first time in san diego--any suggestions
going to san diego for the first time, staying for 5 days in the gaslight (?) district and will have a car. will be coming from a few days of very high end dining in sonoma and so am hoping for something more relaxed (and cheaper) but do want to experience some of what locals might call authentic. enjoy all kinds of food but, again, nothing too staid or mannered. also willing to travel out of town. your help is appreciated.
strongly second Mama Testa's. For other cheap and casual places, Bronx Pizza and El Cuervo on Washington Ave are both good.
If you are willing to go north about 10-15 minutes by freeway, there are a lot of cheap, casual and good Asian places in and around Convoy Ave. If you do a search on the board, you'll turn up the best places.
Rest assured staid and mannered are not words that are usually used to describe America's Finest City!
You've already been given the best recs 3 for Mexican, to that list I'll only add that Candelas is located in the Gaslamp and serves some pretty decent Mexico City style food. It basically covers the same ground as Chilangos but is more upscale, more formal and more expensive because it's in the Gaslamp.
Not sure what age range you're in, but if you're younger Stingaree and Confidential in the Gaslamp are getting some pretty good buzz for both their food and their scene. The bar on the 22nd floor of the Marriot across from Petco has a decent bar, great view, mediocre food. Soleil@K the resto on the ground floor of this Marriot really isn't bad for hotel food. Great little spot for breakfast or drinks and an app or two to get an evening started.
The Gaslamp is chock-a-block full of restaurants, some very good, some good, most mediocre and a few really awful ones. In no particular order, here are some of the more reliable places in the Gaslamp:
Oceanaire Seafood Room
The Tin Fish
Red Pearl Kitchen
From the Gaslamp you are only a short trolley ride away from Little Italy, which is also saturated with restaurants which are still on the pricey side, but a little better and all of them informal. Take the blue line trolley to the County Center/Little Italy stop (which is the one right after the Santa Fe Station) and walk 1 block east from the trolley stop to India St., then turn left and stoll till you find something you like. Here are a few of the possibilities
Sogno di Vino - good place for a glass of wine and an appetizer. Extensive, and interesting, wine list. Gets noisy.
Princess Pub Bar & Grille
Zagarella Italian Restaurant
(Not really in Little Italy, but close and worth a visit
Pete's Meats is a tiny little shop on India selling tasty meat sandwiches. Bud's Louisiana Food Shoppe on Kettner is a great place for cajun/creole specialties. And if that's your bent, you can also take the Orange line trolley from Park and "C" to the Euclid stop (Food 4 Less shopping center) and eat at Magnolias. Wonderful fried catfish, chicken and hush puppies, stellar greens, plus they also do a NOLA style jazz brunch on Sunday.
You'll need your car to get to The Linkery - http://thelinkery.com/ - make the trip.
The meal that San Diego really does do best is breakfast and there are a dearth of choices for you in every price range.
The pumpkin waffle is truly to-die-for and the multi-grain waffle isn't far behind.
Richard Walker's Pancake House
Any of The Mission Cafes - North Park, Mission Beach or La Jolla.
Cantina Panaderia in Pacific Beach
The Original Pancake House in Kearney Mesa (better than the one in Poway)
Hash-House-a-Go-Go - Enormous portions
Rudford's or Brian's if you really want to downscale it
And if none of these turn your crank you can check out
The San Diego Reader (just click on the restaurant link)
I would go to Georges Outdoor Terrace Bistro in La Jolla. It is casual dining with the best ocean view you will find. Make reservations for a table near the cove and time it so you are dining when the sun sets. You will not be disappointed. They have a more expensive and high end restaurant downstairs that is indoors.....I'd go for the great view.