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Recommendations for inexpensive restaurants in La Jolla / San Diego?

Hi everyone! I'll be visiting La Jolla next week for a conference, and I'd love some recommendations for not-too-expensive (or downright cheap) places to eat. Anywhere up to around $8 for a lunch entree and $15 for a dinner entree would be ok. (I'm sure we can splurge a bit on one nice meal though!)

We'll be staying near the MCASD, so somewhere close would be nice, but we'll have a car, so distance is not a priority. Any type of cuisine is ok.

We'll also be spending a day in San Diego (visiting the zoo, etc), so any recommendations there would be appreciated too!

Thanks in advance!

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  1. I would definitely try Phil's BBQ and Extraordinary Desserts for a sweet treat afterwards, if you can handle all of that! Phil's is very reasonable in price and you can expect to pay about $9 for a dessert at Extraodinary's. Both establishments have two locations. Also, a great place for breakfast is Hash House A Go Go. All eateries are located near downtown. Enjoy the zoo, too!

    10 Replies
    1. re: iamafatty

      OP, neither Phil's nor Extraordinary Desserts fits your budget, and IMO the latter is a rip-off. The place should be called Dry Mediocre Desserts. I agree, however, that Hash House is a fun place to visit if you're from out of town.

      In La Jolla, I would strongly recommend Girard Gourmet, which I think has the best sandwiches in San Diego County. I would strongly advise against Brockton Villa, which has a fantastic location but awful food.

      A lot of the places people are mentioning on this thread fall outside your budget, so I would look for menus online before going.

      1. re: mangiatore

        Of course everybody has different opinions and I think Extraordinary Desserts is by far the best dessert place in SD and comes close to good places in Europe but what would you recommend as a good dessert place in SD ? And I also disagree that Hash House is a fun place to visit. Service was not really good and food is only special in terms of amount but not in quality.

        1. re: honkman

          I of course disagree on both counts. I'm not a dessert guy, but I've been dragged to Extraordinary Desserts, kicking and screaming, several times by various...umm, how should I say..."people" who needed their chocolate fix. Each time I have been subjected to dry, Extraordinarily Overpriced dessert. If the OP wants good dessert, she should simply order dessert at whatever restaurant she's at. Girard Gourmet might be the place to start, actually. The best dessert I've had in SD is at Wine Sellar & Brasserie, but again, I'm not a dessert guy so I'm sure someone has better recommendations.

          As for Hash House, the regulars on this board give it a little too much flack, IMO. It's not the best in town, but it's pretty good. And the bloody marys ARE the best in town (or close).

          1. re: mangiatore

            If you're not a dessert guy, that could explain your views on ED. I love desserts, and ED is easily my favorite place for them in SD.

            I think Hash House gets flack because their stuff is kind of clumsy and unrefined. It's like Claim Jumper for wannabe foodies. Huge portions of just-ok food. I've given Hash House numerous tries, and there are some things they do really well (fried chicken, meatloaf), and others not so much.

            One thing I really dislike that they do is sticking the inedible garnishes on everything. I dunno, I guess it's not a place that's suited to my tastes. Obviously a lot of people like it.

            1. re: Josh

              "Some things they do really well (fried chicken, meatloaf), and others not so much"

              I don't have a problem with this assessment. It's when people start saying it's awful that I disagree.

              As far as Extraordinary Desserts, it's got nothing to do with me not being a big dessert guy. I think it's very overpriced and I've ordered three different pie/cake slices that were dry. Below daantaat mentions that Brockton Villa has "mostly mediocre and they get away w/ it by having oceanfront view" (something I completely agree with, btw). I think the same goes for ED but they're getting away with it (up until recently) due to lack of competition and an unbeatable name.

              1. re: mangiatore

                I've had some items there that were dry, but it was never cakes. I've had dry cookies, brownies, and shortbreads. I typically avoid those items, they aren't their strong suit.

                1. re: mangiatore

                  They are more expensive because they use the best ingredients. Better than any other dessert place and most high-end restaurants.

          2. re: mangiatore

            If the OP's budget is $15 for dinner Phils should be easily doable unless they are a really big eater. I usually order the 1/2 rib dinner ($12.95) and a drink which should come out to be right around $15. If you order a sandwich it would be even cheaper.

