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Sep 11, 2013 12:08 PM

Gas Lamp district this Saturday.

A couple we're friends with want to have dinner in the Gas Lamp district this Saturday evening. Is there any place you would recommend given these parameters: not crazy loud, "California cuisine," not super expensive but nice--it's a birthday dinner. Any possibilities? Thanks much.

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  1. Given these parameters, there are 3 choices:

    1. Chopahn. Located on 6th Avenue, just south of F Street. Okay, it is not California cuisine, it's Afghan cuisine, but the service is excellent, the food quality is excellent, the room is quiet and polite, and the price is not astronomical. Husband and I just dined there for my birthday and loved it.

    2. Fogo De Chao. Located on 6th Avenue at G Street. Also just dined there too. $46.50 for all you eat divine Brazilian meats. It's a beautiful room and the service is spot on.

    3. Wait, let me hide first before I suggest this, but Blue Point, located at 5th Avenue and Market Street is a good, basic steak/seafood room. The price might be a little high, but the service is solid and the room is nice.


    1 Reply
    1. re: Dagney

      Not necessarily CA cuisine or inexpensive but, maybe they'll splurge since it's for a birthday. Honkman made some good recs also.

      1. JSix and Cafe Chloe are your best options in the area but both participate in restaurant week.

        1. Well, ended up having dinner at Operacaffe. Now there's a place that could use a total makeover. If they cleaned it up, got rid of the fluorescent-lit dessert case in the middle of the bar provided tablecloths and fabric napkins, cut the menu in half and lightened up the dishes, they might have something.

          But what was truly awful was the whole Gas Lamp on a Saturday night. Dirty, noisy and kind of creepy. Never going there again.

          40 Replies
          1. re: escondido123

            My companion and I were downtown for three days -- during the week -- earlier this month and things weren’t quite so bad. We covered the whole area from the Petco pedestrian bridge to Fish Market and from the foot of 5th to the south end of Balboa Park and Little Italy to the west. At night, the west side of 5th reminded us a little of Bourbon St, with it’s restaurant hawkers, open-door live music, and marauding crowds. It isn’t Bourbon St., of course, but it’s in that direction there. My companion used the term “raunchy” to sum up the scene. The other side of the street was quieter, and the further away from Fifth, the better it got. During the day, the Gaslamp just looked plain dingy. There are some nice places to eat around there, but I wouldn’t want to go on a Saturday night (or when there’s a game that people actually attend) either.

            Never been to Operacaffe, but it doesn't sound too compelling.

            1. re: DoctorChow

              I too felt it was like Bourbon St -- and not in a good way. Think I'll stick with downtown Escondido. Only three blocks from my house to Grand and with the new French chef at Bellamy's (used to be Tango) there is some great food to be had in a peaceful setting.

              1. re: DoctorChow

                It is a very raunchy scene. The Gaslamp is marketed to people between the ages of 20-35, who don't really have a life, and who want to drink in excess until any shred of rational behavior or thought is physically and mentally impossible.

                1. re: Dagney

                  Right on.....marketed to people who, in their 20's, are still working on their high school equivalency diploma and whose career objective is to become the head bartender at Fluxx by age 35.

                  1. re: El Chevere

                    *shrugs shoulders* I have a college education and I work in event planning and was staying in the Gas Lamp District for a conference. I was there over Halloween (probably one of the crazier nights for there) and I enjoyed the night life and had a good time going out. Some people just enjoy that kind of scene regardless of education or career aspirations. To each their own though! :)

                    1. re: SaraAshley

                      Then I guess you didn't mind paying extra for the teenage girl outside the restaurant you ate at explaining to you this is a menu and this is what's on our menu--as if you or others cannot read. Sadly, this adds to the cost of already overpriced mediocre food at 98% of the places on 5th Avenue?...I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried... Pretty sad when Spaghetti Factory is better than most/all of the Italian restaurants at 5th, though at Spaghetti Factory at least you get a good value.

                      1. re: El Chevere

                        Sounds like the teenage girl is an unpaid intern. How else could they get someone to do such an exasperating job without tips?

                        1. re: El Chevere

                          Don't those menu explainer girls also get tasked with escorting interested parties to a table, seating them, and providing them with menus? Back in my day, they were known as a host/hostess.

