c

cookieshoes's Profile

Title Last Reply

Carnitas Snack Shack

"Yeah, but 60% or usually more of the tables at CSS are always empty while those at UP are full."

Well, the success of one spot doesn't automatically mean that the neighbor is failing. Remember, they are different restaurants. Carnitas Snack Shack is a burger/pork sandwich spot where you get things a la cart. Urban Plates is a hearty dinner plate or big salad sitdown with large seating areas catering towards families and couples. People linger at Urban Plates way more than at Carnitas Snack Shack. In fact, every time I've been to Carnitas Snack Shack I've ordered to go.

Both places have their niche so I think it doesn't really do much to compare the volume of one restaurant to the volume of the one next door to it. Sure, the sight of lines out the door might make an impact if you look at it from someone who has never heard/been to either, but there is no correlation there. They are different restaurants with different ordering/serving setups and different appeal. Searsucker doesn't have lines out the door at lunch either, you know? Nor does the Mexican sitdown across the parking lot.

I'd add that I think it wouldn't be a bad sign if they cut back their hours to close a little earlier. I don't know what they are now, but I remember that when they first opened that they had some late closing times, like the North Park location. For that shopping center, they wouldn't need to be open that late on weekdays. Jimbo's closes at 9pm and UP closes at 9:30pm. It may be a busy shopping center, but it's still frequented by people who have work/school night hours.

2 days ago
cookieshoes in San Diego

Carnitas Snack Shack

"I go to this place since it started opening in 2011 and I can't a single time I hadn't to wait in line to order my food"

Funny, I've been going there awhile as well. As I said earlier, the line to get your food is inherent, because of the cafeteria style. The line out the door, where the people are nearly on the street is only when it's peak times, like lunch and dinner. People spilling out of that place every night is now the norm, but it wasn't always like that. And it's not a fair comparison with Carnitas Snack Shack not having a similar line, because it's a different ordering/seating setup. At Carnitas, you order and go sit down. At UP you order and wait for them to make your food in front of you. Naturally there's going to always be some form of line inside.

2 days ago
cookieshoes in San Diego

Carnitas Snack Shack

"The lines out of the door at UP are pretty much there from the beginning especially at lunch."

Right, now they are. When it first opened, and for awhile after that it wasn't so busy.

Also worth noting that the lines out the door at Urban Plates are a bit misleading. Yeah, they get a steady flow of customers, but that line out the door isn't from people waiting for a table or waiting for people to leave, like you'd see at some of the really busy places in town. The line there has more to do with the fact that it's cafeteria style where you wait for them to make your food in front of you, the people working the counters aren't always very quick, and the people in line aren't always following the instructions on the signs showing that there are separate lines for hot food vs salad bar.

2 days ago
cookieshoes in San Diego

Carnitas Snack Shack

"UP might be based in the business model of TG but the meals at UP were better than what we had at TP (UTC)"

I like Urban Plates, I do. When it first opened I was happy to see a TG equivalent in that area. Then the UTC Tender Greens opened and it was best of both. The Urban Plates location is definitely a nice spot. I do prefer Tender Greens. Also worth mentioning Urban Pi on Via de La Valle. They did a really nice job on that place. Frozen/refrigerated discs of organic pizza dough, sure, assembled to order, but I think the concept works and the food is good.

It is worth pointing out that just like Tender Greens (which only really started taking off in the past 2-3 years after having been a quiet hit in Liberty Station), Urban Plates also took awhile to get itself the following it has now. The line out the door thing is fairly recent (past year or so). On the weekends I've seen Carnita's Snack Shack packed, but of course they'll never have the line out the door because it's not that type of business, where they make you wait cafeteria-style for your food like at UP. Even so, I've still seen lines out the door during peak times.

In general, I think the redesign of the Del Mar Highlands shopping center is a good thing. I remember what that place looked like 15-20 years ago. It still conjures an image of the people from the nearby communities (wealthy rancho santa fe, jewish retirees, rich kids, "cougars"), but the reality is that the area directly around that shopping center is now 99% middle class families with small kids. I see more Asian, Indian, and Eastern European families in that area now than I do anywhere else in San Diego, save for pockets of Mira Mesa and Kearny Mesa - and those communities tend to slant towards one ethnicity or the other. Carmel Valley has turned into this sleeper area where a lot of people from different backgrounds are commuting into Sorrento Valley or heading up to north county or south to downtown for work. The rancho santa fe and cougar crowds still come into the Del Mar Highlands shopping center, but the mix isn't the same as it was.

The stretch from Genesee to Lomas Santa Fe has lots of gems, hidden in these otherwise random locations. What's more is that many of them are contenders for "best of" in their respective categories.

Besides the stuff like Carnita's Snack Shack, Snooze, or Urban Plates in Del Mar Highlands, in the surrounding area there's Zumbar Coffee, Opera Cafe, Punjabi Tandoor's second location, Keg n Bottle liquor, 2 locations of Green Acre, Del Mar Wine Company, Pizza Port Solana Beach, Claire's on Cedros, New English Brewing, Green Flash Brewing, The Lodge at Torrey Pines, Roberto's Mexican on Carmel Valley Road...Add in the recent developments on Via de La Valle and you have the best Whole Foods in San Diego county, Venissimo cheese, Burger Lounge, Sea and Smoke, Cucina Enoteca, even an M Theory record store too. Go out in each direction from there and you've got Prep Kitchen, Brigantine, Kitchen 1540, Secret Cafe, the Fish Market, Tony's Jacal, Fidel's, Market, Addison...

