I want to thank Erin for submitting this post. In all the chaos that is San Diego Comic Con some us forget to take care of ourselves. If you want to be a happy nerd while on “vacation” the number one thing you need to remember to do is eat. I know, some of you are saying “Well, duh” but trust me, time gets away from you and before you know it you’ve been living on beef jerky and Con food for 4 days. Now onto the tips!
My second favorite thing about Comic-Con is eating. Not the nasty pizza in the convention center, not even the Mrs. Fields cookies, but eating in and around the Gaslamp. Trouble is, eating costs money and most people, myself included, would rather spend their money inside the convention center, not on to fill their bellies. So, I’m gonna give you some suggestions, tips and hints that I have used over the years to find a good convention vs. food balance.
D.I.Y. – Bring From Home
If you’re flying or driving into San Diego bring some non-perishable, individually wrapped snack items with you. Granola bars, power bars, breakfast bars, raisins, trail mix, candy, gum, dried fruit, all of those items travel well. (SIDENOTE: You might be thinking to yourself ‘Oh yeah! I love Pop-Tarts! I’ll take some of those!” Trust me on this one, once outside the confines of their box; Pop-Tarts do NOT travel well.)
D.I.Y – Once You Arrive
Once you arrive in San Diego you can find your nearest local market. It might be a CVS (645 Market St), a Rite-Aid (1411 Kettner Blvd.) or the handy dandy Ralph’s (101 G St.) There you can stock up on beverages; a few bottles of water at the very least, soda, beer, Gatorade, whatever you like. At this point, you can decide how truly guerrilla you want to go. If you don’t want to spend another nickel on food (and want to be ready to eat any meal while in line for Hall H) you can buy bread for sandwiches, peanut butter, snack sized fruit cups, chips, crackers, spray cheese, fresh fruit, sushi, whatever you want. I know some folks who visit Ralph’s every morning to stock up for their long day ahead.
Eating Where You Sleep
Eating at a hotel can sometimes seem like a last resort, we all have horror stories about cold, overpriced food at a hotel. San Diego might be the exception because truly many of the hotels near the convention center offer well made food and good prices.
The Fox Sports Grill at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront has a very wide variety of food. There was so much on their menu that I had to eat their twice to try it all. Plus, the people watching is top-notch, evidenced by being sat next to part of the cast of “Community” there last year.
If you arrive early enough in the week, before it transitions into the SyFy Carpe Diem Café, give Mary Jane’s a whirl at the Hard Rock Hotel. They have a sick (in a good way) selection of finely crafted and unique burgers, served in a very rock and roll atmosphere.
The Elephant & Castle at the Holiday Inn On-The-Bay is entirely adequate “pub” food, maybe a little lacking in variety but after a long day of walking, standing, waiting and cos-playing you become a little less fussy. The prices are on par with any other pub style restaurants and their Loaded Beef Dip for $9.99 is a steal.
No matter where you are staying there is probably a restaurant and a bar at the hotel. You might find that the bar offers a different, usually cheaper, menu and pay attention to any Happy Hour specials they might be running. Darlene Horn of myburningkitchen.com tipped me off to the Happy Hour to end all Happy Hours at McCormick & Schmick’s, located at the base of the Omni Hotel. You‘ll be given a cloth napkin to dab your mouth while you eat ½ lb cheeseburgers for $2.95 and pairs of blackened fish tacos for $3.95 from 3:00-7:00 with the purchase of any $3.50 drink. This is a perfect way to get fancy food taste at budget prices!
Good Gaslamp Choices
If you are looking for a sit down restaurant there are hundreds within a 5-15 minute walk of the convention center. Your choices run the gamut from Italian, Afghan, American, Indian, classic steakhouses, Irish pubs, pizza and all styles in between.
