Hipster Alert: 10 Best Places To Eat In San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter
By Katie Dillon
San Diego Local Expert
San Diego's historic Gaslamp Quarter, a 16.5 block neighborhood, is the heartbeat of the city's nightlife and home to a number of festivals. Urban renewal over the last few decades helped contribute to the energetic vibe and reinforced the Gaslamp's place as a trendy hub in the middle of a seaside city.
Holding the top spot is Searsucker, one of celebrity chef Brian Malarkey's restaurants. He's famous for his charisma and ability to put new twists on old classics. Guests rave about the Dr. Seuss-inspired green eggs and ham on the weekend brunch menu and pork chops with duck fat potatoes during dinner. It's not just about gourmet cuisine. The decor is visually-stunning with high ceilings, distressed wood tables and modern flourishes.
Which cuisine is San Diego most famous for? Probably Mexican food--tacos, to be exact. La Puerta offers up some of the Gaslamp's best street tacos in a festive atmosphere. Hang out here until late night as the kitchen is open until 1:00am! A fresh-squeezed margarita never hurt anyone, either.
You'll see that these restaurants offer a variety of cuisines from Persian to seafood. The ambiance on offer varies, too. The one thing that is consistent is that they're all steps away from each other and worthy of a stop.
10 Spike Africa's
Spike Africa's is named after legendary schooner captain once known as the "President of the Pacific Ocean". Serving fresh seafood amid nostalgic detail, the focus is really about the food though premium drinks are offered at modest price points. Craft beers and signature drinks pair well with fresh fish (choose a side and a sauce). The BBQ chips and lobster roll as well as the mustard glazed salmon are hits. Happy hour is from 3:30pm-6:30pm daily and includes $5 house wines and 1/2 price appetizers. Guests can dine outside (though it can be noisy during rush hour) and dress is casual. (619-795-3800)
9 Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar
In true steakhouse fashion, Fleming's sports lots of dark wood and leather and provides attentive service and top-notch food. Start with zesty Cajun barbecued shrimp or crab cakes with roasted red pepper-lime butter. Steaks are expectedly excellent, but other main course options are just as good, from double-thick pork chops to bacon-wrapped curry scallops. Plus, Fleming's has some 100 wines available by the glass, along with numerous others available by the bottle (you view them on an iPad). They've got a $6 an under menu for happy hour, too. Fleming's is a chain and we have two restaurants in San Diego. (619-237-1155)
This international, celeb-favored chain sports an elegant dining room accented with bamboo and black lacquer. Patrons appear as often to eat as to be seen, so be prepared for noise and inflated prices. However, the food doesn't disappoint. The omakase, a set-price menu of the chef's choosing, customarily includes cold and hot dishes, sushi, tempura, soup, and dessert. Premium ingredients like toro (the fatty, prime cut of tuna) and Kobe beef are employed with aplomb. Save this gem for a special occasion or to impress a client. Chef Nobu Masuhisa is famous for black cod with miso and yellowtail jalapeno. (619-814-4124)
7 Chocolat Cremerie
Grab a taste of Italy in the Gaslamp at Chocolat Cremerie. Famous for gelato, exquisite chocolate and tasty crepes, this bistro is a local favorite. It's even open late-night for those who need to satisfy a sweet tooth. Try cream-stuffed croissants and eggs for breakfast. Order salads, bruschette, cured meats and paninis for lunch. Gelato flavors include multiple chocolates, mango, basil lemon, honey and poppy seed cream and more. Know that the ingredients are top-of-the-line and recipes formulated after years of research. The reviews don't lie with even people who have spent loads of time in Italy singing this bistro's praises. And, there's a full bar. ((619) 238-9400)
6 Rei do Gado
Meat lovers rejoice! Partake in the traditional Churrasco without boarding a plane to Brazil. Skewers of meat are slow-roasted over a mesquite flame after being marinated in simple seasonings. The meat waiter will slice it freshly off the skewer until you throw in the towel. Gourmet, prepared salads are also all-you-can-eat and so extensive that you can opt for salads only. The ambiance is a little tired, but the tender meats make up for that. Call to verify these prices as they are subject to change but this will give you a rough idea. Lunch (11:00am-4:00pm): Mon - Fri. $27.50/person; Sat, Sun and holidays $28.50/person. Dinner (After 4:00pm): Sun - Thurs. $42/person; Fri, Sat and holidays $48/person. (6197028464)