Carnitas Snack Shack

"compared to the original, it has kind of a cold (chain) feel to it"

You gotta exploit the location for what it has to offer and tailor your expectations to fit it. In North Park, you can go bar hopping, go see a concert, or dip into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Carnitas Snack Shack being on University and right next to the busy-ness of the street works just fine there. In Carmel Valley, switch out those things for a nice movie (Cinepolis), a pre/after dinner cocktail (Searsucker), or some window shopping. Chuao Chocolate (including gelato and espresso drinks), Oggi's for craft beer, Jimbo's for some organic goods, Leaf and Kettle for some tea (same owner that operated Halcyon in South Park a few years ago). Heck, why not head towards the beach and watch the sunset. Opens up a whole new set of places along the coast as well.

Jan 26, 2015
cookieshoes in San Diego

Carnitas Snack Shack

Interesting thread. I don't see the concern. Quality of food was identical to the North Park location, and I've been to both several times. Difference is that at Carmel Valley you don't get the unreasonable lines or the wait on the sidewalk and instead you get a great interior with lots of space and plenty of things to walk to before/after the meal. Putting the same formula into a nicer space is a good thing. It's bound to be quieter at times in comparison to North Park because it's not in an area where people are flocking to the place after drinking every other night. For comparison, the North Park location is just as dead empty during non-peak hours. If anything, threads like this draw negative attention. I remember going to Pizzeria Mozza and it being packed and the food being good, and then seeing a thread here talk about how bad it was. A few months later the place closed. I dunno.

The fact is that the entire shopping center is empty during non-peak times. Same goes for Urban Plates. The Counter closed because they closed down all locations in the area; that had nothing to do with that location.

We eat at Urban Plates every now and then. It's a really good fit for that type of spot, where you have a lot of people from all over the area migrating to that shopping center (like the Forum in Carlsbad or the Otay Ranch Shopping Center down south). Urban Plates is a carbon-copy of Tender Greens, and no question that Tender Greens does the formula much better, but it is what it is, and a great option in the area. No matter what you put next door, that place will always be busy.

And yes, it's Carmel Valley. Del Mar is west of the 5.

Jan 26, 2015
cookieshoes in San Diego

Harbor Breakfast (Little Italy)

Well, that might be what "quotation marks" can be used for. Is it "what punctuation is for"?

Methinks no*&~@#

Aug 04, 2014
cookieshoes in San Diego

Harbor Breakfast (Little Italy)

"I agree it will be slammed, but cannot bring myself to write "methinks"..."

And yet, you did.

Magic!

Aug 04, 2014
cookieshoes in San Diego

One man's exhaustive search for the best fish taco in SD. .

Very funny how the fish taco has become this elusive food item. I'd be happy with most of the ones on the list, and nine times out of ten it's still going to be frozen fish put on the same generic factory tortillas you can get at any local market. There was a time when Mariscos German would even board up the unused windows in their truck using the boxes that the frozen fish came in.

So, as far as ingredients go, the "best" fish tacos are still about as difficult to source as a pre-packaged hotdog served on a white bread roll.

And yet, so many places still get it so wrong...

Harbor Breakfast (Little Italy)

Really interested to see how this one plays out.

In that area, Papalecco and Influx both offer breakfast options, but are still essentially coffee shops. There are options for brunch on the weekends, in addition to the Italian spots which do tourist-friendly breakfast options during the week. Some of the hotels in the area also do a standard hotel breakfast.

Harbor will be the only diner-style breakfast place in the area, and on the end of India that has all of the high rise condos surrounding it.

Methinks this place will be permanently slammed, and probably to the point of craziness. A bit like what would happen if there was only one bar open in the Gaslamp on a Friday night.

Aug 04, 2014
cookieshoes in San Diego

Anyone tried Rare Form

Went with a group and we tried the pastrami and the pork sandwich, among other things. Between the two, I actually thought the pastrami was better. The pork sandwich wasn't really good at all, as it was super oily and the french roll they served it on tasted day old and was toasted to the point of hardness. The pork was like they took thin slices off of a dry pork loin and then let it sit in whatever the kale was braised with until it was ready to serve. Not really any pork flavor to the meat at all, and there was that oily marinade dripping everywhere. There must have been 2 tablespoons of oil on the bottom of the tray when I was done. I can hang with a messy/oily sandwich with the best of 'em, but this was kind of like they were trying to artificially give the meat some juiciness. Oh Roseville Cozinha, for why did you have to close and take your porchetta sandwich with you?

Probably my biggest complaint here is that they serve their beer in glasses which have about 1 inch of extra glass at the bottom. In fact, these are probably the heaviest "pint" glasses I've ever seen. Given the number of restaurants in this group's chain, and how much they try and align with the craft beer thing, this seems like an obvious cashgrab. Places like the Waterfront and the High Dive use similar types of "trick" pint glasses, so that they can serve less beer per glass, yet keep charging customers the same price. The glass looks like a traditional pint glass, but notice that extra half inch or inch of glass at the bottom. Instead of 16oz of beer in the glass, you're really getting 12oz. Add some foam, and its more like 10oz. The customer gets less and the restaurant gets to make more money per keg.

This isn't isolated to just Rare Form, either, as it seems to be a trend at most of the CH restaurants. I was at Underbelly, and they've started serving their craft taps in these ridiculous half-pint style glasses, yet still charge $6-$7 a beer. At Soda and Swine, the guinness-style pints they serve there actually have "16oz" listed on the menu, but the one I got came with about two inches of foam on the top. Craft and Commerce have started serving a lot of their beers in tulip glasses, as does Ironside, where you're again only getting 10-12oz per pour.

Beware the dreaded trick pint.

Aug 04, 2014
cookieshoes in San Diego
1

Anyone tried Rare Form

"I wonder if they are trying to emulate Wexler's up in LA. "

Well, of course they are. And if not Wexler's, then somewhere else. Most likely a little bit from Katz's too, along with little bits from other notable places.

