San Diego food/sites/music/etc
August 27, 2014 6:05 PM   Subscribe

Tomorrow night is the first night of my 2-month stay in San Diego. Please direct me to the finest tacos in the land.

Additionally, I'd love recommendations for other delicious restaurants, groovy bars, music venues (indie rock, blues, songwriters), and general sites and attractions. Below the radar is groovy. I'll be staying in the East Village, and I'll have a car. Thanks!
posted by fingers_of_fire to Travel & Transportation around San Diego, CA (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, so this is a burrito, not a taco, but you HAVE TO get a California burrito at Lolita's over by Petco Park. When you order your burrito, ask them to add sour cream and salsa and guacamole to the inside (one of those already comes inside but I always forget which one). A California burrito has french fries inside instead of rice and beans, which sounds weird, but totally works. I usually get mine with chicken instead of beef. I literally moaned the last time I bit into one of Lolita's burritos.
posted by loulou718 at 6:19 PM on August 27, 2014

You might want to ask this on the chowhound message boards.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:39 PM on August 27, 2014

Lolitas also has decent tacos.The convenience of being in East Village is nice. Any Robertos or other *bertos taquerias will have good tacos and burritos. I also like Tacos El Paisa on Imperial y 24th in Logan Heights. Every Mexican restaurant in San Diego County will have California Burritos (although some places make them with tater tots instead of fries).

I don't do seafood but people say the Mariscos German taco truck is the best in town. There's one in South Park I think.

r/SanDiego has a decently curated list of "The Best Of San Diego" you might want to check out.

The Belly Up in Solana Beach will sometimes have good shows. Also you might check out the Casbah. The House of Blues will get medium sized shows from out of town. I can't much more help on bands but either grab a paper copy of the San Diego Reader or visit its site for upcoming shows.

You didn't mention beer, but San Diego has many local breweries and tasting rooms. Most bars will have a decent selection of local beers on tap. The Monkey Paw on 16th and F has a good selection. I also like Hamilton's Tavern in South Park.
posted by birdherder at 7:07 PM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pokez is a Mexican food place downtown (at 10th and E) and it's amazing. Try the chimichanga.

My favorite more traditional burrito place is Raul's in Encinitas. It's right near the beach and it's too good. Whenever I visit my parents I eat there every day.

The Encinitas Ale House is down the street and pretty stellar.

Try Pizza Port, too. The Solana Beach location is their best.

Definitely hit up some breweries. There are a million, most are good. I particularly like the atmosphere at Green Flash. The Alpine brewery is great and their beer is hard to acquire elsewhere. Take a day trip, go hiking in Alpine, hit up the brew pub. Pretty ideal.
posted by vathek at 7:17 PM on August 27, 2014

Here to mention Mariscos German. I think maybe I just don't like smoked marlin, but that's a thing. The cevice tostada is perfection.

Do try out the breweries. Even Karl Strauss (my favorite location is the one in Sorrento Valley, which has a gorgeous pond and lots of seating around it), but I used to live down the street from Green Flash Brewery, which some nights (Thursdays? Some Thursdays?) does a food truck night.

The Original Sab-E-Lee Thai restaurant is amazing all the way around, but they actually specialize in Issin region specialties, including homemade sausages. The one in Linda Vista is most central, but has about 4 tables and might be cash-only.

Day trips: go to Julian (which has some winery outposts for tasting, Witch Creek is my favorite downtown, and Menghini and Blue Door kind of out in the scenic rural area) and eat pie. Julian Pie can be had at many local grocery stores, but going to Julian to eat pie is preferable. You might want to wait about a month - Julian is just high enough to get a little fall color.

If you don't have an actual reason to drive north as far as San Onofre, San Clemente, or San Juan Capistrano, make up a reason. Just to drive through Camp Pendleton with the ocean on one side and the mountains/training grounds on the other. (Also, SC and SJC are adorable.)

My "if you had one free day in San Diego" recommendation is to spend a morning (preferably) at La Jolla Cove. Park alongside Scripps Park, have breakfast at Brockton Villa, walk across the street to see the seals, then walk around the park and up to Children's Pool (but do not go on the beach at Children's Pool, which the seals have taken over and people go bother them, but there's a seawall you can walk on to look at them) and back. I've only been gone 4 months and I'm getting all misty; that was my absolute favorite long lazy morning. If you ocean swim/kayak/paddleboard/dive/snorkel, the Scripps Underwater Park might appeal while you're there.