                          I am guessing that sometimes, perhaps in the Gaslamp, the hostess is stationed outside the restaurant. In less hospitable climes, they have what is known as a host/hostess stand just inside the entrance- typically adorned with tootpicks, mints, and sticks with sulphur on the end that create fire.

                          Or am i just missing something here?

                          1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                            I could be wrong but I think their role is to explain what a menu is and what the menu includes...I have not encountered that in any other city I have visited. Hostesses, yes--menu readers, no...furthermore, their 'hawking' you to come into their establishment is reminiscent of what I find on the streets of Tijuana--annoying. Furthermore, if their employment is climate related, then how come I have not come across hawking menu readers in other SoCal cities?

                            1. re: El Chevere

                              The host station is generally positioned at the entrance of a restaurant. If the entry point of the restaurant is a patio - as is the case in a number of the gaslamp restaurants - I'm thinking this would be a good spot to put the hostess stand...and while you have the little minx on the clock, why not train her in the art of seduction. From what I have read on this board, the Gaslamp is full of drunken buffoons in Hurleywear that might fall prey to a young siren selling the dream of drunken love (and mediocre food). As well, it seems the overall opinion of Gaslamp patrons might lead one to believe they might not be capable of reading a menu themselves - be it from drunkenness or illiteracy.

                              I am guessing that many moons ago, when the first restaurant put an attractive young lass out front - and their patio quickly filled - the neighboring restaurants rapidly followed suit. I believe this strategy was learned from the barkers who used to work at carnivals and county fairs where businesses were located so close to their competition they had to employ any strategy possible to lure the patrons through their doors.

                              1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                Valid points and yet I do not see it in La Jolla, Coronado, PB, North Park, Del Mar, Encinitas or elsewhere.

                                1. re: El Chevere

                                  Only in the Gaslamp you have so many visitors from out of town which are not familiar with the restaurants

                                  1. re: honkman

                                    Laguna Beach, Santa Monica, Newport Beach, Downtown Disney, La Jolla, etc don't get lots or many visitors? ... You don't see the hawking menu readers at touristy Fishermans Wharf and North Beach on nice sunny days for that matter either. Seems to be unique to Downtown San Diego--in addition to being needless and annoying.

                                    1. re: El Chevere

                                      Anywhere touristy in Europe (France, Italy), New Orleans, Austin, hmm..where else...

                                      1. re: Fake Name

                                        No where else have I seen the menu reading hawkers. Combine this with predominantly mediocre and overpriced restaurants why I and very few locals whom I know waste our time there... Or are you one of the defenders of this Mecca?

                                        1. re: El Chevere

                                          Secret Identity: REVEALED!

                                          Fake Name = Defender of Mecca.

                                          Aw, come on. I was only pointing out the recent places I've seen menu hawkers. That's all. Nothing more. Very simple. Not a threat. No argument. No hay pedo. No problema. No fight. No worry. No trouble. Nothing to see here.

                                          1. re: Fake Name

                                            Mecca has staying power...I suppose if the area had a number of decent places and was not a tourist ripoff then I might not notice the hawkers...seemingly every shortcoming of the Gaslamp gets magnified, but I have never seen other places where people explain this is a menu and here's what our menu says---and I travel a lot.

                                          2. re: El Chevere

                                            Fakey already mentioned France and Italy. If you go to Brussels there is a gaslamp counterpart with the young nubile hostesses replaced with waiters acting like carnival barkers

                                        2. re: El Chevere

                                          3rd St. Promenade in Santa Monica has, as you might call them, menu assistants.

                                          So does the Riverfront in San Antonio.

                                          (Little Italy, SD, also has them)

                                          But really, let's be honest. They're eye candy. More often than we eat with our eyes (first) and then with the rest of our senses.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            Ahhh, the River Walk in San Antone. Another great example of a high-density restaurant area with outdoor hostess stations, mediocre food, and a convention center just down the street.

                                            El C - per one of your earlier posts in this same thread, you seem to have a good handle on a number of places in SD that you genuinely seem to enjoy. Why not just steer clear of the Gaslamp and focus on those places? If you haven't found a place where you like to hang in 10+ years of living downtown, perhaps it's time to move on?

                                            1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                              I do avoid the Gaslamp, at all costs and at increased risk of getting stopped at a checkpoint one of these evenings....saw this thread and felt compelled to jump in.

                                            2. re: ipsedixit

                                              I agree, the outside 'eye candy' and 'we eat with our eyes first' is so true. How many get lured in by those good looking model host's and forget the root cause; that they were hungry and wanting good chow. My, how the mind can trick us! along with some leg and cleavage!