            1. re: mliew

              I guess that's true. Somehow I always end up over $20, but that's probably because I don't hesitate to order a full rack of ribs.

          3. re: iamafatty

            Im a fatty is right about extraordinary desserts. i live two blocks away and know from experience that if you have to go because the whole gang wants to go. order there fruit based desserts like cobbler or pie. those are very good. their chocolate stuff is legend for being pretty...BUT DRY as a bone.
            after my last visit where I took my chocolate dessert back to the cashier for an exchange or refund..then was refused. i won't go back. They overcharge, have shitty service, and surly attitude. the customer is not right. Even though the cake may have texture like its from last week.. they say that's the way its supposed to be. You'd think with the high turnover their stuff would be fresher, or taste fresher and be moist. Very weird. they lost me as a customer.

          4. I have eaten at Sushi Itto, near Horton Plaza, and found it fresh and tasty. (There's better sushi further away, but Itto is only half a mile or so from where you mention.) Please bear in mind they serve ONLY sushi, and are somewhat traditional, though they do some Americanized maki.

            1. I think these responses are a bit confused - because MCASD has a downtown location as well, but you will be in La Jolla no? If that's true, for cheap eats I recommend El Pescador, Girard Gourmet, Pannikin, Jack's Grille, Rimel's Rotisserie, Marketplace Grille, Harry's, Porkyland, the Brockton Villa, Mission Coffee Cup (if it's open again), Spice and Rice (lunch specials), Michele Coulon, and the deli at the Vons grocery store. They make really good sandwiches, no kidding.

              Down in PB - about 10 minutes south on La Jolla Blvd., you can also find some inexpensive Mexican food and sushi options.

              There is a nice inexpensive lunch cafe in the Sculpture Garden at the SDMA in Balboa Park. Other recommendations for downtown and the park environs are Cafe Chloe, Red Pearl Kitchen, Jayne's Gastropub, Modus, Vagabond and the Linkery. Some of these might be outside your price range, but - with the exception of Red Pearl Kitchen which is hipster Asian fusion served family style - they are good cafe/bistro type places.

              www.aliceqfoodie.com

              10 Replies
              1. re: Alice Q

                Yes Alice, you're right -- I'm staying near the La Jolla location, I should have specified. Thanks for the clarification and for all the great rec's (so much to choose from!). Turns out our hotel is about 2 blocks away from Girard Gourmet, must check that out!

                1. re: CuriousCat

                  Girard Gourmet is great, definitely don't miss that. The best food deal in La Jolla.

                  Make sure to try one of their fruit pastries. Not the tarts in back, but the breakfast ones up near the front. They are amazingly good.

                2. re: Alice Q

                  I agree w/ most of Alice Q's recs except for Brockton Villa. Food is mostly mediocre and they get away w/ it by having oceanfront view. The only breakfast items that were good were their granola and yogurt dish and Coast toast. Everything else left a little something to be desired.

                  The Cottage has solidly good breakfasts and brunch. Definitely Mission Coffee Cup for breakfast and lunch--probably the best food for the $$ in La Jolla.

                  Roppongi's in La Jolla has a daily happy hour special from 4-6 pm. All their tapas are 50% off. Although it might be a bit above your price range, if you share 2-3 tapas/person, you'll easily leave stuffed and not overdoing it on your budget.

                  NIne-Ten has the best (or maybe most memorable) dessert I've had for a long time. Their half-baked chocolate cake is to die for! A big oval bowl of thick, deep chocolate cake that is like a pudding in the center. More pudding than cake! Their dinner food is also very good, although it will run more than $15/entree. Maybe go there for dessert or late night snack.

                  Trattoria Aqua is pretty good and would fall into your dinner range, as well as Piatti's (need to take a taxi from where you are b/c it's in La Jolla Shores).

                  Come on In! has good breakfasts and bakery items. It's in the same complex as Porkyland.

                  1. re: daantaat

                    I see your point - when I go to Brockton Villa, I only have the Coast Toast. I really like the atmosphere though, the cool little old house with the abalone shell fireplace, etc. The chorizo scrambled egg dish is also pretty good and I love their espresso mocha, made with Mexican hot chocolate. I haven't tried their lunch or dinner food in ages.

