Fortune Cookie says "You Will Find Authentic Chinese and Asian Food in San Diego!"
Let me warn you - you're going to meet people on your trip who will tell you that there are no good Chinese or Asian restaurants in San Diego. And then you're going to meet people who rave about totally unauthentic PF Chang's or local franchise Chin's Szechwan. Bat them away, shoo shoo!
Anyone who recommends either of these two restaurants clearly don't know about Convoy Street, the Chinese and Asian area of town filled with authentic and delicious restaurants, one after another in strip mall after strip mall. It's aint pretty, but it's the real deal. You love Asian food, you go there. It's that simple.
Of course, you can also find great sushi and Asian food outside of this area as well, so let's start exploring the BEST Asian EATS in San Diego!
3709 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111 / 858 565-6888
Feeling adventurous? Then head over to Convoy Street, the Asian section of town, and dive into some authentic dim sum. At brunch and lunch the restaurant is filled with ladies pushing carts with steaming little appetizers. They stop at your table, mumble something you can't quite understand, you point at what you want, they try to get you to take more, they stamp your card and you eat. Dip the bite size morsels into soy or hot chile sauce and look, here comes another cart! Yes, one of those, and umm, are those chicken feet? Don't point or it'll be on your table! Don't worry that you don't know what you're ordering or what's inside the wrapper, just get what looks good. You can even have them cut eat piece into two with their handy scissors so everyone gets a bite. There's also plates of stir fried noodles, mounds of crispy baby squid deep fried into alien-like creatures, and even small plates of Chinese duck. Don't be shy, wave the carts over and start pointing. Traditional menu as well for lunch and dinner, also authentic and excellent.
THE LOWDOWN: One of the best dim sum restaurants in San Diego with authentic food, a wait staff that barely speaks English, and an interior that looks a lot nicer than the outside would have you believe.
LOCATION: Convoy Street, as close as you'll get to a San Diego Chinatown
LOCAL TIP: I don't know if the cart ladies are on commission but be prepared for them to pounce on your table the second you sit down. Resist ordering everything off the first cart as there are plenty of options for those who wait. And if you get the buns filled with pork, pick them up without chopsticks and do not ever dip in soy sauce or chili sauce!
WALLY SAYS: Oddest brunch you'll ever have, get ready for some delicious fun.
4609 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92037 / 858 268-0888
If the axiom that you know how good a Chinese restaurant is by the number of Chinese people eating there then Jasmine Seafood Restaurant must be very good, indeed. Locals will argue over who has the best and most authentic Chinese food, but Jasmine has always been a contender for the top spot. Unlike Emerald Seafood down the street, Jasmine is pure chaos during dim sum hours in their gigantic Hong Kong style dining room. During dinner the focus is on the entree's like the fabulous Peking Duck, carved right at the table and made into tasty little sandwiches. The options range from the standard Kung Pao Chicken to more unusual like Roasted Squab, and all of it is 100% authentic. Sure, you can barely understand the waiters and yes, the menu is frightfully confusing, but don't dumb down your Chinese dining experience to P.F. Chang level - not when you can have the real thing at Jasmine Seafood Chinese Restaurant.
THE LOWDOWN: Giant Chinese restaurant that looks straight out of Hong Kong or San Francisco, if you like Chinese food you owe it to yourself to dine at Jasmine Seafood.
LOCATION: Convoy Street
LOCAL TIP: For dim sum avoid the tables on the fringes as the carts often are wiped out by the time they get to you.
WALLY SAYS: Say NO to generic "Americanized" Chinese food and try the real thing in a part of San Diego that rarely hits the tourist books.
4698 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111 / 858 650-3333
Don't turn the car around. I know the strip mall location might scare you off. Heck, the entire Convoy Street area might scare you off! But if you're on the quest to find real Chinese food, not generic shopping mall food, then China Max must be on your list. Emerald, Jasmine, and China Max all start with the same idea - dim sum for brunch, menu entree's for dinner. But what sets China Max apart is that there are no carts for the dim sum. And while I know that the carts are a big part of the fun experience, ordering off little pictures on the menu means everything is fresh and there's no anxiety hoping that they don't run out before the cart gets to you. For the newbies to dim sum, expand past the potstickers and try the Har Gow (shrimp wrapped in soft rice noodle pastry) or Char Sui Bao (steamed bun filled with sweet BBQ'd pork, now found at Costco - LOL!). The food quality is superb and the orders large, and though prices are a bit higher than its competition no one leaves unhappy. A worthy stop and a strong contender for best Chinese food in San Diego.
THE LOWDOWN: Strip mall location, nice dining room, order dim sum off a menu - less intimidating for first timers. Full dinner menu with tons of Cantonese specialties.
LOCATION: Convoy Street
LOCAL TIP: Don't worry if this is your first time in a real Chinese restaurant - you can order off the family dinner menu where all the decisions have already been made for your. Call it a "prix fixe" menu if it makes you more comfortable.
WALLY SAYS: A bit expensive but it's darn good.
4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92101 / 858 270-5670
San Diego is a sushi town. But not everyone has the budget for the famous NOBU, the sushi house that can set you back hundreds of dollars for two faster than a Ginsu knife can cut through a quarter. If you want over the top great sushi but don't want to tell the kids they can't go to SeaWorld because Mom and Dad went overboard on sashimi, head over to one of San Diego's best and favorite sushi restaurants, Sushi Ota. The setting might not thrill you as much as walking into the Hard Rock Hotel but once inside at the sushi bar, well, oh my, is this the good stuff or what? Melt in your mouth freshness, everything is over the top goodness, from the traditional Bento boxes to their specialties like the Diego Roll, a spicy tuna roll with Mexican spices on top. There are a lot of great sushi restaurants in San Diego but this is one of the best!
