San Diego: Non-gaslamp cheap to moderate dinners
I'm heading to San Diego for Comic-Con on Wednesday. The best decision I made during last year's stay was to never eat dinner in the gaslamp district near the convention center. Two years ago I learned my lesson - big crowds, mostly subpar food.
So - I'm looking for recs that are still pretty convenient to drive to from the convention center but that are far enough away to avoid the 150,000 people who flood out of its doors into the gaslamp during the convention.
I'm not looking for super-fancy... anything from dirt cheap up to entrees in the $16-18 range would be fine.
To give you a frame of reference: Last year we really enjoyed lunch at Bud's Louisiana Restaurant (is that still open?) and thought that Mona Lisa had pretty good Italian food. We also ate at a highly recommended Thai place in Hillcrest whose name escapes me (anyone have a guess?). I would say that the drive up to Hillcrest from the convention center is about as far as we want to go.
I have four dinners to cover during the convention... open to pretty much all types of food. Thai, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, and regional American are of particular interest. One member of my party irrationally hates Vietnamess food...
Cafe Athena has good, simple Greek food at good prices. It is on Garnet Ave in the Pacific Beach area in a shopping center with Bruegger's & Rite Aid. Their spanaki lemonato appetizer is a don't-miss. It is good for lunches & dinners.
For Italian try Filippi's Pizza Grotto on India St (Little Italy.) Good prices, great atmosphere, great food.
To supplement Phee's recommendations - you might try Starlite - on India Street, just north of downtown (off the Sassafras exit on the 5 N.) Further down on India, Saffron is decent for chicken and spicy drunken noodles, and you'll also find Blue Water Grill, Lucha Libre Taco shop and Shakespeares in that general area (avoid El Indio.) These places are just a few minutes north of downtown (just West of Hillcrest at the foot of Washington St). Bite and Mama Testa are also pretty good in Hillcrest and Arrivederci is passable Italian. Bronx, Ciros and Lefty's Pizza (in South Park) are also within striking distance and pretty good.
A new Japanese place just opened in Banker's Hill, halfway between downtown and Hillcrest - called Mukashi. Early reports are mixed, but it's convenient and might be worth a try.
In or near the Gaslamp you might try Basic Urban Kitchen (will probably be mobbed though), the Kebab Shop, Zanzibar, Neighborhood and Cafe Chloe.
Bud's is open but no longer in the same location. I'm not sure which Thai place you visited but if it wasn't Amarin Thai, do try it this time around. Since you're somewhat familiar with getting to Hillcrest, I'll stick to recs in that area. For Italian, try Arrivederci on Fourth. For Japanese, try Yakitori Yakyudori on Sixth. I'd recommend Ono Sushi but it can get pricey, depending on your sushi addiction (I'm speaking from personal experience!). There's an old-school Chinese place on Fifth called Mandarin House. It won't knock your socks off, but for decent and moderately priced Chinese fare, it's good. It's actually located in Banker's Hill which is between downtown and Hillcrest.
Have fun at Comic Con.......and good luck with the crowds!