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Our visit to SD in March, mostly lunch/dinner ideas

I'm going to San Diego the first week in March for business and bringing my wonderful husband along with me to enjoy a respite from the snow and gray.

We'll be arriving Monday morning and departing late Friday night (taking an overnight flight back to the east coast, never done that before!!). I've got conference stuff during the week, but there will be chunks of time that I'm free to wander around.

Each evening I'll be done by 5:30 at the latest, and we'll be free to head out for dinner then. Wednesday and Thursday I get out early, so I'll have those afternoons free, as well. And pretty much all of Friday is free, too, because we don't need to be at the airport until around 8pm.

We'll be staying at the Westin Hotel on Broadway. We won't have a car, but we have no problem riding the bus, ferry, or trolley. Cabs are less desirable because they're more costly.

I'm hoping for restaurant recommendations that aren't going to break the bank, and are the sorts of things we can't get around Vermont (so no venison, thanks ;). We are fond of various ethnic foods, and are willing to try lots of things. Here are some basic guidelines/limitations:

My husband doesn't care for seafood of any sort at all, period. If we go someplace with seafood, there needs to be at least one reasonable alternative for him (that means not just some flabby dried out chicken or a lame hockey puck burger).

We're not looking for high-end cuisine. We're perfectly happy with down home good food.

We are primarily meat eaters, and my husband tends to prefer non-game meats (pork, poultry, beef) to things that taste gamey to him (pheasant, venison, lamb). *I*, however, love all of those things, AND I love seafood.

We both really enjoy Mexican, Mexican-influenced, Tex-Mex, and Ameri-Mex food. I will admit that we even get hankerings for Taco Bell from time to time (there is no Taco Bell anywhere convenient to us in Vermont).

I am more fond of Asian foods than my husband, but he's always willing to try something new. I am also more fond of Indian foods than he is, he likes spicy, but less sweet spices and more hot spices.

We are willing to walk up to around a mile, but more than that might be problematic depending on the timing of things.

If you can make recommendations based on where we'll be going, that would be awesome. We're planning on visiting the USS Midway, Ocean Beach, and Coronado Island.

I have a list of the places Guy Fieri's been to in the area as well as the things we're interested in just checking out to see what they're like since we're in the area:

DDD - Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill
DDD - El Indio, Mexican Restaurant
DDD - Hob Nob Hill Restaurant
DDD - Hodad's Burgers
DDD - Pizzeria Luigi- Golden Hill and Northpark
DDD - Studio Diner
DDD - Tiolis Crazy Burger
In n Out Burger
Krispy Kreme donuts (we've never had them, we're just curious, don't shoot me)

We are not married to anything on this list and are open to suggestions from folks. I know I'm asking a lot, and I have a lot of limitations, so even if you have to poke around outside that, anything you suggest would be great!

I really appreciate any time and effort you take in responding to my query. Thanks!

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  1. Guy Fieri is no arbiter, IMO. El Indio, Luigi, and Hodad's are places best avoided. There are much better examples of all those kinds of food in San Diego.

    Mexican - Mariscos German, Super Cocina, Aqui es Texcoco
    Pizza - Pizzeria Bruno Napoletana
    Burgers - Burger Lounge, Farmhouse Cafe

    2 Replies
    1. re: Josh

      All very wise and well-considered choices!

      Agree with everything that Josh said, except that I'd like to throw out a lifeline out to Hodad's (other than it'll be a mess to get to w/o a car or taxi).


      Clearly different styles of burgers are at play here, with very different flavor profiles. But in our not too recent past both would have been considered good, quality burgers. (Actually the BL burger might taste so unexpectedly different from old-school norms that the experience could be akin to the "Johnny Be Good" guitar solo scene from "Back to the Future"...)

      The whole debate regarding Hodad's nowadays on these boards is that they're an old-school "pre-enlightenment" burger. (That is it doesn't pay homage to the drive towards sustainable, grass-fed, hormone-free, free range, free Tibet, BPA-free, dolphin-safe, post-partisan, non-nuclear and carbon-neutral sources of food...)

      BTW BL's burger has won me over too, but random and unpredictable nostalgic backflashes still makes me vulnerable to the call from good 'ole Hodad's... And Hodad's is not only about their burgers, but it's also the scene. You can't possibly forget you're in the middle of S.D.'s surf culture when you're at Hodad's...