I've never been a fan of that group's strategy of copying other restaurants and then churning out average food. The focus is all on the interior design, which I assume is where most of the startup money goes. The design too ends up being a collage of lifts from other designers and restaurants.

Are the CH places interesting? Of course they are, because they are built around interesting ideas already worked out by others. Sure, the drinks and vibe in each place is fun, if nothing else. Which is probably the real strategy at work there. What's so odd about that group is that with all that money they must have behind them and all of those backers, including the City of San Diego pretty much greenlighting everything that they want to put up, why not come up with something even just a little bit more homegrown? Is it really that hard to have an original vision beyond repeatedly doing carbon copies of restaurants from New York and LA mixed with the same overused Wes Anderson schtick?

Before Rare Form, their Ironside Fish and Oyster place opened, and it's pretty much a copy of The Optimist in Atlanta. Right down to aspects in the interior design, with the stage lights set in wrought iron over the bar. They've admitted to having "influences", and sure nobody really invents anything these days, but the CH restaurants end up being these cut-and-paste collages of very specific ideas from other chefs and restaurateurs currently on the scene. It's one thing to be influenced by someone, or be influenced by a trend; it's something else to copy for the purpose of creating an imitation.

Case in point, take Bruxie, the waffle sandwich chain who were slated to open in San Diego but then delayed their plans for a short time. As they were transitioning to a new spot, Rare Form opened up and coincidentally featured waffle sandwiches on their menu, specifically copying items from Bruxie's menu. Now that Bruxie finally ended up opening in San Diego, we have both the originator of an idea in the same town as the copycat. It's just weird.

Jul 30, 2014
cookieshoes in San Diego

Best or Favorite Local IPAs?

For San Diego IPAs, it's worth noting that one of the original starting points was Blind Pig IPA, which was done out of Temecula by Vinnie Cilurzo in 1994. He now runs Russian River brewing outside of Sonoma, which still does a lot of good beers in addition to Blind Pig IPA, such as Pliny the Elder. They have pretty good distribution too, so you could probably go into a store in LA that carries Blind Pig or Pliny and get the "original" San Diego IPA style without ever needing to come down here.

A lot of the bigger local brewers opened around the same time as Vinnie was doing his thing, and as a result I think a lot of the current San Diego IPAs are very similar to that original style. Even with all of the self-professed beer nerds in town these days, I think that you'd find that quite a few of them couldn't tell the difference between a pint of Blind Pig, Pliny, Sculpin (Ballast Point), Racer 5 (Bear Republic), Alesmith IPA (Alesmith), West Coast IPA (Green Flash), or Mongo (Port Brewing) if put to a blind taste test. If you've had one of those beers and liked it, chances are you'd like the rest. But, that also means that if you've had one, and you're not so picky, no need to rush out and try them all just based on subtle differences, like hop profile, bitterness, or abv content.

For current San Diego IPAs, I think you can actually get one of the very best ones just as you cross into Carlsbad, by going to Pizza Port on Carlsbad Village Drive and having a pint of Wipeout IPA. People rave about Port's Mongo beer, but to me that beer is another one in the Blind Pig style. Wipeout is much more of a distinct beer. Far more citrus and floral, and not as heavy overall, so the hop flavors jump out more and the beer has a really nice sharp bite to it without as much of the over the top bitterness. Port Carlsbad also occasionally have their Pour Man's IPA or Hop Suey IIPA on tap, beers which I rarely see getting mentioned on "best of" lists, but which together with Wipeout I think just might be the best IPA/IIPA lineup done by any brewer in town, save of course for Alpine's Pure Hoppiness/Duet/Exponential Hoppiness. You can get Wipeout in a bottle at many places in town, but if you have the option, Wipeout from the tap or in a growler is the way to go (same goes for most IPAs, honestly). A lot of bars still do the cask thing (beer served via a hand pump) as a nice "special" gimmick, but I think that's become waaaaay overdone, and in my opinion only really works well with things like stouts and lighter ales, where the beer can stand to lose the carbonation and yet still taste good. Serving IPAs and IIPAs from a cask usually ends up throwing the balance of those beers off, resulting in a flat and even kind of syrupy/sweet version of an otherwise really nicely balanced beer. IPAs need that carbonation from a keg/tap. Anyway, if you go to Port Carlsbad, they also have a bottle shop next door, so you're bound to find something really good there, not just from them, but from other local brewers.

Ballast Point's Sculpin has become very popular in the last few years, and it's indeed a great local IPA, but that's another beer that I've always found to be more along the lines of other "Blind Pig" style IPAs. Sculpin gets raves from Beer Advocate, but I think that has more to do with that site being filled mostly with people outside of San Diego, and the fact that Sculpin is brewed in such large batches means that you can get it across the country pretty easy to share with other members. So, Sculpin gets to be known as the one that broke out of San Diego and helped get us on the national map, but when put next to other local beers, I don't really think it stands out that much at all. $16 for a six pack is outrageous, too. Beer prices in general are starting to get out of hand. You used to be able to get Stone IPA for $6.99 at Cost Plus a few years ago, and now it's regularly $10.99 (save for when buying it as a 24 pack at Costco). Likewise, Green Flash West Coast IPA used to come in 6 packs at $6.99 and now it's $10.99 for a 4 pack. The cost of hops hasn't gone up that much, fellas, but hats off to them for seizing the moment.

