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Where to stay in San Diego to be near good food?

We're planning a family trip with our 6 yr old chow pup to San Diego. We find it most convenient if dinner is reasonably near by so that we can eat at a semi-reasonable hour and still have our son in bed at bedtime. We're thinking about either the Embassy Suites Downtown, so across the street from Seaport Village, walking distance to the Gaslamp District, Pacific Fish Company in the hotel or Embassy Suites La Jolla. I assume everything in Seaport Village is utterly mediocre. How are the restaurants in the

Where are we most likely to be fairly close to plenty of decent restaurants? I'm not expecting NYC or SF quality food, but we're not looking for super fine, formal dining anyway. Definitely not chain restaurants. Casual and family friendly is great, but my son also eats in "grown-up" restaurants all the time, knows how to behave and doesn't need crayons or a children's menu.

I'll get around to asking about specific restaurants later. Right now I'm just trying to figure out where to make a hotel reservation.

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  1. Moast everything in the Gaslamp and Seaport Village is mediocre(especially Seaport Village) but places can be found. I would head to La Jolla. The hotel where Clays is.. I cant remember the name.. La Jolla????..
    You could dine ion La Jolla then ..la Jolla Shores or Del Mar...I am assuming you will have a car..or stay downtown and we can suggest places in Hillcrest..by Balboa Park..
    some downtown..there are some great restaurants in the Normal Heights/North Park area these days..Urban Soalce seems to be a hit..

    2 Replies
    1. re: butterbutt

      "Most everything in the Gaslamp and Seaport Village is mediocre(especially Seaport Village) but places can be found."

      I don't want to sound like I'm being critical, but I find the "Gaslamp is touristy and mediocre" comments to be a little old and tired. Yes, a lot of places are, but I've seen close to two dozen Gaslamp restaurants get recommendations in this board in recent months, so let's not mislead people by writing off the entire neighborhood.

      Staying somewhere like La Jolla might increase the percentage decent restaurants within walking distance of your hotel, but you could stay an entire week near the Gaslamp and not even come close to running through the list of places that get a strong majority of thumbs up from SD Chowhounders. Sure, there aren't many *destination* restaurants in the Gaslamp, but there aren't that many in all of San Diego - and when you have a 6-year old along, you aren't exactly going to be going to Tapenade anyhow.

      1. re: RB Hound

        They could do a lot worse than to stay in the Hillcrest area. That puts them in proxcimity to the Zoo, Balboa Park, Old Town, Sea World, not to mention downtown and the Harbor and lots of decent to good restaurants, many of which would be suitable for dining with a 6 year old.

    2. I think whether or not you have a car will be key. If you're not planning on renting a car, then I'd stay downtown or in Hillcrest, where public transportation is somewhat of an option. Not a fantastic option, but still an option. Plus, as DiningDiva mentioned, Hillcrest is close to Balboa Park, the zoo, etc.

      If you have a car, then I think you can stay anywhere and be within a 15-30 minute drive of most of the recs you'll see on CH. If you're in La Jolla, I really like Barbarella. It's a great restaurant with a homey ambiance. The menu had a mixture of Italian, French, and American dishes. There's also Roppongi, which is Asian fusion. If you stay in Hillcrest/downtown, you'll find a lot of recs for places on various CH threads, from Super Cocina to Chive to The Linkery.

      Enjoy your trip!

      1. Might I suggest just a slightly different approach? I think for a place like San Diego that still can be spotty in terms of concentrations of foodie-worthy haunts, a nice approach might be to single out perhaps a single well-run independent restaurant that is run by a passionate operator. Make it you "home base" restaurant where you can have the luxury of sampling various parts of their menu and get to know the staff and owner, establishing a bit of home away from home. To supplement perhaps alternate between that and perhaps one backup. I think that will result in a much more memorable experience rather than going to different places for every meal, which will tend to dramatically reduce the odds, especially if it needs to be within walking distance.

        In this way you can also experience San Diego's nascent urban movement, particularly in the downtown, Little Italy, or Hillcrest areas of town, and you would only need to find just a single gem or two plus a breakfast place to make your days memorable.