      1. re: cgfan

        Good points. The only caveat I'd add is that the line there has become so long it's basically impossible to have the experience that Hodad's once offered.

    2. I have said it before, and I will say it again, staying in downtown San Diego without a car will severely reduce the many amazing foodie options San Diego has to offer. Josh's recomendations are excellent, but all but Burger Lounge will be a bitch to get to without a car or an expensive cab ride.

      1. San Diego is difficult to navigate by public transportation, so without using cabs, it could take you a while to get from place to place. There have been many threads with recommendations for places downtown/gaslamp/convention center that could provide you with a lot of help.

        Josh gives great recommendations, but you will spend a significant amount of time getting to many of those places from downtown without a car even though they are not that far.

        If you are already planning on going to Ocean Beach - try Azucar for cuban pastries and sandwiches and get some onion rings and/or a shake at Hodads.

        South Beach Bar and Grill in Ocean Beach gets either slammed or cannonized on this board for serving Americanized fish tacos but their happy hour is very inexpensive - dozen oysters for $12.95 and 1/2 price appetizers, they have non-seafood items for your husband and you can have a beer overlooking the ocean.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JRSD

          Whoops, didn't read closely.

        2. Morgana,

          Blue Water Grill and El Indio are next door to each other. Both are easily reachable from downtown via the Blue Line Trolley. Take it to the Washington St.station. From there you'll need to walk back out to Washington St. and go East (that should be to your left), under the I-5 freeway, through a stoplight and up to India St. Turn right on India and walk down about a block and a half. It's less than a mile and probably not the nicest walk. It's perfectly safe, but mostly businesses and a little bit isolated after dark.

          You'll come to El Indio first and then Blue Water. El Indio used to be very good (a LONG time ago), it's not so great now. Blue Water is good to very good depending upon what you order, but I don't think there would be anything for your non-seafood eating husband. However, on your walk from the trolley stop to the restaurants, you'll pass several other worthy options, all more patronized by locals than tourists.

          Lucha Libre is the first place you'll come to. It's a taco shop that was opened by 4 brothers from Tijuana using lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) as the them. The food is usually pretty good and the interior is a hoot. You definitely would not find anything like this in Vermont. You'd be eating with almost all locals. http://www.tacosmackdown.com/

          Vero Gelato is on the corner of Washington and India and would be a good bet for dessert after where ever you eat.

          Saffron does delicious rotisserie chicken with Asian-inspired sides. You can do take-out or there are some small patio tables available. http://www.saffronsandiego.com/sumeiy...

          Above Saffron is The Wine Vault Bistro which does some really great prix-fixe dinners at very reasonable prices. http://www.winevaultbistro.com/

          And for a different change of pace you could stop into the Shakespeare Pub for a pint or two and some good fun and fairly decent food. http://www.shakespearepub.com/

          You will have very easy access to Little Italy via the Blue Line Trolley as well. There are tons of places to eat in LI, not all of them good mind you, just a ton of choices.

          I think you'd be hard pressed to find Kripsy Kremes here in SD. They came to town, did great business for a couple of years, and their star has faded.

          To get to Ocean Beach from downtown you can take the Blue Line Trolley to the old Town transit station, which is the last stop on the Blue Line. Get off and follow the signs to the bus pad and hop on a MTS route 35 bus to OB. They run approximately every 30 minutes. The trolley trip will take about 15 minutess, the bus trip probably at least 30 minutes if you don't have to wait for a bus. Rapid transit in SD isn't really very rapid ;-)

          3 Replies
          1. re: DiningDiva

            There are two Krispy Kremes remaining in San Diego County (I think there were at least six, and maybe eight, around 2006, before the bottom fell out). One is in Clairemont Mesa, the other in Chula Vista. MTS Bus 50 will get you out to the shopping center in Clairemont Mesa in about 30 minutes, but I cannot imagine a bigger waste of your time. If you are going to burn calories, Extraordinary Desserts in Little Italy or Hillcrest (even for all of its foibles) is a better use of your time.

            1. re: RB Hound

              But there's still something to be said about the pursuit of freshly fried dough done well. Perhaps a CH'ers upgrade more in keeping with the OP's KK thought might be a search for the Churros cart on University?

              Ever so humble and not overblown to KK's ridiculous corporate proportions, it's just good, freshly-fried and tasty dough.

