Food and Drink
Phil’s is definitely the best place I have had BBQ in my entire life. The meat on the ribs fall of the bone and the BBQ sauce is the best I’ve ever tasted (I usually don’t like BBQ sauce at all). Phil’s has a wonderful atmosphere and is usually filled with hungry people. Stop by, any day except Monday, tie on a bib, and enjoy some grub. I’d recommend calling in your order and then going to try and find a seat. The old location in Mission Hills is closed, but they have 3 other restaurants in Point Loma (on Sports Arena Blvd.), in San Marcos, and in Santee.
This is a great bakery, where you can get an awesome piece of spinach quiche. They also have wonderful bread plates, where you pick 3 of your favorite breads to try with cream cheese, butter and jam. A lot of Europeans flock to this place, speaking their native tongues. It makes me feel as if I’m in a different country. This was the first hit bakery around San Diego and its notoriety has not faded. A Peet’s Coffee is located next door as well. It’s on University near 5th.
This is THE place to go for a great sandwich. They have a great selection of bread to choose from. On Saturdays only, they also have chocolate bread available. Con Pane is located in Liberty Station off Rosecrans (Point Loma area).
Located in Liberty Station, the former Naval Training Center in Point Loma, the Liberty Public Market offers customers food from a variety of vendors. This is a great place to enjoy an assortment different cultural flavors in a beautifully renovated historic building.
If you are big on organic cuisine or just want a tasty, yet healthy alternative, try Tender Greens. They offer a variety of salads, meat dishes and yummy desserts. Vegan options are available as well. I’ve had the flank steak plate, which included a side salad and mashed potatoes (which were awesome) and absolutely loved it. Plus, it’s located in the newly renovated Liberty Station in Point Loma. Great food in a great location.
Big Kitchen’s claim to fame is that Whoopi Goldberg used to work there, but they’re also known for their wonderful food. Try Damian’s breakfast burrito, which is housed in a fried flour tortilla versus a rolled burrito. I would describe this place as a liberal, hippy hangout with a cozy atmosphere. They have diner, booth and table seating. Be prepared to initally feel a bit cramped, but it’s worth it for the wonderful food you get. Big Kitchen has won numerous awards and was also featured by Rachael Ray on her Food Network program.
The Mission has 3 locations, 1 in North Park, 1 in Mission Bay, & 1 downtown on J. It’s a great place for an inexpensive and tasty breakfast. You won’t be disappointed by their rosemary potatoes or grilled rosemary bread. They’re great! There’s a constant flow of patrons, but you won’t have to wait too long and they will make your food likety-split. The Mission serves both breakfast and lunch and offers a variety of pastries. Day-old pastries are $1 and their specialty coffee drinks are just the right price. Check their website for special coupons too.
This is the greasy spoon of San Diego. Perry’s is a great home-cookin’ place with hash browns, biscuits, waffles, etc. If it’s good and greasy, they probably have it on the menu. The look of the building looks a bit sketchy, but the food is good. You can save a bundle on the weekday breakfasts too.
Located downtown on Island Ave., Cafe 222 is a cool hang out and many know about it. You may have to wait a bit on a weekend morning, but it’s worth it. The menu is a unique blend of healthy items, such as homemade granola, with your ordinary pancake. Cafe 222 has been highlighted in Gourmet Magazine for their Pumpkin Waffle. I believe they also have a peanut butter and banana french toast.
Not associated with our former President in the least, Jimmy Carter’s Cafe is another casual breakfast or lunch dining experience. They serve a variety of cuisine including Mexican, American and some Indian, Asian, Italian, and Chinese. Open for breakfast and brunch, Jimmy Carter’s has two locations. One is on 5th Ave. between Spruce and Redwood in Hillcrest while the other is on W. Washington. The portions will leave you satisfied, but not so full that you’d burst.