If you should have a need for a gut-busting German breakfast or deli lunch sandwich, head up to Carlsbad and Tip Top Meats. I really like the beaches at Carlsbad, and then drive the coast highway back south to Del Mar. Legoland is also in Carlsbad, if that's a thing that might appeal to you.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:39 PM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

My fiance's Vietnamese family loves Phuong Trang.

We also enjoyed Lolita's and Pizza Port on our last visit.
posted by ghharr at 9:21 PM on August 27, 2014

This is probably some kind of sacrilege to the rest of the people here but for all that is good and holy, get thee to the Rubio's on El Camino Real in Encinitas. I worship at their taco altar weekly and it is both delicious and cheap.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:06 PM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I lived there for 7 years:

- Fish tacos. I don't think I've ever really eaten a crispy taco with beef in San Diego. Like, the only people who sell that is Taco Bell and Del Taco who you want to avoid because, gross. It's usually fish tacos you want, which are made of soft corn tortillas. Rubio's is a solid introduction to fish tacos. Wahoo's is also pretty good but very different, I think it started up in LA and came down to SD. Then you branch out.
- Old Town for Mexican food. At my last trip out there, I spent a wonderfully pleasant afternoon at Casa de Reyes eating freshly made tortillas, tortilla chips, fresh salsa and guacamole and demolishing a plate of chicken enchilada and pork tamale. Oh and all washed down with a pitcher of margarita of course (1 blended, 1 on the rocks for coverage).
- Then there are the "hole in the wall" Mexican shops, which are usually the haunts of after a night of drinking, which you must partake in if only for the California Burrito (carne asada burrito with french fries). I like El Cotixan and Los Panchos (there's a few with that name, you want the one on Washington street in Hillcrest, it is literally a shack with a hole for money and food exchanging).
- If you like sushi, Sushi Ota in Pacific Beach is a must go.
- Extraordinary Desserts is worth a stop for amazing cakes and tea. Quite pricey but I love it.
- The Cheese Shop by La Jolla Shores is terrific for sandwiches.
- Also seconding Vietnamese. Phuong Trang is also my favorite although Pho Ca Dao is also pretty good if you're in Mira Mesa. But generally you want to stick to the Vietnamese restaurants around Clairemont Mesa.
- N-thing Pizza Port.
- Beer. Independent breweries have undergone a shocking growth in San Diego. I've been away for so long that I don't really know what's up anymore so I defer to the others before me. But for my two cents I like the beer at Rock Bottom, the Bumblebeer is quite yummy.
- Although some others may have other opinions, my own go-to for Thai is Spices Thai, which I think is a bit of a chain but I don't care, yummy.
- Dim sum is pretty good in San Diego too, stick to the Kearny Mesa area.
- I highly recommend a kayak outing in La Jolla Shores. I've used La Jolla Kayak twice now and they're great.
- For indie music, definitely check out The Casbah.
- And for some LOLs, The Lamplighter, a local legend for karaoke. Open from 6am!
posted by like_neon at 1:58 AM on August 28, 2014

Seconding the San Diego Chowhound board. It is very active.
posted by vacapinta at 2:43 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Local here...

Lucha Libre Taco Shop in Mission Hills for tacos and burritos. Great food and a luchador (Mexican wrestler) theme. Make a reservation 24 hours in advance and sit in the "Champion's Booth".

I also love Cantina Mayheul (University Heights). Six. Hour. Happy hour. Noon to 6, Monday through Friday, great margs and street tacos. Sit on the patio. Great tequila selection.

One more Mexican restaurant...El Zarape in University heights. Best breakfast burrito IMHO.

For music: Tin Can Ale House in Banker's Hill - divey with great bands. Bar Pink (North Park), Soda Bar (also North Park) and of course the Casbah (Midtown).

Drive Like Jehu is reuniting for a one off (free!) show in Balboa Park this Sunday at the Organ Pavilion.

For dancing: The Whistlestop in South Park. Fucking in the Bushes (Britpop) on Friday once a month goes OFF.

Get a mule at Starlight (Mission Hills).

For beer: Hamilton's in South Park. Tons of craft beers on tap...and cheap! Go during the week to avoid a crowd.

Tour de Fat (Fat Tire beer fest) in September at Golden Hill park is a blast.

For the view: Have a cocktail at Mr. A's (Banker's Hill - expensive) or the Glass Door (Little Italy - not expensive). Both have views of the water.

Ramen and Japanese scooter gangs...Underbelly in Little Italy.

