restaurant review

3 Best Burgers in San Diego

Anyone who knows me knows I love a good burger. Growing up, it didn’t matter where we went out to dinner, whether it was fancy or casual, or what the occasion was, I’d get a burger. I wish I was exaggerating but I’m not.

Naturally, living in San Diego has endless options for delicious burgers, and I’m not just talking about In-N-Out Burger.

Best Build-Your-Own Burger

Great Maple, Washington St (Hillcrest)

great maple san diego burger
Photo courtesy of Yelp.

Whether you go for the grass-fed beef or opt for the turkey burger, Great Maple’s burger patties are flavorful and made with the finest ingredients. What do I recommend you add on to your burger? Cheddar, bacon and caramelized onions. Upgrade your fries to the truffle fries (come on now, they’re only $1 more) and you’ve got yourself one hell of a meal.

 

Best Homemade Burger

Dan Diego’s, Morena Blvd (Bay Ho)
Dan Diegos Burger

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Photo courtesy of Yelp.

To be honest, no matter what you choose to order at Dan Diego’s, you will know it’s made with love. This place is undoubtedly our favorite place to go in San Diego, because it’s local, family-owned, and everything is homemade. About the burger though? Let me tell you what it consists of:

  • Ground steak patty
  • Sharp cheddar cheese
  • Corned beef
  • Caramelized onions
  • Bacon
  • Horseradish Sauce

This thing is unreal. Pair this burger with one of their many unique beers on tap (or enjoy with my personal favorite, a “red cider” [half hard cider, half sangria]) and life will be perfect. I do advise that you don’t eat the whole thing and you save some room for dessert. One of the owners makes all of the desserts herself, and the bread pudding is everything you could ever possibly want in a dessert, so plan accordingly and thank me later!

Best Bacon Burger

Slater’s 50-50, Liberty Station (Point Loma)
50-50 Burger

gallery-burgers-01
Photo courtesy of slaters5050.com.

What is the 50-50 burger? It’s half ground beef, half ground bacon. This is an obvious pick for bacon lovers. They even have a burger called the B’ B’ Bacon Burger, which includes bacon american cheese, bacon, bacon island dressing and a bacon pretzel bun. Excessive? Maybe. But if you’re a bacon lover, this is your spot. Pair it with one of their many, many amazing beers on tap and you’ll be a happy camper.

restaurant review

Katzra Sushi and Hinotez Japanese Restaurant – Kearny Mesa

A couple weeks ago, Adam and I were on a serious Asian cuisine binge. We only had sushi once when we were in Connecticut, and that was already almost a month ago! So naturally, that Thursday we stopped by our newest favorite sushi spot in San Diego: Katzra Sushi Bar on (where else?) Convoy.

And then Friday was a ramen kind of night. But we chose not to go with our go-to Tajima, and instead decided to branch out and try a new place. Can you believe it? Me neither. But when we ended up at Hinotez (right near Convoy but surprise! on Balboa), I was happy we did.

katzra sushi san diegoKatzra Sushi Bar

4233 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa
858-279-3430 ▴ Yelp

So let’s be real for a second: around the corner from Katzra is Sushi Deli, which is wildly popular in San Diego because it’s so inexpensive. And you know why it’s so cheap? Because it’s not that good. Listen to me people. I loved it the first time I went there, and then I ate sushi at other places (like Nozomi on Convoy, Fish Attack on Clairemont Drive, and Katzra on Convoy, where sushi rolls are only an extra $2-5 each), and then I went back to Sushi Deli and I was wicked disappointed.

Read the Yelp reviews for this place. It’s legit. The parking lot (just like every other parking lot on Convoy) is absolute crap so you should probably just plan on parking on the street. But honestly? It’s doesn’t matter. The sushi here is so, so good. The sushi chefs are friendly, and the server we had last week was the only server working and she was amazing. What should you get here? Umm..everything. Because we’ve seriously tried every single roll and they’re all really good. But as an FYI, they do have a sushi happy hour type deal where you can get some rolls for, I believe, as little as $3. And then for some reason they always have a “grand opening special” which is 20% off house rolls. So we went and got seaweed salad, a beer, a glass of wine and five (yes, FIVE) sushi rolls, and it was only $55. Yup.

Moving right along…

hinotez japanese restaurantHinotez Japanese Restaurant

7947 Balboa Avenue, Kearny Mesa
858-565-4244 ▴ Yelp

Alright, so back to what I was saying. Can you believe we didn’t go to our usual ramen spot, Tajima? It’s kind of ridiculous since we go there whenever we can. We decided to give this place a go.