Anyway, to my mind there is no question that Pat at Alpine is the reigning king of San Diego IPAs. Pure Hoppiness and Exponential Hoppiness were far more responsible for the IPA/IIPA phenomenon taking over in the past 6-7 years than anything else, save maybe for Stone's IPA, just based on how available that beer has always been. But 5-6 years ago, no other beers tasted anything remotely like the Alpine stuff. Stone got San Diegans drinking more San Diego-brewed beer, and Ballast Point brought the variety and put craft beer into nearly every bar in the city, but Alpine was the one doing something "special", right down to the fact that you couldn't really get it anywhere except up in Alpine or at one or two bars, which were the only places that he'd send kegs to.

Due to the lack of taps around town serving Alpine, and how ridiculous their bottle availability and distribution still is (not to mention the insanity of people selling Alpine growlers on ebay), Ballast Point beers I think have gotten to be much more popular, since you can get them all over the place (and still can vs Alpine). So, most people will know Sculpin before they do Pure Hoppiness or Duet. But if you can get a bottle of Alpine from a vendor in town, without having to be subjected to the ridiculous "I don't keep it on the floor, and I have some in the back, but I can only sell you one" routine that's becoming more common, I would jump at it.

If you can make it up to Alpine, that's of course still the best way to try their beers. Pick up a growler and some bottles direct from them. The liquor stores in Alpine usually have a good stock too. Pure Hoppiness and Duet are the IPAs to get, but it's also worth picking up Alpine Ale and McHillenney's Irish Red (the first of Pat's beers to actually win a medal at the Beer Fest), for some nice variety. Willy and Captain Stout are really good too.

As for other brewers closer to town, besides Ballast Point, Stone, and Green Flash, Lightning makes great lagers, and the new St Archer brewery makes some solid beers. Societe Brewing has some really good stuff too, very similar to the Alpine style more than to the Blind Pig style. Coronado Brewing is very similar to Stone, and Karl Strauss of course is always worth trying out and having a meal at, in addition to their beers (which are also very similar to Stone).

For bottles, check out Port Carlsbad's bottle shop, Best Damn Beer Shop in downtown San Diego, and Bottlecraft in Little Italy and North Park. Lots of other good places around town carrying good beers, but those are the more comprehensive ones.

San Diego - Great weather, but where is the outside dining?

"the restaurant scene is too backward to recognize how popular al fresco dining is"

That I don't get. Other comments above too about there not being any outdoor dining in San Diego, and that it's the fault of the restaurant industry. There are plennnnty of outdoor spots in San Diego. Honestly, I can't believe that anyone would claim otherwise. Like I said, just because it's not located in the sand, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. We've got everything from Swami's Cafe in Encinitas, the Cottage La Jolla, what used to be Charlie's alongside the Beach House in Cardiff, the large patio on the rooftop of the main shopping center in Del Mar, Poseidon, Brickyard Cafe in downtown, Shakespeare's Pub, the patio at Kitchen 1540, balcony at AR Valentien, Jimmy's World Famous, Station Tavern, Feliccia's Under the Moonlight in Vista, Caroline's at Scripps Pier, O'Brien's in Kearny Mesa, Stone will be opening up a huge place at Liberty Station, Wine Steals and TG both are open patio, La Jolla Brewhouse, Prep Kitchen La Jolla, WhisknLadle, Zinc Cafe in Solana Beach, about 2 dozen places in PB, along with patios at places like Pizza Port in OB and Carlsbad, Newsbreak in OB, Sushi Taisho and Coyote in Carlsbad, the roof at Mr A's, the back patio at the Prado, Zanzibar downtown, the rooftop at Proper Gastropub next to the ballpark, El Vitral, Hotel Del, the landing at Coronado, etc etc etc

For bars/clubs there are open-air rooftop bars at Stingaree, Altitude, Hotel Palomar, Hotel Solimar, and Ivy in the Gaslamp.

We have an abundance of outdoor places. So, I'm curious what the criteria really is here? That we don't have a string of cheaply-priced 4 star restaurants that only "locals" know, located on our beaches and in the parks around the county? That's an impossibility. If they existed, in some space not already taken on our coasts, they'd surely be like any other place on the globe and full of tourists and churning out low-quality over-priced food. No different than Hawaii, or the coast in Mexico.

This is Southern California, where the strip mall is still King. You can't invent parks that aren't there, or squeeze into coastlines that are already taken. It's no different than in Orange County and Los Angeles. Real estate is key, and it comes at a premium which most places won't ever be able to afford. Those places that were grandfathered in take full advantage. But it's the real estate that governs everything, which in turn fosters a culture here of people not needing a restaurant to give them their outdoor fix. We live in the sunshine, so no reason to look for it at a restaurant. Other cities with less than ideal weather may try to bulk up on outdoor dining or dedicated outdoor parks with restaurants attached because it's the only sun they can get. Has nothing to do with the restaurant industry here being backwards. I wonder where exactly people are envisioning outdoor dining where we don't already have it? In addition to all of the lesser-traveled places around the county I mentioned, we have the Gaslamp and Little Italy, both full of streetside dining, but those get accused of being too touristy. Places like Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, and Ocean Beach get dismissed for being full of college kids and beach types, and La Jolla doesn't have enough parking and is too expensive. North County is too far away. I wonder that people are expecting a place like Kaito, or Aqui Es Texcoco, or Bruno's to be located on a secret plot on the beach? Craft and Commerce and Underbelly are recent hits, and both have big windows, and guess what, both are getting huge condos built right across the street from them, and just like that they join the dozens of other places with patios or views facing another building or have a sunset view around the corner now obstructed by something built just a little bit closer to the water than they are. That's par for the course in California. No good real estate stays empty forever.

May 01, 2012
cookieshoes in San Diego

San Diego - Great weather, but where is the outside dining?

