Dakota Grill

$50 - $75 Recommended Editor's Pick Special Offer

Housed in San Diego’s first skyscraper dating to 1913, Dakota Grill is a reminder of the distinguished past of its Gaslamp Quarter location. The restaurant’s staff manages to transform this potentially imposing atmosphere into a relaxed and welcoming environment, an inviting backdrop for Executive Chef Todd Nash’s culinary creations. Mixing haute cuisine and classic American comfort food, Chef Nash’s crafty dishes combine the sense of wonder imbued by true culinary artistry and the familiarity and nostalgia of a home-cooked meal. Dakota Grill blends the reliability of tradition with a refreshing contemporaneity to create a dining experience that is accessible, refined, and deeply satisfying.

Dakota Grill: Refining American Comfort

With its stately architecture and vintage sophistication, Dakota Grill and Spirits is well situated in San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter.  The two-story restaurant exudes an air of nostalgic romance evocative of the distinguished past of its location. Residing within San Diego’s first skyscraper, Dakota Grill is a quietly conspicuous monument amid the flashy hipness of the Downtown area.  Far from being a stuffy, antiquated relic, its decorous space is infused with a refreshing contemporaneity. Executive Chef Todd Nash’s menu similarly blends the reliability of tradition and the temporality of the modern, transforming American comfort food staples with bold flavors and novel ingredients. Dakota Grill negotiates the space between au courant trendiness and historic distinction to deliver a dining experience of timeless luxury without pretention.

The opulent tone of our evening is set before we even enter by the building’s massive Art Deco buttresses and expansive windows that dwarf neighboring businesses and passersby. Inside, the sense of monumentality and distinguished historicism are reinforced by visually arresting decorative accents: an swooping staircase leading to the second floor and bar area suggests an almost Ziegfeld theatricality, while a molded plaster ceiling references the handcrafted splendor of a bygone era. Despite this somewhat imposing façade, we are instantly put at ease by Dakota Grill’s gracious staff, who remain consistently attentive throughout our visit even on this surprisingly busy midweek evening. We are led past the inviting heat of the open kitchen through a maze of tables to our roomy, semi-circular booth at the far end of the dining room.  Unlike the cool greys of the building’s stone edifice, the interior is awash in warm, autumnal hues, radiant from the soft glow of modernist light fixtures and table top hurricane lamps. We slide into our cozy seat and watch the kitchen’s bustling activity in gleeful anticipation of Chef Nash’s culinary machinations.

While Dakota Grill’s wine list offers an impressive selection of mostly California wines, their unique cocktails are hard to resist. Succumbing to temptation, we are presented with a flight of three of Dakota Grill’s distinctive martinis, each created in homage to a specific Cohn Restaurant. The Kemo Sabe Cosmo, Pineapple Grill-Tini, and C-Level Lemon Drop are daintily served in miniature martini glasses, a dazzling pastel liquid rainbow of pinks, oranges, and blues. Each is its own distinct confection, alternating between light and refreshing, and almost heady with sugary sweetness. The Kemo Sabe Cosmo and C-Level Lemon Drop are the more subtle of the three: the aroma of lime that precedes consumption of the Kemo Sabe Cosmo is an excellent foreshadowing of its lightness, while the citrusy notes of the C-Level Lemon Drop are punctuated by a sugar-rimmed glass and unexpected hints of blueberry. The Pineapple Grill-Tini, on the other hand, dominates the palate with tropical flavors, flooding the taste buds with pineapple and an aftertaste of green apple. As clever twists on iconic drinks, they are a fitting prelude to the meal that follows.

While we sip our charmingly Liliputian cocktails, the evening’s culinary onslaught begins. The Roasted Garlic Stuffed Flatbread, Crispy Duck Wings, and Tempura Calamari are well paired with our impromptu happy hour: each is an haute cuisine reimagining of classic bar snacks. The Crispy Duck Wings, a somewhat cheeky elevation of the proletariat buffalo wing, are an immediate attraction. The sight of the crackling skin on the dark, glazed drummettes as they languish on their “nest” of julienned squash and carrot slaw immediately provokes a Pavlovian reaction, my mouth watering in anticipation of their sinful, fried comfort. As my teeth crunch through crispy skin and juicy meat, and the sweet and spicy flavors of the cherry-peppercorn glaze mix with the salty, gamey duck, my initial craving is satisfied and simultaneously expanded into new and nuanced horizons. The hint of celery in the accompanying slaw makes for a crisp and invigorating counterpoint.

