Comic-Con has rolled into San Diego again. Sure to dominate the talk of town for the next few days are movie news, celebrity sightings and the length of the line to get into Hall H. But for many, especially when the hunger pangs hit, the utmost important thing is where to eat downtown. As with the last two years, here are my recommendations so you don’t have to resort to the dreaded and overpriced food inside the convention center. (Who really wants $8.25 to pay for a subpar “gourmet” sandwich??)
This list compiles a few places you can take out, phone in, or sit down for a nice meal. Breakfast takes up a fair share of the list. I know most attendees and exhibitors can’t make it out of the convention center until dinner, so a good breakfast is a priority.
Until there’s a closer grocery store downtown, Ralphs is the place to go to stock up on provisions like bottled water and snacks. Last year, Ralphs removed one portion of their patio seating and converted it into a makeshift storefront and sold drinks, chips and sandwiches to passersby. But if you do wander in the store you’ll find a salad bar, fruits and hot foods.
Ralphs is open 24 hours and perfect for the late-night grocery store runs. I recommend taking advantage of more savings and getting a Ralphs card before the convention.
This San Diego burger franchise got its start of out La Jolla and now boasts several locations in California. Burger Lounge’s grass-fed beef burgers, starting at $7.95, are delicious and made-to-order with an option for a gluten-free bun. Other burger varieties include a turkey patty, quinoa veggie patty as well as chicken tenders and salads.
For a change of pace from the usual beef burger, their grass-fed lamb burger ($10.95; seen above) with Asadero cheese, jalapeño relish and green chili mayo is a delicious alternative, available for a limited time. An order of 1/2 and 1/2 (half onion rings and half fries) is enough to serve two people.
For a hip Mexican food, check out La Puerta. Happy hour starts at 3 and runs until 7 with half off some menu items including their TJ Dawg. Their TJ Dawg is a take on Tijuana street food but La Puerta’s version uses turkey franks wrapped up in bacon, grilled and topped with peppers and onions. During happy hours, these are sold ala carte at $2 a piece.
There’s an extensive tequila list and six varieties of margaritas including a must-try frozen mojito.The complimentary hot and fresh tortilla chips with two kinds of salsa are addicting. Noise level inside can be overwhelming but with a few drinks, you’ll be shouting along with everyone else.
The Mission is an insider’s haven to great food. Tom Waits has been spotted at the Pacific Beach location but the newest location in East Village aims to serve the residents of downtown. It’s a quick walk from the convention center and in the shadow of the new downtown library. This restaurant is in a historic house and opens at 7.
One meal sure to satisfy the early risers is The Mission French toast ($8.95) with fresh baked cinammon bread dipped in egg and fried to a golden brown and surrounded by fresh fruit puree. It almost doesn’t need syrup. This breakfast can easily feed two with the addition of sides to round things out. Other menu items to eyeball is their lunch option with a variety of sandwiches and vegan plates. Pulp Fiction fans may want to try the Vincent Vega, a concotion of Coca-Cola, espresso and syrup over ice. A gluten-free menu is available on request. (Be sure to check out the current art on the walls by my friend Dan Bois, who is also exhibiting at the convention.)
Filling up on Mexican food has never been so delicious. Follow the lead of locals and order a California burrito ($5) at Lolita’s. The flour tortilla is filled with carne asada, cheese, sour cream and French fries. Guacamole is extra. Despite its name, this wonderful creation can only be found in San Diego. I insist you try it!
For the less adventurous or fry-phobic, their breakfast burritos are equally delicious and start at $3.85 with egg and cheese and your choice of ham, bacon or sausage. Breakfast is served only until 11 a.m. Tacos, quesadillas, tostadas, enchiladas and tortas round out the rest of their menu. They also have a wide selection of draft and bottled beer. It’s worth a jaunt over to this place by Petco Park to fill your gut for cheap.
When the sweet tooth hits, nothing satisfies it like a gelato. Chocolat has a variety of gelato from chocolates (Guinduia chocolate flavored with hazelnuts and almond paste is my favorite) to cream and fruit flavors. A small cup of one flavor is $3.95 but pony up an additional dollar and you can have two flavors.