"Where are the outdoor patios, gardens or seating areas in San Diego?"

They're out there, just not where the average tourist would probably want them, which would be at the beach. The coast is too expensive, and not enough available/zoned places to put new places with space for a patio and outdoor seating. As for the rest of the county, consider that San Diego is essentially a massive suburb with a very small downtown. And like most places in California, you have to drive 20 minutes to get anywhere, which means that any places either have to join an existing strip mall or try and go it alone in isolation in an area where people probably wouldn't frequent enough to sustain your business.

As for the beachfront....between the stretches of houses which have blocked off so much of the coast, the state-owned beaches and parks, and the enormous military bases, there really isn't that much available area to get developed on those beaches that we're supposedly known for. The downtown area on the water is surrounded by a convention center, naval shipyard, harbor terminals, and an airport. Not exactly Waikiki, with your feet in the sand. Also, keep in mind that the coastal geography of San Diego isn't the same as say, Florida. We have bluffs and cliffs for large stretches on the coastline. For much of the beachfront where the coastal communities are, there are already freeways and busy streets and the real estate is long carved up, so expansion is limited. Some areas are getting so rundown that it's not even worth bothering (Imperial Beach, Oceanside), and for many of the others, the locals have a heavy say in how much the coast can get built up (Del Mar, Carlsbad, Encinitas), which makes new developments unlikely.

Also, the coast is actually overcast for a good part of the year with the marine layer. We San Diegans call 65 degree weather "cold", so naturally people would prefer to sit indoors a lot of the time. They can get enough sunshine in their backyards, or driving around town in their car. It's just not the same for us who have grown up here as it would be for someone who comes from back east where every breath of cool wind and every ray of sunshine is "magical". We are spoiled by our weather and geography, but not enough to want to exploit it any more than we have.

For inland, there are plenty of nice places, and small cafes, patios, etc. It's just not what people think of when they think San Diego. They assume that all of San Diego is one big beach walk, with the waves crashing right up onto the Gas Lamp. There's even a travel commercial on TV running right now where someone mentions that they're taking surf lessons in San Diego, and the picture pulls back to show a picture of downtown surrounded by beaches. Funny.

May 01, 2012
cookieshoes in San Diego

Isola Pizza Bar--Little Italy

I don't think so. According to the website, Isola is the name of the chef's Grandmother.

He also owns a restaurant in Tucson called Tavolino, which from what I've read has good reviews from CH'ers in Arizona. Isola means "Island" in Italian, so I'm sure that the place in PB having with the same name was a coincidence.

As for char on the pizzas at Isola, mine had some nice pieces. I checked a photo on yelp, and a margherita that someone had snapped a photo of had some nice char as well. At least the top. Worth checking out the photos over there, since a few of them illustrate the size of the pizzas a little better.

May 01, 2012
cookieshoes in San Diego

Isola Pizza Bar--Little Italy

"blends in with many of the faux-Italian places here."

The owner is Italian, so how is it "faux-Italian"?

I had the Boscaiola pizza and thought it was excellent. Liked the crust, the toppings, cheese, etc. It was $16 for the pizza, but that's not over the top, in my view. Bruno's charges about the same for their pizzas, with the difference being that Isola's pizzas are slightly smaller, and Isola is located in a nice and shiny tourist section of town as opposed to the less-than-sparkling Park and El Cajon location where Bruno's is. So, naturally the prices on India street are going to be higher.

Speaking of the price in comparison to other things on India street, Isola is right next door to Burger Lounge, which charges $7.95 for a burger, and just down the street from Bencotto, which charges $13-$19 for a bowl of pasta with meat. In this day and age, I don't expect pizzas made with good ingredients to cost $9 anymore. Especially when a venti latte at Starbucks is over $4 and a 22oz bottle of good San Diego IPA (Port, Alpine, Stone, etc.) will run you anywhere from $4-$9 depending on the brew. That's the way of the world, things go up in price. If it's good stuff, you get what you pay for.

Apr 30, 2012
cookieshoes in San Diego

No spoon rule at Underbelly

Of course it's complete gimmick. Just like the no-ketchup at Neighborhood and the no-vodka at Craft and Commerce.

That being said, Arsalun Tafozoli, the guy behind those places, now has a string of clever spots in town, including Noble Experiment. If he is able to open Church Ale House in the Sledgehammer Theatre spot, that will obviously come with some gimmick as well.

I'd say the gimmicks are a small price to pay for the quality of the places he's successfully brought to the city. Yes, I will admit that it's annoying to eat ramen at Underbelly without a spoon. If he was looking for a gimmick, he could've done better with that one. It's a little too obvious, and a little too heavy-handed, even for his places. It's one thing to not have ketchup at Neighborhood, since they serve other sauces, just like Craft and Commerce serves plenty of types of liquor that aren't vodka. Telling diners to pick up a heavy bowl full of soup and slurp from it isn't really a suitable replacement for something as basic as a spoon (and, in the spirit of the ADA, apparently you're out of luck eating there if you have any type of disability or affliction involving your hands or upper body. Carpal Tunnel, Cerebal Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Arthritis, etc). It's only a matter of time before someone innocently spills their bowl all over themselves, or breaks the glass in those nice tables from a bowl that slipped out of their hands. Sure, chopsticks can be a pain for some westerners to learn to use, but you don't actually need chopsticks to enjoy ramen, or any soup. If given a spoon, you can get to every ingredient in the bowl, trouble free, with one hand. And yes, they religiously use spoons in China, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam alongside their chopsticks. It's the extreme minority of places over there that don't provide them (if indeed there even are any in this day and age). So, trying to claim that not using spoons is somehow more "authentic" is nonsense, especially considering that the typical bowl of what we refer to as ramen is something that evolved over hundreds of years, borrowing from multiple cultures. Sure, at one point, in that evolution they probably didn't use spoons. Guess what, 300 years ago, nobody had restaurants with convection ovens, indoor plumbing, or electricity. And women weren't commonly allowed to even be in the same establishments that men were. So, why not add those types of "authentic" things in, and really go for the full "this is how they did it back then" experience?

