Edit ModuleShow Tags

Ultimate Asian Food Guide

We set Troy Johnson free on Convoy St


Illustration by Jessica Pollak

I’ve had hand-pulled Xi’an noodles with fire-hot cumin lamb in New York. I’ve fumbled my way through a monster salt-and-pepper Dungeness crab in San Francisco. “There’s no good Chinese food in San Diego.”
I felt confident in that generalization for years. Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai? This city’s got those. Szechuan? Nope (RIP, Ba Ren).

The last few months have proved me wrong.

The 2010 census lists San Diego as having one of the largest Asian populations in the U.S.—13.5 percent. Filipino is most prevalent (6.15 percent), followed by Vietnamese (2.25), Chinese (1.86), Japanese (0.78), and Korean (0.58).

Foodwise, my unofficial observation would be that Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean dominate SD, for various reasons. Thai’s coconut resonates with the American sweet tooth. Viet meals are heaps of fresh veggies, fitting SoCal’s salad fetish. Korean? Well, Americans speak barbecue.

Asian food here has a sprawling mini-mall heart called Convoy Street. It doesn’t end there (Leucadia has killer udon, and our most celebrated Thai chef is near Hillcrest). But Convoy is Grand Central Station, with bamboo-stuffed strip malls, framed Sapporo posters, maneki-neko kitties, binchotan barbecue smoke, and shochu after-work programs.

I know just enough about Asian food to be dangerous. Still, I pestered friends, colleagues, and ramen junkies for finds. In some cases, I found new things. In others, I discovered the old standbys were still the best.

I ate tendons and caul and parts. Tip-to-tail isn’t a trend in Asian food; it’s a way of life. I smell like fish sauce, and my cockles are warmed by pho.

This is what happens when an all-purpose food writer hyper-focuses for a couple months.

Japanese food

Japanese (Beyond Sushi)

Noodles of all shapes and sizes. Fish salted until puckery and divine. The lightness of frying that is tempura. Miso everywhere. Japanese food is more than toro and ramen, and these restaurants prove it: See the restaurants here



Master Ota still runs this town from his Pacific Beach strip mall. But a few of his protégés have spun off. There’s a force out in Encinitas, and a hole-in-the-wall traditionalist on Convoy that, on any day, can match the master’s formidable talent. Omakase is the password to a truly divine, if challenging, experience: See the restaurants here

Korean food


Korean food in San Diego almost always means BBQ, as kalbi and bulgogi are wondrous catnip for carnivores. It also means an arsenal of pickled side dishes (banchan). But it goes further, with kimchi stew, bibimbap and, yes, soju. See the restaurants here

Filipino food


All talk of Filipino food leads to National City, the lumpia aorta. It’s the largest Asian population in SD, but the food is drastically under-represented. Here’s where to find it:
See the restaurants here

Thai food


Fake Chinese may have been America’s first exposure to Asian food, but Thai has taken all the recent glory. Just ask Portland’s Andy Ricker, who won the 2001 James Beard Award with Pok Pok. Coconut, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro, lemongrass, and fish sauce—Thai is where sweet meets heat. From panang curry to pad ped, Thai is a dizzying array of ingredients becoming one—and most of SD’s best aren’t on Convoy.
See the restaurants here

Chinese food


Poor Chinese. America’s first taste of their cuisine was forgery (General Tso’s chicken, egg rolls, fortune cookies—all invented stateside). San Francisco is the West Coast heart of Chinese food, followed by L.A. It’s just not a force in SD. That said, there are a few spots with killer dan dan noodles, red-hot cumin lamb concoctions, and the legendary xiao long bao dumplings:
See the restaurants here

Vietnamese food


Balance in Vietnamese food is essential—salty, sweet, sour, spicy. A plate of veggies, herbs, and sauces come with each meal, and diners are expected to tear, dump, and spice to their liking. It’s one of the healthiest cuisines, with a strong vegetarian tradition inspired by Buddhism. Which might explain why it does so well in health-conscious San Diego. There’s also a heavy French influence (France occupied the country from the late 1800s until World War II).
See the restaurants here



See the bakeries here


Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

8 San Diegans Take us Inside Their Favorite Spaces

Remarkable locals let us into their personal sanctuaries, from a painter's secret garden to a luxe, party-ready speakeasy

31 Best Places to Live in San Diego

Five local homeowners share their advice, tips, and tricks on how they sealed the deal

Weekend Getaways: 23 Reasons to Get out of Town

Some of the best beaches, wine regions, and natural landscapes are just a short drive or plane ride away from San Diego
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Vote Now for San Diego's Best Restaurants 2018
    From burritos to bottomless mimosas, you choose San Diego’s best eats and drinks in 90 categories
  2. 15 Coolest Jobs in San Diego and How to Get Them
    We asked 15 San Diego professionals with the coolest jobs in town how they landed their gigs—and how we could steal them
  3. First Look: Cloak & Petal
    The owners of Tajima bring Japanese small plates to Little Italy with Cloak & Petal
  4. 31 Best Places to Live in San Diego
    Five local homeowners share their advice, tips, and tricks on how they sealed the deal
  5. Green Rush: Inside San Diego's Emerging Cannabis Industry
    Marijuana's legal. How did it go from evil death drug to medical miracle and billion-dollar industry?
  6. First Look: Bivouac Ciderworks
    A new craft cidery opens in North Park, designed for the outdoors person in all of us
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Go Ahead... Ask McMillin!

At McMillin Realty, we are encouraging you to bring us your real estate questions. We will answer these questions….. for free.

Not Your Grandma's Orthotics

New year, new – shoe? Staying on your feet for long hours at a time just got a whole lot more comfortable with Wiivv’s BASE custom insoles
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags


Enter a Drawing You Could Actually Win

There are more than 1,700 prizes in the Dream House Raffle

Buy a Raffle Ticket, Win This Rare Sports Car

Donate to a good cause to seriously upgrade your ride
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags