Local Wally's Guide to San Diego

Local Wally's Guide to San Diego

Local Wally's Top Downtown Restaurants

San Diego's Best Restaurants Near Downtown

Look out!  There are tourist trap restaurants just waiting to suck in unsuspecting tourists all around the downtown and Gaslamp areas.  But it must be good - look, that spiky haired guy from FoodTV likes it!  And it won a local "Best of San Diego" award! 

Hold on partner, let's reel this back in.  The truth is that the winners of most newspaper or magazine "best of" awards are often their biggest advertisers.  And I've eaten at enough FoodTV celebrity chef's restaurants to take their recommendations with a major grain of salt.

Instead, trust Local Wally.  I know all the good places to eat in San Diego and the very best ones near the Convention Center and around downtown.  So come with me and let's go eat at San Diego's BEST downtown and convention center area restaurants.

San Diego’s Best Food Festival is Coming!

San Diego’s Best Food Festival is Coming!

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Best San Diego Bay View Restaurants

Downtown and the Convention Center area is bordered by San Diego Bay. With views of sailboats, yachts, and even an aircraft carrier or two it’s classic San Diego dining. Two nearby areas are Shelter Island and Harbor Island, neither of which are islands much to the chagrin of the marketing team behind their names.

BALI HAI

Hawaiian themed restaurant with sweeping view of the bay  $$$

It sounds goofy - a Polynesian themed restaurant and tiki bar on the bay.  I mean, they even have a drink called The Goof and the mai-tai's are so strong that they limit you to three, which is insane because they are nearly 100% alcohol. 

While themed restaurants often mean tourist traps, the Bali Hai succeeds with awesome island inspired dishes such as miso marinated cod or the fire cracker ribs, a spicy Chinese rib that's as good as any on Maui.  Stop in during happy hour and enjoy the sunshine on the patio or sway to the live Hawaiian music at the bar as you sip a tropical drink from a tiki glass.  Stay for dinner and watch the sun set for the start of an enchanted evening. 

Shelter Island, near airport

2230 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego

(619) 222-1181

Costera San Diego Bay best restaurants

COASTERA

Right near the airport with stunning views of the bay $$$

San Diego is known for its great Mexican food but those looking for two combo plates at Coastera will be disappointed. You won't find beef tacos and cheese enchiladas here but rather upscale and modern Mexican influenced entrees, such as an ahi tuna tostada or tacos stuff with fish and chips. 

And to be honest, fusion upscale Mex is not my favorite. Give me an authentic taco from Tijuana any day over what they serve at Coastera. But you can't argue with the incredible views of the bay, a terrific happy hour and a location right near the airport that makes this a perfect final stop for your vacation.

Harbor Island, near the airport

880 Harbor Island Dr, San Diego

(619) 814-1300

C-LEVEL LOUNGE

Great food combined with exceptional food.  $$$

I was poised to not like C-Level, especially with the vacation buzz-killer name that brought me  back to the boardroom, a place I like to forget about when not at work. But then I stepped onto the patio overlooking the bay and started eyeballing the food - what's that, a Kobe beef burger with caramelized onions and crisp bacon? Is that lobster in your mac-n-cheese?  Gimme gimme.

I was drooling before I sat down, which I know is very bad manners but can you blame me?  Everything looked and smelled so good and everything was delicious.  Right near the airport, a great first stop after getting off the plane.

Harbor Island, near the airport

880 Harbor Island Dr, San Diego

(619) 298-6802

THE FISH MARKET

Fantastic patio, freshly grilled fish, ultra casual.  $$$

OK, I know it's a chain but there's something so uniquely San Diego about The Fish Market that's made it a favorite with both locals and tourists for years. On a sunny day there's nothing better than appetizers and cocktails on their outdoor patio, watching the sailboats and seagulls gliding by while snacking on a plate of calamari and sipping a glass of wine. Tip: Bypass the hostess to head to the outside open seating area for appetizers.

Inside the restaurant is casual enough for the kids but nice enough for a date (well, a casual date).  Check out the fresh catch and have them toss it on the mesquite grill, nice and simple.  Upstairs the menu gets fancier and the fish get sauced, nicer setting for a nicer meal.