Ultimately it's harmless and trendy, and there's nothing wrong with entertaining people with tricks like that. His places use a lot of gimmick in the design and service, but that's actually half the fun of them. If the quality of the food and drink wasn't excellent, he wouldn't get away with it.

Besides, there are lots of gimmicks in the food industry, and oftentimes it's those very gimmicks that make a place noteworthy. To a degree, it's no different than the places who make such a big deal of only using grass-fed beef or that make a big deal out of serving cask ale, or have multiple types of bacon as a featured item on the menu, etc.

I think the point is to not take it so seriously and enjoy the overall experience of the place. Yes, these gimmicks can come off as prick moves (Seriously, no spoons at a place that serves soup?), and perhaps there is a combination of him trying too hard and quietly laughing at people, but they're his restaurants, and it certainly hasn't hurt the crowds from coming into his places.

Feb 23, 2012
cookieshoes in San Diego

Local Hero, Tender Greens

Think of Chipotle. One could say that they're just a healthier version of Mexican Fast Food. So, nothing too original there. To some, they might even think of Chipotle as just having improved on the Roberto's and Alberto's formula, doing Mexican fast food, just done a little more refined, with better ingredients, in a sit-down environment. When the reality is that Chipotle didn't use that business model at all. The business model Chipotle used was to copy the taquerias of the Mission District in San Francisco, where diners walk in the door, form a line, and have individuals behind the counter assemble each ingredient of their burrito in an assembly line, as the customer watches and requests items. The similarities lie in the way the restaurants are set up, the specific types of plates they make, and the style of service. The same applies to UP and TG, which are the same in nearly every regard, right down to the overall look of the restaurant. Comparing TG to Silver Greens (which isn't the same type of service and features burgers/pasta/shakes), is difficult, because it starts becoming a comparison about restaurants that are only linked by the fact that they serve sandwiches and salads.

Walking into UP and seeing signs of Tender Greens is the same type of thing as walking into Five Guys and seeing traces of In-N-Out, imo. In-N-Out wasn't the first burger joint by any measure, but there is a unique signature to the restaurant which is very easy to see copied by Five Guys.

Feb 02, 2012
cookieshoes in San Diego

Local Hero, Tender Greens

"TG is not as an original business model as you'd like to think. Several places have done the same concept well before tg was ever thought up. Im sure anyone who has visited Silver Greens in Santa Barbara has thought that TG has outright ripped off their concept..."

I don't agree. The comparison between Silver Greens and Tender Greens isn't the same. Silver Greens is a restaurant that's in the same vein as several types of specifically health-food conscious places, just like you can find in the bay area. Sandwiches, salads, burgers, pastas, shakes...all done with a low calorie or healthy/organic angle. The menu items are not at all as specific as Tender Greens, nor is the food presentation, types of menu items, or even the feel of the restaurant at all the same. Whereas Urban Plates is a very specific mirroring of Tender Greens, down to that side of grilled bread, the carving stations, and the housemade desserts in a case next to the register. The only difference is that there are a few more things on the menu at Urban Plates.

I have no problem with competition, or seeing more places like this pop up around the country. Just observing the similarities when a business opens up, clearly modeled after another one in town, and doesn't really do much to change things up.

Remember the Eddie Murphy movie Coming to America? "Look... me and the McDonald's people got this little misunderstanding. See, they're McDonald's, I'm McDowell's. They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs..."

Feb 02, 2012
cookieshoes in San Diego

Local Hero, Tender Greens

"eagerly waiting their arrival in UTC....wish they had landed in the Del Mar Highlands instead of Urban Plates..."

Funny you mention that. We tried out Urban Plates a few months ago, not knowing what it was, and I couldn't stop thinking "This place is sure a lot like Tender Greens"...the difference being that Urban Plates has slightly modified the Tender Greens formula, adding individual "stations" for the types of food, and more options for sides, including soups, flatbread and braised dishes (this is pretty much what TG does with their specials of the day). Otherwise, it seems to be a pretty straightforward riff off of the TG business model (albeit super-sized a little), right down to the slice of grilled bread that comes with the meal. That's capitalism for you.

Feb 02, 2012
cookieshoes in San Diego

Davanti Bringing its Iowa Italian to Del Mar

Ah, the "it's not authentic enough" argument.

Some of the best Thai food I ever had was in a strip mall in a suburb outside of St Louis. Funny enough, some of the worst Italian food I ever had was in Rome and in Venice. Even worse was on Mulberry Street in NYC and on Columbus in San Francisco.

The birthplace of the chef, or the city which the restaurant is located in has nothing to do with the quality of the food, nor the potential for it to be good. See Nobu for a perfect example of what a chef from another country can do when inspired by another culture's ingredients. Likewise, take a guy like Rick Bayless, a guy from Oklahoma City who mastered Mexican cooking. Not being from that country isn't an automatic disqualifier to be able to make the food, just as being from the country doesn't make the food automatically good.

I thought Davanti was fine. They don't bill themselves as the most "authentic" place on the block, so I don't know why anyone would be holding them to such a standard. Apply that same measurement to any restaurant and 99% of them will fail. Doesn't mean they can't still make good food. On India St, I like Bencotto better. Funny thing is that there are plenty of comments out there from people who don't like Bencotto either, for the same reason of it not being "authentic enough". Yet, they make their pasta by hand, they feature ingredients imported from Italy, the owner is Italian, and half the wait staff is Italian.

