Downtown San Diego
You can grab breakfast at a quirky stalwart such as Cafe 222 ★, 222 Island Ave. (tel. 619/236-9902; www.cafe222.com), or sit down to some gourmet pancakes at Richard Walker's Pancake House, 520 Front St. (tel. 619/231-7777; www.richardwalkers.com); then have lunch with the artists and musicians at Pokez Mexican Restaurant, 947 E St. (tel. 619/702-7160; www.pokezsd.com), where they offer more than 30 vegetarian dishes. Come the evening, you can dine with the party crowd at the sexy supper club Stingaree, 454 Sixth Ave. (tel. 619/544-9500; www.stingsandiego.com). International choices include Thai at Rama, 327 Fourth Ave. (tel. 619/501-8424; www.ramarestaurant.com), and Persian cuisine at Bandar, 845 Fourth Ave. (tel. 619/238-0101; www.bandarrestaurant.com).
Downtown encompasses many more options beyond the 16 1/2-block Gaslamp Quarter, and hotel restaurants in the area make an especially strong showing. Highlights include the Manchester Grand Hyatt's bayside Sally's (tel. 619/358-6740; www.sallyssandiego.com), THE US GRANT's reinvented Grant Grill (tel. 619/744-2077; www.grantgrill.com), the Westgate Hotel's The Westgate Room (tel. 619/238-1818; www.westgatehotel.com), and Rice ★★ (tel. 619/398-3082; www.whotels.com/sandiego) at the W Hotel.
Little Italy is home to a variety of eateries including, of course, fine Italian at Bencotto Italian Kitchen, located in a stylish glass-box setting at 750 W. Fir St. (tel. 619/450-4786; www.lovebencotto.com), Po Pazzo, 1917 India St. (tel. 619/238-1917; www.popazzo.com), and Buon Appetito, 1609 India St. (tel. 619/238-9880; www.buonappetito.signonsandiego.com). The owners of Buon Appetito also operate a sister property next door, the wine bar Sogno DiVino, 1607 India St. (tel. 619/531-8887; www.sogno-divino.com), and a gourmet Italian market adjacent to that.
Hillcrest & Uptown
Whether it's ethnic food, bistro fare, retro comfort food, or specialty cafes and bakeries, Hillcrest and the other gentrified uptown neighborhoods to its west and east are jam-packed with great eateries catering to any palate and any wallet.
Hash House a Go Go, 3628 Fifth Ave. (tel. 619/298-4646; www.hashhouseagogo.com), offers a menu of upscale comfort food; it serves three meals a day, but breakfast is the most popular. Tip: Portions are mountainous. Get one meal and pay $5 for a split order -- you'll probably still leave with leftovers. Another spot favored by locals is Saffron, 3731 and 3737 India St. (tel. 619/574-0177 or 574-7737; www.saffronsandiego.com), two low-key storefront spaces on the west side of Mission Hills. One spot serves noodles and satay; the other specializes in Thai-style grilled chicken. Also note that the popular Whole Foods supermarket, 711 University Ave. (tel. 619/294-2800; www.wholefoodsmarket.com), has a mouthwatering deli and a robust salad bar -- you can pack for a picnic or eat at the tables up front.
Old Town & Mission Valley
Visitors often have at least one meal in Old Town. Although this area is San Diego at its most touristy, you can't argue with the appeal of dining in California's charming original settlement. Mexican food and bathtub-size margaritas are the big draws; for a change of pace, stop by the hip sushi joint Harney Sushi, 3964 Harney St. (tel. 619/295-3272; www.harneysushi.com).
Old Town is the gateway to the decidedly less historic Mission Valley where there are plenty of chain eateries, both good and bad. In the busy Fashion Valley Center complex, you'll find the Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, and P.F. Chang's China Bistro. Two other Mission Valley eateries offer high-profile name recognition: Seau's, 1640 Camino del Rio N. (tel. 619/291-7328; www.seau.com), a sports bar and restaurant owned by beloved former San Diego Chargers football player Junior Seau, and Maria Maria, 1370 Frazee Rd. (tel. 619/574-6800; www.mariamariarestaurants.com), a food foray from legendary musician Carlos Santana.
Mission Bay & the Beaches
Restaurants at the beach exist primarily to provide an excuse for sitting and gazing at the water. Because this activity is most commonly accompanied by steady drinking, it stands to reason the food often isn't remarkable. Happily, the past few years have seen an influx of places bucking the trend.
The beautiful party people get their groove and their feed bag on in Pacific Beach at JRDN (pronounced "Jordan") in the swank Tower 23 hotel, 723 Felspar St. (tel. 858/270-5736; www.jrdn.com). The creator of The Mission is proprietor of hip Isabel's Cantina, 966 Felspar St. (tel. 858/272-8400; www.isabelscantina.com), an Asian-Latino fusion cafe serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the remnants of an old bakery. Or start your day at the beach at Kono's Surf Club Cafe, 704 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach (tel. 858/483-1669), a Hawaiian-themed boardwalk breakfast shack that's cheap and delicious. A plump Kono's breakfast burrito provides enough fuel for a day of surfing or sightseeing; a side order of savory "Kono Potatoes" is a meal in itself. For lunch or dinner, Costa Brava, 1653 Garnet Ave. (tel. 858/273-1218; www.costabravasd.com), is a real find, serving traditional Spanish tapas.
As befits an upscale community with time (and money) on its hands, La Jolla has more than its fair share of good restaurants, and thankfully, not all of them are expensive. While many dining spots are clustered in the village (on Prospect Street and the few blocks directly east), you can also cruise down La Jolla Boulevard or up by the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club for additional choices.
There are old-school favorites that still impress, such as the 11-table, utterly romantic Sky Room at the La Valencia Hotel, 1132 Prospect St. (tel. 858/454-0771; www.lavalencia.com), which features fabulous views and French-inspired cuisine. There are more Gallic goings-on at Michele Coulon Dessertier, 7556D Fay Ave. (tel. 858/456-5098; www.dessertier.com). This small cafe and bakery specializes in decadent desserts, but also serves very good light lunches (quiches, salads, sandwiches). For lunch or breakfast, the Coffee Cup, 1109 Wall St. (tel. 858/551-8514; www.isabelscantina.com), is a spot popular with locals; for traditional Mexican, head down La Jolla Boulevard to Su Casa, 6738 La Jolla Blvd. (tel. 858/454-0369; www.sucasarestaurant.com), a family-friendly place that's been here forever (well, since 1967 anyway).
Rather like the conservative aura that pervades the entire "island," Coronado's dining options are reliable, but the restaurants aren't exactly breaking new culinary ground. A couple of exceptions are the dining rooms at Loews Coronado Bay Resort and the Hotel Del Coronado. If you're in the mood for a special-occasion meal that'll knock your socks off, consider the Loews' Mistral (tel. 619/424-4000; www.loewshotels.com). With its plushly upholstered, gilded, and view-endowed setting, this stylish dining room wins continual raves from deep-pocketed San Diego foodies willing to cross the bay for inventive and artistic California-Mediterranean creations. Read on for information about the Del's signature restaurant, 1500 Ocean. If you can manage to tear your attention away from the view, you'll notice there's excellent Mexican food at Candelas, as well as more gringo-style fare at popular Miguel's Cocina, 1351 Orange Ave. (tel. 619/437-4237; www.brigantine.com).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.