Right next to Seaport Village

750 North Harbor Drive

(619) 232-3474

 

PIZZA NOVA

Casual family, wood-fired pizza,  salads and harbor views.  $$

Wood-fired pizzas are everywhere now but there was a time when Pizza Nova was a revelation, a phenomenon, a dream come true for the pizza lover who wanted more than a pepperoni and sausage pizza.  Pizza Nova still makes some of the best "gourmet" pizzas anywhere, from their Thai Shrimp to their BBQ Chicken, along with plenty of entree sized salads and pasta options.

Nice family setting, it's a great dinner destination that doesn't break the bank and doesn't feel like a compromise.  Locals love it, tourists still go there, and the location on the harbor reminds you that you are on vacation. Try to sit near the front of the restaurant - the newer rear section reminds me of a generic Denny’s. Family Priced.

Shelter Island, near airport

5050 N Harbor Dr, San Diego

(619) 226-0268

POINT LOMA SEAFOODS

Walk to the counter to order, walk away with fresh seafood. Classic San Diego! $$

You think locals really eat at those expensive seafood restaurants every week?  Have you priced a house in San Diego lately?  No,  when locals need their seafood fix they go to Point Loma Seafoods, a no nonsense eatery that serves up the freshest of the fresh seafood at reasonable prices.

Don't be shy, get right in line and push your way to the front or you'll never get to order.  The crab sandwich is sensational, just tons of fresh crab between fresh sourdough bread, can't get much simpler or tastier.  The fried calamari sandwich is nice and crispy.  Not a huge fan of their fish and chips but everything else here is insanely delicious.  Grab to go and sit on the docks and you are almost a local.

Shelter Island, near airport

2805 Emerson St, San Diego

(619) 223-1109


Photo by @AKMKM on TripAdvisor

Photo by @AKMKM on TripAdvisor

PEOHE’S OF CORONADO

Take the Ferry across the bay for dinner! $$$

Getting on the water is a must when you are in San Diego so why not hop aboard the San Diego Coronado Ferry and ride it to your dinner destination? It’s a short 15 minute ride and fun for locals and tourists alike. You said you wanted a view!

Once there you’ll be at the Coronado Ferry Landing. Yes, it’s reeks a bit of tourist trap but it’s also home to Peohe’s, a “Pacific Rim” driven menu and owned by The Chart House, one of San Diego’s nicer restaurant chains. The coconut shrimp might not be exotic but no denying it’s tasty and there’s plenty of seafood, steaks, and sushi on the menu.

And yes, you can also drive there but taking the Ferry is a bit part of the fun.

Coronado

1201 1st St, Coronado, CA 92118

(619) 437-4474

Roy’s of Hawaii in San Diego

ROY’S OF HAWAII

In the Marriott near Seaport Village, it’s Hawaii in San Diego! $$$$

Roy’s of Hawaii has consistently great Asian and Hawaiian inspired food. Add to this the ambiance of a bay view in front of the expensive yachts and this is the stuff vacation dinners are made of!

I never miss getting their Szechuan Spiced Pork Ribs, nice and smokey sweet and fall off the bone tender. As an appetizer it’s great but you can also have them plate it up as an entree if you ask - that’s a winner! Of course they specialize in ultra fresh seafood and creative sushi as well as steaks and more traditional fare that’s equally impressive. Parking can be a pain so plan ahead and if it’s a nice evening a walk to Seaport Village for an ice cream is a perfect ending to a great meal.

Seaport Village, Convention Center

333 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

(619) 239-7697

Top of the Fish Market, San Diego

TOP OF THE MARKET

Fancy Seafood Dining with a View of the Bay! $$$$

The Fish Market is arguably the most popular spot for fresh and simply prepared seafood in San Diego. But what if you want to upgrade the paper place mats to a white table cloth and move away from the bustling crowd and screaming kids tired from a day of sightseeing?

