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First time in San Diego.... Where would you suggest...?

We are going to be visiting SD for the first time in mid-October for a conference. For a few nights, we'll be staying at the Hilton Bayfront. Any recs for spots nearby that are your favorites? We are pretty adventurous and like all kinds of cuisines, and love anything from upscale to a total dive, as long as the food is special. We will have a car.
The second part of my question is: we will likely add a few days to our trip & can't decide if we should stay in town, or venture out to another area. Are there any surrounding areas (and we don't mind driving up to an hour or even two) that are fun, walkable foodie towns? Thanks in advance for your guidance. I have no shame - I plan every trip around food, so I like to start planning early. ;-)

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  1. Neighborhood for local draft beers and delicious bistro food.

    1. This has been said before and I will venture to say it again - you need to indicate what kind of cuisines that have your interest.

      San Diego has many very good restaurants, but they are located over a huge area - 2700 square miles.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Gypsy Jan

        Thanks, Jan. I'd said that "we are pretty adventurous and like all kinds of cuisines" in an attempt to specify that we're open to just about anything.

        We love sushi, Italian, Mexican, Latin, Chinese, Thai, French and anything in between. Additionally, would be open to trying something completely new.

      2. A bit S-SE of your hotel is Barrio Logan (and Sherman Heights) with some good Mexican taquerias.

        Little Italy is about 2 miles N-NW of the hotel. Good place to walk around, get some Italian fare at Monello or Bencotto, as well as sushi (yes, sushi) at Shino, and some gelato at Pappalecco.

        A short walk up on Harbor Blvd. from your hotel (at Kettner Blvd.) is Lion's Share, which has some interest game dishes. Only been once, but left sufficiently satisfied.

        North of you (about 1.5 miles) is Banker's Hill and Balboa Park. In the former, I would recommend Cucina Urbana. In the latter, walk around and maybe get some tea or desserts at Prado (inside Balboa Park).

        Further north of Banker's Hill (again about 1 mile or so) are Mission Hills and and Hillcrest. In that area, people seem to really like Snooze for breakfast, but the lines can be long esp. on the weekends, weekdays are much better.

        A bit east of Hillcrest is North Park, where I recommend Carnitas Snack Shack.

        1. Bring yout passport, take the blue line trolley to the border and visit Tijuana where you can sample Baja Med, upscale or downscale

          1. I'd go to Las Quatros Milpas in Barrio Logan. You'll read all kinds of things- it's not "authentic" etc. and how the high-brow has far better alternatives. For me, I like this place.

            But I consider it a fairly unique experience here in San Diego.

            I go every Monday morning and have a small bowl of Chorizo con Huevo- comes with tortillas that are worth about 1k calories each.

            There are also rolled tacos that are pretty good, burritos that I don't enjoy much. Beef or pork tacks that are fried and delicious.

            If you go at lunch, expect a line. Actually there's a line all the time, except 0830 Monday. But don't tell anyone.

            1. Hi Amy! San Diego is truly America's Finest City! As far as Sushi goes, if you are a fan of the sauced up roll with beautiful presentation and have no aversion to rice, Harney Sushi in Old Town is great. 3964 Harney St. They also have a DJ some evenings (not too loud) and a late night happy hour. If you like real authentic sushi (not a lot of crazy sauces or rice, but a focus on the actual fish) go to Sushi Ota. YOU WILL NEED A RESERVATION HERE. 4529 Mission Bay Dr.

              For mexican food El Zarape is so incredible! 4642 Park Blvd I've been to more than my fair share of mexican food places, and this is the best. Their Chile Relleno burrito is...well there are no words to describe it. You will be pleased! The ambiance leaves something to be desired, but you said you weren't picky about that. The salsas are awesome too. I like to pick up food there and head to beautiful Balboa Park with a blanket, enjoy the sun, the breeze, people watch, and eat. If you want an interesting experience, call Lucha Libre gourmet taco shop (1810 W Washington St) a couple weeks before your trip to make a reservation. (619) 296-8226 Ask for the "Champion's Booth." When you arrive there will be a line of people waiting formed from inside the restaurant that will likely flow outside and continue down the street. You will bypass all those suckers and sit at the only booth in the restaurant and also be the only patrons to receive table service. The green Chicken enchiladas are AMAZING.

              For Thai food, La Basil Thai in La Jolla is second to none. 5525 La Jolla Blvd There are many people who rate it low on Yelp due to pricing, but it is great quality. Thai cuisine is one of my favorites, so I am always trying Thai restaurants and I have found that across all the dishes I have tried at La Basil (almost all of them) I have been consistently impressed. I would go during lunch and sit outside to enjoy the sun. You can also get to the beach from Law Street just a couple blocks away and walk off your lunch. Another great Thai place is Lotus Thai. There are multiple locations in San Diego. Closest to you would be downtown. 906 Market St but I like the Hillcrest location better. 3761 6th Ave Lotus Thai is definitely a local favorite.

