Here's Where We Kick Chuckie Cheese and his Rat Faced Friends Right Out of Town!
I never liked eating next to a giant robotic singing rat, especially when the food is as tasty as last weeks pizza box. If your sister-in-law said "never again" to taking care of your kids and now you're stuck bringing the brats on vacation, don't worry - at least the food's going to be good!
With local restaurants serving up signature dishes in a casual setting, you might forget you're even in a family friendly restaurant. And while these restaurants are great for families, the food is so good that even those without kids are going to want to check these out. Easy on the wallet, easy to love, that's what these delicious family friendly restaurants are all about.
So don't compromise just because you have kids. Applebee's, Chili's, TGI Fridays? Forgetaboutit!! You're going local and eating at restaurants that don't insult your tastebuds just because they're family friendly.
1360 North Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101 / 619 232-5103
Don't laugh, I like Anthony's, and so do a lot of locals. Sure, it's not upscale nouvelle cuisine and yes, they fry a lot of their seafood here, but there's something very charming about a bay view restaurant that hasn't been remodeled since the days when The Bee Gee's were on the radio. The dining room is old school 70's era decor and the waitresses all seem to be at least 60 years old but the seafood is fresh and delicious, the view stunning.
Over the years the menu has expanded to include more non-fried options and while it's all good, locals know it's all about the batter. For true deep fried fast food Nirvana, stay outside and get in line for the take out window called The Fishette. Should you get battered fish, or shrimp? Scallops? Calamari? Or how about a combo? Fish taco or fish taquitos? Man, these are important vacation decisions but luckily there is no wrong choice when dining at Anthony's. A San Diego institution, you can't visit without stopping in at least once!
THE LOWDOWN: Non-pretentious casual seafood dining with one of the best views of the bay.
LOCATION: The Embarcadero, next to the Star of India sailing ship, close to Convention Center and downtown.
LOCAL TIP: Both the fish and chips and battered shrimp are stellar here - get the combo for a bit of each.
WALLY SAYS: Don't let anyone talk you out of dining at Anthony's!
5010 Newport Ave, San Diego, CA 92107 / 619 224-4623
Hodad's, a burger joint that takes casual dining to the extreme, used to be a local secret. Stashed in hippie throwback neighborhood Ocean Beach, Hodad's has been serving up burgers, fries, rings and shakes since 1969. But the secret was out once Food TV guy Guy (that's his name, "Guy") did a segment on it and called it one of the best burgers in the country. That did it - get in line, and get in line early, and you'll dine at a real San Diego experience that's part beach party, part frat house. There's not a gourmet burger to be found on the menu, just fresh and juicy meat oozing with flavor and hot and crispy fries on the side. $100 gets you "all you can eat" but for most the regular burger is huge enough to leave you waddling down Newport Ave. Kids can't outscream the noise and the VW Bus in the middle of the restaurant sets the tone for the magic carpet ride that's Hodad's!
THE LOWDOWN: Incredible burgers at the ultimate beach restaurant!
LOCATION: Ocean Beach, a town that doesn't know that Jerry Garcia passed away years ago.
LOCAL TIP: The shakes are nearly as good as the burgers and big enough to share.
WALLY SAYS: Hodad's might be "famous" but it hasn't gone to their heads. Still one of the best burgers in town and a fun vacation stop.
880 Harbor Island Drive, San Diego, CA 92101 / 619 298-6802
The kids are hungry and screaming for pizza but if you don't take your wife out to a nice dinner there's going to be hell to pay. That's when you head over to Pizza Nova, a local pizza joint that brought the idea of gourmet pizza to San Diego over 14 years ago. With their wood fired stoves they've created little pizza masterpieces like the Thai chicken with a spicy peanut-ginger sauce or the Pizza Nova with smoked salmon, red onions, capers and goat cheese. And don't worry, there's basic cheese and pepperoni pies for the less adventurous diners and plenty of delicious soups, pastas and chicken choices. Giant gourmet salads as well, Pizza Nova's Oriental Chicken Salad is spicy perfection, none better anywhere.
Multiple locations but Point Loma on the marina has the best views and ambiance, the decor is light years away from Chuckie Cheese (and thankfully, no giant singing rat). And to keep Mom really happy, the bar menu is equally creative with plenty of nice wines by the glass, beer and specialty martinis and cocktails.
THE LOWDOWN: Local restaurant that introduced San Diego to gourmet pizzas, nice interiors and terrific food!
LOCATION: Point Loma, close to the airport, is my favorite, but others in San Marcos, Hillcrest area and Solana Beach.
LOCAL TIP: Get a bunch of items - a salad, a pasta, a pizza - and serve them up family style to sample everything.
WALLY SAYS: This is family style dining without being punitive! You'll love this place and the food!
1747 India St, San Diego, CA 92101 / 619 232-5094
Little Italy is an authentic ethnic neighborhood near downtown that's recently been showing up in tourist books as the hotbed for trendy Italian restaurants, but Filippi's Pizza Grotto is anything but trendy. This is old school pizza, a restaurant in the back of the Italian grocery store, a place where they hang chianti bottles from the ceiling for decoration. Locals have long flocked to Filippi's for thick crust goodness with enough cheese and greasy pepperoni to cause a heart attack right on the spot. This is no Buca di Beppo fake, this place opened in the early 50's and hasn't changed since. I mean, what other restaurant makes you walk past dried salt cod in cardboard boxes to get to the restaurant? Prices ridiculously low, a pitcher of beer here is less than some micro brews charge for a glass. This is not gourmet Italian, but if you want pizza, lasagne, or pasta smothered in delicious sauce with so much cheese you think they mistook you for The Godfather, this is the place.