Let’s preface this by saying this restaurant is in front of one of the dive-iest bars I’ve ever been to. One of Adam’s friends loves it and we went with him one time, expecting there to be a ton of young people and have it be super trendy (that’s the kind of person this guy is). But when we walked in, it was more middle-aged people just hanging out and there was karaoke. And some girl was singing Jennifer Hudson and she was amazing. And they served Magic Hat #9 (my favorite beer ever that I rarely find out here since it’s brewed in VT), so basically this place was a win for me.

Got a little off-track there. Whoops.

We couldn’t find this place initially when we GPS’d it but then we saw the sign for the Carriage House (that bar I just went off about) and knew we were in the right spot.

We walked in and it was fairly empty, so they were able to seat us right away. And then we saw that not only did they have ramen but they had a bunch of other really good stuff, including skewers. A whole page full of skewers. So we ordered a pork belly one and a beef one, and then two bowls of spicy tonkatsu ramen.

Let’s start off with that skewer. Probably the best I’ve ever had. The meat was tender and flavorful, and fell right off the wooden stick (learned from Jerseysjov below that the wooden stick is the actual skewer [which leads me to believe I’m an idiot]).

Now for the ramen. The verdict on this?

Amazing. Possibly better than Tajima. Which is saying a lot. I’ll probably still go to Tajima so I can have their scallop croquettes but Hinotez’s ramen was just so damn good.

hinotez japanese restaurant ramen

business review · restaurant review · San Diego events

This Weekend in Photos: July 25-27

Friday

I took Friday off just to have a long weekend and let me tell you, that extra day made all the difference.

san diego gaslamp palm trees

I spent the morning running and baking cookies, and then Adam and I headed down to Gaslamp to drop his friend off at Comic Con, people watch, and explore the free things happening in the area.

comic con display in san diego

We loved wandering around the area and seeing people in costumes, and the displays that many of the businesses had around the area were impressive! Everyone got into the Comic-Con spirit, and it was a lot of fun.

olivettis san diego

As we decided to head home and began walking up 3rd Avenue, I stopped and saw samples of ghost chili sea salt and was immediately intrigued. I took a sample and nearly died, and the woman inside the shop came out to talk to me after laughing at me and the face I made.

We found ourselves outside of Olivetti’s Fine Oils and Vinegars, and as we went inside and began walking around the small shop and sampling the vinegars and oils, we were happy we landed upon this gem in Gaslamp. Olivetti’s (330 3rd Avenue, San Diego) is still fairly new, but they’re doing something right. We ended up leaving with a bottle of apricot white balsamic vinegar and another bottle of black truffle olive oil.

If you end up in Gaslamp or near the Convention Center and consider yourself a foodie or love cooking, I definitely recommend you stop in this place. It’s owned by a friendly couple who are still trying to build a business, and I was happy to support them and will definitely be returning in the future.

After we left Gaslamp, we headed to Point Loma to take Adam’s friend to one of our favorite places out here: Slater’s 50/50, but only after stopping in at Stone Brewery while we waited for our table to be ready. We didn’t get to spend much time at Stone (our table was ready sooner than we thought!) but we will definitely be returning soon. Slater’s, as usual, did not disappoint, and their new sriracha thai wings were delicious, as were our usual go-to’s, the deep fried macaroni and cheese balls and the 50/50 burger.

Saturday

north county san diego beach 3

north county san diego beach sand cloud

north county san diego beach

It was absolutely gorgeous out, so I knew immediately I would be going up to my favorite beach in North County. I brought my Sand Cloud with me, and relaxed in the warm sun with the waves crashing nearby.

Later, we headed back downtown to grab dinner with some friends at Mariscos El Pulpo (415 Market Street, San Diego). We picked this place out based on the Yelp reviews alone.

mariscos de pulpo san diego

I really wish this picture was better. We got several tacos among our group (the shrimp on the left and shrimporizo [shrimp and chorizo] on the right), and everyone loved it. Honestly, I don’t think I would’ve picked this place if we had just walked by it, but I should’ve known better. It’s a small, hole-in-the-wall kind of place, and those usually end up being the best. All the food was authentic, flavorful Mexican, and the drinks were delicious as well. We will definitely be returning.

We spent the rest of the night hanging out at Tipsy Crow, but I dipped out a little early because I wanted to drive for Lyft in the morning.

Sunday

Spent a couple hours ‘Lyfting’ in the morning, then headed to a barbecue for our friend’s birthday at Mission Bay Park.

mission bay park

Good food, good company and beautiful weather.