THE LOWDOWN: Ridiculously good sushi in an unassuming restaurant located next to a 7/11 - Believe it!
LOCATION: Mission Bay area
LOCAL TIP: When in downtown dine at their sister restaurant, Hane Sushi, which is more urban and trendy but still has the same top quality sushi.
WALLY SAYS: Before NOBU there was Sushi Ota, still a locals' favorite and still serving up some of the very best, the freshest, the most creative sushi in San Diego!
207 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101 / 619 814-4124
Can it live up to the hype? Years ago Chef Nobu Matsuhisa opens a restaurant in Beverly Hills, befriends Hollywood actor Robert De Niro who urges him to expand his concept of high end sushi, ultimately opening 25 locations across the globe and winning awards and Michelin stars along the way. The NY Times called it one of the top 10 restaurant destinations... in the world! So when Nobu opened in the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego, anticipation was high - after all, just about every strip mall in San Diego has a decent sushi bar. It didn't take long for Nobu to win over the skeptics and earn a loyal following. Ultra fresh, expertly executed, Nobu's unique and creative approach to sushi makes it the Japanese equivalent to The French Laundry - every dish elicits awe from those around you, each piece a tiny work of art. And yes, it's expensive. It's not hard to drop a couple hundred bucks on dinner for two, but sushi lovers owe it to themselves to experience Nobu. Bring the camera - you'll want to remember this meal.
THE LOWDOWN: High end sushi in a hip and trendy setting inside the Hard Rock Hotel.
LOCAL TIP: To avoid sushi sticker shock at the end, get the $50 five course dinner, a sampler of the best of Nobu. Happy Hour and After Hour specials at the lounge a good bet for foodies on a budget.
WALLY SAYS: Ask for separate checks if eating with sake drenched friends or you'll be sorry!
324 Horton Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101 / 619 233-7800
THE LOWDOWN: The same people who brought Orange Chicken to nearly every shopping mall via their fast food outlet Panda Express actually has a credible "real" restaurant and near authentic food in Horton Plaza. Nice setting, eat outside on the patio.
LOCATION: Horton Plaza, the strangest shopping mall you'll ever see, downtown area.
LOCAL TIP: Horton Plaza has one of the most confusing parking lots ever designed. Smart locals go all the way to the top where parking is plentiful, access to the shops easier, and there's no way you can lose your car. Trust me on this one!
WALLY SAYS: Don't hate me for liking Panda Inn - the food is quite good. When you want Chinese food that's more authentic than P.F. Chang's but you don't want the full Hong Kong dining experience, go to Panda Inn and you won't be disappointed.
4647 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111 / 858 277-0133
THE LOWDOWN: A clean and friendly Vietnamese restaurant that specializes in noodles and fresh fruit smoothies. Friendly staff, authentic but not intimidating to the novice (menu items listed by number, easy!) Very inexpensive and delicious.
LOCATION: Convoy Street area, where all the good Asian restaurants are.
LOCAL TIP: The Pho (pronounced "fuh") soup is their specialty but don't miss the "7 course meal" on one plate, a tasting menu of their best.
WALLY SAYS: Don't worry if you're not a Vietnamese food expert. The staff is friendly and helpful and the food is worth the adventure.
532 4th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101 / 619 544-9779
THE LOWDOWN: A secret hidden sushi restaurant in pasta crazy Gaslamp, Sushi Bar Nippon has long ago established itself as a no frills, no nonsense, no fusion, straight up traditional sushi bar serving only nigiri, hand rolls and sashimi - that's it.
LOCATION: Gaslamp District
LOCAL TIP: Try the sake out of the wooden square cups. They leak at first until the wood expands and it's perfectly OK to pour the sake in the plate back into the cup.
WALLY SAYS: As much as I love the crazy sushi scene so prevalent in California, you have to respect a place that sticks to basics and does it so well.
4620 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111 / 858 560-0080
THE LOWDOWN: Even if you don't know much about Korean food who can resist a restaurant with little BBQ's in the middle of each table where you grill your own food? Ultra cheap lunch spot, I like all the condiments they bring out before the meal (kim chee, tofu, etc) and don't worry, you don't get charged for them.
LOCATION: Convoy Street area
LOCAL TIP: You can chose to BBQ your own or have them bring it out already cooked, but you need to let them know before you're seated as not all tables have BBQ's.
WALLY SAYS: Unsure what to order? Get the Family Special for four to sample the best they have to offer.
4619 Convoy St Ste F, San Diego, CA 92111 / 858 268-9638
THE LOWDOWN: Tiny little eatery that specializes in little dumplings (potstickers), soups and noodles. It's not glamorous but the long lines prove that this place serves up some of the best Chinese food in town.
LOCATION: Convoy Street area
LOCAL TIP:While they have more traditional Chinese entrees, stick with thei dumplings and noodles - it's what they're famous for.
WALLY SAYS: This proves it - you can absolutely get authentic Chinese food in San Diego.
Back to basics, nothing says "vacation dinner" better than a great steak!
A great steak is big bucks. Don't waste your money on a chewfest when you can get mouthwatering tender steaks at local steakhouse for the same price.
COMING IN 2014: A new version of Local Wally's Guide to San Diego is on its way with more coupons, better discounts, updated reviews and the same great advice you can only get from a local. I'm also changing out the localwally.com url to SanDiegoTouristGuide.com soon but both will work.
Until then, it's not too early to start planning your trip to San Diego paradise. Stick with me and you'll not only get real advice from a real local but find cheap hotel and discount tickets as well. Local Wally is the oldest local website on San Diego and the only one left still run by a local guy.
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See You Soon,