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.


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Best San Diego Bay View Restaurants


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


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


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


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 ofcalamari and sipping a glass of wine.

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

1 Tuna Ln #3, San Diego

(619) 232-8862



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 to the pizza that gave them their name, a crust topped with smoked salmon, red onions and capers - it's like a giant bagel and lox!  And yes, great salads that are equally creative.

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 love it, and the location on the harbor reminds you that you are on vacation.

Shelter Island, near airport

5050 N Harbor Dr, San Diego

(619) 226-0268


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


Best Places to Eat in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarters

Lionfish in San Diego Gaslamp


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 the food, oh my gosh, the food is amazing.

Though marketed as small plates don't worry, there's plenty to eat here, including full size entrees like the 20 oz NY steak that's so good that you'll never go back to Ruth's Chris. Seafood is sustainable and fresher than the best sushi house. Whether on business or a date, Lionfish will not disappoint.

Downtown / Gaslamp Quarters

435 Fifth Ave #2, San Diego

(619) 233-7327


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

For a food experience that's more than just the food, come visit Seersucker, a wonderfully eclectic dining room where locals and tourists come to hang out on the big couch and socialize.  Featuring upscale versions of American classics, Malarkey succeeds in creating a true original, one of the best restaurants in San Diego.

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 on the town.

Downtown / Gaslamp Quarters

611 5th Ave, San Diego

(619) 233-7327


Feels like you are in Paris and the food is nearly as good $$$

Cafe Chloe is like that little neighborhood bistro that you stumbled across in Paris.  It's adorable with the little bistro tables and the graceful bar.  It's a tiny restaurant that's nearly always packed, a place that's both romantic and intimate as well as bustling and vibrant - just like a real French bistro.

Don't be intimidated about ordering French food and get the moules frites (mussels with fries) or the steak frites (figure it out).  In fact, Chloe is my favorite place to get a steak and the crispy shoestrings beat those at Ruth's Chris.  Reasonable prices makes Chloe all the better.

Downtown / East Village

721 9th Ave, San Diego

(619) 232-3242


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)


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

San Diego has a lot of sushi but what sets Nobu apart from the rest is the extreme quality of the fish combine with the expert execution, served up in a party atmosphere with beautiful people.  It's an event, an experience, and acclaimed as one of the best sushi restaurants - anywhere!

Of course, the sushi is also extremely expensive so don't down that martini before ordering or you might end up tempura'd.  Those wanting to experience Nobu without the sticker shock should stick with the excellent Happy Hour or go with dinner plates where the food is still incredible but more affordable.

Downtown / Convention Center

207 5th Ave, San Diego

(619) 814-4124


A trendy New York style diningg hall in a modern setting $$$$

I've never seen anything like this - a giant dining hall that mimics a European marketplace where you walk around to see, hear and smell the food being prepared at the various stations.  Grab a seat at one of the culinary bars to watch the food being prepared and get ready to taste their fresh and innovative take on classic Italian cuisine.

Decorated in an eclectic mid-century modern style, it's a great place to grab a stool at the bar for one of San Diego's best happy hours.  Stay to dine and get anything from oysters to seafood to pizza to steaks, all prepared with a modern flair for the discriminating diner.

Downtown / Convention Center

1195 Island Ave, San Diego

(619) 255-7800


Northern Italian fare in an elegant premium setting $$$$

When you want top notch Italian cuisine in an upscale setting, head to BiCE San Diego.  Using the freshest seasonal ingredients, BiCE blends the traditional with innovation and delivers a modern twist on fine Italian dining.

The inviting dining room is sleek and modern but it's the food that makes the boldest statement - homemade pasta, full service cheese bar, creative meats and seafood, and decadent desserts.  Come here for a special occasion spurge or pop in at one of San Diego's best happy hours where beer, wine and plates of food are each just five bucks apiece. 

Downtown, near Petco Park

425 Island Ave, San Diego

(619) 239-2423