On our way home, we stopped at a local produce stand and then got caught in a short downpour. The perfect way to wrap up this weekend in San Diego…and we definitely needed the rain.

rain in san diego

This weekend was full of all things San Diego – local events, great restaurants and businesses, beautiful weather and beaches, and good times with friends. I am loving this city more and more every single day.

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There’s still time to enter the Sand Cloud giveaway! Get up to four entries and enter by Monday for your chance to win.

Tell me about your weekend! Did you do anything fun?

restaurant review

Restaurant Review: Mapo Korean BBQ – Kearny Mesa

A few weeks back, after spending an afternoon at Dog Beach in OB, Adam and I decided we wanted Korean BBQ for dinner. We knew we were going to head on over to Convoy to a spot that Adam had been to before. I think it’s important to note that Adam’s former boss–who is a Korean chef that runs multiple high-end restaurants in Los Angeles (so he obviously knows food)–took Adam and all of his coworkers to this place, and he loves it.

I should also note that Korean barbecue is different. I’d never experienced Korean barbecue prior to moving to San Diego, and the first time I had it, Adam, his friend Brett (who is also from Connecticut), and I went to a different place on Convoy Street for dinner on Christmas Day. Sadly, none of us went home for the holiday, but we enjoyed our Christmas dinner nonetheless.

Korean barbecue consists of the restaurant providing raw meat, and you cooking it on a grill in the middle of your table. In addition, you get side dishes, such as kimchee and rice.

Mapo Korean BBQ

4647 Convoy St #104, Kearny Mesa
Website ▴ Yelp

Ignore the website; it’s nothing special. Don’t let that deter you from going to this place.

There are many options at this restaurant, but I am reviewing the barbecue, as that is what we chose to eat. For $20, you get all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue and choose from two different menus. We opted for Menu B, which included everything from brisket to Italian sausage to assorted vegetables. We ended up selecting four meats: prime thin sliced beef brisket, sliced black pork belly, pork ribs and Italian sausage.

mapo korean bbq

The marinade for the brisket must’ve been something special because honestly, the brisket was incredible. So, so good. The pork belly and ribs were also really flavorful. The Italian sausage was very good, but nothing special–it was exactly what you could buy at the store. I’d probably recommend going for something else that is unique to Korean barbecue. The second best part about all of these though, is that we were able to cook the meat to our liking. Adam likes his brisket a little more rare, and I liked mine cooked more thoroughly, and we could do that. And the best part about this place is that the meat was fresh, seasoned and marinated well, and really delicious.

Adam really loved the kimchee (which I don’t really like anywhere we go), I enjoyed the seaweed side, and we both loved the potato salad, rice, sauces they provided, and the salad. The dressing on the salad was light but delicious, and complemented the meat really well.

To drink, Adam enjoyed traditional Korean rice wine, and I drank Korean raspberry wine (the same kind I had on Christmas at a different place).

Service was good–they were all very friendly and attentive, and everything was brought out to us quickly.

Since going here, I’ve been to a couple of other Korean barbecue places in the Convoy area (including the wildly-popular Manna Korean BBQ) and I have to say, Mapo has hands-down been my favorite and undoubtedly offers the best brisket in San Diego.

Try it out – you won’t be disappointed!

Do you have a favorite restaurant in San Diego you think I should try? Let me know!

business review · restaurant review · travels

Shipping Up to Boston – Sweet Cheeks, Hotel Commonwealth, and a Trip to Fenway

When I said this trip to the east coast would be busy, I wasn’t lying. Thursday afternoon, we drove up to Boston to see some friends and catch a Red Sox game. I bought Adam some pretty amazing tickets for his birthday earlier this year, and planned the game around when we would be back in New England.

First off, let’s start with the hotel.

We booked Hotel Commonwealth through Hotel Tonight. If you haven’t used that app yet, I definitely recommend it (and if you’re a first time user and use the code gtorres96 when you sign up, you’ll get $25 off your first booking!). I’m not huge on waiting until the last minute to do things, but in this case it pays off. Basically, if there are openings at a hotel for that night, Hotel Tonight allows you to get discounted rates on those rooms.