Hodad is a surfing term for a person who does not surf, but who spends time at surfing beaches pretending to be a surfer. If you’re looking for a good burger while you’re hanging out, check out Hodad’s. The original location is only a few blocks from the waves in Ocean Beach on Newport Ave., Hodad’s is an excellent place to grab a bite. I would recommend a mini burger and an order of frings (a mix of onion rings and potato wedges). If you have a larger appetite, you can attempt to order a regular sized burger. The atmosphere represents the epitome of OB with a surfing theme that attracts an array of OB-cians. Hence, it’s also a good place to people watch. There are two other Hodad’s locations, one Downtown and the other in Petco Park.
If you haven’t been to a Cheesecake Factory restaurant yet, you must go. This place has the best food and everything tastes good. They have massive desserts as well. I don’t bother with the cheesecake because it’s overpriced. Try something unique.
This is a good restaurant for salad, pizza and dessert. Well, that’s the only thing I’ve had there. I’m sure they have more delicious dishes as well. Their Chinese Chicken and Thai Chicken Salads are fabulous as is the Five Cheese Pizza. Top it off with a Messy Sundae and you’ll leave full and happy.
Point Loma Seafoods is known around the country, if not around the world, as the place to go for lunch. The Governator has even stopped by on a trip to San Diego. It may be a bit pricey, but you’re paying for quality seafood. Even the crab sandwich is real crab meat. I would recommend the white clam chowder as well. It’s very tasty. Located in Point Loma on Emerson, you not only get a great meal, but you can also sit along the water as you enjoy it.
For those of you who may be sports enthusiasts, Jolt’n Joe’s Sports Bar and Grill in Downtown on 4th is the place to watch your favorite game. There is plenty of seating, especially leather couches, and a plethora of plasma televisions hanging in every direction you turn (except up). If you’re looking for a game of pool as well, Jolt’n Joe’s can supply your playing needs. It’s a fun atmosphere and also serves a variety of food and drinks.
Chopstix is more of an authentic Japanese restaurant that specializes in ramen and udon dishes. Plus they have an excellent, inexpensive crunchy roll that I highly recommend. There are two locations. The original is on Convoy St. while the newer and less busy location is on Kearny Mesa Rd. The newer one focuses more on Teriyaki dishes and does not have the exact same menu as the original. The crunchy roll is available at both locations though.
Looking for a healthy alternative to the normal greasy restaurant? Try Saffron. It’s located on India Street and offers a variety of dishes including the ever-so-tasty salad rolls. Ask for the peanut sauce to compliment your rolls. You’ll love ’em. Also offered are noodle bowls, chicken dishes and many others.
If you’re in the mood for a little sushi or Teriyaki Chicken, Sushi Deli is your best bet for affordable Japanese food. With fast service and an inexpensive menu, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t fight for a parking space downtown just to check them out. I have never found another Japanese restaurant where you can get a bowl of Miso Soup for 85 cents. Sushi Deli has two locations, both on Broadway. One is near Spreckles Theatre and Horton Plaza. The other is further down the road in the 800 block. Just be aware that they close between lunch and dinner weekdays from 2-5:30 p.m. Plus, they’re only open for dinner on weekends.
Tofu House is a Korean restaurant that specializes in Korean Barbecue (Kal-Bi), Hot Stone Mix Rice, Mix-Rice, Fried Rice, and all kinds of Tofu Soup. Their soups are served boiling-hot in clay pots. My favorite part is breaking a raw egg into the boiling broth and watching it cook. It’s a lot of fun and very tasty. Tofu House is located on Convoy St. amongst many other Asian dining establishments.
Located in Kearny Mesa, Tea Station looks like a Starbucks inside, but they have a wide assortment of boba tea drinks. They’re very tasty, even if a bit pricey. There are many boba establishments to choose from in this area, but I think this is one of the best.
One of the few British-themed pubs in San Diego, Shakespeare’s is the best. They have a great atmosphere to enjoy some pub grub, especially Shepherd’s Pie, and watch a soccer game. If ale is your fancy, they also have a wide variety of pints. To top it off, all of their waitresses seem to have British accents. I am still trying to figure out if they’re all authentic.
