Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How to Eat like a New Yorker in San Diego

Russ & Daughters Bagels
Just for fun, I've put together a little list of typical NYC dining experiences and matched them up with what I think are their closest counterparts here in San Diego.  If you've ever had a hankering for a NYC specialty while trapped here in San Diego, or wondered "Where can I get a...?"  Here, at long last, are some answers... or as close as we can get anyway. :)

1.  A Lox Bagel, a la Barney Greengrass or Russ and Daughters - Ok, so no - it's not a New York bagel, but the lox bagel at Einstein's isn't half bad, really.  Better yet though, is the smoked salmon plate at Bread & Cie.  Slices of very good lox salmon with their special dill cream cheese spread, capers, red onion and tomato.  Yes, it's served with (not on) a lemon ficelle, but you can do what I did - split it open and make your own sandwich.  With their fresh squeezed orange juice, it pretty well does the trick.  (I have also heard good things about Garden State Bagels in Encinitas and Carlsbad, but haven't tried them.)

2. Pizza, a la Patsy's, Grimaldi's, John's or any number of other fabulous pizzerias - I'm not even going to pretend it's comparable. Ok, maybe I am but I know it's not. Regardless, we have some pretty good pizzerias out here using wood fired or coal fired ovens.  For coal fired pizza, it has to be URBN (aka Basic) located Downtown, in North Park and Vista.  For wood fired, Blue Ribbon Pizzeria is doing a very good job (with lots of other good dishes to go along) and Pizzeria Bruno Napoletano isn't half bad either.  If you're interested in checking out the local beer scene, Blind Lady Ale House is also a great spot for both beer and pizza - I especially like the Salciccia pizza and their charcuterie plate. When they have it, the citrus and avocado salad plate is also well worthwhile.

3.  Italian groceries, a la Eataly - it could almost fit inside the espresso bar at Eataly, but our own little Mona Lisa on India Street does a pretty good job of bringing us the basics. Gioia mozzarella and burrata from LA, fresh pasta, Italian candies and cookies, wines, sauces, cheese, and even some very good prosciutto (skip the Italian and stick with the domestic.)  They also make a mean sub sandwich.

8. Cannoli and Italian pastries, a la Venieros - Years ago, when we used to host weekly Sopranos-watching parties, we would occasionally pick up cannolis from Cafe Zucchero for dessert. They're the best I've found, stuffed with sweet ricotta cheese filling with mini chocolate chips and garnished with thick chunks of candied orange peel. Their other Italian pastries and cookies look great too, but I wouldn't know how they taste, because I never stray far from the cannoli.

9.  Farm to table fine dining, a la Blue Hill - There is no shortage of "farm to table" restaurants in San Diego, but in the fine dining category I think one of the best examples of simple, clean, exacting cooking using local ingredients is at A.R. Valentien, at the Torrey Pines Lodge.  I actually prefer to go for lunch and sit on the deck, when they offer a three course meal, Chez Panisse style, for around $30. 

10.  Oyster Bar Style Seafood, a la Pearl Oyster Bar or Grand Central - I hadn't been there in ages, but just last week I sat at the bar at The Fish Market downtown and shared some very good Fanny Bay Oysters and a bucket of clams with a friend.  We had to wait for seats on a Wednesday night, which maybe tells us San Diego could use a few more good casual seafood houses?

11. Glam French Bistro, a la Balthazar or Pastis - If you have a hankering for a hangar steak, some cute French decor and a good glass of red wine, Farm House Cafe and Cafe Chloe will sate it. They're somewhat different in atmosphere - Farm House playing up the Country French angle, and Chloe going for more of an urban bistro vibe, but both serve French bistro style food with an upscale twist. Chloe has the distinct advantage of being open all day every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while Farm House serves dinner every night but Monday, and brunch on Sundays.

12. A great takeout burger - a la Shake Shack - It's no wonder the drive through lines are almost as long at lunch time at In n Out Burger as the walk up line is at this mini chain in NYC. For a burger that meets or beats Shake Shack's - order a cheeseburger, animal style (or a double double, if you're really hungry.) Tell them to add ketchup and mustard and go easy on the spread (otherwise, they put extra on and it overwhelms the burger.)  Add chilis on the side, fries well done and a Neopolitan shake, and Shake Shack will be far in your rear view mirror.

14. A killer restaurant burger (and scene) a la Minetta Tavern - It's not quite the same scene, but it's scene nonetheless.  Cucina Urbana opened last year to raving enthusiasm from local diners - so much so that it's still booked solid every night of the week.  It's not without reason, their prices and food are appealing across the board, but I have a hard time going in there and ordering anything but the burger.  It's a perfect, thick hunk of juicy meat, topped with (are you ready?) short rib meat and served with the usual fries and accompaniments.  Decadent, yes - but just so good.  A.R. Valentien (actually the Lodge Grill) and Farm House also serve fantastic basic burgers.