When we went up to LA a few weeks ago, we got a room for $300 off the original price of the room. On Thursday, we booked a room at Hotel Commonwealth (since it was only a few blocks from Fenway Park and had parking), and saved $200 on a room at the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at. We had views of Fenway Park from our window! And seeing former Red Sox player Kevin Youkilis leave the hotel as we left the next morning might’ve shaped our opinions of the place too…

After we checked in, we headed next door to Eastern Standard to meet up with one of Adam’s friends from high school. We grabbed some drinks, and then I headed out soon after to meet up with Katie and Ali, two of my favorite people ever, at Sweet Cheeks.

img345

We started out with some biscuits, which were probably the best things ever. When it was time to order, I went with the “Fat Cheeks Tray” and chose pork belly, pork ribs and pulled pork, with sides of mac n cheese and potato salad. I wish this photo did it justice:

sweet cheeks bbq boston ma

Adam and his friend arrived just as we got our food. The pork belly they served us was a bit too fatty for Adam and me (which is saying a lot, because we love that cut of meat), but Katie and Ali seemed happy with theirs (which was clearly more meaty). Everything else was amazing – the pork belly was tender and flavorful, as were the ribs, which fell right off the bone. Each of these meats were complemented by the barbecue sauces offered. The mac n cheese was very good, but the potato salad was our favorite. With some drinks on the side, it was a great way to start our night.

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We went back to our hotel, put on our Sox shirts and then walked over to Fenway Park.

This game was unreal.

Our seats were so, so good…

loge box 121 fenway

David Ortiz came in to pinch hit in a game where he otherwise wasn’t playing…

loge box 121 fenway david ortiz

And then the Red Sox came back in the bottom of the 8th inning to tie the game 3-3. At the bottom of the 9th, two of our guys were walked, and then we scored with a slide at home to win the game 4-3.

Adam was born in Boston and as a child he spent his weekends there with his grandma, and since he hadn’t been to Boston in years and is a die-hard Red Sox fan, last night was pretty significant for him.

yawkee way

It was a great night to be at Fenway, and even better to be there with someone so special.

Adam wrapped up the night with another childhood friend for drinks at The Hawthorne, and I went to bed early so I could meet up Ali and Charlotte (another one of my favorite people) for breakfast.

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back bay boston

My morning walk through Back Bay to get to the diner was totally worth waking up early for.

I’ve always loved Boston and I’m so happy we got a chance to go up there while we were back on the east coast. It was especially great spending time with three of my best friends, as well as seeing such a great game at Fenway surrounded by other Red Sox fans.

Now for wedding #2…

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*Shipping Up to Boston is a reference to this song, in case you didn’t recognize it from “The Departed” or have just generally missed out on it.

restaurant review

Restaurant Review: Tajima Ramen House – Kearny Mesa

Let’s be real. When Adam found out I got a job out in San Diego, he wasn’t excited I’d be moving here, per se. He was excited he’d have someone to go get ramen with.

And I’m not talking about the ramen that you buy at the grocery store. Nope, not that ramen at all.

According to Wikipedia (aka the be-all-end-all of knowledge):

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup dish. It consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a meat- or (occasionally) fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork, dried seaweed, kamaboko, and green onions. Nearly every region in Japan has its own variation of ramen, from the tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen of Kyushu to the miso ramen of Hokkaido.

Now that we have that definition out of the way, let’s get back to what I was saying. Adam was happy that he had someone to get ramen with, and more specifically, that he had someone to go to Tajima with.

tajima ext

Tajima Ramen House

4681 Convoy Street I, Kearny Mesa
Menu (pdf)
 ▴ Website ▴ Yelp

Let’s preface this by talking about driving on Convoy Street and finding parking within the Tajima plaza (or any of its neighboring plazas): it’s the worst. The parking lots are cramped and finding parking is a whole other issue. But ask anyone who goes to Convoy and they’ll tell you that this part of San Diego is full of amazing Asian restaurants and markets and is worth the effort.

Now let’s get to the inside (the interior photos are courtesy of Yelp).

tajima ramen house1

tajima ramen house

I really love the inside of Tajima, because it’s comfortable and the space is pretty impressive. I love the way the wood looks, as well as the dark countertops at the bar, the ceilings, and the lighting at night. I also like the center part (which you can see in both of the above photos), because even though it’s open to multiple parties, if you get a nice corner seat then it feels a little more intimate.

Drinks include your typical soft drinks, as well as a variety of beers (local and Japanese) that are fairly cheap, usually around $4.00 for the smaller ones. They also have sake, flavored sake, and my favorite: flavored nigori sake, which is blended with fuirt (strawberry, lychee, mango, passionfruit, or honeydew) and is absolutely delicious.

Now for the food.

Truthfully, I can’t comment about anything other than the appetizers and ramen, because we stick with what we like.