The Grilled Garlic Stuffed Flatbread and the Tempura Calamari are similar manifestations of Chef Nash's sophisticated culinary play. The Grilled Garlic Stuffed Flatbread re-conceptualizes the pizza, another classic bar menu option, and turns it on its head, literally. Two golden flatbread discs sandwich a gooey, aromatic mixture of gorgonzola, mozzarella and caramelized onions. It is a light and toasty treat: the sweetness of the onions and the pungency of the cheeses blend together into a complex harmony.Flavorful surprises are hidden within the Tempura Calamari as well: cached away inside a pile of golden tempura calamari rings are battered caper berries, adding a pleasant pickled flavor to the calamari’s hint of ocean sweetness.

We move from bar to bistro in our epicurean travels with the arrival of the Wedge of Butter Leaf and Tomato Bisque. Charmingly served in a white porcelain mug, the Tomato Bisque’s creamy texture is disrupted only by a golden gruyere cheese crisp, floating like an island in the thick, red soup.  It slowly melts and adds a sharp, salty richness to the sweet and acidic tomato base. Each spoonful warms me to the core, bringing a welcome flush of heat on this blustery winter evening.

True to its name, the Wedge of Butter Leaf salad consists of a whole miniature head of butter leaf lettuce, sliced into four sections and fanned out like the petals of a flower. Its components are deconstructed from the leafy body of the salad, giving the diner the option of selective pairing for novel flavor combinations. Large wedges of Maytag blue cheese rest to one side across from a grouping of dark pinkish beet half moons. My curiosity is piqued by a golden brown toffee-like element on the plate. To my delight, it is revealed to be a walnut brittle which, in conjunction with the Maytag blue, proves to be an ingenious interpretation of the classic salad pairing of candied walnuts and blue cheese. The smokiness of the roasted beets adds another level of surprise, their earthy sugars nearly caramelized by the roasting. Sweet and salty, sharp and buttery, earthy and crisp, this salad is a careful study in flavor juxtaposition, revealing the hidden complexities of a dish commonly misconstrued as simple.

A trio of entrees is presented next, filling the air with a mixture of mouthwatering aromas. The Marinated Skirt Steak's spicy, sweet, meaty scent, demands my attention. It is a vision of earthy autumnal colors, aflame in oranges, reds, and browns. A sizeable slab of grilled beef, draped with long filaments of charred scallion greens, rests atop a pile of Latin-style rice and a slaw of jicama and chili powder-dusted orange supremes. The dish is well balanced in flavors and textures: the heat of the marinade and spicy rice punctuates the tender beef while the citrusy tang and watery crispness of the jicama and orange cool the palate.

The vibrant pink of the Cedar Plank Salmon captures my interest. The fillet balances neatly on top of a colorful platform of roasted red potatoes, purple onions, and arugula.  Slicing through the miniature tower reveals a hidden foundation of horseradish cream, adding spiciness to the buttery salmon and the potatoes. The smoky, sweet purple onions and the bitter arugula add new flavor layers. A chunky salad of heirloom tomatoes placed in front of the salmon construction acts as a palate cleanser, heightening the clean, subtleties of the salmon, while preparing us for our next experience.

Returning to comfort, the Dakota Meatloaf refines a classic, home-cooked meal. A generous slice of meatloaf leans against a pristine orb of creamy mashed potatoes, its milky smoothness contrasting with the courser texture of the loaf. A delicious mixture of corn and sauteed mushrooms spills out in front, soaking up the jus of the meatloaf. It is a riot of flavors: the spicy, near-sausage flavor of the meat, the mushroom’s earthy umami, the corn’s sweetness, all mediated by the starchy simplicity of the potatoes. It is the climax of the culinary trends of the meal, combining the loving care of a family meal with the mastery of haute cuisine.

In spite of our growing girth from this multi-course indulgence, we make a little more deserved room for Dakota Grill's Apple Crisp. A large, flaky square of pastry is crowned by a dollop of vanilla ice cream. The fork makes a satisfying crunch as it slices through, revealing sweet innards of cinnamon and caramelized apple filling. Like many of the dishes that came before it, the Apple Crisp is a reinterpretation of classic culinary Americana, the all-American apple pie. It imparts a light airiness to traditional apple pie flavors, challenging the merits of nostalgia through culinary invention. It is a pleasing conclusion to a meal that has so skillfully negotiated the boundaries between the familiar and the unexpected.