                    I thought Trattoria Acqua was more expensive than $15 per person for dinner? Another possibility is George's Ocean Terrace. It would be right around there, and has a great view. Food is just ok, but they have good cocktails.

                    1. re: Alice Q

                      re: Brockton Villa, I think if you stick to only the good stuff, then it's ok. Unfortunately the rest of the menu (eggs, pancakes, etc) is average. If I had to go head to head per menu item w/ The Cottage, I think the Cottage does more items much better for a similar style of cooking.

                      I can't exactly remember Trattoria Acqua's price point. Their menu is so big that there's a wide range of food. Salads, pizza, pasta. I know the meat entrees are above $15/person.

                      1. re: daantaat

                        I haven't really eaten at the Cottage - to be honest it kind of creeps me out that it used to be a pet store. I know a lot of people like it though. Have you ever been to Cody's? It looks cute, but I've never tried it.

                        1. re: Alice Q

                          I didn't know The Cottage used to be a pet store. I find that kind of humorous, actually.

                          Where is Cody's?

                          1. re: daantaat

                            It was called the Village Pet Shop, and I used to buy food there for my duck. It was a stinky pit - trust me.

                            Cody's is over on the other side of Kellogg park, - across the street from the side of the La Valencia.

                            1. re: Alice Q

                              re: Cody's--is it on that side street that steeply angles up from the beach/park to the street the crosses in front of La Valencia and George's? In the same multi-level plaza as an Indian restaraunt? The actual street name is escaping me right now.

                              1. re: daantaat

                                It's not actually in the plaza - it's in a house just below that, but in that same general location.

                3. Whoops, I should clarify that I'm staying near the La Jolla location of the MCASD, sorry for any confusion. But we may decide to travel into San Diego for dinner a couple of nights, so thanks for those suggestions too, they all sound delish!

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: CuriousCat

                    I just discovered 'Casa Guadalajara', a staple near Old Town for Mexican food, I was happy to because my old touristy stand-in Casa De Bandini was sold (along with most of the Old Town restaurants).

                    Casa G. is outside of the traditional old town, though. They accept reservations except for fri and sat, where there will be a wait.

                    Expect big margaritas, big Mexican platters, and crowds (and good food), for about your budget (for smaller platters). Not in La Jolla but a fairly easy hike down the 5 South (near the 8 and the 5).

                    -stan
                    san diego food blog
                    http://www.sandiegofoodblog.com

                    1. re: stangoldsmith

                      Actually, Casa de Bandini wasn't really "sold". The State of CA sold out Old Town in a quest for more $$$. Diane Powers still owns the Bazaar del Mundo name, concept and Casa de Bandini. It's being relocated to a new development that's "in progress" at the location of the old police station downtown. Of course, it's been "in progress" for the last couple of years, but downtown redevelopement isn't always swift, especially where historical, or at least semi-historical buildings are concerned. I haven't heard that the project has been scraped.

                      Casa de Pico, the sister resto to Casa de Bandini was relocated to Grossmont Center in La Mesa and is packed. Food is only so-so, but the ambiance and "experience" are what most folks go there for; where else can you hear "It's a Small World" played by a mariachi band ;-) It should be only a matter of time before Casa de Bandini eventually reappears in it's new location.

                      1. re: stangoldsmith

                        As DD points out - Casa de Pico, which used to be in Old Town has moved out to Grossmont Center. It hasn't missed a beat as far as the crowds, but It doesn't have quite the same atmosphere since it's in a mall parking lot. The food is exactly the same, for better or worse - right down to the Cheese Crisp special and the yummy guacamole. I haven't heard much about the Bandini project lately - but the Bazaar Del Mundo shops relocated next to Casa Guadalajara and are still in business. It's now called "Diane Powers' Bazaar del Mundo." The park just isn't the same without those businesses - it's a shame it went down that way.

                        As far as Extraordinary Desserts and Phil's - both have their fans and detractors - and I think they are both pretty well within the stated price range. The Little Italy branch of ED actually does have light meals that are pretty good. It's not without it's faults, but we don't have a lot of other options for dessert specific cafes - it's certainly better than Heaven Sent or Just Fabulous.