Appetizers:

▻ Edamame: Edamame is edamame. It’s hard to mess up. If it’s something you like, it’s pretty standard across the board, so go for it.
▻ Gyoza: One of my favorites. The sauce that comes with it is really good too.
▻ Agedashi Tofu: Umm…deep fried tofu. No brainer.
▻ Tan Shio: This is a toss-up. Spoiler alert: it’s grilled beef tongue. If I hadn’t told you that, you probably wouldn’t have noticed and would’ve enjoyed it. But I can see where some might get turned off by that. If you’re not turned off by what it is, then do it! It’s good, and one of Adam’s favorites.
▻ Mussels Dynamite: Not our favorite, but still good.
▻ Creamy Scallop Croquette: Pictured in the back below, this is absolutely our favorite appetizer. We always get it. The best way to describe it? It tastes like deep fried corn chowder/New England clam chowder. It’s so, so good.

tajima mabo tofu

Ramen:

The menu might seem confusing, but I promise it’s not. Just get what we get. It’s always a winner.

Order the Tonkotsu Mabo Tofu Ramen. Your choice of thin or fat noodles (both are amazing). Then if you’re feeling bold (you are), order it spicy. The noodles are perfect, and I love the soy egg, the pieces of pork, and the ground pork you can find throughout (especially when you get towards the bottom of the bowl). The broth has incredible flavor whether you choose to get spicy or not, and if you do choose to get spicy, that heat enhances the flavor and isn’t too overpowering (like I’ve noticed at other ramen houses).

Now I need to say that when we go here, we do it on a weekend or on a night when we have nothing else going on. You will eat a lot, you will be really full, and you will want to go home and lay around after. And you won’t regret it.

restaurant review

Restaurant Review: Oscar’s Mexican Seafood – Pacific Beach

In case you live under a rock, last week, the UConn men and women basketball teams each won their NCAA championships. On Monday night, Adam and I ventured to Pacific Beach to meet up with some of our friends who conveniently happen to be from Connecticut (one town over from our hometowns, actually).

emerald street

The plan was to meet at Shore Club for drinks and the game, but Adam and I opted to get Mexican food beforehand at a taco shop a few blocks up.

We parked next to The Promenade and PB boardwalk* and needless to say, even if we weren’t going to PB to watch the UConn game, it was a really nice walk to the restaurant – you’re literally walking along the ocean until you get to Emerald Street. Then you take a quick turn and Oscar’s is about a block over.

Oscar’s Mexican Seafood

746 Emerald Street, Pacific Beachoscar's mexican seafood ext
Menu
 ▴ Website ▴ Yelp

I’d like to preface this by saying that I was super hungry and distracted by thinking about the UConn game, so I didn’t take any photos. So, the photos I’m sharing are from the aforementioned Yelp listing/website (and are linked accordingly).

The place was quiet (it was a Monday evening, after all), and we were able to walk right up to the counter and order. After looking over the menu, I decided on a smoked fish taco and skirt steak taco, and Adam ended up with the battered fish taco and shrimp taco.oscar's mexican seafood int

We sat ourselves at a table near the window and in less than 10 minutes, our food was ready.

At your table, you’ll find multiple kinds of hot sauce, as well as what tasted like a spicy ranch and a chipotle ranch. You’ll also find napkins, which you’ll need. The tacos (as you can see below) each come in their own little tray, which makes eating them a little less messy.

There’s a reason this place has 4.5 stars on Yelp, and close to 100 reviews. To say these tacos were incredible would be an understatement. The toppings were fresh, the flavors were all there, the tortillas were light and were made on the spot. The tacos and tortillas also weren’t greasy or heavy. Adam and I each had two and we were satisfied when we finished, and didn’t feel heavy, overly full or bloated, which I’d say with Mexican food, is a win. The sauces that were available definitely added to the tacos, but even if you don’t use them, you won’t be missing out.

We are definitely planning on coming back here for the .99 fish taco happy hour, Monday-Thursday, 2:30-5:30 pm.

And with the beach (and beautiful Pacific sunset) literally just a few steps away, I can definitely say that an evening stroll on the boardwalk, followed by tacos at Oscar’s and drinks at a bar nearby, would make a really fun and affordable date night.

The verdict? Would Will definitely eat again.

oscar's mexican seafood

* Pro tip: According to the official San Diego website, yellow zones are commercial loading zones only between the hours of6:00 am-6:00 pm (with the exception of Sundays and city holidays), unless otherwise posted. We parked against a yellow curb and didn’t get a ticket.