Thanks to an influx of creative young chefs, San Diego's fine dining scene is flourishing like never before. And the bounty from San Diego's farms, ranches, and open waters is playing a starring role -- the locavore movement is in full swing. What remains unchanged is the city's obsession with simple Mexican fare, including the beloved fish taco. Note: Some of San Diego's best dining venues lie 30 to 40 minutes to the north, in the communities of Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar, and Carlsbad.
Fun for Foodies in San Diego -- San Diego's dining scene is cooking on all burners these days, serving up a wide range of cuisine, often highlighted by the region's local bounty. A great way to experience the city's best eateries is timing your visit with the biannual San Diego Restaurant Week, held mid-September and mid-January. More than 160 restaurants participate -- everything from casual bistros to high-end steakhouses -- offering 3-course, prix fixe meals for $20, $30 or $40. You don't need tickets or passes, just check the list of dining spots at www.sandiegorestaurantweek.com and head on in (making reservations with the establishment itself is recommended, though).
You might also consider the 5-day San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, held in mid-November. Southern California's largest food and wine event, it features a cornucopia of celebrity chefs, classes, auctions, parties, and dinners. And of course there are plenty of food, wine, spirits, and craft beers on hand for sampling. For more information call tel. 619/342-7337 or go to www.worldofwineevents.com.Downtown, Gaslamp Quarter & Little Italy
While San Diego hasn't quite achieved top-tier foodie status, its culinary profile is at an all-time high. The city still clings to conservative tastes and service can sometimes be casual to the point of indifference, but the pieces are in place and San Diego's dining renaissance is well underway.
Number one on most visitors' list of culinary priorities is Mexican food -- a logical choice given the city's history and location. You'll find lots of Americanized, fairly satisfying interpretations of Mexican fare (that is, combo plates heaped with melted cheddar cheese) along with a few hidden gems.
Plan on making reservations a day or two in advance for dining on a Friday or Saturday night, particularly downtown or in La Jolla. You can either call restaurants directly or go to www.opentable.com to make online reservations. And in keeping with the prevalent beach culture, even in the more pricey places, dress tends to be relaxed.
For diners on a budget, the more expensive San Diego restaurants are usually accommodating if you prefer to order a few appetizers instead of a main course, and many offer reasonably priced lunch menus. Some also feature modestly priced bar and lounge menus; and just about every bar will offer food and/or drink bargains at happy hour (usually Monday to Friday, 5-7pm). Worthwhile discount coupons are found in the San Diego Weekly Reader, available free on Thursdays, and quite a few restaurants offer "early bird" specials -- discounted dining for those who don't mind being seated by 6pm or so.
Drivers can expect to park within 2 or 3 blocks of a restaurant. If you can't find a free or metered space on the street, you can seek out a garage or lot; many restaurants also offer valet parking. On evenings when the Padres are playing (April-September) or when a big convention fills area hotels, you'll compete for parking downtown. Fortunately, pedicabs -- three-wheeled bikes that carry two or three passengers each -- are easy to hire. But if you take a taxi or the trolley downtown on game nights, you'll find most restaurants easy to get into once the baseball crowd has made its way into the ballpark and the first pitch is thrown.
Price Categories -- Restaurants are categorized by price, which includes the average cost of one entree, an appetizer (if the entree does not come with a side dish or appetizer), one nonalcoholic drink, tax, and tip.
Very Expensive $50 per person
Inexpensive Less than $15.
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.