When the hustle and bustle of the exhibit floor has gotten the best of me and I need a cool place to relax and have a soda (with free refills) I head to Jolt’n Joes (379 4th Ave.), a large oasis with incredibly reasonable prices, huge baskets of golden French fries and a great wait staff who look you in the eye, not down their nose at you. Jolt’n Joes usually offers a modified version of their menu during the convention with just enough choices to satisfy but not to overwhelm the kitchen. Jolt’n Joes has never let me down, unlike the line for Ballroom 20!
The Broken Yolk Café (355 6th Ave) is a local institution, usually packed to the gills at any time. And rightfully so, their breakfast burritos are divine, I’ve been craving them since last year! If you arrive early enough in the week you can order from their full menu but starting Thursday, you’ll have the modified, but entirely adequate convention menu. As a bonus, owner Jose nearly doubles the number of operational hours. Any other week The Broken Yolk would close at 3:00 in the afternoon but during Comic-Con, they keep serving until 10:30 or 11:00 at night. The staff at The Broken Yolk tends to rush diners out as fast as they can but it’s only because the line to get IN is always growing. It gets loud and noisy in there and larger groups might be squished into smaller-than-usual tables just to accommodate everyone. If you find yourself in a hurry to get to the convention center and don’t want to stop for a leisurely brunch you can take advantage of The Broken Yolk’s express service, a selection of their best-selling items at a reasonable $5.00 price point, served to-go. That’s right, you can either get a delicious, hot and homemade breakfast burrito for the same price as twelve inches of smooshed bread processed meat from the local sandwich chain.
Further up 5th Avenue is Xavier’s Bar & Grill (750 5th Ave.) Xavier’s doesn’t offer anything very unique or interesting but they benefit from being are far enough away from the crowds that getting a seat, especially in the daytime, isn’t much of a problem. The staff seems to get a kick out of customers in costume and they decorate the bar with comic book icons and play comic book movies as well.
When You Want to Splurge
The Red Pearl Kitchen (440 J Street) is one of the places I splurge at every year. Their authentic Pan-Asian food takes a turn for the swanky, and I love that their menu has never been the same twice. Make reservations so you can enjoy your last night in the Gaslamp relaxing in what their website calls “glamorous, exotic and sexy.” I could not have described it better. The low lighting might make it hard to people watch but you’ll be too focused on the incredible food to care much.
Lou & Mickey’s (224 5th Ave.) might look intimidating but I assure you that during the day they will not look down upon your t-shirts, shorts & backpacks. Lunch is the best way to enjoy this landmark Gaslamp restaurant (directly across the street from the convention center) as it’s cheaper than dinner, more casual and just as tasty. Lou & Mickey’s soups and salads come highly recommended (by me!)
For Your Sweet Tooth
Skip the long lines for dry Mrs. Fields cookies at the convention center and schlep over to Heavenly Cupcakes (518 6th Ave.) However, do not dawdle because once the cupcakes are sold out your sweet tooth will be out of luck until the next day. Their Red Velvet cupcake is dreamy.
Yogurtland in Little Italy (1670 India Street) is worth the pilgrimage. Over a dozen flavors of frozen yogurt and twice as many toppings make for billions upon billions of combination’s (by my calculations anyway!) It’s all self-serve and you pay by the ounce. While I love, love, LOVE Yogurtland, I do want to mention that their prices before the convention starts are a little bit lower than during the convention. Make the trek early in your trip to save a little and still taste a lot.
When All Else Fails
There is a national sandwich chain located at 611 K St Unit A. Eat there only under the most dire of circumstances.
More Penny Pinching
If you’re looking to save a little more money but still eat well, be sure to check Restaurant.Com for discounted restaurants in the Gaslamp, Downtown and all around San Diego. In the past, I have scored certificates to both the Elephant & Castle and Xavier’s. Be sure to pay special attention to each restaurant’s specific rules. Sign up for the daily deals from both Groupon.Com and Living Social.Com, and then keep your fingers crossed that some helpful deals will be posted between now and July.
So, are you hungry yet?