5 La Puerta
If you're looking for Mexican food in the Gaslamp, La Puerta is your place. La Puerta is famous for street tacos that can only be made better by pairing them with a freshly-squeezed margarita (no mixes here). Over 100, 100% blue agave tequilas are on offer complete with tasting notes to help diners select which is right for them. Happy hour runs daily from 3:00pm-7:00pm, usually with 1/2 drinks and appetizers like the carne asada fries. After 3:00pm (and when musicians are playing) you must be 21 years and older to enter. The kitchen is open until 1:00am so stop by for late-night eats. (619-696-3466)
4 Donovan's Prime Seafood
Donovan's Prime Seafood, located in the Gaslamp Quarter, is the ultimate in fine seafood dining. They source directly from fishing boats as well as the most respected aqua and local farms. The menu is seasonal, but not overwhelming, and enjoyed in a relaxed-elegant setting. No less than 15 varieties of oysters are available on any given day. Your food will be plated in such a gorgeous manner that it will almost seem like a crime to dig in, but you must. If you'd like to pair a steak with your seafood, have at it, as Donovan's is a name also associated with the finest steaks in San Diego. (6199064850)
3 Bandar Restaurant
It may surprise you that one of the most popular restaurants in the Gaslamp Quarter serves Persian food. Expect filet mignon, lamb chicken, fish garlic, onion, vegetables, nuts, pomegranate, herbs, saffron, lime and other flavors that compliment a healthy eating lifestyle. The portions are quite large with a variety of options suitable for vegetarians. Favorites include the chicken kebab, lamb shank and organic salmon. Pair it with hummus and other tasty appetizers or the Bandar salad with mixed greens, feta and a house lime dressing. It's been family-owned since 1996. Perfect for business lunches, family dinners, parties and even a to-go order, locals and tourists love Bandar. (6192380101)
2 Oceanaire Seafood Room
Versatility and freshness set this seafood specialist apart. Combining a bountiful oyster bar with a fresh fish menu that changes daily, Oceanaire offers a changing selection that may include snapper, swordfish, grouper, mahi-mahi and blue marlin steak. Jumbo lump crab cakes and fish and chips are favorites as well. Savory sides range from sour cream and onion mashed potatoes to fried green tomatoes. 1930's decor and an adjoining cocktail bar add to the appeal of the restaurant's large and lively dining room. Oceanaire has received numerous awards for being one of the best seafood restaurants in all of San Diego. (619-858-2277)
Celebrity Chef Brian Malarkey of TLC's Mega Bites and Bravo's Top Chef, opened Searsucker in the heart of San Diego's trendy Gaslamp Quarter. His New American cuisine puts new twists on classic favorites. Specialties include Cheeks Goat Cheese Dumplings and Ribeye Tomahawk with cognac and horseradish as well as locally sourced seafood specialties like Baja scallops served with figs and Alaskan halibut. The menu changes daily to keep offerings fresh and fun. Guests pair these unpretentious dishes with local craft beer, handcrafted cocktails and a selection of one-of-a-kind wines from all over the world. If the food isn't enough to send your senses into overdrive, the decor just might. Searsucker has a mix of distressed furniture, big comfy sofas, and modern pieces. (6192337327)
About Katie Dillon
Katie Dillon originally moved to the seaside community of La Jolla to attend UC San Diego. When the opportunity presented itself, she and her husband set off for a 7 year stint overseas as expats in London and Hong Kong. After traveling the world, they returned to the La Jolla sunshine, with a young daughter in tow. Katie now writes a lifestyle site called La Jolla Mom and is the author of a book called, “Flying With Kids.” Her work can be seen on NBC San Diego, Red Tricycle, Yahoo! Shine and Have Family Will Travel, a Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts blog.
Read more about Katie Dillon here.