              (...and if you have the taxi side up to the cart and roll your window down, you'll also simulate KK's drive-through experience... Oh I can picture a limo doing that right about now...)

            2. re: DiningDiva

              Given that you have no car, Saffron is your best bet for Asian. Cab rides get pricey and if you want a larger variety of Asian food, rent a car and head into the Convoy area, which is roughly 15 min north of downtown.

            3. you've already gotten lots of great suggestions, and i love dantaat's idea of perhaps renting a car just for the day to get your Asian fix on Convoy.

              i just wanted to chime in to add this recent thread that might give you a few more options:

              1. So where we'll be staying is the Gaslamp quarter? I wasn't sure so it was hard to follow some of the threads here. :) Thanks for making that more clear for me.

                The other thoughts and suggestions are very helpful. I suspect we might be having a tiny bit of culture clash. I'm used to walking to and from public transportation, and I'm used to things taking half hour or so to get to via bus. That's pretty much how it was in DC when we went this winter, and that's often how it is in Boston. So I'm still not 100% convinced that I really -need- to rent a car. I do have some friends who will be driving out to meet us for one meal, so I can probably arrange for that to be at someplace you need to drive to. :)

                As for the DDD list, it was more a jumping off point. I'm very grateful for the updated intel on those places.

                I'd really love to hear more about what restaurants are good choices in the Little Italy area, though!

                As for KK, well, like I said, we're just curious. :) It seems likely that it'll be too far out of the way to be worth even thinking about exploring for the heck of it. If I were walking by it on the way to somewhere, and they had the fresh donuts light on, I'd stop. :)

                10 Replies
                1. re: Morganna

                  The suggestion to rent a car even for a day is a really good one. What most people don't realize is that geographically San Diego covers a lot of square miles. Sometimes the concept of the space an spacial differences and relationships are to grasp until one's visited or experienced it. SD is a sparwling, metropolitan area of several hundred square miles. Things are spread out and not necessarily in close proxcimity to each other.

                  You're downtown which probably has the best access to rapid tranist. But...that only covers a small sliver of San Diego, or takes a really long time because of all the trolley/bus changes and distances involved. The car is the easiest way to get between 2 points in SoCal. It direct, saves time and our roads were built for the traffic.

                  No, you wouldn't need a car for your entire visit. You can trolley around downtown just fine and see and do alot. A rental for a day or 2 would be ideal because it would give you the freedom to do what you want, when you want and maximize what you can do and see in the short time you'll be here. You can be in OB - where there was no wait last night to get into Hodad's <gg> - in about 15 minutes from downtown with a car versus up to an hour to make the same trip using rapid transit that will require at least 1 transfer.

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    According to the trip planner for the bus system, going to OB is about 25 minutes, and it involves catching just one bus that is very near to my hotel. Are you telling me that I can't trust the trip planner and that this is just wrong?

                    1. re: Morganna

                      Depends on which bus you take. The bus to OB from downtown is, I belive, the 923. That will be direct but it's frequency varies from 30 - 60 mintues. Depending upon traffic, yes, it can take more than 25 mintues.

                      I use the trolley line more than the bus lines and the trolley information on the MTS trip planner is reasonably accurate. My experience, tho' limited, has been that the trip planner is less accurate with the bus routes, but not out of the ball park. I would take the times the trip planner reports with a grain of salt and use them as a guide line understanding that there are variances. Remember, we live here and are very familiar with the terrain, distances and traffic flow. That said, I do think taking the 923 bus from downtown is a better bet than my original advice to take the trolley to the transit station and transfer to the 30 bus. I'm used to the 923 just going to the airport, I forgot it goes all the way to the beach.

                      I have a friend who works at UCSD in La Jolla but lives in National City. He doesn't own a car and travels everywhere by rapid transit. His commute is about 30 miles one way and averages 90 minutes each way using the trolley and an express bus to and from UCSD. By comparison the same trip can be made in 30-40 mintues or less by car in moderate traffic. You can get a lot of places by trolley and bus, they'll probably take longer than you think.

                  2. re: Morganna

                    Like everyone says, you should rent a car. Gaslamp is touristy; the kind of ethnic, local places where you seem to like to eat are elsewhere. SD has very good Vietnamese and Mexican, but not in Gaslamp.