        For this approach downtown may actually be a pretty good bet; for breakfast/brunch Cafe 222 comes to mind, and for your other meals Cafe Chloe would fit the bill. It'll keep you close to the harbor and transportation options to other parts of the city (esp. the trolley which will bring Little Italy into striking distance as well), and within walking distance there will be many galleries, boutiques, and clubs depending on your fancy to keep you busy. Throw in one other independently operated restaurant, frequent them during your stay, and you will soon be treated like a local!

        1. stay in or near Del Mar; the Embassy Suites in LJ is fairly close. the "best" restaurants (and I have no intent of denigrating downtown restaurants) are in LJ and the Del Mar area. Your daytime plans could very easily determine the best location for you though.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ibstatguy

            Hmmmm... What we need is a trolley that serves coastal North County; that'll open up to the traveller the restaurants of La Jolla, Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas...

          2. I'll put my two cents in for La Jolla.

            I stayed at the Grand Colonial in May and there were so many good restaurants withing walking distance........Roppongi, 9-10, the Cottage for breakfast, Georges (yum)... my 3 yr old nephew (who lives in San Diego) was with us for a few days.... he loved walking everywhere, especially down to see the seals on the beach!

            1. La Jolla, Del Mar, or the Downtown Area are probably your best bets - which one depends on the atmosphere you are looking for. There aren't really a lot of hotels in the Hillcrest area or near Balboa Park, but that's a good area for restaurants and for activities - close to the Balboa Park, Old Town, Sea World, the Zoo, etc. If you're planning to take in all those, I would probably suggest that you stay in the central area, and do a day trip up to La Jolla or Del Mar. If you want a more "resorty" relaxed atmosphere, you may want to stay up there, and make day trips down to the park, Sea World, the Zoo, etc.

              1. Marcia, if you go to Del Mar - then you can play at the Beach during the day (and take your dog to the "dog beach" there). Then, you can have dinner practically right "on" the beach at Jake's in Del Mar. The restaurant literally sits on the edge of the sand and you can sit there and watch the people walking on the sand. It is California casual and some good food (I like the Seafood Pasta Provencal or whatever they call it these days). Within a few blocks of that is California Pizza Kitchen (in case your son is craving pizza), the Brigantine (overlooks the racetrack) and other yummy restaurants...

                4 Replies
                1. re: LisaSD

                  The Embassy Suites in Gaslamp is a great place to stay. You are right by the trolley which will take you to Old Town, Little Italy with great restaurants. There are lots of good restaurants in the gaslamp.

                  1. re: LisaSD

                    CPK is much further north in Solana Beach from Jake's in Del Mar. I don't think it's exactly walking distance, from what I remember.

                    1. re: LisaSD

                      I think "chowpup" refers to a baby chowhound - i.e. a child, rather than an actual dog - but I could be wrong! Brigantine and CPK are in Solana Beach - about half a mile away from Jakes in Del Mar. I used to like Jakes, but I thought it had gone downhill and become a bit too "generic" the last couple of times I visited. It's decent enough for a dinner with parents or non-foodie out of towners, but I probably wouldn't recommend it as a destination for a fellow CH.

                      1. re: Alice Q

                        I eat at Jake's a couple of times a year. It isn't Tapenade, but I find the food and service very solid. The great view tends to minimize the sensory experience with the food and wine. I find the same thing to be true of many restaurants with spetacular views.

                        The core experience of San Diego's best restaurants are on the plate. The ambiance in these restaurants are typically tastefully decorated but neutral in decor.

