So many restaurants, so little time. But this year especially, the menu expands to eateries countywide.
San Diego Restaurant Week returns Sunday and will serve up at least 206 eateries over the course of six days. Restaurants allow customers to dig in while shelling out only $10, $15 or $20 for a two- or three-course lunch or $20, $30 or $40 for a three-course dinner.
“This is really an opportunity to get out there and try restaurants that you may ordinarily not,” said Joe O’Donnell, who owns Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and is this year’s event chair. “The best part is that people get to try popular restaurants without risk because of the value menus.”
You can search the website for spots closest to you—in East County, South Bay and north inland and coastal areas—along with the traditional downtown locales. No restaurants in Ramona are participating, but delicious deals from neighboring eateries like Anthony's Fish Grotto La Mesa or Vintana in Escondido are worth the drive "down the hill."
Restaurant Week—which began in New York City after the 9/11 attacks severely tanked the dining industry—is savoring its seventh year in San Diego County.
O’Donnell said the event, limited at first to restaurants in downtown San Diego, now has participants countywide and will hold its first kickoff event Friday at the Broadway Pier.
“It’s really, really exciting,” said O’Donnell who noted that most restaurants see an “uptick” of 30 percent to 50 percent in business. “It’s growing and we’re hoping to have a record number of customers this year.”
It’s also a time for restaurants to experiment.
Coronado’s waterfront Peohe's, offering a $30 three-course dinner during Restaurant Week and through Sept. 23-28, recently added about eight new items to its menu.
The restaurant near the ferry landing is offering items such as blue crab-stuffed tilapia, Thai roasted chicken and lobster bisque. Items such as the restaurant’s award-winning ahi poke tacos can be added for an additional charge.
Sous-chef Marina Gonzales said the restaurant is inspired by the Pacific Rim while infusing Asian flavors and dishes popular with Californians.
“It’s a lot of fusion in one restaurant,” Gonzales said. “It’s home-cooking with a twist, but it appeals to the regulars who come and the foodies who are looking for new flavors.”
Head up the coast and another restaurant is adding its own spice to traditional Asian dishes.
The award-winning Del Mar Rendezvous, offering $20 two-course lunches and $30 three-course dinners, added a new dish to its menu for the week: three-cup chicken Sanbeiji.
The traditional Taiwanese dish is typically served only among families but Chef Tony Sun developed the dish from “his childhood memories” and added it as the restaurant’s marquee dish, said owner Daniel Schreiber. Other dishes include five-spice braised beef, shrimp Konnyaku and Mongolian rack of lamb.
“This week is about trying some place new, having a good experience and getting some kind of deal,” Schreiber said. “We’re making what we believe people will like.”
The restaurant, which was created by Mark Sun who opened the popular Dumpling Inn in San Diego, also boasts nearly 40 vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Schreiber said noncarnivores can substitute the dishes during Restaurant Week.
Even further up the coast is a piece of California history.
Diane Powers’ Casa de Bandini, which first opened in Old Town San Diego in 1980, moved its award-winning dishes to Carlsbad. Restaurant Week is offering $10 two-course lunches, $20 three-course dinners and $30 three-course dinners. The menu ranges from carnitas a la Michoacan to shrimp and mango quesadillas to a seafood tostada.
“I wanted to offer the best insight of what we have on a regular basis,” said manager Gilbert Gastelum. “Customers can also feast in a unique environment—in a hacienda dining room with colonial California decorations while listening to the Mariachi band.
“This is a value. You can go to Mexico without leaving California.”
For more on San Diego Restaurant Week, visit Sandiegorestaurantweek.com