organic in Sorrento Hills allows customers to add coffee, flowers, and green household goods to their weekly baskets via their website.

Tina Barnes, owner of Crows Pass Farm in Temecula, acknowledges that for some, CSAs can be too inflexible and for others, farmers’ markets can be too expensive. She recommends that those looking to flirt with local food check out some healthful new restaurant chains popping up. Both True Food Kitchen, developed by Andrew Weil, and Tender Greens serve food from Barnes’s farm. “These restaurants serve really good, healthy food at good prices.”

In addition to getting local produce, local seafood is another perk of living in San Diego. Matt Rimel, owner of Zenbu and Rimel’s Rotisserie, has his own seafood company, Ocean Giant. “I only work with hook and line and harpoon fisheries. They are all sustainable. They are all local. I know my fishermen, and I know where the fish are coming from.” He adds that his company provides fish to his restaurants first and to others after. “But if someone wants to fill their freezer with $200 worth of fish, I’ll do that too.”

Point Loma Seafoods in Point Loma has long been a reliable spot for fresh, local fish. “We carry whatever is seasonal,” says Tim Lamb, general manager. “In October we have spiny lobster, swordfish, shark, and some yellowtail.” Pelly’s Fish Market in Carlsbad carries clams and oysters from Carlsbad Aquafarm, and Catalina Offshore Products is well known for high-quality, sushi-grade fish, fresh seafood, lobster, and uni. To go with dinner, Orfila Vineyards and Winery in Escondido creates Rhone-style wines from grapes grown in their backyard vineyards. Free tours are offered every day at noon, and you can try out some wines before you buy in their traditional stone tasting room.

Getting locally raised meat and poultry in San Diego is a bit more difficult. Actually, it’s impossible. “It takes a tremendous amount of money and water to raise and slaughter cows, which we don’t have here,” explains Bob Watkins, the owner of San Diego Meat. “Plus, California beef just doesn’t taste good. There isn’t enough grass for them here.” He adds that some farms in East County send their cows to Harris Ranch in the San Joaquin Valley or to the Imperial Valley to be slaughtered. He doesn’t see a San Diego slaughterhouse opening up anytime soon.

Local milk from local cows is also impossible to get. While there used to be hundreds of working dairies in San Diego, today only four exist. All send their milk to creameries or co-ops outside San Diego. The Van Ommering Dairy Farm in Lakeside produces raw milk but sends it to a creamery in Artesia. Today, the big draw to the farm is Oma’s Pumpkin Patch, where you can pick pumpkins or take a hayride in the fall and find a Christmas tree in December.

A few San Diego farms sell their eggs to the public. Hilliker’s Egg Ranch — a five-acre farm in Lakeside — sells eggs from chickens raised in cages, while Angus Acres in Lemon Grove offers eggs from free-range chickens.

Ultimately, according to Lucila De Alejandro, the owner of Suzie’s Farm, the most important thing about eating locally is the desire to do so. “People don’t understand the impact that local farms have on the community,” she says. “Local farms employ people. We educate your children through school tours. We help keep native lands from being developed into strip malls. We keep ancient traditions current. We care.”■

— Pamela Hunt Cloyd

Angus Acres
7615 Lansing Dr.
Lemon Grove

437 South Hwy. 101
Solana Beach

Catalina Offshore Products
5202 Lovelock St.
San Diego

Crows Pass Farm
39615 Berenda Rd.

Hilliker’s Ranch Fresh Eggs Inc
11329 El Nopal

Ocean Giant

Oma’s Pumpkin Patch
14950 El Monte Rd.

Orfila Vineyards and Winery
13455 San Pasqual Rd.

Pelly’s Fish Market
7110 Avenida Encinas

Point Loma Seafoods
2805 Emerson St.
San Diego

Seabreeze Organic Farm
3909 Arroyo Sorrento Rd.
San Diego

Suzie’s Farm
1856 Saturn Blvd.
San Diego

Tender Greens
2400 Historic Decatur Rd.
San Diego

7660 Fay Ave.
La Jolla

2003 San Elijo Ave.

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Ponzi Oct. 7, 2010 @ 8:02 a.m.

Yelp is only useful for addresses and phone numbers. As far as the reviews go, they are anything but useful and most are probably fake.


msimons Oct. 15, 2010 @ 12:21 p.m.

Actually Yelp is quite useful,just have to use some common sense. Saw Wise's article on Mistrial some time ago, tried it with family in town on a sunday. Hardly lived up to expectations. Extremely long waits between courses, even with few in restaurant.


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