Seems that the "authentic" argument gets brought up a lot with Italian and with Chinese food. Something about those two cuisines that has devotees always taking it back to national pride. Yet, some of the most "authentic" Chinese restaurants use pre-packaged sauces loaded with preservatives, just as many Italian restaurants use prepackaged and canned tomatoes. The tomato isn't even native to Italy (it's from Peru), but of course the only kind of "authentic" tomato suitable for pasta sauce comes from there.

So, the answer to the "it's not authentic enough" question will of course always be the same result...."If you want good (insert cuisine here) food, you have to go to (insert country name here), to get it."

Jan 02, 2012
cookieshoes in San Diego

Little Italy: Cafe Zucchero or Vincenzo's

Bencotto.

Get some fresh-shaved prosciutto with some fried Gnocco Fritto to start!
Everything I've had there is delicious. Although I tend to repeat order the pumpkin ravioli in the sage butter.

Jun 01, 2011
cookieshoes in San Diego

2 nights in San Diego with wife; no kids

I second Oceanaire. Excellent oysters too. Old-school style service, and really nicely done pieces of fresh fish (usually cut very thick), with unique presentations. I seem to recall I had shark there once with a sauce of rosemary hazelnuts and cherries on it - tasted wonderful.

May 03, 2011
cookieshoes in San Diego

2 nights in San Diego with wife; no kids

If you've only got 2 nights, I suggest you stick to downtown and the surrounding nearby neighborhoods, going no further north than La Jolla at the Cove. San Diego is huge in comparison to many other cities. You're likely to get recommendations suggesting to drive 30 minutes to get to a hole in the wall in an industrial or suburb area where there is nothing else around that has any tourist value whatsoever. We're used to the drive, as there are some real gems outside the city metro area. But, those types of recommendations should be left for people who have weeks in town, not days. For only 2 nights and 3 days in town, I really would resist the temptation to go any further than La Jolla.

You'll be in Little Italy, so I can recommend Bencotto for Italian. Enoteca Style is great for wine and panninis and salads. The sushi bar at the Fish market is excellent, as is Hane Sushi up the hill in Banker's Hill, and Taka sushi in the gaslamp. Don't forget Nobu at the hardrock hotel near the ballpark.

As for Pizza, you could try out Basic Pizza in the Gaslamp (near the ballpark), Arriverderci Pizzeria, or Bruno's Napoletano in the Hillcrest area. For casual slices with premium ingredients, and great salads, Pizzicato in Banker's Hill does fantastic pizzas.

For La Jolla, the terrace at George's at the Cove for drinks and a view of the Pacific Ocean, and then the California Modern room at George's for dinner. Check the menus to see which you might like better. There is also Whisk n' Ladle right nearby.

For fish tacos, I would go to a place like the Fishery in Pacific Beach. Everyone here will recommend you the Mexican taco trucks, but for the most part they use frozen fish and are overhyped. I love Mariscos German, but that requires eating from a truck in a parking lot or outside of a liquor store, some of which are in a not-so-fun part of town. I'd stick with Point Loma Seafoods for deep fried fish in a theme-park like seating environment, Blue Water for excellent fresh fish plates/sandwiches and counter service, and the Fishery for more of the proper dining experience, and close to the beach in Pacific Beach, which is why people come here in the first place, for the beach. To which, if not the Fishery, then definitely check out one of the Brigantine locations near the water (such as across the street from the Hotel Del Coronado in Coronado), for excellent fish tacos during happy hour.

For other places to eat around the metro area I recommend Cucina Urbana (make reservations ASAP) for excellent food and cocktails.

For breakfast, try Cafe 222 in the Gaslamp, World Famous in Pacific Beach (literally right on the beach), and of course the Hash House a Go Go in Banker's Hill/Hillcrest (check the pictures online of the food).

May 03, 2011
cookieshoes in San Diego

Graduation Lunch and/or Brunch

Remember, he said somewhere "nice". And he's graduating college. Sure, the pizza may be great. But when I think of inviting out of town family to go to a "nice" lunch, for a college graduation, Bruno's wouldn't be anywhere near that list.

I think Beach Chick's recommendations above would be a much better choice.

May 02, 2011
cookieshoes in San Diego

Mother's Day with Vegetarian options?

Second George's.

The sad thing is that the cost of a meal at the Linkery will likely be 20% more than that at George's. And all that without the view, the service, or the location. Not to mention the food.

Between George's and the Linkery, it's George's by a mile.

Especially if you're already coming down from LA for the meal. No point in tacking on the extra 20 miles to get down to the Linkery in what is still not-yet-ready-for-tourist-prime-time North Park. UCSD is in La Jolla, so if your kid lives anywhere nearby, it's yet another plus. Especially if the weather's nice. Between walking along the scenic Cove, or walking up and down run-down 30th Street....yeah, I'll take the Cove.

May 02, 2011
cookieshoes in San Diego

Help for Mother's Day... North County SD Something with a view?

Honestly, it's a crapshoot. Every place is busy on Mother's day and Father's day. What's more is that this board, like Yelp, is popular enough so that posting a recommendation of one particular place here is only bound to crowd that place into oblivion. So, my advice is to try and pick something off the beaten path, even if it means spending a llittle more, or having to give up things like an ocean view.

Whatever recommendations you get, make reservations immediately.

