San Diego has a lot of great restaurants. From seafood to California contemporary and many world cuisine options to choose from, it’s a foodie’s town. The Gaslamp Quarter and adjacent areas have a plethora of dining spots covering many genres and all price-ranges. As we did not dine in the area, except for Suite and Tender, in the Sé San Diego where we spent a night, we asked local folks, including hospitality professionals for their recommendations. It’s challenging to write about restaurants not personally experienced. After some phone calls, research and review reading, the list was narrowed. Open Table reviews were used when possible as people can’t post a review unless they’ve actually dined at the restaurant. The places below are within walking distance of Gaslamp lodging or a short cab ride. Most are within the range of the SUV services two Gaslamp Quarter hotels (the Sé or Andaz San Diego) offer in-house guests .
The Merk bistro italiano located inside the award-winning The Keating Hotel, offers, according to their website, “a selection of fine Italian dishes prepared daily from scratch, and infused with a California Twist.” The trendy interior was designed by Pininfarina, the team behind those sexy Maseratis and Ferraris. Check out the sleek bars, crafted from carnelian stone, while you’re there. For a little nightlife, check out Sway, a semi-private boutique night club exclusive “to guests of the hotel and an eclectic mix of the who’s who of Southern California”.
Searsucker seems to be on everyone’s recommend list. You may recognize Chef Brian Malarkey from TV; he was on Bravo’s Top Chef and TLC’s Mega Bites. That celebrity has put him on the culinary radar of the town. According to the restaurant’s website, ”Searsucker serves New American Classic cuisine, emphasizing approachable and unpretentious dishes paired with local craft beer, handcrafted cocktails and a selection of one-of-a-kind wines from all over the world”. While there are entrées offered on the menu, the advice is, go with the small plates. You can taste more of what’s on offer. Their website notes that the menu changes daily. One local advised dining early. It is the place in town to see and gets crowded and somewhat loud after 7pm. Makes sense; the restaurant occupies over 8,000 sq. ft. in one BIG room. Reserve well in advance, tables book up.
Chef Christian Graves of Jsix, at the top of the Hotel Solamar, believes in organic, fresh and local. That’s enough to get on this list and word has it that his food is delicious. The concept is described as California Coastal cuisine; the food-loving chef offers some unique combinations. Diners can opt for the daily special or throw themselves on the Chef’s Mercy, a five-course dinner designed around the guest’s personal preferences.
Bertrand’s at Mr. A’s may be more for the view, which, according to locals, may be the best of any restaurant in the city. Based on reviews, the food may not quite match the vistas, but sometimes, the view wins out.
One source referred to Red Pearl Kitchen as a “hidden gem.” Not so sure it’s hidden; it’s so popular, they’re opening outposts in other California cities and perhaps beyond. The menu offers Pan-Asian cuisine in a contemporary setting.
And, while not in the Gaslamp Quarter, Cucina Urbana in nearby Banker’s Hill, a short cab ride from the historic area, was on a lot of lists when we last visited San Diego. We didn’t get there; it’s at the top of our dining list for our next visit. The reasonably priced restaurant offers contemporary Italian Food in a trendy setting. The restaurant describes itself as, “A California inspired Italian Kitchen and Wine Shop in the Heart of Banker’s Hill.” Reserve early; word has it that tables book up in advance.
Indigo Grill, in Little Italy, a short cab ride from the Gaslamp, is another enthusiastic recommendation from a knowledgeable local. The word is that Chef/partner, Deborah Scott, has a deft hand with spice and the food here has a bite. The menu is influenced by foods of the west; from Oaxaca, Mexico, north to Alaska. They’re open for dinner nightly and serve lunch on Saturday and Sunday. They are a member of the Cohn Restaurant Group which also owns Blue Point Coastal Cuisine, a sea food recommendation we received.
A press release from Café 21 uses the catch-phrase “Neighborhood Fare with Flair”. It goes on to say, “Café 21 is a full-service eatery, with Azerbaiijan roots, where you’ll encounter a unique approach to a gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner”. It was recommended for breakfast and lunch and dinner. They cook up unique homemade dishes and baked goods; breakfast features menu items such as stuffed French toast and crepes. This outpost of the popular University Heights Café 21 is homey and comfortable.
Brian’s 24 off the lobby of Ramada Inn’s St. James Hotel, serves breakfast 24 hours a day. The menu offers other things, but breakfast is what they are known for. According to their website, “Our beyond delicious hotcakes and malted waffles made with real buttermilk, fresh eggs and butter leave many guests talking about one of the best breakfasts they have ever eaten. If you are looking for something unique, try the Chicken and Waffles, Krab Cake Benedict or our famous Gaslamp Power Breakfast.” The restaurant is famous for their mahogany bar that once graced actress Joan Crawford’s home. It’s been there for years; a memento of a former restaurant’s tenure.
Broken Yolk Café (a mini-chain) is a known for its home-style cooking. Owner Jose Abadi enthusiastically proclaims he has the best breakfast in town. He says their bestsellers are omelets and the California breakfast burrito. Their Pacific Beach branch was the site of an episode of Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food. Uber-eater Adam Richman, attempted, and failed to finish their Broken Yoke Special. This humongous omelet features twelve-eggs, is filled with mushrooms and onions and topped with American cheese and chili. It’s served on a 16” platter with a pile of home fries and 2 buttermilk biscuits. This $24.99 giant can probably be shared by four. People actually order this to eat on their own and about nineteen people have finished the whole thing and gotten a free breakfast. Richman missed by a few bites.
The Cheese Shop in the Gaslamp Quarter since 1989, is an offshoot of a La Jolla establishment opened in 1972, still run by the same family. Despite the name, it’s not a cheese store, it’s a deli, serving breakfast and lunch all day, seven days a week. The blueberry pancakes and the roast pork sandwich are highly recommended. Check out their Frisbee Challenge. It looks like fun.
One local described the food at La Puerta as Mexican with a California twist, reminiscent of Baja and said that it’s popular with locals. They serve casual brunch, lunch and dinner.
Café Chloe, in San Diego’s hip East Village neighborhood, is said to be “friendly and quaint” with a little bit of chic thrown in. They serve French-influenced and is reportedly a great place for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.
These San Diego Gaslamp Quarter restaurants (and the others mentioned) are all easily accessible if you’re staying in this revitalized are for a weekend getaway and don’t want to rent a car. If you need a cab to get around, the word is, call Yellow Cab.
If you try one of these suggestions or have eaten at any in the past, we’d love to know what you think; love it, hate it or in between. If you have any Gaslamp Quarter dining suggestions to share with us, please do. We love food and always want to hear about great places. If you have a car and want recommendations for places we’enjoyed in the San Diego area, read, Dining like the locals in San Diego and these posts about La Jolla’s Marine Room and The Grand Del Mar’s Amaya.
If you have a favorite San Diego dining spot you want to share, either in the Gaslamp Quarter or the greater San Diego area, we’d love to hear about it. We plan to go back and we love discovering new (to us) restaurants.
Author’s note: We were guests of the Sé San Diego. Their generous hospitality did not influence this post in any way.