As we leave through Dakota Grill’s weighty doors and spill out into the sparkling Downtown nightscape, I remain entranced by the lingering flavors and sensations of our dining experience. Blending homey comfort with culinary elegance, it is an experience that my dining companion and I are still talking about days later.

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  Restaurant Info

  • 901 5th Avenue
    San Diego CA 92101
  • Address: 901 5th Avenue, San Diego CA 92101
  • Cross Street: Corner of E Street and 5th Avenue
  • Location: Downtown | Gaslamp Quarter
  • Cuisine: American |
  • Cost: $$$ | Moderate | $50 - $75
  • Category: Fine Dining
  • Star Rating:
  • Reservations: Not Available
  • Dress Code: Casual
  • Meals Served: Lunch | Dinner |
  • Parking: Street | Valet Parking |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | MasterCard | Discover | Diners Club |
  • Corkage Fee: 15.00 | Per bottle and wine cannot be on our list
  • Staff: Todd Nash | Executive Chef
    Edmund Burke | Director of Operations
  • Phone: (619) 234-5554

  Business Hours

Monday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Tuesday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Wednesday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Thursday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Friday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Saturday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Sunday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.

Features

Occasion

 


  F.A.Q. - Frequently Asked Questions


 Menus

Dinner Menu

starters to share

soup & greens

Rotisserie

Woodstone Oven

Steakhouse

Grill Sides


 User Reviews

Great food, service and prices  

I just had a birthday dinner and I am so glad I chose this restaurant. The current menu (revised from when our family of six last ate here during the Christmas season two years ago) is wonderful especially for meat lovers. We also enjoyed the half priced bottle of wine. All for a reasonable charge. And service was great. Thanks to Kim.

Very nice  

Good restaurant, great food, and great service. Only negative I have is that our waiter looked over worked. I think the place could have done with at least one more waiter. He did do very well though, for being the only one I saw. Oh, and I also ordered a desert. About 8 min. later the server came back and said they were out of it! :(. He then offered me a desert of my choice on the house =D

Great food and service!  

We had the excellent pork prime rib which was done perfectly and delicious with the apricot glaze. We also had the horseradish crusted salmon which is a must have if you like salmon! The best we've ever had. The servings are generous and since we started with the very tasty grilled artichoke we didn't have room for any of the side dishes. I'm sorry for Trey's experience from earlier this year but from every indication we saw if there was a problem it's been more than fixed. We walked in off the street with no reservations on a busy Friday evening and were greeted promptly and warmly. Our waiter, Joshua was friendly and very knowledgable about the menu and the wine list. He courteously answered every question that we had, was quick to make recommendations and generally seemed eager to ensure that we going to enjoy our visit. During the course of the unhurried dinner we noticed lots of little things such as the young waiter-in-training unobtrusively hanging in the background and watching the process of presenting of the different courses etc. In general the Dakota seems to be a tightly run "ship" that isn't overlooking anything that might mar the enjoyment of an outstanding menu. The restaurant itself is very attractive and spacious and the piano player was a nice touch. The service however could not have been better as were all of Joshua's recommendations including the great white cranberry juice Cosmo! Perhaps we were just lucky or simply that everything on the menu is outstanding but the next time that we're in San Diego we're definitely coming back to find out!

Must try  

I agree with the other reviews on the quality of this place, and some give better details than I could. The prices are quite reasonable, the service was very good, and the food was excellent for all 4 of us. I had the Grill Skirt Steak. The first surprise was the amount of steak, as there was plenty - all the meals looked well protioned. I savored every bite, as the flavor was .... "fabulous", as our waiter said frequently.

Outstanding!!  

We were at the Dakota Grill for the first time (we were in San Diego for the Holiday Bowl) and we were treated as if we were regular patrons! The staff, from the host to the waiters, were warm, very friendly, and made you feel they were there just for you. The young man who was our waiter (Cory) was outstanding and VERY helpful. Our meals were outstanding! When we return to San Diego, we will definitely be back to enjoy the Dakota Grill and it's great staff and excellant meals! The Dakota Grill is one restaurant I will recommend to anyone visiting San Diego.