              Have you tried Shabu Shabu? I like Shabu Shabu House 4646 Convoy St. The closest thing I can compare it to is PHo, but it really is not very similar to PHo. You have a hot pot of broth in front of you and the server brings you veggies, your choice of protein, and exotic sauces (I think one is ground daikon radish root- tastes like horseradish). You end up creating your own concoction that is aromatic and very stimulating to the palate. If you like spicy and garlic flavors this is for you. Parking will be tricky. If you are willing to park in a neighboring lot you will be much less frustrated.

              I like Hillcrest for a foodie area. It is one restaurant after another after another a few local shops sprinkled between. There is every type of cuisine you could imagine there all on or within a block or two of the main street (University Avenue). Just a couple examples: Morrocan at Kous Kous, Spanish Tapas at Tapas Picasso, Afghan at Khyber Pass, Au Revoir for French food, Bombay for Indian, Busalacchi's for Italian, Ortega's for a fun fresh twist on Mexican food (get their tableside guacamole), The Tractor Room for amazing game dishes and hand crafted cocktails, also great for brunch on Sunday as their sister restaurant Hash House A Go Go across the street and Snooze will be too packed to get into, so I wouldn't even try. San Diegans take Brunch VERY SERIOUSLY! Hillcrest is an old area with lots of history. You will also find my favorite place on Earth in Hillcrest: Balboa Park. Balboa Park is home to many great museums, an assortment of gardens (botanical, Japanese, rose, just to name a few), A coy pond, an organ pavilion that hosts a variety of concerts, The Prado restaurant, a huge fountain for kids to play in that is surrounded by all kinds of interesting people. I've seen African Warrior impersonators with spears and shields wearing zebra print loin cloths, a balloon animal artist, a face painter, several musicians, including an extremely talented guitar player who is always there on weekends. You'll be impressed when you hear how great he is on the guitar, but the real shocker is he has no arms! I am not kidding! He plays with his toes. You have to see it to believe it. It is great to just sit and watch as passerbyers stumble upon the realization of what is happening and are frozen for several minutes as they wrap their head around the whole thing. There are also beautiful exotic birds that bird handlers will allow you to hold. Google images of Balboa park. It will take your breath away to see in person the beautifully detailed architecture from the early 1900s. Be sure to go on a weekend. A testament to the beauty can be observed every Saturday of the year: Weddings are happening all around you in semi-secluded areas of the park. There is enough room so you don't feel like you are intruding and it adds to the magical feeling of the park.

              I hope you enjoy San Diego to the fullest.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Shannon610

                Now that is a chow-worthy post. Well done, Shannon. Of the places you mention that I've been to (about half) you are spot on.

                1. re: Shannon610

                  Shannon610, you would do the Chamber of Commerce proud!

                  I'll second Bombay, Busalacchi's, and Khyber Pass.

                  1. re: Shannon610

                    Probably too late to be of help to AmylynNC, but I've been to Bombay a couple of times over the summer since seconding it on this thread (vis-a-vis Shannon610's post). I was disappointed both times and haven't returned since. The food was just, well, flat.

                  2. Just wanted to bump this up to see if any of you have additional suggestions for food in SD area.
                    We love sushi, Italian, Mexican, Latin, Chinese, Thai, French and anything in between. Additionally, would be open to trying something completely new & will have a car, so we don't mind traveling outside the city. Thanks! :-)

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: AmyInNC

                      Hi. Okay:

                      Starlite Lounge for excellent food and service in a cool atmosphere. It's become my favorite monthly dining outing for a while, and the quality and service has never faltered.

                      Sushi Tadokoro near old town is my favorite omakase place in SD proper.

                      Saffron Thai for a simple lunch. Not "authentic," but the owner is a pillar of the local dining establishment, and her food is healthy and on the "homemade" side of Thai.

                      Bahn Thai is great for a more standard, but very good, Thai lunch. Small, no atmosphere, but a nice reason to visit University Heights.

                      Mariscos El Pescador truck in the Toys-R-Us lot off the L St exit at Industrial Ave in Chula Vista for fish tacos, shrimp consommé and gobernadores.

                      And don't miss Cafe Chloe. The only pancakes I've ever loved.

                      1. re: AmyInNC

                        When it comes to San Diego-as-unique-food-destination, I think of craft beer and taco shops. I'm sure other cities have both, but we're kind of obsessed with it in San Diego. For craft beer, places like Tiger!Tiger!, Hamilton's and Toronado are excellent, but since you aren't local, I'd go with Fathom Bistro, which has a fantastic view and is fairly close to you.

                        For taco shops, there are dozens that are good.

                        1. re: jmtreg

                          I don't think we are obsessed with tacos but with burgers

                          1. re: honkman

                            I love a good burger too, honkman. Let me know your favorites. :-)

                            1. re: AmyInNC

                              Starlite, Alchemy. Burger Lounge for a fast food one

                              1. re: honkman

                                Have you tried the burger at Sea Rocket?

                      2. Blind Burro, Tender Greens, Jsix, and Roy’s are close to the Hilton Bayfront. I’ll be going to a conference at the Convention Center next month and am planning to have lunch at one or more of those places in lieu of at the conference.