THE LOWDOWN: A San Diego institution, Filippi's original location in Little Italy is located in back of the store and serves up Italian food of your childhood memories. Giant portions, I mean it!
LOCATION: Multiple San Diego County locations, but Little Italy is the best one.
LOCAL TIP: Buy a bottle of Chianti and you'll get a pen to decorate the outside and they'll hang it on the rafters for all eternity.
WALLY SAYS: Food snobs should avoid Filippi's but foodies and regular folk will love it! Excellent adventure for the family, very reasonable prices.
9675 Scranton Road, San Diego, CA 92121 / 858 587-2739
Ahhh, family dining is so much better at a microbrewery, especially one as beautiful as Karl Strauss' Brewery and Gardens. Located in the middle of a business complex, you'll first think you came to the wrong place but turn the corner on the gravel pathway and the scenery opens up to Shangri-la - what is this, a Japanese Garden with a koi pond and waterfall in the middle of these office buildings? You'll forget where you are the moment you walk in - and you'll really forget where you are after tasting some of their beer samplers! Excellent food as well, including their slow-cooked St. Louis ribs or beer battered fish and chips. Don't succumb to the generic chain restaurants just because you have kids. Dine San Diego style on the patio overlooking the koi at Karl Strauss instead for better food, better ambiance, and beer, beer, and more beer! You'll have so much fun here you won't even think of this as family dining. Hey, see those kids on the other side of the waterfall? They don't belong to you, do they? D'OH!
THE LOWDOWN: A great outdoor patio overlooks the koi pond, excellent beer and overall good food. Happy Hour M-Th from 4 to 630.
LOCATION: Karl Strauss has a number of restaurants around town but the best one is the Brewery Gardens in the business park area, Sorrento Mesa - trust me on this!
LOCAL TIP: Great beer samplers, try them all!
WALLY SAYS: If your kids have been getting on your nerves, send them off to look at the fish while you pound down a few cold ones. Really, it's OK, you're on vacation!
2965 Historic Decatur Rd, San Diego, CA 92106 / 619 542-1476
THE LOWDOWN: 50's diner theme restaurant with smart-mouthed waitresses and plenty of rock and roll memorabilia. Expect crazy burgers (peanut butter and bacon burger inspired by Elvis with money back guarantee!), diner faves like meatloaf or chicken fried steak, terrific fries and shakes..... and a full bar for those without kids (or those with out of control kids)!
LOCATION: NEW location, now close to the airport in Point Loma and now with plenty of parking. Amen!
LOCAL TIP: For the full experience go on Friday or Saturday nights when the waitresses go full out with beehive and other over the top hair-do's!
WALLY SAYS: A long time San Diego favorite, just about anyone who has grown up in San Diego in the past 2 decades has had a birthday party here. Top notch food by Cohn Restaurant Group, the same folks behind C-Level and The Prado, keeps the adults happy and everyone loves the outrageous decor and waitresses.
Multiple San Diego locations
THE LOWDOWN: Upscale burger joint featuring the best quality grass fed beef, hand cut fries, house made rings and utilizing the freshest ingredients. Simple basic menu - beef, turkey, or veggie burger - order at the counter and they bring you the food.
LOCATION: La Jolla, Little Italy, Coronado and Kensington neighborhoods.
LOCAL TIP: Little Italy location open until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights!
WALLY SAYS: A high end burger served in a hip and cool environment, shakes, beer and wine, this isn't a crummy fast food burger but a unique San Diego dining experience. Many locals swear it's the best burger in town - you decide!
275 Fifth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101 / 619233-4323
THE LOWDOWN: Old Spaghetti Factory offers affordable dining in a historic building. Every meal includes great fresh bread, soup or salad, entree, beverage, and spumoni ice cream... for around ten bucks for pasta dishes.
LOCATION: The Gaslamp location returns! One of the only places to eat when Gaslamp was a dive, it's great to see them back in the same location.
LOCAL TIP: Can't decide what sauce to put on the pasta? Do what Wally does and order the Pot Pourri, a sampler of the meat, clam, browned butter and cheese, and marina sauces. Mmmmmm..
WALLY SAYS: This was where we took our kids when they were young and we wanted to go out to a "nice" family dinner for not much money. It can get packed on weekends so call ahead to avoid the hour long waits.
Off the beaten track, let's see where the local's eat! More reviews ahead!
Discover some of the cool secret places that only locals know about in the next section of San Diego's BEST Restaurants, Local's Favorites!
COMING IN 2014: A new version of Local Wally's Guide to San Diego is on its way with more coupons, better discounts, updated reviews and the same great advice you can only get from a local. I'm also changing out the localwally.com url to SanDiegoTouristGuide.com soon but both will work.
Until then, it's not too early to start planning your trip to San Diego paradise. Stick with me and you'll not only get real advice from a real local but find cheap hotel and discount tickets as well. Local Wally is the oldest local website on San Diego and the only one left still run by a local guy.
And if you like beer, check out my newest site DrinkUpSanDiego.com, the complete guide to San Diego's breweries.
See You Soon,