                                              1. re: cstr

                                                If you guys are going into a restaurant because the "girl" looks good, you get what you deserve.

                                                1. re: escondido123

                                                  If you guys are going into a restaurant because the "girl" looks good, you get what you deserve.

                                                  And what would that be?

                                                  A böner kebab?

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                    No matter where it is in San Diego, no matter where it is in the rest of the country or the rest of the world, I will never go into a restaurant that has someone outside who aggressively accosts you in an attempt to get you to eat there. Male or female, young or old. I don't care if you call them hawkers, barkers, or something less flattering, they're disgusting and irritating to me and a red flag for the quality of the restaurant. I hope the owners of the places in SD that do this sort of thing are reading this thread and will pull their "hostesses" back inside, where they can courteously greet people who have chosen on their own to enter their establishments.

                                                    1. re: DoctorChow

                                                      The first and maybe only rule of restaurant business is to stay in business.

                                                      And to stay in business you need attendance.

                                                      Rarely is attendance purely a function of food quality.

                                                      More often than not it is a function of marketing.

                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        I'm not going to pick a fight with you, ipse, because I like you. But is it really necessary for a restaurant to degrade itself in this manner in order to achieve its marketing ends?

                                                        We don't need this in San Diego.

                                                        1. re: DoctorChow

                                                          As ipse said restaurants are business and if any of the business owners had any indication that any of the "pretty faces" would hurt their profit they would immediately stop it. So obviously they have indications that it helps their business. I also think that many customer like it if their decisions are made for them, instead of going through the "hard" process of deciding to go or not to go in a restaurant based on the food a "pretty face" is an easier way. I guess those customers are also the ones who often ask the server what they should eat/what they recommend instead of making their own decisions.

                                                          1. re: honkman

                                                            Interesting. Points well taken, honkman. Thank you.

                                                            Still, I believe it's unnecessary for restaurants to prostrate themselves in order to generate business, whatever the circumstances.

                                                            There have been many times I've gone into restaurants just to take a look, and to see the menu. To me, that's very different than having someone thrust a menu at me on the sidewalk and asking if I'd like to go in.

                                                          2. re: DoctorChow

                                                            "We don't need this in San Diego."

                                                            Could you please define "we" for us in this context, Dr. Chow?

                                                            1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                                              "We" as in "All of those who call our fair city home and care about the restaurant culture here as well as the impression of that culture that others take home"

                                                              1. re: DoctorChow

                                                                ...and have nothing else to worry about in our lives.

                                                                (OK, that sounded too crass)

                                                                Truth is, it's their business, and they can run it how they wish. If a hottie fresh from high school waving a menu helps their business (and I suspect it does) then great for both parties, and for the diners that depend on the menu interpretation. (One assumes these hotties are multi-lingual, and are interpreting for non-English visitors to our fair shores).

                                                                Hey, I won't dine there either- but last I heard, disshere wassah freee country.

                                                                1. re: Fake Name

                                                                  No contest that restaurants can market however they please. Of course they can. But I (or "we") don't have to like watching this particular practice taking hold here, and I (or "we", whatever) can choose to avoid places that sell themselves to passersby in this way.

                                                                  1. re: DoctorChow

                                                                    Agreed. But there is SO MUCH MORE to dislike about Gaslamp, it seems (to me) minor issue.

                                                                    I was a Gaslamp tenant for many years in the late 80's. Lots has changed.

                                                                    1. re: DoctorChow

                                                                      I, for one, choose which establishment to dine at based on flavor of the food--whether it is a hole in the wall or hoity toity. Service and, depending upon a number factors, ambiance can also weigh in my decision process--though much further down the ladder than flavor....what the waitress or hawker looks like doesn't matter--can't hurt, but I'm not going to eat at Greystone Steakhouse even if Adriana Lima or the chica from the Blurred Lines video is working the door....if my decision were based on what the hawker or menu adviser looked like, I'd be eating all my meals at Hooters, Pacers, and Olympic Gardens.....and, yes, on the scale of things it is a minor thing to complain about relative to the Gaslamp--but in my book all shortcomings within the Gaslamp get magnified because there are so many shortcomings.

                                                                  2. re: DoctorChow

                                                                    Ok - Dr C and El C - can you provide the names of a couple different restaurants in the Gaslamp where this scandalous hostess behavior occurs?