                        Opera Patisserie just opened a storefront on 5th just south of Ash. The cafe food is eh, but they do decent classic French desserts. The interior of the cafe is really charming and it's attached to an antique shop for easy browsing.

                        www.aliceqfoodie.com

                        1. re: Alice Q

                          Yes thank you for your explications.

                          Casa De Pico and Casa Guadalajara are owned by the same owners though, right? They are both on the same website:

                          http://www.bazaardelmundo.com/guad200...

                          1. re: stangoldsmith

                            Yes, Diane Powers owns all three concepts
                            Casa Guadalajara
                            Case de Pico
                            Casa de Bandini
                            All the shops around Casa Guadalajara are hers too and, I believe, are under the Bazaar del Mundo concept. That's hers. That's what the State of CA got rid of in favor of the insipid seaport motif. It may be historically accurate but people don't come to San Diego for an historic seaport experience, they want a nice, safe little slice of Mexico which is the niche Bazaar del Mundo filled.

                            1. re: DiningDiva

                              I second that. I couldn't believe it when a friend and I went to Casa De Bandini and found that awful restaurant there instead. It was as if a vital part of the city got taken away.

                    2. I'll second Alice Q's recs for Jack's Grille, Pannikin, and the Vons deli (for sandwiches). Definitely stay away from Heaven Sent for dessert (although, you may not get to that area anyway). I have enjoyed desserts from Just Fabulous, but I've heard they're going through a change in ownership. Anyway, you can get dessert just as good (or better) and any decent restaurant you're at.

                      I happen to enjoy Extraordinary Desserts, even if they are pricey. Order a slice of cake, not a pastry or baked good. You won't find cakes like these on a restaurant menu.

                      I hear Albert's at the Zoo is good, but I've never eaten while in the Zoo.

                      1. There's a middle-eastern bistro (don't recall the name, sorry) right across from the MCASD. I've only been there once, but have wanted to go back. The food was good and it was quite reasonably priced by La Jolla standards. IIRC, entrees could be had for around $12 and up.

                        Another place that you should check out is El Pescador. It's on Pearl St., a few blocks up from La Jolla Blvd. It's a fish market that also grills up some incredible fish sandwiches with fresh fish. It's tiny, and is a true locals spot, but the sandwiches are really good. They are in your price range as well.
                        http://entertainment.signonsandiego.c...

                        1. Wow, you guys are amazing! At this rate, I'll have to make a special trip back JUST to try all the food. :) Thanks so much!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: CuriousCat

                            someone said something about the Vons Deli for sandwiches.

                            Another amazing sandwich place is the La Jolla Ralph's off la jolla village drive/ villa la jolla.
                            You can pick any meat they have in the deli, mix and match meats, super fresh veggies, and fresh bread.

                            delicious!

                          2. Hello all, I just wanted to pop by and say a HUGE THANK YOU for all of your excellent suggestions. Our stay in La Jolla was all too brief, but I managed to visit Girard Gourmet, El Pescador (twice!), George's Terrace, and Jack's.

                            The bread at Girard was unforgettable, I could eat that stuff for ... years. Decades. So good. El Pescador was addictive enough that we had to squeeze in a 2nd visit before we left, and I am officially hooked (har!) on their sandwiches, salad, and ceviche.

                            Had a great clam linguini at George's (although I may have been biased, as I was famished) and the view was stunning. Jack's pizza was fresh and inventive as promised, and we enjoyed some fun appetisers as well.

                            Incidentally, we decided to have an impromptu BBQ the night we got in -- the place we were staying had a grill that we could use. My boyfriend and I now wax poetic about the sweet, juicy bell peppers we had that night. The vegetables and fruits in general were amazingly fresh and tasty.

                            So yes, thanks to all you Chowhounds for the great advice! Sadly, I was not able to try nearly as many places as I'd have liked (especially the Tex-Mex), hopefully I'll visit the San Diego area again in the near future and rectify that!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: CuriousCat

                              So glad you enjoyed your trip, and thanks for the report back!