Kirbie's Cravings

Ba Ren

Ba Ren
4957 Diane Ave
San Diego, CA 92117
(858) 279-2520

I've been wanting to review Ba Ren for a long time, but have not gotten around to it until now.  While I often complain about the lack of good chinese food in San Diego, Ba Ren is an exception.  Ba Ren is one of the few chinese restaurants in San Diego where I think the dishes taste really good, and not just "good for San Diego" standards.

Ba Ren has a somewhat hidden location and I never would have found it if my friend didn't take me there a couple of years back.  They specialize in Sichuan cuisine.  The restaurant can accommodate quite a bit of seating, including several large tables for big parties.  Ba Ren tends to always be a bit on the empty side, so seating should not be a problem.

The menu is pretty extensive.  Pages and pages worth of different dishes.  Most of which I have not tried.  In addition to the dishes on the menu, they also offer a bar display of cold appetizers.  A small plate of three appetizers is about $5 something.

The only thing that keeps me from visiting all the time is the service.  The service is pretty poor here.  Hard to flag down a waiter, hard to get your water and tea refilled, etc.  In my experience, when you come with a big party, the service tends to be a bit better.  Not great.  But okay.  However, every time it has just been Boyfriend and me, the service has been almost non-existent.  On one occasion, the service was bad enough that Boyfriend declared we wouldn't be coming back.  This caused me a lot of distress, as I really do love the food at Ba Ren.  I convinced Boyfriend that we could still go when we have a large group since we get decent service then.  So, now we only visit when we have a large party.

My aunt and uncle were visiting San Diego and wanted to meet for dinner.  I took them to Ba Ren. Because my cousins don't like spicy food, we ordered almost all non-spicy dishes.  I'm used to eating all really spicy dishes at Ba Ren, so this was a big change, but I was curious how their non-spicy dishes would taste.

First, we had sizzling beef.

Though there were peppers in this dish, the peppers added only a very mild spice.  The beef was tender and flavorful.

Sitr fried green onion and lamb.

I wish they had used leaner pieces of lamb.  The lamb pieces had a lot of tendon and fat.

Three seafood item with sizzling crispy rice

I really enjoy this dish.  A delicious broth along with vegetables and seafood is poured onto fried rice cakes, creating a sizzling sound and making a tasty dish.  I enjoy the rice even after it is no longer crispy as it is very well flavored with the broth.

Fish with picked vegetables

This was a large dish.  I loved the flavor of the fish with the pickled vegetables.

Sitr fried on-choy

The on-choy could have been chopped into smaller pieces.  The taste was alright, but nothing special.

Tea smoked duck

Probably the most disappointing dish of the night.  The duck didn't have much meat and it was a bit salty and dry.  I usually love tea duck, but this was not a good version.

Tofu with salted fish.

The tofu was rich and flavorful.

The food was good, even though we didn't have anything spicy.  At the end of the meal, we were informed that if we paid cash, we would get $8 for use for next time.  So I'll be back soon to review some of the spicy dishes.

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11 comments on “Ba Ren”

  1. Hey Kirbie – After going through just about the entire menu at Ba Ren, I pretty much stay away from anything “duck”, though there is a Golden Oil Braised Duck that you need to order ahead of time that I might try one day. To me China Chef on Mira Mesa Blvd has pretty good tea smoked duck. We’ve never had terrible service at Ba Ren, but it might be because we’ve been going there since they’ve opened……

  2. Hi Kirk- I figured you probably get good service at Ba Ren since you go so much. Maybe if I go often enough, it will eventually get better.
    I’ve never tried China Chef, I’ll have to check out the duck there. I remember Chin’s had a pretty good tea smoked duck, but I only tried it once and it was a while ago.
    Now that I think of it, I think I did try another duck dish before at Ba Ren’s and didn’t enjoy it. I’ll have to stay away from the duck.

  3. You really had a challenge on your hands getting stuff that isn’t spicy from Ba Ren. There is one Fish Hot Pot that is not spicy, and the Sichuan Pot Roast, or something liek that, which is really a stewed pork shank in broth with a lionshead meatball, that tastes soooo good, but is sooo bad for you.

  4. The Sichuan Pot Roast sounds so good! I’m definitely going to order it next time. I’ll just pretend I didn’t see the part about it being bad for you. 😉 The fish with pickled vegetables was a hot pot, perhaps the one you are referring to? It wasn’t spicy but it was very tasty. Ordering not spicy definitely was a challenge, but it was good to find these dishes because Boyfriend always complains that I order too many spicy dishes.

  5. Hi Kirk,
    This is Big Ron. We’ve e-mailed in the past, but it’s been a while. We first learned about Ba Ren through your posts, and my wife and I have been there a number of times. Fantastic food!
    Some problems:
    We got there one night, and it was packed. At the time, we were greeted and recognized, and we proceeded to wait for the next table. To keep this short, after waiting a while, a party arrived and were seated ahead of us. There seemed to be a language barrier, and no attempt was made to explain giving away our table. We decided to leave, and we were not very happy.
    We’ve since been back a number of times, and enjoyed it as much as before, but the experience of that night left us with a bad feeling.
    We’re trying not to react to our treatment that night, but we’re still having a problem with it.
    No regrets, but I thought I’d pass this on.
    Many thanks for your many wonderful recommendations!
    Big Ron

  6. As I stated in my post, I’ve had issues with the service as well. Getting completely ignored, not getting the discount unless I ask about it, not getting dessert, etc. The service has been pretty good when I go with a large group, however when it is just me and Boyfriend, we got really sucky service and that is why Boyfriend wouldn’t go back for a while. He thought it was a race thing.

  7. Hi Kirbie,
    This reply is 5 months late! Please forgive this behavior. I was just searching yesterday on the Chowhound site for this e-mail I submitted, and I came across your site. I was really surprised to discover your reply. My apologies.
    I could find no record of any of my correspondence on the Chowhound site. I might be doing something wrong. In any event, I’ll check back to your blog for your reply.
    It would seem that you and your Boyfriend have received the same type of mistreatment at Ba Ren as my wife and I. Let me just say that we have always been treated in a warm, friendly fashion by Wendy. There’s something amiss there, and we would like to go back. We always were greeted warmly in the past by Wendy and the various chefs, who seemed to sense that we were delighted with their various offerings.
    To be continued …
    Big Ron

  8. Hi Ron! I’m not quite sure which one Wendy is. I don’t think I know any of the staff by name. The last few visits, the older woman who I believe is the owner has given us pretty good treatment. As for some of the other staff, I’ve continued to have some “issues” with

  9. Hi Kirbie,
    Thanks for the reply. Wendy is the very friendly, confidant, well English-spoken woman there. There is another woman but, she is younger and, she appears not so much in charge. Wendy appears to be management in demeanor, and, I must say, very helpful in describing the various dishes offered.
    We have to go back. There is no other restaurant like it in San Diego or even New York City’s Chinatown.
    Be well,
    Big Ron

  10. This is one of our favorites, especially the Husband & Wife Dish. Since the name of the restaurant sounds phonetically like “Barren”, I joke sometimes that they have a sister restaurant called, “No Fu” (no food), LOL …

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