                    1. re: Morganna

                      I'm from Detroit, my husband grew up in Boston, we have lived in DC. Public transportation in San Diego is *nothing* like in those places. It is not a culture clash, it is geography.

                      Look at a map, find a place you want to go and then mapquest it. You can't get from one place to another in a direct way driving the sidestreets on a bus. We have canyons and hills. The street names are the same, but you end up stopped at one end of a canyon and can see the street continuing right across it. Better yet- google streetview some areas and routes.

                      You'll end up spending minimally $15-one way- in a cab to travel what would take 20 minutes on the freeway otherwise.

                      Gaslamp has some nice gems. You could walk to Cafe Chloe. It will be nice, you'll like it and can walk around Horton plaza on the way back. Horton is an outdoor, 6 story shopping mall. There are restaurants on the top floor, none too exciting. The Cafe at Nordstrom has a wonderful view of the bay.

                      ...As long as it isn't raining and hailing like it did yesterday or 2 weeks ago. There is a lot of flooding because sewers can't handle such a rainfall. Rain here is measured in 1/100ths of an inch on weather reports. (We had 0.33 inches of rain yesterday and 50 accidents were reported between 4 and 9 p.m., usually there are 50 accidents in a 24 hour period in the county)(Right now, the top story on the local news is the weather- for 0.33 inches of rain).

                      In Little Italy there are plenty of great places. Being from Boston, my husband craves Filippi's pizza, which does not get love on this board, but it is as close as we can get out here. Mona Lisa is similar, has sandwiches in the deli/store part, attached to the restaurant. That's a nice lunch.

                      By the time you got the bus routes to get to one of the two Krispy Kreme locations out here and then wait to get back to downtown, if the buses are still running, you will be kicking yourself for not getting one of those $35/day car rentals...

                      Also remember you are on East Coast time. When it is 5 in the afternoon here, your body will be at 8 p.m. and you will have had a very long day.

                      1. re: Morganna

                        I agree that renting a car for a day may be your best bet for exploring Convoy's Asian offerings or the beach areas. However, as someone who takes the bus daily here in SD, I'd like to offer the countervailing view that there is plenty of good food available within a reasonable bus ride of where you're staying. Within a couple of blocks of your hotel on Broadway, you can catch buses to South Park, North Park, Hillcrest, City Heights, University Heights, and Normal Heights.

                        Here are my picks for bus-friendly eats (some of which have already been mentioned above):

                        Mariscos German taco truck and Super Cocina: take the 7 bus from Front St and Broadway to 35th and University. There won't be any non-seafood for your husband at the Mariscos truck, but there are plenty of options for him at Super Cocina.

                        Pizzeria Bruno Napoletano: take the 15 bus from Front and Broadway to El Cajon and Park Blvd.

                        Tioli's Crazee Burger: take the 15 bus to El Cajon and 30th.

                        There are lots of great places to eat and drink craft beer along the 30th Street Corridor in South Park and North Park. The 2 bus leaves from across the street from your hotel on Broadway and travels through Golden Hill and then straight up 30th street. You can hit Alchemy and Hamilton's in South Park, or the Linkery, Urban Solace, Caffe Calabria, Toronado, and Ritual Tavern in North Park. All are along 30th Street.

                        Finally, you can take the 11 bus from 1st and Broadway to Hillcrest, University Heights, and Normal Heights. I'd recommend Mama Testa and Yakitori Yakudori in Hillcrest, Farmhouse Cafe, Cantina Mayahuel, and Jayne's Gastropub in University Heights, and Blind Lady Ale House in Normal Heights.

                        These are all 20-40 minute bus rides, but they are straightforward and have no transfers. Use the trip planner at http://www.sdcommute.com/.

                        1. re: Katherine H

                          Phew! Thank you, Katherine! This has been most helpful. I do have the planner marked, and was using that to help me find my way around places a bit. :)

                          That first option sounds way cool and fun. :) Don't suppose they have a website, being a truck and all? :)

                          1. re: Morganna

                            No website that I know of, but it comes up a lot on this board. There are also reviews, photos, and a map over on Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/mariscos-germ.... I'm fond of the gobernador and marlyn tacos, as well as the tostada mixta.

                            1. re: Katherine H

                              I read about that, and Super Cocina on Yelp, and now I'm very excited about those options! :) YAY!

                          2. re: Katherine H

                            Good stuff, Katherine - Ed Nash has competition. :)