Well then you go upstairs where the scene changes quite dramatically. It’s The Top of the Market, a place where calmness and serenity flow as freely as the sauces. One might argue that it’s the same fresh seafood as downstairs but the presentation and preparation kicks it up a few notches, making this a romantic and popular spot for fine seafood dining. With exceptional service, leave the kids at the hotel with room service

Right next to Seaport Village

750 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

(619) 234-4867


 
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Best San Diego Gaslamp and Convention Center Restaurants

The San Diego Gaslamp Quarters is a bit like New Orleans’ French Quarter - tons of people, tons of party seekers, and tons of restaurants and bars. I’ll leave it up to you to find the rooftop bars and club scene. Instead, here are the best places to EAT if you are here for a convention and looking to avoid the tourist traps and eat where the locals do.

Biga San Diego

BIGA SAN DIEGO

Authentic Italian Eatery in an Authentic Hipster Setting $$$

It’s setting is definitely Portland cool but the food is 100% Italian. With real wood fired ovens, Biga turns out Napolentana styled pizzas made with fresh and seasonal local ingredients. No, this is not marketing hype - the chef actually sources his ingredients from our local Farmer’s Markets and even makes his own mozzarella cheese, sausages and charcuterie.

Downtown / Gaslamp Quarters

950 Sixth Ave C, San Diego, CA 92101

(619) 794-0444

Burger Lounge San Diego

BURGER LOUNGE

A San Diego Alternative to Terrible Fast Food $

The fast food burger alternative, Burger Lounge uses 100% grass feed beef and finds that delicate balance between providing high quality food at an every day price - it’s hard to spend over $15 here. Super casual like fast food but ingredients and flavor like a gourmet burger joint. They even have salads to ease the guilt. Open until 3 AM on weekends. Beer and Wine.

Downtown / Gaslamp Quarters

528 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

(619) 955-5727

Full Moon Sushi

FULL MOON SUSHI

Fresh and Lively approach to Sushi and Asian influenced dining $$$

Full Moon Sushi offers a lounge like setting along with upscale sushi and small plates. This isn’t your strip mall sushi joint - it’s got a good vibe that makes this a great vacation eatery. They have grilled skewers, which I love, and the Full Moon roll which is baked crab dynamite wrapped in soy paper has to be eaten to be believed. Top notch sushi spot in the Gaslamp.

Downtown / Gaslamp Quarters

926 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

(619) 233-3711


Kebab Shop in San Diego

THE KEBAB SHOP

Ultra casual Mediterranean Food, cheap and tasty $

What’s is this? A burrito? A wrap? Does it matter when it’s this delicious? The Kebab Shop took San Diego by storm when they introduced the döner kebab. Basically gyro meat cooked on a vertical spit and sliced and tossed into a burrito wrap. I have NO IDEA is this is authentic but I will say it’s got to be the best use of a ten spot in San Diego. You must eat here!

Downtown / Gaslamp Quarters

630 Ninth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

(619) 525-0055

mariscos seafood san diego

MARISCOS SEAFOOD EL PULPO

Authentic Mexican Seafood in a Hole in the Wall $$

About as authentic as you’re going to get without going into Baja. Mariscos El Pulpo is cooler on the inside than the outside might suggest with tons of octopus dishses (pulpo mean octopus in Spanish, which makes sense) as well as fish tacos, ceviche, and plenty of more exotic Mexican inspired seafood items. Not trendy, not corporate, highly recommended.

Downtown / Gaslamp Quarters

415 Market St, San Diego, CA 92101

(619) 795-8570

Monzu Fresh Pasta San Diego

MONZU FRESH PASTA

Plain Jane Setting Hides Incredible Pasta Dishes $$

I will be the first to admit that the setting at Monzu is so plain, so ordinary, that it would be easy to keep on walking. But step inside and catch a whiff of what’s cooking and realize that everything here is fresh and freshly prepared and you’ll see why it’s so popular. Order at the counter, wine and beer, if you are passionate about Italian cooking then get in here.

