The Banh Mi at Rare Form
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Food provided by Juniper & Ivy


The ultracompetitive restaurant landscape around the DOWNTOWN neighborhoods of Marina, Gaslamp, and East Village leaves little room for error in what's already a risky enterprise. The mere fact these restaurants survive recommends them. That they stand out in a crowded field says they must be doing something extremely well.

Rare Form Delicatessen

793 J Street, East Village

Rare Form

This colloquially-furnished and internationally inspired deli sits a grand slam away from Petco Park. You can’t go wrong with the eponymous Rare Form 44, a Kosher pile of pastrami, braised Sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and special sauce on grilled rye ($12). The Banh Mi trips to Vietnam with a gourmet spread of pâté de champagne (a coarse, country-style liver pâté), head cheese, pickled vegetables, cilantro, jalapeño, and mustard on a fresh baguette ($8). Accompany your meal with a number of innovative $10 cocktails, primarily West Coast brews at around $6, or a Schnapps and draft boilermaker for $11. —Chad Deal

Sultan Baklava Mediterranean Cuisine

770 Fourth Avenue, Downtown San Diego

Sultan Baklava — Mediterranean Cuisine

Sultan Baklava decided to get back into serving up Turkish cuisine late last year and we rejoiced. All those favorites, like the thin, light, flatbread topped with a spiced mixed meat known as Lahmacun or the mildly spicy Adana Kebab are available for our enjoyment again. The menu is large and varied with items like the Beyti Kebab, ground meat wrapped in lavash, topped with a tomato based sauce, or if you’re starving the Karisik Izagara, the mixed grill. Mezes, many vegetarian friendly, liked the spicy tomato and pepper dip called Antepezme all served up with a hot lavash the size of hubcap. —Kirk K

Double Standard

695 Sixth Avenue, Downtown San Diego

Double Standard Kitchenetta

Enjoy shareable nouveau Italian fare in what feels like your wacky grandma’s sunroom. Wide-open window-walls bring the outside in, and the patio is rife with fake grass and a hodgepodge of lounge-style lawn furniture. The Prosciutto Bruschetta (with house made ricotta, candied figs, toasted pistachios, and chestnut honey) is a must order. The pasta is made fresh daily, and the most elegant way to enjoy it is the Cacio e Pepe preparation: bucatini with cacio di Roma and Grana Padano cheeses and tellicherry pepper. The soju cocktails (intensified through the process of fractional freezing) are as refreshing as they are heady. —Barbarella Fokos

Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop

640 Tenth Avenue, East Village

Cowboy Star

Some steakhouses offer USDA prime beef, some offer grass-fed. Finding one that serves both is rare. But that’s exactly the sort of devotion to fine quality and humane sourcing that makes this restaurant and butcher shop stand out. Adding to its unique status is table service on par with French fine dining. So while the semi-rustic setting includes an earnestly rendered portrait of John Wayne, your waiter will possess uncommon courtesy and an encyclopedic knowledge of both whiskey and wine, equipped to help you choose between a prime, natural, 21-day aged ribeye and a ridiculously marbled Wagyu New York strip. —Ian Anderson

Ocean Pacific Grille

531 F Street, Downtown San Diego

(No longer in business.)

Ocean Pacific Grille

Executive chef Charles Andres brought his Filipino heritage to Ocean Pacific Grille, but definitely pushes the boundaries. Starters gear toward the traditional favorites, fall-off-the-bone tender Adobo Style Baby Back Ribs have a pungent sprinkle of garlic gremolata, Salt and Pepper Calamari sit atop tangy yuzu aioli, and the outlier Pork Belly Bao Buns are a sticky, savory treat — the house pickled pepper garnish cuts the rich pork and sweet hoisin glaze nicely. Kare Kare, a meat and vegetable stew, customarily uses oxtails, but here Andres chose the more diner-friendly short ribs. Slow cooked in a peanut sauce with tender eggplant, it’s nestled next to beautifully sautéed baby bok choy and long beans. Exotic fruits rule the dessert menu — my favorite is the Chocolate Passion Fruit Dome, layers of passion fruit gelée and coconut milk based haupia are enrobed in a dark chocolate dome, resting in a pool of white chocolate ganache. —Mary Beth Abate

Quad Alehouse

868 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego

Quad AleHouse

Just a few months old, Quad AleHouse has already become downtown’s craft beer mecca, thanks to a well curated section of local and specialty brews. Long tables and friendly locals mean you won’t be drinking alone. Knowledgeable staff helps pair the right brews with your meal, even dessert. Foodwise, choose your protein — chicken, pork, brisket, turkey, or lamb — and whether you want it on a sandwich, a plate, or a salad. The pulled pork is justifiably popular but the Moroccan-spiced lamb is the real star. —Patrick Henderson

Samba Brazilian Cuisine

819 C Street, Downtown San Diego

Samba

Eating Brazilian? If you’re thinking swordloads of mesquite-barbecued beef and chicken and lamb, save up your Washingtons and head for Rei do Gado in the Gaslamp. If you want genuine Brazilian street food, come a few blocks east. Samba serves the rice and black beans and tapioca wraps that working Brazilians (and the maybe 30,000 Brazilian students in San Diego) can afford. Here, go for coxinhas (potato croquettes stuffed with chicken, cream cheese), or pão de queijo (little cheesebreads), but mainly the “house Specialty,” bread or tapioca wraps loaded with any of 15 combos of meat and veggies. Seven bucks. And at lunchtime you get a really good-value sampling with the daily buffet. —Ed Bedford

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