I remember Father's day last year, driving by the Hash-House A Go-Go in Hillcrest and seeing a line nearly circling the block. And all of the people waiting outside were the same well-intentioned looking college kids who all apparently had the same "unique" idea of going to the most popular breakfast spot in all of San Diego on one of the three busiest brunch dates of the year (Mother's Day, and Easter being bigger). You can just imagine how proud they were to pitch their plans to their parents about how great this place was gonna be when they got there. But you can bet that none of them thought to make reservations, or stopped to think that they might be subjecting their parents to a 2 hour wait.

Stay away from the popular places is my advice. Go off the beaten path. Picnics in a park, brunch at the house, walk on the beach, etc.

Apr 27, 2011
cookieshoes in San Diego

San Diego for a week...with child

You know, I hear that a lot from people, but I myself have never noticed it. I've been going to the main one for a few years, and also to the ramen location consistently since it opened. I always sit at the bar, and when sitting at tables at either location, the food delivery can suffer just due to having to wait for the servers to bring the skewers over. Which obviously is never an issue when you're sitting at the bar. Funny enough, I've found that the yakitori at the ramen location is no longer the best when Nabe himself is on the grill. My impression is that he has a lot going on at that location when he's around, and the better skewers are now being prepared by Tatto, who is the dedicated griller. The guy who does the grilling at the Hillcrest location was Nabe's backup when he was still there, and the quality has always been consistent when we've gone. It's great that we have both, with the obvious edge to the Convoy location.

Also a fan of the burgers at Alchemy and Starlite.

Apr 05, 2011
cookieshoes in San Diego

San Diego for a week...with child

Personally, even though you have a car, I would stay away from heading anywhere inland or north of La Jolla. I'm a huge supporter of the Convoy area, but for people who are only in town for a week, I think you can skip the Convoy area. Besides the restaurants, there is not anything else up there. In fact, it's pretty much a converted business area where asian restaurants have popped up between the car dealerships and the auto shops. Visitors need an area that has good food AND walkability or shops and sights. We have plenty of areas in San Diego where you can get a good bit of both.

Burgers:
Neighborhood (Downtown) -> Craft Beer + Original/Interesting Burger Menu.
Hodad's (Ocean Beach or Downtown) -> This was featured on Food Network. Downtown just opened. There's usually a line around the block. And to many, the burgers here are really just a slightly modified version of the burgers from...
In-N-Out-> The california chain that put fresh burgers on the map. Drive thru, etc.

Breakfast:
World Famous in Pacific Beach. Just down the street from Mission Beach. Great variety in the menu and cheap drinks, but what you're really coming here for is to be able to eat that breakfast and stare at the ocean, which is literally right outside the windows of the restaurant. Good people watching too.

Happy Hour:
La Puerta in the Gaslamp for Mexican street tacos and burritos (go early) or better yet La Vitral next to the ballpark, and sit out on the back patio drinking margaritas. For a nicer, slightly more refined Happy Hour, Cowboy Star serves amazing cocktails and "mini" versions of their entrees. The place has the best steaks in town, and the happy hour allows you to get some nice dishes like Mussels or a small Steak Frites.

Yakitori:
Definitely the Hillcrest location of Yakitori Yakyudori. The Convoy one has ramen, and more menu options. But for area and location, you can't beat the Hillcrest one. Convoy has a ton of great asian restaurants, but that's really all it has, and it's a 20 minute drive north. It's great for asian food-lovers, but not really something to recommend a visiting family to make the time for. Especially since the Hillcrest location is in a much better part of town, right next to Balboa Park.

Mexican:
Las Cuatro Milpas in Barrio Logan behind the ballpark. A historic hole in the wall. They only take cash, they only serve pork and chicken, and the tortillas have lard. It's a beautiful thing. Welcome to San Diego. There are a ton of mexican places in San Diego, and this is the one I think that all visitors should go to. It is VERY casual, but you're coming for the food.

Seafood:
Blue Water on India. Great fresh seafood on plates, salads, and sandwiches. A lot of people swear by Point Loma, but if given the choice between a menu which serves lightly grilled fresh fish (Blue Water) or deep fried (Point Loma only really serves the fresh fish as a butcher shop) I'd take Blue Water anyday. They serve local Ballast Point beer, they have a MUCH nicer place to sit and enjoy your food (i.e. it's not the theme park setup that Point Loma is) and they always have dub music playing. What's not to love?

Fresh salad fare:
Tender Greens in Liberty Station. You have to go to Cabrillo Monument for the view of the city alone. On your way back down the hill, stop at Liberty Station, where you can go to Trader Joe's or Vons to stock up on supplies. Behind Trader Joes is a gem of a casual restaurant called Tender Greens. Get an amazing salad, or a plate with mashed potatoes, sandwich and side salad. You get the choice of your protein: steak, roasted chicken, or yellowtail. They serve beer and wine too, and the cupcakes/cookies are great. Affordable as well and very nice to sit out in the sun and watch the planes fly overhead.

Dining with a View:
George's at the Cove in La Jolla. Reserve a spot at the window on the open-air Ocean Terrace. Great food and an amazing view of the ocean below. Perfect after an afternoon of exploring the cove.

Casual Dining:
Pizza Port in Ocean Beach. Even though you wouldn't know it from the name, they make some of the finest beer in all of San Diego. They are consistent medal winners, specializing in some of the best IPAs and Pale Ales in the county. If you grow a special attachment to one of the beers, you can always take some back to the hotel in a growler.

Farmer's Market:
Definitely the Mercado in Little Italy. If you happen to stop for food while you're in the area, I'd recommend picking up sandwiches from Mona Lisa Deli, or Mimmo's (also a deli, but with sit-down and side options - good but not as out-of-the-park tasty and authentic as Mona Lisa. Between the two it's Mona Lisa by a mile, but you can't deny the convenience/comfort of Mimmo's).

Apr 05, 2011
cookieshoes in San Diego