Downtown / Gaslamp Quarters

455 Tenth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

(619) 255-5032


Lionfish in San Diego Gaslamp

LIONFISH MODERN COASTAL CUISINE

Hip, lively, modern, San Diego's newest Gaslamp hotspot $$$

From the moment you step inside Lionfish, a hip and trendy restaurant located inside the equally hip Pendry Hotel, you're transported to a place that seems more like Vegas than San Diego. The people are beautiful, the scene is happening, and everything is delicious, from the fresh sushi and seafood to the 20 oz NY steak that's so good that you'll never go back to Ruth's Chris.

Downtown / Gaslamp Quarters

435 Fifth Ave #2, San Diego

(619) 233-7327

NOBU

High end sushi located in the Hard Rock Hotel $$$$$

What make’s Nobu different from the hundreds of other sushi restaurants in San Diego? Aside from the extreme qualify of the fish there’s superb execution, all served up in a lively atmosphere surrounded by beautiful people. And while the sushi is outstanding, it’s equally about the experience of dining in a restaurant notable for being one of the best sushi restaurants in the world. Can be super expensive, I warned you!

Downtown / Convention Center

207 5th Ave, San Diego

(619) 814-4124

OCEANAIRE SAN DIEGO

OCEANAIRE SEAFOOD ROOM

Yes, it’s a chain but it still has some of San Diego’s best seafood $$$$$

This place is fancy! If you just won the big account and the boss says to treat yourself, if you just got a second date and want to impress, if you just have money to burn and love the good things in life, then Oceanaire Seafood will not disappoint. While it’s a chain so not uniquely San Diego the seafood is so good, so fresh, that you’ll be hard pressed not to call this your favorite restaurant after eating here. Impressive setting to match the food.

Downtown / Convention Center

400 J St, San Diego, CA 92101

(619) 858-2277


PUESTO SAN DIEGO

PUESTO AT THE HEADQUARTERS

Fancy Street Tacos at Seaport Village $$$

I typically shy away from street tacos that are either a), not sold on the street or b), not in run down taco shops. That’s because street tacos in fancy restaurants are typically overpriced, bite sized morsels filled with pretentious ingredients to justify the cost. Puesto sort of falls into this category but with one exception - they are actually pretty delicious. Tucked away in the Seaport Village “Headquarters”, it’s worth seeking out.

Downtown / Convention Center

789 W Harbor Dr Ste 155, San Diego

(619) 233-8880

SEERSUCKER

Celebrity Chef Brian Malarkey's lively downtown eatery  $$$$

Brian Malarkey’s Seersucker features a wonderfully eclectic dining room where locals and tourists alike hang out on the big couch and socialize.  Featuring upscale versions of American classics, Seersucker is loud, it's vibrant, it's a bit like going to a great party where the music is blaring and the guests lively.  That said, it's not the best place to drag the kids to after a day at SeaWorld but an amazing scene for those looking for great night out.

Downtown / Gaslamp Quarters

611 5th Ave, San Diego

(619) 233-7327

Trailer Park After Dark San Diego

TRAILER PARK AFTER DARK

Campy, ironic, and just plain fun! $$$

I couldn’t resist adding Trailer Park After Dark, a themed bar and restaurant modeled after a trashy trailer park complete with Fritos topped with chili and cheese, “TV dinners”, bar stools made from shopping carts and seating in actual wheel barrels. It’s trendy and cool, young people come dressed to kill, the music is pumping, you have to experience this to believe it. You can even rent out the actual camper trailers for group events. This place is crazy!

Downtown / Convention Center

835 Fifth Ave, Lower Level, San Diego

(619) 236-1550

FEATURED:  SEASONS 52 AT SEAPORT VILLAGE HEADQUARTERS

The perfect restaurant for the conventioneer!  $$$$

Coming to San Diego on a convention?  Seasons 52 is your perfect dining spot, a great location in Seaport Village Headquarters that's walking distance from all the popular hotels.  American standards like steaks and seafood, all done up with a style and finesse that has made this a favorite with tourists and locals alike.

Upscale interior and live music in the bar makes this the type of place you can really get comfortable at.  And yes, the bar is the absolute perfect place to hang out at, the sort of place that will make you wish you were there with your spouse instead of the sales guys with 52 wines by the glass and tons of small plates, an epic happy hour!

Seasons 52 (Seaport Village Headquarters)

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