A Guide To The Best Places To Eat For Lunch And Dinner
With an ocean as its grocery store and fresh gardens thriving in the perfect climate, San Diego is a feast for food lovers.
It may surprise you to learn that agriculture is San Diego’s fourth-largest industry and that the area produces more avocados and mushrooms than any other county in the country. (The avocados we can understand, but mushrooms???) At any rate, the point here is that San Diego County is rich in produce. Seafood – led by a great variety of freshly-caught fish – is a given.
This guide is devoted to pointing out some of the most popular restaurants and dining spots in the area. Mostly it’s a matter of convenience, knowing the majority of tourists will be in and around the Gaslamp Quarter. But there are also a few other finds included here, and not all of them are fancy. But they are all spectacular.
One favorite place is the new Portside Pier, a spectacular over-the-water collection of Brigantine-owned restaurants next to the Star of India tall sailing ship downtown on San Diego Bay.
There is, of course, Brigantine with its locally famous fish tacos; Top Sail above it that’s really more of a nice bar with seafood offerings (not cheap; a half-dozen oysters are $18); the more casual Ketch, which is kind of German-ish beer bar (schnitzel $15) and Miguel’s, which obviously from its name features Mexican food. All these places are open-air with big views of the bay; Brigantine and Top Sail accent this with couches placed around fire pits. Beautiful.
Steak lovers should look no farther than Greystone on 5th and G in the Gaslamp, which has some of the best steaks in San Diego. If it’s full, then go next door to its sister restaurant Butcher’s Cut.
There is every type of ethnic restaurant in the Gaslamp you can imagine – for example there are three Brazilian restaurants – yet it’s the Russian restaurant Pushkin that gets the mention here. Not only does it have something like 20 kinds of infused vodkas but the food is sensational. Some friends drool over the beef stroganoff, but my top meal here is the stuffed cabbage, which is sensational and covered in a thick tomato-type sauce. I also like the fact I can get a 20-ounce fantastic Polish beer for only 10 bucks, served in a chilled mug.
Primavero is a top Italian restaurant in the Gaslamp; it’s on 5th Ave., between G and F streets. For enough Italian food to satisfy the entire Sopranos clan, Little Italy is just north of downtown and is full of mostly – but not all – Italian restaurants. PubClub’s favorite pizza there is at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, which doubles as an Italian store. For singles and couples, Little Italy presents a cool European-style scene at night with well-styled people walking around and sitting at outdoor tables. Oddly, the main road is not Tuscany or Roma but India Street.
For expense account dining, the Harbor House in Seaport Village is a top choice. Speaking of expense accounts, the Prince of Wales in the Hotel del Coronado has tables on a terrace that overlooks the ocean and food to match the view.The chef is a former Navy Seal.
Across the entrance to Seaport Village is Kansas City Barbecue, famous not for its BBQ but for being the place where Goose and Maverick” jammed to “Great Balls of Fire” in “Top Gun.”
Old Town is the place to go for Mexican food. There are a dozen or so choices but for the kind of meals they actually serve in Mexico, go to the Old Town Mexican Cafe. Plus, they make their own tortillas – the BEST! – in full view by the sidewalk window. Fred’s, across the street, is much more of a cantina atmosphere. The food is solid though not spectacular but the margaritas beat the ones at the Mexican Cafe. Cafe Coyote is popular and now the cantina serves the full menu. Still, the best Mexican food – certainly combined with the atmosphere – is in the beach towns all the way up the coast.
Okay, here we go. San Diego is home to one of the best hamburgers on the planet. In fact, our worldwide burger correspondent rates it #2 in the World (for #1, you have to go two hours north to Ercoles in Manhattan Beach). Rocky’s is a small, simple sports bar on Ingram Street in Pacific Beach. All it serves are fries and 1/2-pound and 1/3-pound burgers, the kind that fall apart like Ryan Leaf because they are so juicy.
The burgers at Rocky’s are better than the more famous Hodad’s in Ocean Beach, although the latter is certainly worth the trip for its quirky decor. The difference in Hodad’s and Rocky’s is the quality of the meat, plain and simple. For food, but a far less funky atmosphere, you’re actually better off going a block down the street by the huge pier to South Beach for its fish tacos, which many locals consider to be the best in San Diego.
A slightly upscale version of Rocky’s is Bully’s. Here it’s the prime rib sandwich that is the star. There are a couple of locations; the one in Del Mar is happening during horse racing season and the one in Mission Valley is busy with business lunches during the week.
Back in the Gaslamp, you might be surprised to know that Tivoli, the oldest bar in the area and where Wyatt Earp once hung out, has burgers on the quality level of Rocky’s.
Barleymash (5th and Market) has the prime location, a prime crowd (lots of singles and among the best-looking servers in the Gaslamp) and really good food all around. I like the flatbreads in particular, as well as the very welcoming environment. It has quality cocktails, dozens of beers on tap on in bottles to keep you from gong thirsty. If you don’t know where to go in the Gaslamp, then settle in here. You may stay until closing.
Because San Diego’s weather is so spectacular, one doesn’t even need to go to a restaurant to have divine dining. For example, in beautiful Balboa Park is a Japanese Tea Garden. It has a patio overlooking a deep valley on one side and an outdoor pipe organ on the other. Make it a late lunch on a Sunday and while enjoying the chicken or beef rice bowl take in the free pipe organ performance at The Spreckels Organ Pavilion (2 p.m.).
Now if you are the least bit like PubClub.com, you will be asking about great breakfast/brunch spots with bottomless mimosas. They are as plentiful as sunshine. Nearly every restaurant in Pacific Beach that serves breakfast has bottomless mimosas on weekends, Brigantine is the only place on Coronado that has this special and the Gaslamp is full of them. Just walk down 4th and 5th Avenues, check the menus (and the crowds) and settle into a place. Generally you’ll get those mimosas (or champagne) for $12-15 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
If you want something funky to show the folks back home on your FB and Instagram pages, then order the stacked Bloody Mary at Cafe 21 (5th & F). It has a grilled cheese sandwich on it! Not only that, but it is served in a glass that looks like the statue of a Greek goddess. And surprisingly, it’s only $15. The food here is excellent, too, and there’s always a wait to get a table on weekends.