15. Monster cupcakes, a la Magnolia Bakery - The cupcake craze has really taken off around here in the last couple of years.  I have to admit I haven't tried them all (nor have I actually had a Magnolia cupcake, while we're doing true confessions)  but I have tried Babycakes in Hillcrest, and if a monster cupcake is what you're after, they've definitely got you covered.  They're made with good ingredients, they're huge, moist and most of them are stuffed with filling as well as frosted.  Sprinkles, the world's first cupcake only bakery, just opened in La Jolla and if I'm going to treat myself to a store bought cake - it most likely will come from there.  I'm just a sucker for their design and packaging, and I think cupcakes are almost as much a treat for the eyes as the tastebuds. (I wrote a little ditty about my love for Sprinkles here.)


  1. ok, this is cute, but you are stretching it a little!! ;-)

  2. The great thing the Russ and Daughters experience has more to do with the Jewish Deli part of it and less to do with the bagel and lox. So, in that spirit a mention of Miltons would have been good. The lox and whitefish plates are both excellent, and some of the best on the West Coast outside of LA's Cantors or Jerrys.

  3. I like the creative license.

    I will have to mention that Gina at Influx in Little Italy or Golden Hill makes some of the best cupcakes ever. I used to pine for the day when Sprinkles would be in San Diego. Now they are here and I don't care because Influx is way better.

  4. OK, firstly, the cannolis at Zucchero are very good, but they are second best to the ones at Cucina Italiana in Clairemont. They may be a little too sweet for some folks, but they are the most authentic.

    If you really want to try a uniquely NYC Italian item at Zucchero, try the sfogliatelle. It's the only place in SD that I have found that has them. Take them home and heat them in the toaster for 10 minutes.

    At Mona Lisa, try the cheese and parsley sausage. Also the only place I have found them in SD.

    As for pizza, Bronx Pizza is as legit as you will find in the County, but brooklynboyz pizza in Oceanside is the best I've found (excluding LA).

    Milton's is solid for pastrami/corned beef, as is DZ akins (La Mesa) and Elijah's (La Jolla and Del Mar).

    Hope all is well with you and James, "Alice Q".

    Anthony Ruggieri

  5. Anthony! A true New Yorker rings in. Cucina Italiana huh? Will have to try that out. And Brooklynboyz in Oceanside. Good to know. :)

  6. What about Bronx pizza in Hillcrest? Is it still there? Yum.

  7. Any suggestions for a decent lobster roll in San Diego? I haven't heard of any.

  8. Nice, but why never a mention of NYC's likewise unending train of bland, stale, oily, soggy lunch counters, quickie Chinese, and un-foodie pizza parlors? Regular coffee with that?

  9. CP- just the other day learned of a place called Bite Of Boston in Rancho Bernardo, which apparently has a stellar lobster roll (this review by a born and bred Bostonian). Can't wait to check this out!

  10. Tried Bite of Boston and loved the lobster roll. Really close to a classic Boston LB roll.

  11. Wow - I just checked out their site and I am pretty excited - Ipswich clam sandwiches on the weekends and lobster rolls every day? Also looks like they are opening a new location in University City where my parents live. Will definitely have to check that out!

  12. DZ Akin bakery/deli counter has my vote for NY Jewish deli style food. I love that you mention A.R. Valentien - love it! Love their commitment to local food and wine, too.

  13. I'm almost hesitant to post this, as it seems to still be a little lesser-known and scant lines (unlike the overrated Sprinkles in LJ).. but, I believe the Elizabethan Bakery cupcakes in Encinitas far outshines Magnolia, Billy's or Sprinkles by far... if you have not been there, yet, you MUST and I mean, get in your car (not tomorrow, they're closed Mondays) and go NOW.. get a hot scone or blueberry buckle to eat on your way back to said car.. and a selection of deeelish cupcakes to go.

  14. While I can't recommend anything in San Diego, as a New Yorker I can say that the cupcakes at Magnolia are worth a trip back to NYC (I prefer the yellow cake/chocolate frosting combo, which in case you're wondering, has twice the amount of butter as the vanilla frosting). And if you don't feel like standing in line, go to Buttercup on 2nd Ave (@52nd). Same recipe/former partner of Magnolia.

    Also I'm assuming your Babycakes is not the same as the Babycakes NYC vegan bakery, which is also great! Just did a post on them...

    Now I just need to come to San Diego and eat my way through town! Thanks for the suggestions.

  15. CP - For a lobster roll you might want to visit Studio Diner in Kearny Mesa

  16. What a fabulous article! I didn't get to eat out as much as I wanted to when I last visited New York. This will hold me over until I'm there next! :)

    DZ Akins was pretty fabulous here in SD, and I've been jonesing to try Cucina Urbana!