Pizza - Lefty's.

Coffee - Lestat's (Normal Heights & University Heights) or Influx.

Dirty dive bars - The Shakedown, Cherry Bomb, the Alibi.

Pervasive handlebar moustaches - Craft & Commerce (Little Italy).

Avoid the Gaslamp is you dislike crowds, tourists, expensive parking, or cover charges.

A pal has a business called Tijuana Adventures ( where for $5/hour per person he will give you a tour of the Tijuana Nightlife (he speaks English, he writes for the Reader). Also gives monthly tours. (hey Matingas!)

Hike Torrey Pines or Cowles Mountain. Bring water and watch out fro snakes.

Check out the Reader and San Diego City Beat (If I Were U) for bands and venues.

Enjoy the Whale's Vagina! (obligatory Anchorman reference)
posted by Z if for Zillah at 3:09 PM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was just saying today that if nothing else does, the beer would probably keep me in SD forever. Try a bar hopping night down 30th at Toronado, Tiger! Tiger! and Belching Beaver (their peanut butter milk stout is one of my current favorites). You can park once and walk to all of those places. Also, if you go to Phuong Trang in Kearny Mesa, stop by O'Brien's afterwards. If you like genre fiction, also check out the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in that area. If you haven't had enough beer, Societe and Alesmith are both pretty good and in that general vicinity.

OK, enough with the beer...

Cotixan's is my favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican -- if you go, you must have the red sauce. Or, as my friends and I affectionately call it, the "crack sauce."

One of the neatest things I have done in San Diego is actually up in Escondido -- there's a pretty bizarre sculpture garden called Queen Califia's Magical Circle at Kit Carson Park. They've got a small disc golf course up there as well, though if you're a disc golfer, you must go to Morley Field in Balboa Park.

Torrey Pines has some really nice hiking, but if you want to hike up a mountain, I prefer Iron Mountain or Mt Woodson over Cowles. If you don't want to drive that far (they're both north county inland), maybe try South Fortuna, which is in the same park as Cowles but is significantly less crowded. If you do any of the mountains, bring at least 2 liters of water -- they get HOT.

My preferred divey bar is Triple Crown Pub. It's divey in the sense that it's not a hipster cocktail bar like Craft and Commerce or Polite Provisions or a meat market like you'd find in Pacific Beach, but it also doesn't have the dark leather/old timer feel like The Alibi or The Red Fox Room do. The Triple Crown has foosball, ping pong, shuffleboard, pool, and darts, all with a decent beer list (but no liquor license). Whoops, there I go with the beer again... Anyway, it's easy to kill a night there.
posted by natabat at 11:33 PM on August 28, 2014

Super Cocina! It isn't really tacos but it's super authentic Mexican food. Everyone there is really nice and they'll let/insist you taste everything (it's cafeteria style).

For fish tacos, trucks are the way to go. Try Mariscos German (the South Park one is not there any more but there are others) or Mariscos Alex (University and 35th).

I once made a list of 75 things to eat in SD--most of them are still around!

If you like beer, I recommend Hess or Alesmith, and Monkey Paw is a great beer bar and not so crowded as some.

For Vietnamese, Phuong Trang is the best, make sure to have the fish sauce wings! In general, the Vietnamese places in the Rolando area are better than anything in Clairemont Mesa. That's where you go for Korean, Chinese or Japanese food.

How do I know? Well, I have this project...

And if you do go to Julian, let me know, I grew up there and could write a whole thing about what to do there. Oh wait, I already did, but that was a while ago so some things have changed.

Okay. I'm starting to sound crazy so I'll stop there, but feel free to memail me if you need more suggestions! San Diego food is kind of my avocation and I'd be happy to show you around.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:40 PM on August 28, 2014

Exceptinsects is correct - Super Cocina is the shit, but most recommendations in here are ok, just more of the standard taco shop kind of thing. For really good fish tacos, the standard rec is always South Beach at the end of Newport in OB. I've never been too impressed by Lucha Libre, but there's usually a line out the door.

The Casbah is the gold standard for indie shows, and they'll contract with other locations for larger acts since the capacity is fairly small. Tickets are usually under $20, shows almost every night, usually some sort of free dance party around holidays (like labor day), free Stones cover show xmas eve.
posted by LionIndex at 7:26 PM on August 29, 2014

Oops, I meant to say Que Huong, not Phuong Trang. PT is good, but QH is better!
posted by exceptinsects at 9:28 PM on August 31, 2014

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