Yasou! If you’re in the mood for some Moussaka, Baklava, or Spanakopita, get your taste buds ready for the Greek Food Festival. St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church holds one of the larger festivals in San Diego (in June). You can experience the food, traditional dancing, language, culture, and be Greek for a day. In North County, Saints Constantine and Helen Church also has a festival, but theirs is held in August.
Looking for good Indian food? I would recommend taking a drive to Mission Valley. Located off Friars on Mission Valley, Tandoor is in the Ralph’s Shopping Center. They offer an array of tasty dishes at average prices. I would advise a visit on Saturday or Sunday for their $8 buffet. It’s all-you-can-eat and includes Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Curry, Gulab Jamun (a tasty dessert that reminds me of donut holes in syrup), lentils, all-you-can-devour Naan (a wonderful flatbread), and much more. Tandoor is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
With 3 locations, in Point Loma, Hillcrest and Solana Beach, Pizza Nova is a top contender for tasty cuisine in San Diego. I prefer the Point Loma location, which offers a bayside view. I primarily go here for the pizza selection, from which you have a variety of options. My current top selections include the 5 cheese and the White Pepperoni pizzas. They also offer free rosemary rolls doused in oil, which are a great appetizer, as well as pasta, salad, sandwiches, and other Italian-themed dishes.
Located in North Park & Mission Hills (in the former Phil’s BBQ building), Lefty’s not only offers deep dish and thin crust Chicago-style pizza, but offers its patrons a piece of Chicago as well. With walls adorned with pictures and memorabilia of the Windy City, Lefty’s is a great place to grab a slice and visit with friends. They also offer great appetizers. So far, I’ve had the Loaded Fries (fries covered in cheese, sour cream, bacon and green onions) and Cheesy Garlic bread as well. Everything is very tasty. By the way, the North Park Lefty’s is closed on Mondays.
With walls lined with boxing photos, Bronx Pizza has a great atmosphere to have a slice. But, not just any slice. The pizza here is New York style with a thin, crispy crust. Don’t be offended if the employees don’t have the best people skills. It all goes with the New York theme. Great atmosphere, great food, cash only, no delivery. What more can I say? It’s located in Hillcrest on Washington.
Located in Little Italy, Buon Appetito is a bit of Italy in San Diego. The waiters and waitresses have Italian accents and throw in Italian words every so often. Thus, I was able to practice one of my ancestral languages. The food is awesome, especially the gnocchi.
This is a nice Italian restaurant with very large portions. Check out the pizza and add extra cheese. They have good lasagna and other pasta dishes as well. This place has a great atmosphere with wine bottles hanging from the ceiling. Drink your own and add it to the collection.
I would consider Old Venice a nice restaurant to take a date. Whether you dress up or go casual, you will feel comfortable. The food is excellent and their salads have great toppings. It’s recommended that you go for lunch since the lunch and dinner menus are similar except for the price. Old Venice is located in the Shelter Island/Point Loma area.
Even though BJ’s is a chain restaurant, I still think they have excellent pizza. You can get a tasty deep-dish pizza with a crust that is more like french bread than a hard pizza dough. It’s awesome! Plus, I would highly recommend the Pizookie, which is a dessert pizza. The bottom layer is an almost fully cooked cookie topped with ice cream. YUM!
If you enjoy homemade Jewish style food, D.Z. Akins is the place for you. Their menu is extensive and reaches beyond the traditional Jewish cuisine. My favorite are their omelets. They also have a deli, catering, and a store where you can purchase wares of all sorts. Don’t forget to check out the rows of celebrity photos on their walls.
Miguel’s is a great place to go for Mexican food. I love their food and their chips come with salsa and a cheese dipping sauce. Outdoor seating gives you a wonderful view of the San Diego Bay and the downtown skyline. Even though San Diego is known for having many places to eat Mexican food, this has been my favorite so far. They have good iced tea too.
