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Friday, January 18, 2013


North Park's Urban Solace Restaurant, 30th & University, San Diego, CA
value |ˈvalyoō|
the worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it : at $12.50 the book is a good valueNew Oxford American Dictionary

THE BIG LIST—We asked North Park lifer Holden DeMayo, who spent three years as dining critic of San Francisco Magazine, to pen a list of North Park’s best value restaurants.  Criteria were he had to dine in the restaurant at least once during the past year and select establishments that reward culinary excellence and farm to table enthusiasm at a price level where the experience exceeds the money spent.  And since this blog accepts no advertising, we gave him no advertising pressure to influence his choices.

The purpose of this list is to demonstrate how significantly the roster of top restaurants has grown in North Park in numbers, sophistication, service, quality, style and value.
And, because Mr. DeMayo does not drink alcohol his choices did not reflect on wine or craft beer lists.

“The first nine choices were easy, but the 10th pick was the toughest.  There are a dozen more North Park restaurants that could have been number 10.  And, they are listed in no particular order at the end of this blog,” says Holden. 

Matt Gordon
Urban Solace
SDHG photo
Urban Solace.  First rate chef, Matt Gordon, who only serves farm fresh quality food products/produce.  Sophisticated smaller setting similar to those eateries found in the trendy neighborhoods of Manhattan and San Francisco’s North Beach.  Hugely popular for a reason.

Jay Porter, The Linkery
The Linkery.  Jay Porter’s dramatic handcrafted dining concept is dedicated to farm fresh to table.  Innovative menu sometimes ahead of its time.  No tipping policy is cool and so is its eclectic décor.  Popular craft beer bar.  Sister restaurant to El Take it Easy on 30th St.

Hanis Cavin
Carnitas Snack Shack
SDHG photo
Carnitas Snack Shack.  Transforming a hole in the wall Mexican fast food take- out stand into Zagat Guide’s (2013) third best restaurant is San Diego is quite an accomplishment.  If you haven’t dined on Chef Hanis Cavin’s pork (and other) offerings don’t let the lack of indoor seating stop you.  If you’ve dine there then you’re like me—standing in line in the rain for your pulled pork sandwich is worth it. That’s why they invented umbrellas.

Smoking Goat.  Despite its name this is one romantic restaurant that delivers culinary quality to match its décor.  Owners have recently doubled the size of this French/American style restaurant.  This is one of the new landmark restaurants attracting diners from the region to North Park.  Expect the Goat to smoke its way to the top of this list next year.

Alexander’s.  Easily, one of San Diego’s small sophisticated jewels.  I think of San Francisco and North Beach.  And, it’s very New York in the fact you are packed into small tables. But the menu will not disappoint. Scout ahead for a favorite table then beg staff to get it.  Don’t try the I want to propose to my new fiancée line.  Getting there early always works.

Il Postino.  This is San Diego’s best kept secret when it comes to Little Italy style Italian restaurants.  Why fight the traffic and lack of parking when Il Postino is only two blocks away from North Park’s seven story parking structure.  I love it when the chef “winged it” with me one evening as I described a dish I had in North Beach.  And, his North Park version was better than what I remember my spaghettini-stye dish was at SF’s Le Club restaurant.

Ritual Tavern.  Young chef, Kyle Bergman, just arrived from a stint as sous chef at the Torrey Pines Lodge.  Menu is small.  Décor is rustic, but the quality for money spent is rewarding.  Craft beer aficionados love this place, too.

Sea Rocket Bistro.  The menu, mood and owners hardwork has made this out of the way location a home run for many years now.  The Rocket has a huge fan base.  Very North Park in its friendliness and décor.   Most neighborhood of North Park neighborhood restaurants.  Fix me anything here and I’ll rave.

Jaynes Gastropub.  Reminds of a favorite Chelsea restaurant in Manhattan that’s behind an antique store with little or no signage to the street.   Jaynes has a storefront, but 30th & Adams is no style center.  But once you find your way inside Jaynes, you’ll be a regular because of the quality of the international style menu.  Totally reflects the diversity of North Park/Mid City residents and rewards them with outstanding and adventuresome comfort food.

Wang’s.  Sophisticated.  Delicious.  Spacious.  Stylish. Has a real West LA feel. I have to pinch myself to believe this fine restaurant is in North Park.  But why not?  We deserve it.

Tied for 11th: Zensei Sushi, Casa De Luz, Urbn Pizza, El Comal, Rancho’s, Vagabond, Cardemon, Mosaic, and Mission.

Special Recognition:  Paesano, Peking, Chicken Pie Shop, Olympic Cafe and Rudford’s Restaurants.  These wonderful historic restaurants were around when they were the only places to dine in North Park.  They’re still going strong!  God bless them.

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