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Let’s Talk: How Much Does Restaurant Decor Matter?

Above: The doorman at Starlite, a restaurant and bar on India Street. Starlite was designed by Bells & Whistles, a local interior design and build firm.

Ranchos Cocina in North Park has a jumbled assembly of old photos, plants, an...

Above: Ranchos Cocina in North Park has a jumbled assembly of old photos, plants, and Mexican baskets. Flickr photo by Yucan.

I've been eating out a lot recently, which started me wondering about a restaurant's decor and how it influences my experience.

For me, it matters a lot. A restaurant doesn't have to be high design (thought I love a thoughtfully designed space) for it to work. If it has atmosphere, I'm just as appreciative.

I love the decor of Starlite, which I consider high design. But I also love the atmosphere at Ranchos Cocina in North Park - it's fun and kitschy.

If the food is amazing, decor matters less to me, but I definitely still notice it. If the food is just so-so and the decor is out of this world, I tend to have a positive experience.

I'm not a hard-core foodie. My sense is that for the foodie set, it's the food above all else, decor be damned. And I'm sure there are people who don't care at all what a restaurant looks like.

Which one are you? Does the decor of a restaurant matter to you? What restaurants in San Diego have the best design and decor? What ones have the worst? Let's talk.

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Avatar for user 'lucasoconnor'

lucasoconnor | October 4, 2010 at 10:34 a.m. ― 6 years, 5 months ago

Dining out in an holistic experience. Some might prioritize the food, but at the end of the night, the question is whether you enjoyed yourself in the whole. Decor figures into that just like service or accessibility or a dirty restroom. And since even the lack of aesthetic choices is a choice, decor is a reflection of how the restaurant wants to be experienced.

A no-frills hole in the wall can work just as well as an formal restaurant as long as it compliments the overall experience.

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone | October 4, 2010 at 11:45 a.m. ― 6 years, 5 months ago

Well said, Lucas. I've actually had one of those experiences when the decor is so over the top - in a bad way - that it was distracting - resulting in the food being totally forgettable. Do you remember that Australian restaurant Bondi in the Gaslamp? It's no longer there, but that was the experience I had there. It was totally over designed.

I really like the decor/atmosphere at Cafe Chloe, Noble Experiment/Neighborhood, Whisknladle, The Linkery, Vagabond, Burger Lounge....

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Avatar for user 'brooklarios'

brooklarios | October 4, 2010 at 2:35 p.m. ― 6 years, 5 months ago

Starlite is one of my favorite locales for good ambiance. And, really, any space designed by Bells & Whistles is exceptional.

Leap to the kitsch category and I fall head over heals for Lucha Libre every time I enter.

Love the interior and atmosphere of El Camino, near the airport. And I actually prefer Prepkitchen La Jolla, with only nature as its seating landscape, to the more polished Del Mar location. (I think food tastes better when consumed outdoors.)

I'm convinced good ambiance kicks any restaurant -- great, decent or just plain blech -- up a notch.

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone | October 4, 2010 at 3:44 p.m. ― 6 years, 5 months ago

@Brook - first of all, thanks for using "blech" in your comment. It's a good, visceral word that I forget about! I too like El Camino in Little Italy - we were just there for happy hour on Friday night ($3 margaritas) and the back patio is my fave. However, readers be warned: planes fly directly over the patio. It's loud and startling at first, but I love it.

I've never been to Prepkitchen but will add it to my list, per your endorsement. Thanks for commenting!

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Avatar for user 'brooklarios'

brooklarios | October 5, 2010 at 11:22 p.m. ― 6 years, 5 months ago

Any time. Food and I are fast friends. I'll have to try El Camino's margis; next time you're there, order the sangria.

I highly recommend the tuna melt at Prepkitchen. The resto's owner, Arturo Kassel, who also owns Whisknladle, provided fodder for my blog,, via a guest post. It's all about eating out like we used to, pre-Yelp:

Great subject, Angela.

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