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San Diego Restaurant Week: Top Recommendations

With more than 180 dining establishments to choose from, it can be tough narrowing down which ones to visit. One technique for getting to the core of your cravings is by settling on the type of cuisine you’re most in the mood for. Doing so at least cuts the way-too-generous grandma-sized pie that is the San Diego Restaurant Week playing field down to a manageable wedge of 20 or fewer eateries.


The Merk Bistro Italiano in downtown San Diego.

Courtesy Photo

When reviewing the menus being offered for this edition of Restaurant Week, I split out participating venues that fell into the world’s four most prominent cultural categories. The following are my recommendations and the reasoning behind them. If there’s a favorite of yours that you don’t see listed, please keep in mind thatfood is always a matter of taste (plus, if they’re enough of a fave that you’re sad to see them missing, clearly you’ve already made up your mind):

Asian: When talking about Asian cuisine, there’s two sub-categories—the raw and the cooked. When it comes to the former, it’s all about the sushi, and I’ll take any opportunity I can to get my chopsticks on some high quality nigiri or sashimi at a reduced rate. The best bets on the Restaurant Week list are La Jolla’s always fresh and delicious Café Japengo and Banbu Sushi, a little-known spot in La Mesa whose offerings include their shrimp and spicy crab-adorned Mt. Fuji Roll and a 10-piece nigiri plate for just $20 per person. For those craving a warmer option, there’s the salad with seared salmon sashimi or the barbecued freshwater eel with mustard-miso sauce at the Hard Rock Hotel’s popular Nobu. Or, you can opt for an Asian bill of fare prepared with English sensibility at Roppongi in La Jolla where you can start with tuna tataki, move to grilled chicken with ginger pesto and end with sticky toffee pudding.

French: Since most diners tend to focus on new spots and keeping up with trends, the fact that San Diego has so many good French restaurants sometimes gets forgotten (especially since many of them are longer tenured establishments). So many, in fact, that you could hardly go wrong making picks in this category. Those in search of full on fru-fru will love the sublime and pristinely-plated dishes at Tapenade in La Jolla or Santaluz’s Cavaillon. Folks in search of upscale food in casual environs will find sanctuary at Kensington’s Bleu Boheme or Café Chloe in the East Village. Fans of neighborhood gems will feel right at home with Pamplemousse Grille in Solana Beach, Bernard’O in Rancho Bernardo or Scripps Ranch’s La Bastide. And, of course, you can’t go wrong with the fine food and even finer view at Bankers Hill’s Bertrand at Mister A’s.

Mexican: Restaurant Week is about exploration and, in my humble opinion, that means there’s absolutely no reason to take a touristy approach to our fair city by hitting up spots serving up standard Anglo-friendly Mexican fare. While plenty tasty, you can get that type of food at a more than reasonable rate any time of the year. Spice up your life by treating yourself to something authentic like tortilla soup or pozole followed by a cumin-and-cardamom-rubbed whitefish with coconut rice and cilantro-lime sauce at Hillcrest’s Barrio Star (for only $20) or splurging on goat cheese-stuffed filet mignon with dark tequila sauce or tequila-flambéed jumbo shrimp at El Agave, a combo tequila bar and white linen dining room nestled away on the southern end of Old Town’s main drag.

Italian: There’s certainly no shortage of Italian eateries in San Diego. Heck, you can hardly walk a block in the Gaslamp without being accosted by the overzealous hostess at some indiscernible trattoria. That said, cucina Italiana is not where America’s Finest City is at its finest. For every legitimately exceptionally authentic spot paying respectful homage to the boot-shaped nation, there’s three times as many just going through the motions. Your best bet is to ditch tradition (again, you can get that any time) and go for a spot with romantic ambience and a view like La Jolla’s Trattoria Acqua or a nice spot in Little Italy like Po Pazzo where you can get typically pricey dishes at a discount (something that’s difficult to do with a cuisine that, as a rule, is rustic and affordable … or should be).