Looking for a place for a good Mexican themed breakfast? This is it! Cafe Coyote is located in Old San Diego, on San Diego Avenue, in fact. They serve lunch and dinner as well, but I really enjoy their breakfasts. I would recommend the chili rellano omelette. Mouth watering tastiness.
This restaurant is where the taquito started. It’s not too expensive, they make their own chips, and there is a good quantity of outdoor seating (across the street from the restaurant though). Located on India Street, El Indio is centered in an area with a lot of restaurants, including a famous Thai restaurant (Saffron) and a British pub (Shakespeare’s).
Nati’s has been an Ocean Beach staple since 1960 and is located on Bacon Street. They have a wide variety of menu items to try and their chips are very tasty because they’re nice and salty. I usually rate a Mexican restaurant by the taste of their refried beans and Nati’s are very good. You can check out their full menu on their website.
Once a favorite place to eat in Old Town, Casa De Pico is now located in Grossmont Center (in La Mesa). Their food is quite tasty and has filling portions. My co-workers highly recommend the Cheese Crisp. They also have a live Mariachi band that meanders through the restaurant to serenade the patrons.
On the corner of San Diego Mission Road and Rancho Mission Road, you will come across a small shopping center called Rancho Mission Plaza and Village Cafe. It’s a great place to enjoy some java and play some big chess (the chess pieces are at least 5 inches tall). If you’re trying to escape from the corporate coffee houses, Village Cafe is a good choice.
LeStat’s is one of the few 24-hour coffee shops in San Diego. It’s located in the heart of Normal Heights and offers seating consisting of funky couches and a large kitchen table with chairs. One thing that sets LeStat’s apart from most other coffee shops is the offering of nightly live entertainment at the adjoining lounge. Such offerings include an open mic night, comedy night, and tons of live music.
Balboa Park is the nation’s largest urban cultural park. Home to 15 major museums, renowned performing arts venues, beautiful gardens and the San Diego Zoo, the Park has an ever-changing calendar of museum exhibitions, plays, musicals, concerts, and classes—all in the beautiful and timeless setting of this must-see San Diego attraction. Every Tuesday of the month, a different museum has free admission as well. You could easily spend a day or 2 touring the park, reading a book in the rose garden, checking out the different cultural houses, seeing beautiful works of art, admiring the plants in the Botanical Garden, or just wandering around to your hearts’ desire.
Known as the best zoo in the world, the San Diego Zoo is a great place to spend the day. They have a wide variety of animals from all over the world including a baby panda. It’s adorable! Whether you like to watch elephants, gorillas, camels or a hippo, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Make sure to pack your own lunch because they let you bring it in. It’s cheaper that way.
In conjunction with the Zoo, is the Wild Animal Park in Escondido. The Wild Animal Park is an area with more open land for the larger animals to roam. You will find lions roaming the grounds and giraffes and rhinos mingling together. The Wild Animal Park has a multitude of exhibits and shows involving condors, elephants, and many other types of creatures. For an additional cost, you can take a safari tour, see the cheetahs run or even have a sleepover right at the park.
If you’re from Northern California, you could compare Julian to Apple Hill. Located about an hour east of San Diego, Julian is a former gold rush town that is not only a historic area, but also the apple growing area of San Diego County. You can take historic tours, have a tasty meal (or slice of apple pie), visit apple orchards during apple season, or just enjoy the area. Winters bring snow to Julian as well, so it’s also a place for kids young and old to play. I recommend Dudley’s Bakery for apple pie (they’re closed Tues. & Wed.) or The Julian Cafe on Main Street for an awesome meal plus apple pie. YUM!
Take a fun trip back in history. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse was used from 1855 to 1891 to help divert ships from the dangerous cliffs below. The lighthouse includes living quarters for the family that lived there, a life-sized model of the actual light and docents in period costumes. On the way to the lighthouse, you can also stop by a military cemetary. It’s all very fun and costs $5 per car to enter the government grounds even though the lighthouse entrance is free.