Chocolat also serves bistro items like penne pasta or meatballs with an option to put them on a slider bun. No waiting necessary at the front desk if you’re just going in for gelato.
The Kebab Shop
Still fresh from The Avengers movie, The Kebab Shop is the place to try a shawarma. The fluffy buns used in their shawarmas are great to absorb delicious garlic yogurt sauce drippings. But for the carb conscious, you can switch to a döner kebab using flat bread or a döner box that omits the bread completely and is just the filling. (Your choice of filling includes lamb, chicken or falafel with assorted greens.) There is no additional charge to add rice or fries to the box. There is a wide selection of fresh salads at the front for those looking for healthy sides.
To go orders can be placed by phoning it in or placing it online. Be sure to ask for extra garlic yogurt sauce and spicy sauce. (There’s usually no extra charge if you ask at the counter.)
Across the street from Richard Walker’s Pancake House is the Bagel Club. While people are still waiting to get into “the Claim Jumper of pancake houses,” you can be in and out with a customized, freshly made breakfast bagel and already half way to the convention center.
Their Bagel Club Breakfast ($6.74) is made to your liking with your choice of bagel (plain, chocolate chip, spinach and asiago to name a few), cheese (pepper jack, swiss or cheddar), scrambled egg and meat (bacon, sausage, ham, turkey or veggie patty). They have lunch specials as well as smoothies but beware— Bagel Club closes at 2.
Gaijin Noodle and Sake House
Gaijin Noodle and Sake House usually opens at 5 p.m. but will open up earlier for Comic-Con lunchers who are looking for Japanese-inspired food. Happy hour is 5 until 7 with half off speciality cocktails and bao bao (steamed rice buns with an assortment of fillings which also include Pop Rocks). But you don’t have to stick to one entree. There’s an assortment of yakitori and Asian tapas. Rumor has it that a one of their comic-con specials is a zombie bento box for $10. (A gluten-free menu is also available.)
For the kaiju fans, Gaijin was originally going to be named Gojira until Toho Studios caught wind of this. But if you look closely at the collage at the front, you might catch a silhouette of the famed monster.
If you’re only only looking for two slices to go, walk over to Ciro’s Pizzeria and Beerhouse on Market Street. The usual cheese, pepperoni and margherita are on the menu. Any two slices of pizza and a drink are $6.50.
Whole speciality pizzas which fall under red or white pie include meat lovers, Hawaiian, BBQ chicken and spinach. Individual slices of the specialty pies are usually available. Ciro’s is open until midnight and one of the few restaurants open that late.
In recent years, the amount of free food around the convention center has grown exponentially. Last year I managed to score a free cupcakes from Sprinkles, countless energy drinks and a piece of sausage. I expect this year to be even bigger. If you’re really strapped for cash, it’s simple to eat for free if you’re creative and don’t mind a lot of sugar. Even if you don’t have much time, it’s always interesting to do a walk outside and see what’s happening. (Read my post about food-related stuff and freebies at Comic-Con last year here.)
Here are the confirmed food-related events (will be updated as necessary):
- Hop-Con: The w00tstout Launch Festival – At Liberty Station (approximately 4-5 miles from downtown), Stone Brewing is offering samplings of w00tstout on Wednesday starting at 5 p.m.. The beer was brewed by Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: Next Generation fame, Stone Brewing founder, Greg Koch and Drew Curtis of fark.com. Tickets are $49 and includes a bottle of w00tstout, a Hop-Con glass, appetizers and beer samples. You can find more information here.
- Heroes Brew Fest – On Saturday (July 20) at Embarcadero Park North there will be tastings of local craft brews, live music and a costume contest from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. for the general public. (San Diego is a beer town with lots of small and not-so-small breweries to check out at this event. I’m surprised San Diego Comic-Con hasn’t assigned an official beer for the con like the Denver Comic-Con.) The event is sponsored by San Diego City Beat. Admission is $40; $20 for the designated driver. The festival benefits San Diego Coastkeeper. More information here.
- Food trucks – Once again the parking lot next to Petco Park (by the Harbor Drive pedestrian bridge) will be hosting food trucks. Trucks are still being confirmed but Super Q and STUFFED are on board.