                        Might make a good topic in a separte thread

                    2. La Jolla probably has the greatest concentration of good food in the city and quite a variety and price range as well, from fine dining to coffee and sandwich shops to bakeries. It has the best beaches in the city and is utterly charming and quite pup friendly.
                      I've had friends from Europe stay in Little Italy and thoroughly enjoy it. Some up scale as well as traditional Italian eateries are located here. Little Italy attracts a young, hip crowd and there is plenty to amuse them in this area. It is also near a thriving art center, good public transportation and the entire downtown area is not far away. There are a couple of nice boutique hotels in the area.
                      Hillcrest has a plethora of dining choices but not many hotel choices and the area is quite crowded and parking can be a problem. Ditto North Park. But you can always visit these areas.
                      Where are you coming in from? Will you have a car and how long will you be staying?
                      You are sure to have a great trip.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: P Macias

                        Thanks everyone. Taking into account all your comments and some non-food related considerations, we decided on Embassy Suites Downtown. We're flying in from NY, renting a car for all or part of the trip and we'll have 5 full days.

                        You've all been so helpful, let me ask, any thoughts on where to get dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas day? We're Jewish so issues of family/tradition/special dinner aren't relevant. At least here on the East Coast, the cliche? tradition? only available edible choice? for Jews on Christmas is a movie and Chinese food, so my thoughts naturally go to Asian of some sort, which we love.

                        Also, the hotel has a restaurant called Pacific Fish Company. Any experiences? Any thoughts? It's likely to be our choice for dinner our first night there because dinner in the hotel seems like an excellent choice with an exhausted, jet lagged, overexcited chowpup, assuming it reasonably verges on the edible (Yes, that would be the boy. There's no dog.)

                        1. re: marcia2

                          My vote goes to China Max, which is one of the best Chinese restaurants in the area. I say that because it actually received rave reviews from my incredibly critical Chinese mother. So, the food is great and they're open on Christmas. I know this because my own family had Christmas dinner there and it was great.

                          1. re: marcia2

                            You have decided where to stay, but I would like to comment, that the Gaslamp area is not a place that I think of going to eat. Although it may be improving. I drive to LaJolla often, since there are most of the better restaurants. My favorite is Azul right on the cliffs overlooking the geologic formation, that makes LaJolla what it is. Best views of the coast from a number of the places above the Cove. But then I don't appreciate the New York like congestion of the Gaslamp area. LaJolla is what California is all about in San Diego.

                          2. re: P Macias

                            Skip the restaurant in the hotel and go to Oceanaire for great fish. No comparison. The hotel restaurant is standard mediocre hotel fare.

                            1. re: PGB

                              Seconding PGB's advice.

                              ...and don't miss out on Oceanaire's crab cake. It's a masterful work of culinary restraint, with the blue crab gently supported by just a whisper of seasoning and the faintest touch of browning.

                              Just skip the sauce and ask for a pinch bowl of kosher salt from the kitchen. Pure unadulterated blue crab goodness!

                          3. No one has mentioned this yet, but as you're bringing your child I feel I must advise you to do what I did every year with my nephews and niece when we attended Comic-Con: have at least one lunch at Karen Krasne's Extraordinary Desserts. It's on Fifth Street north of downtown (Laurel Heights? Anyway, near Balboa Park). The array of sweets is mind-boggling, and no kid I know has ever hated having cake, cookies, ice cream and milk there. You don't say where you're from, but rest assured - Krasne's desserts can hold their own with anything from San Francisco or New York. Your kid will be delighted (and at off hours in the afternoon, the place is very restful to overtired adults).

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: soyarra

                              I ate at the Pacific Fish Co. and was very disappointed and I am not very picky. I think even the touristy Fish Market across the street is better. I agree about Oceanaire, it is on of my favorites! The crabcakes are amazing!!! One of my favorite dishes ever. I also agree about extraordinary desserts...they have very yummy desserts, and 2 or 3 kinds of hot chocolate which are excellent too!

                              1. re: lindsaytaylor

                                I'd second the recommendation to go across the street to the Fish Market - it's not half bad, and sits right on the water. If you like cheese, opt for the au gratin potatoes as a side dish!

                                1. re: Alice Q

                                  Though personally I'm not much of a fan of the Fish Market, if you do go, and it'll be a very short walk from your hotel, their cioppino (a single order is enough for 2 adults, BTW) is as satisfying a meal as I've ever had there. I've only had it upstairs but I do believe it's also available at their more casual (and more kid-friendly) eatery downstairs as well.