Located on the same grounds as the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, the Cabrillo Monument documents the life of Juan RodrÃguez Cabrillo, who landed at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. There’s a 30 minute movie to watch about his sea travels, museum and gift shop. It’s free.
Located on the edge of Pacific Beach and La Jolla, Mt. Soledad provides the best views of San Diego county since it stands 822 feet high. The mountain is so high that you are able to have 360 degree panoramic views from the beach to Mexico. Topping the mount is a large cross which some had tried to remove until the government made it a national monument due to a veteran’s memorial surrounding the cross. Yet, its fate is still in limbo. This is a must-see for any San Diego visitor.
Looking for a great area to visit the beach, see seals, play in the water and do some shopping? La Jolla Cove is the place to go. Visit Seal Beach to get the sights (and smells) of sleeping seals. Once the tide is low, you can also check out the nearby tidepools. Nice hotels, shopping, restaurants, and a Starbucks are also nearby. It’s just a great place to hang out. It reminds me a bit of Monterey.
Known as “The Del” or “Hotel Del”, the Hotel Del Coronado will transport you back in time. It is a National Historic Landmark and is one of the oldest and largest all-wooden buildings in California. When it was built in 1888, the Hotel Del was the largest resort in the world. Presidents, dignitaries, and the rich and famous visited the Hotel Del. The Del has been the location for a number of films, most famously “Some Like It Hot” starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, & Tony Curtis. It is also believed that The Del was the inspiration for The Emerald City in “The Wizard of Oz” since L. Frank Baum did much of his writing here. Roam the grounds, walk along the beautiful, sandy beach, or ride the antique elevator. The Hotel Del is definitely worth a visit.
Looking for a great spot to watch the sunset or exercise with a great view? This is the place! At the end of Sunset Cliffs Blvd., you will find the cliffs that overlook the ocean. You’ll have to park on the side of a 2-lane road (there are some vista points) and the views are breathtaking. Sunset Cliffs Blvd. is located at the end of I-8, within Ocean Beach. Follow Sunset Cliffs Blvd., wind around past some beautiful, large homes, and you’re there!
If university campus vists are your thing, Point Loma Nazarene (PLNU), University of San Diego (USD), and University of California, San Diego (UCSD) all have gorgeous campuses to tour. PLNU is located near the ocean in Point Loma with fabulous views of the water. USD could be described as “a campus on a hill”, overlooking much of San Diego. The USD campus has gorgeous architecture. UCSD is covered with Eucalyptus trees, has talking trees and a cool library dedicated to Dr. Seuss, which contains most of his original work.
The Gaslamp Quarter of Downtown San Diego is THE place to be, especially at night. You’ll find a multitude of restaurants, hotels, jazz clubs, dancing, art, shopping, and music within the Gaslamp. The Gaslamp covers about 16 square blocks, but the heart of it is between 4th to 6th Avenues. You have to experience the Gaslamp to really get a feel of what happens there.
The World’s largest comic book convention aka Comic-Con descends upon San Diego every July. It’s held near Downtown at the Convention Center and attracts upwards of 125,000+ people over 4 days. Comic-Con is much more than comic books. If you enjoy movies, television shows, legos, comics, video games, cartoons, or collecting memorabilia, you are sure to find something to peak your interest. Comic-Con has begun to pre-screen films and tv show pilots as well. Whether you come dressed as Harry Potter or in shorts and a t-shirt, you will fit right in. It is definitely an experience to behold.
This is only a handful of things to do and places to see in San Diego. I also recommend checking out the areas of Coronado (esp. The Hotel Del), Pacific Beach (near the pier), Kensington, the Shakespearean Theatre in Balboa Park, the 4th of July fireworks on the Bay, Fashion Valley Shopping Mall, the Civic Auditorium or see a Padres game at Petco Park. San Diego has a ton to offer every visitor.