Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Diego >
Mar 10, 2012 11:34 PM

Balboa Park: Good, Cheap, Fast?

Hi yall -- I can't believe this isn't what 85% of visitors want to know: where to go in Balboa park (Sunday for us) that's decent, cheap and fast please! We're swooping in from very far away to hit one museum and don't want to spend much time eating; but we don't want to have wretched food either.

Any hints please?

Many thanks SD!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Decent, cheap and fast doesn't really exist in Balboa Park.

    There is a small cafe across from the Mingei and next to the SD Musuem of Art. It's pricey and I haven't eaten there since the new caterer took over. There is The Prado which is neither cheap nor fast, tho' it is usually decent. The Japanese Tea Garden offers light food options; there is usually a line on weekends. There are also numerous food carts, which are fast, but pricey and more or less decent. GRO Cafe is still in development/construction.

    There are not a lot of dining options in Balboa park

    85% of visitors are more interested in the Gaslamp/Downtown area than the park.

    1. While not IN the Park per se, Barrio Star is very close to the western boundary of it at 2706 Fifth Avenue. Pretty easy street parking, fairly quick in and out, and a comfortable spot for what I call handmade Mexican dishes.

      2 Replies
      1. re: mcgrath

        Barrio Star is not something I would call cheap

        1. re: honkman

          Barrio Star definitely not cheap, especially for what you get. Am surprised that place is still in business.

          I suggest getting happy hour appetizers at Prado to stave off hunger. Then go outside of Balboa for decent and cheap food.

      2. You could pick up sandwiches at the Marketplace on 6th and's a convenience store, but they make great sandwiches and I think they also have pizza. Sandwiches are about $6-$7.

        1. Hey everyone -- thanks! I thought about all these suggestions but ended up opting for the Japanese tea house. It was good-enough. Not great by any means, and not really cheap either, but not outrageous. And it was pleasant in the sun, overlooking the cherry blossoms, listening to a concert.

          We'll try the rest of these next time.

          And gosh, were all those people at the park not tourists then? What are the tourists all doing downtown?

          3 Replies
          1. re: aliris

            I think you missed the point of what DiningDiva was trying to say. Most of the tourists posting to the San Diego Chowhound group ask about dining in the Gaslamp/Downtown area. She was not saying that there weren't tourists in Balboa Park.

            Perhaps if you think of Balboa Park as simply a larger version of the Zoo, it would make it easier to understand why your dining options are limited, and why you simply won't find any options that are good, cheap, *and* fast.

            1. re: aliris

              Balboa Park is beloved and well used by locals, which is probably what 60% of the people in the park are at this time of year. Old Town? Seaport Village? tourist meccas, to be sure...but not the park.

              San Diego does big business with the conference trade (think ComicCon). The conference center is located on the bay and on the fringe of the Gaslamp and most of the hotels that cater to the conference trade are there as well. Hence, the request for dining information in the Gaslamp and downtown.

              1. re: DiningDiva

                Yeah, the museum/zoo portion of Balboa park is actually a small part of the overall park, which is huge - the largest urban park outside of Central Park - and almost all of which is used by San Diegans. That said, the food at the park has always been meh. So, nobody eats at the park except for tourists, and who cares what they think.

            2. I understood the options in Balboa Park were limited by their agreement with The Prado which limits competition.

              2 Replies
              1. re: escondido123

                They were limited long before Prado showed up.

                1. re: Fake Name

                  Alberts in the zoo is fairly decent. The only problem is that you have to pay to get into the zoo or be a member. I find sitting out on their patio to be a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the zoo. It is also a lot less frentic than the Prado.