I love to eat, if my budget and waistline would allow for it, I would eat out all the time! I know San Diego is not normally listed as a foodie destination, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a ton of delicious options for every meal of the day. The unfortunate thing is more tourists only visit the locations in the crowded Gaslamp area and miss out on some of the best food places just a short 5-minute walk away.
For this article, I’ve decided to stick to downtown locations since it’s a hotspot for tourist activites and conventions including San Diego Comic-Con.. This doesn’t mean there aren’t delicious food options in other parts of San Diego, I assure you there are, but San Diego County is too spread out to cover all of them. If you want recommendations for a specific area, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to offer you a list of my favorite places close to where you’re staying.
All the restaurants listed in this article are places that I love and frequent.
Some of the best breakfast places in San Diego are located within walking distance of the convention center, but they’re not in the Gaslamp. If your itinerary didn’t require you to be in line overnight or first thing in the morning, add an extra five minutes to your breakfast walk and go to a breakfast spot popular with the locals.
The Mission (1250 J St, San Diego) –The Mission is a great place for healthy, lighter fare breakfast at an affordable price. Everything I’ve tried here is fresh, flavorful and filling, but unlike many breakfast places, you won’t leave filling like you need a nap. Their menu includes multiple Mexican-inspired dishes as well as the classics like french toast made with their house baked cinnamon bread. Also, if you’re looking for a gluten free option downtown, they offer a full gluten free menu.
Breakfast Republic (707 G St San Diego) – You can tell how in-demand Breakfast Republic is by its rapid growth in the San Diego area, having started with one location in June 2015, Breakfast Republic is in the process of opening their sixth location this year. The craziest thing, this doesn’t make the line any shorter any of its locations, because people love this place! Their menu includes classics like the breakfast burritos and delicious variations on pancake flavors to Breakfast Hot Dogs and Jambalaya. Plus, their cold brew is a delicious way to get that much-needed boost in the morning.
Donut Bar (631 B Street, San Diego) – The popularity of Donut Bar in San Diego only seems to continue growing each year and with it, the line outside their door does as well. If you’re willing to wait in line during your trip, Donut Bar will reward you with delicious donuts to start your day off right. Some of my favorite flavors include the Strawberry Split, Big Poppa Tart, French Toast and Crème Brulee donuts. To minimize your wait time, get to Donut Bar 20-30 minutes before it opens or visit during their weekend evening hours Thursday-Saturday 5 PM – 10:30 when lines are shorter.
Café 21 (802 5th Ave, San Diego) – My one Gaslamp recommendation is sure to have a wait most weekends, but if you don’t mind waiting their food is worth it. Café 21 focuses on the farm-to-table experience, offering fresh, organic ingredients and hormone-free meats without losing any of the flavor. Plus, their Sangria, Mimosa and Mojito flights are delicious and great for sharing with friends.
In San Diego if you're not looking for anything fancy then any place you can eat at for lunch, you can also eat at for dinner. Especially, since I’m operating under the assumption that you'll be tired from your day of explorting and you won’t be looking to get dressed up for a fancy dinner-only establishment. The places listed below offer a variety of cuisines, are reasonably priced and delicious.
Neighborhood (777 G St, San Diego) – I love the Neighborhood’s Black Bean Veggie Burger, it is amazing! My fiancé, who is not a vegetarian also loves their burgers and sandwiches and we always split the Sweet Potato Fries with Blue Chees Crumbles. I’m literally getting hungry just writing about their food. Added bonus, they have a hidden speakeasy called the Nobel experiment, which I won’t go into here, but I recommend you look it up.
Knotty Barrel (844 Market St, San Diego) – We don’t just love this place for the clever name, although that helps, we love it for their tasty food and huge beer selection! Knotty Barrel gives you a choice of over 100 different beers, including a selection of 20+ craft beers on tap. Some of mine and my fiancé’s favorites include 3-Way Fries, Housemade Beer Cheese (with pretzel bites) and the Knotty Chicken Sandwich.
Lotus Thai (906 Market St, San Diego) – Located across the street from Knotty Barrel, this is my favorite Thai place in San Diego. I recommend being cautious with your spiciness rating, as I’ve found their scale runs a little spicier than others, but drop down by 1 or 2 points and this place is delicious. I can tell you from experience that you can’t go wrong with the Lotus Fried Rice, Pad See Ew, Drunken Noodle or Egg Rolls. Service can be a little slow here, so I’d only recommend visiting if you have at least an hour.
barleymash (600 5th Ave, San Diego) – A walk by this place at any time of day will confirm that Barley Mash is a crowd favorite with tables full of people eating and drinking. They offer more expensive items, with their supper menu, but I recommend their more affordable options which offer unique variations on the classics. These classic variations include: 6 types of Iron Fries (French Fries), 9 flatbreads, 7 Barleymac (Mac & Cheese) dishes and 10 Between the Bun Sandwiches. Everyone loves the classics and with this many options for each, there’s sure to be something for everyone in your group.
This list includes my favorite restaurants that are affordable without losing any of the quality. These places are not only a great value, but also convenient, fast options that will get you in and out in under thirty minutes.
Hodad’s (945 Broadway) – A San Diego favorite, you’ll often hear people say that Hodad’s is not only the best burger in San Diego, but in the entire world and to be honest, I’d be hard pressed to disagree. Their burgers are not only delicious, but they are huge and will definitely fill you up. Depending on your appetite, I recommend splitting your side order of choice as even those come hefty portions. If you don’t have a lot of time to wait in the inevitable line, I recommend ordering to go as it’s the quickest way to get your food and fill your tummy. Bring your appetite, enjoy your delicious burger and leave joining the scores of San Diegans singing Hodad’s praises!
Lolita’s (202 Park Blvd) – Quick, delicious and cheap Mexican food located right next to Petco Park, offering a big menu and large portions. It’s probably not going to be the best Mexican food you’ve ever had, but it’s pretty darn good and a great go-to when you’re tired at the end of the night and just want to grab some food to take back to your hotel room.
Berkeley Pizza (539 Island Ave) – Located in the heart of Gaslamp, Berkeley’s offering affordable, deep dish style pizza by the slice or by the pizza. Everyone we take to this place loves it and without fail, they ask to go back during subsequent visits, which we happily oblige because we love it too! When I go with a group, we always opt for ordering by the slice or getting one of their combos as it’s the fastest, simplest option. However, if you want to order a full pizza make sure to call ahead, because it can take over an hour to cook. If you’re staying in Downtown San Diego or North Park, they also offer delivery.
Lucky’s Lunch Counter (338 7th Ave) – This restaurant is only an option to satisfy your early day cravings as they close every day at 3 PM. However, if you have time early in the day, Lucky’s is a great value for the price you pay and the portion size you get. Plus, it’s across the street from Petco Park, conveniently close to the Convention Center for a quick bite to eat.