Friendly Staff  

While touring the Gaslamp District during the jazz Fest. on May 23, 2009,we chose Dakota's Grill based on the variety of secletions on the menu. Once inside, we discovered a warm and friendly atmosphere. My friend chose a salad topped with the Blackend Salmon. She was very pleased. I chose the 1/2 herb Chicken, served with the best mashed potatoes I've had in years. The chicken was slightly undercooked but was good. The waiter, Robert was attentive & personable. I'm still a bit puzzled by the Men' room location in another building, accessible thru the kitchen, thru a lobby door & down the stairs. WOW! Overall..a good experience.

Just Average  

I had the surf and turf- skirt steak was juicy and cooked as ordered (medium) & the scallops were perfect! The entree's weakness were the sides- overcooked mushrooms and less-than-fresh salsa fresca. Also, they charge extra for substituting your sides (pretty asinine for a "grill"). Thank goodness the twice baked potatoe shined, along with the gouda scalloped potatoes. My boyfriend had the unimpressive pine nut linguini, which he found a bit dry. Fortunately, the service was exceptional! Due to that, I may give them another try- would like to taste their rotissiere chicken.

Very nice place  

Good food and pleasant service.

Excellent  

Great service. Excellent halibut with Mash potatoes and spinach. Very helpful server. very patient with us. Its best to park at the mall and get your ticket validated there, to get 3 hours free.

very pleasant  

The mixed grill dish I ordered was amazing. It came with steak and scallops with baked potatoes and green beans on the side. The restaurant also had a wide range of wines to choose from. There was a pianist who was playing all through the dinner, which made my dining experience here more enjoyable.

Energetic  

This restaurant is full of positive energy! I enjoy this classy/lively piano bar atmosphere, it keeps me coming back. The food is well prepared -not over the top, and the service is excellent.

Another Great One!  

Very nice dining! Love the atmosphere and the food is excellent.

So-so  

The atmosphere is great and is nicely located in the heart of gaslamp. Service was so-so and so was the meal. For those prices, I expected a lot more. Let's put it this way, if we didn't have a coupon, we would have been very upset with the price. There are other places to go to...

My girlfiend's thoughts...  

The atmosphere was terrific and very nice for a romantic setting. The restaurant was full by 7:30pm so we had made a good choice reserving our table for 6:30pm on the upper level. Our server was pleasant, polite and certainly above average. The "flatbread" was actually a mini pizza topped with a very vague sprinkling of gorgonzola and roasted garlic. The best part of the "mixed rotisserie for two" was the flavorful chicken. I would like to go back to sample more of what seemed to be a nice variety of appetizers, and to enjoy the atmosphere with a cocktail. --Patricia

Great food, average service  

The highlight was the wine tasting- 3 3oz glasses for $10. The filet was awesome. It took 10 minutes for a server to greet us, who stopped by our table only once to check in- which was frustrating because we were without silverware for about 5 minutes after the food arrived. We ended up stealing silverware from the table next to us.

Normally probably a nice restaurant, but....  

The service we received was without exaggeration the worst service I have ever received in a restaurant of any caliber. We left notes on our www.sandiegorestaurants.com reservation request that we were celebrating our fifth anniversary and requested a balcony table; both requests were ignored. The waiter was slow and unfriendly. Instead of getting Rotisserie Chicken, the waiter wrote down Beef Tips for my entrée in error. The food runner did not notify our waiter of the problem until he finished delivering another table’s food! The waiter took finally away the wrong entrée that was left at the table after of sitting in front of me for six minutes (yes, I timed it; it was getting ridiculous by this point.). At that point I told my wife to go ahead and eat her entrée. Fifteen minutes later my wife was finished with her meal and my correct entrée arrived. The waiter briefly and nonchalantly apologized for the error. At the conclusion of our meal, the waiter never cleared the plates from our table. He asked if we were interested in dessert, and we said no. After another extended wait, the waiter dropped off our check, saying nothing. It pained me to leave less than a 15% tip – my first time ever to do so – but I don’t think our waiter even cared. I never raised a fuss or complained; I guess I was too upset with the situation to do so. I couldn’t wait to get out of the place. Gracious, what a horrible experience. Honestly, you could tell that normally this was a good place to have a nice meal; we just happened to have a terrible experience on what we were hoping to be a wonderful 5th anniversary meal. For each subsequent meal we got suggestions from the hotel concierge staff, all of which were much better.