                                                                    I have worked downtown for the last 6 years and I venture through the GL/EVon a fairly frequent basis. I have seen the hostesses at lunch and at dinner, i have had them say hello or greet me in a very polite fashion as I walked by, but I haven't really seen this sign-spinning, dressed as the Statue of LIberty- type of hostess activity portrayed here. I want to see some of this stuff.

                                                                    As to the "we" statement - I didn't think the "we" you were referring to included the thousands of San Diegans who support themselves and their families via hospitality work in the Gaslamp, but that is another conversation.

                                                                    1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                                                      I'm with Mom on this one.

                                                                      I, too, work/live near DTSD and every time I've been to the Gaslamp area, the greeters are no different than any other hostess you might find in a restaurant anywhere else except they are standing outside (we have great weather, who can blame them).

                                                                      Of course, there are lounges/bars in the Gaslamp that are, ahem, more for the adventurous eye-candy eaters, but those are not restaurants per se.

                                                          3. re: ipsedixit

                                                            "A böner kebab?"

                                                            Ipse, is that anything like an organ döner kebab?

                                                2. re: El Chevere

                                                  Late to this discussion, but "Menu Assistants" have turned up at a few places in La Jolla...including George's on the weekends. Very off-putting.

                                2. re: escondido123

                                  You were warned !! least you know for next time.

                                3. Wow. When did this board get so old and grumpy?
                                  ** Shakes cane at kids on lawn **

                                  The Gaslamp has always been marketed to the tourist conventioneer crowds -- meaning loud crowds and alcohol. Is this news to anyone?

                                  With that said with the right attitude, the Gaslamp can also be a high energy place with plenty of good dining and drinking choices. I've met plenty friends in town for some function or other, and have always enjoyed myself.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: wanker

                                    Excuse me while I turn up my hearing aids.

                                    Now, what's that y'say? Alcohol y'say? Crowds y'say? Attitude? Huh?

                                    Sorry, I think the batteries are dead.

                                    1. re: wanker

                                      Agree - It might be not the greatest place for dining but it's also not this bad as a place to meet some people (even some with a college degree if they are allowed through the brain detectors at the entrance of the Gaslamp) and have fun.

                                      1. re: honkman

                                        lol.... I'll admit, my perspective is probably a little skewed. I see the worst sides that people have to show of themselves whilst in the throes of bad situations (drunkeness, anger, fighting because someone bumped into you in accident...etc).

                                      2. re: wanker

                                        Actually it was news to me that it was so grungy. I think about as wild as I might consider is La Jolla on a weeknight...

                                        1. re: wanker

                                          Perhaps instead of casualization someone needs to start a Crustyzation of San Diego dining?

                                          1. re: wanker

                                            I do not have as much an issue with the tourists/conventioneers--they can add class to the Gaslamp (though if you lived in SF, would you really want to hang out in Fisherman's Wharf???)'s the low class local crowd which I so eloquently described previously that frequents the place--especially on weekends--as numerous clubs and supper clubs have opened up that make it such an undesirable place for many to attend unless you are part of the same demographics--which I will be happy to describe again if you would like....I live downtown and would love to find a nice place to hang but have not found one in my 10+ years of living there that caters to a professional crowd. Thus, I get in my car and drive elsewhere.

                                            1. re: El Chevere

                                              @El Chevere - to provide some reference, where do you drive and which nice places with a professional crowd meet your standards? Always looking to keep it classy and check out new places in San Diego. Thx.

                                              1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                                Been grabbing dinner/cocktails at Prep Kitchen and Eddie V's in La Jolla, cocktails at Searsucker Del Mar, Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill for dinner/drinks, dinner at 3rd Corner and Blue Ribbon Pizza in Encinitas, Wine Steals at Cardiff, cocktails/dinner at The Pony Room at Rancho Valencia, Beaumont's in Bird Rock for food/drink/music, Leroy's in Coronado for food/drink/sometimes music, Cafe Europa in North PB for food/drink/music, Brooklyn Girl for drinks and dinner and even Tower 23 for food/drinks on many nights--among some general, I happen to find people more relaxed in beach communities--perhaps the ocean has a calming influence.

                                                Between out of town tourists, conventioneers, and the local 20-young 30 Ed Hardy t-shirt/wallet chain/wannabe club goers I rarely go out in the Gaslamp, Not my crowd.