How To Eat Like A Comic Con Pro

SDCC Tips/Info

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?

16 comments

  • I would add that you don’t want to try to go to any sit down restaurant at lunch time or at exhibit hall closing time unless you’re feeling nostalgic for the lines you just left at Comic-Con.
    Ralph’s is also a mad house right before the con starts as people load up on staples for the day. Buy groceries after 10pm. Eat at non-standard meal times.
    In space, no one can hear you scream; and at Comic-Con no one call tell if that sound is YOUR stomach growling or that storm trooper farting in his costume again.

  • My hotel last year had a free buffet breakfast, after eating all I could I made up some lovely sausage/bacon & egg muffins/bagels to have at lunchtime in hall H (couldn’t be cheaper)!

    This year i’m going on my own (travelling from London), do you have any specific advice for the single traveller eating in the evening?

    Kevin

    • Kevin, I love your breakfast buffet idea, thank you, since my hotel this year has one too!

      One thing I would suggest is to not be shy when it comes to meal times. Don’t be afraid to ask a group of strangers if you can share their table. Chances are you have something in common with them, and Comic-Con small talk is so easy to start (“Can you believe that line for Hall H already?”) Another idea is to belly up to the bars. I don’t personally drink alcohol but have enjoyed many a meal at a bar, bartenders are so often willing to make conversation.

      As a single guy it might be a little weird to make reservations for yourself for dinner, I totally get that, so I think the bar might be your best friend for those evening meals.

      A couple places that had lively bar scenes were The Elephant & Castle and a place on 5th Ave. called Sloppy Joeys’s and it’s sister restaurant, Nicky Rotten’s. Also, both of those places have smaller tables perfect for one person.

  • Another tip that I got from @DarleneEats (myburningkitchen.com) is to follow San Diego restaurants on Twitter to get announcements of specials they will be offering during Comic-Con and for wearing your badge. Awesome idea!

  • I’ve actually been following all the San Diego group buying sites (Groupon, LivingSocial, etc. Deal Radar is actually the best option, though, because they list most of the big sites) and I’ve already got several $30 or $50 gift certificates that I paid half price for. I just watch to see if they’re posting anything in the Gaslamp every day, and then weigh that in with what we’ve already got. Hell, I even bought one a few weeks ago on Groupon for a pizza place that delivers to our hotel until 2 am if we get hungry late.

    For anyone tight on money, or wanting to get some of their expenses out of the way now (my goal right now is to not spend ANY money on food while I’m actually there), it’s actually a great option. I work for a similar site locally where I live, and I swear on the stuff.

  • Great post! It was my first comic-con last year and I thought I was all prepared, I bought some deals on Groupon and snacks to eat while there. But I unfortunately succumbed to buying the $10 not so great pizza. This year I’ll be better prepared, even make a Costco run, so I don’t spend my money on crummy food. Heavenly Cupcakes was good, I saw a sign for it my first day there and followed it like a zombie. The Red Pearl Kitchen is also really good. I went there once and was even given an extra appetizer.
    Also if all else fails, there’s the food court at Horton Plaza.

  • I would always skip lunch. Good breakfast and a nice dinner, with so much to do I would just forget lunch. This is not recommended.

  • First of all: love the site!
    You have a nice collection of info here and I really wish I had been as savvy as you when I started going to conventions all those years ago! ( oh my gosh… I just realized my first con was 10 years ago!!)

    Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter:

    You are 100% right about the broken yolk , those folks are always in a mad rush to get food out! Out! out! If you have ANY allergies, or usually require a special order.. my advise is to go elsewhere. I wont go into my whole rant but, let me just say I have a severe food allergy and it took me 45 minutes before I gave up on trying to get a burger without mayo. They fudged it up 3 times before I called it quits and went to subway. ( really, subway is not THAT bad..lol) the final straw was when they brought the burger out, I checked it and realized they had just wiped the mayo off with a
    napkin. When I called them on it the cashier said ” there isn’t much. You wont be able to taste it.” Um hello… anaphyactic shock anyone?

    Oh, and great news for all you pop tart fiends out there.. they make pop tart cases now!! Okay, okay.. I know it sounds.. bizzare but, they are great! They are only about $2.00 and they are found on the cereal isle @ most stores. They do a nice job of keeping the poptarts fresh and preventing them from getting crushed.. look kind of cool too! Im sure you can find them dirt cheap on amazon or ebay..

    I know subway has a bad rap but.. the gaslamp location is open 24 hours! I am not ashamed to say this location has saved my skin on more than one occasion.

    You should be prepared to see celebrities in the wild. And you should be respectful while they are eating their meal. I saw seth rogen at a steak house and I wanted to go up to him so bad and gush over how funny he was.. I didn’t though. He was eating and I was sure he was hungry/ tired/ overwhelmed by everything… well, it paid off!
    he saw that I kept looking over and when he went to leave, he saw my superbad shirt and said hi!! I gushed and told him I wanted to say hi, and sorry for staring, I didn’t want to interrupt his meal. The said thanks, that was” very cool”of me and he signed my shirt! So, just goes to show, common courtesy goes a loong way!

    And, my best tip is this:
    Share! Share everything! Stories, tips and if you can spare it.. snacks!
    last year while waiting for hall h, I wa munching on a big costco size bag of tailmix.
    I overheard a couple saying they were starving but they were unsure of how long the lines where for food. So, I whipped out a few baggies and poured some in and gave a bag to each of them! They were so appreciative, and we swapped numbers.. they texted me later in the day and thanked me again saying that the mix held them over until dinner.. the girl was diabetic and he sugar was getting low when I helped them out.
    the coolest thing is, we’ve stayed friends for years!
    That is what is so great out the con community.. we are all there for each other!
    if you are kind, you’ll see it will come back to you.. 10 fold!

    Other than that.. enjoy!

  • Cheese Shop Sandwiches are really good.
    4th and Market
    http://www.cheeseshopdeli.com/

    Another trick is to hop on one of the shuttle busses and go to north of Horton Plaza.

    Also hop on the trolley a few stops and eat further away from the Gaslamp.

    I think there is a well-stocked 7-11 three trolley stops to the north at Santa Fe Depot.
    If you took the trolley in, you already have your pass…

  • Two great places to add; Dicks Last Resort on on 4th Ave, just for the abuse they give you there. For my Wednesday lunch before preview (because dinner is way expensive) I go to Rei do Gado, a Brasillian steakhouse on 4th, just south of Broadway. You will truly eat like a member of the Klingon High Council here, until you tell them to stop feeding you. I don’t need to eat again until Friday afternoon.

  • Morning buffet at Hilton Bayfront is also a great place to spot industry professionals! At $22/person, it’s a little pricey, but if you eat your money’s worth, it can tide you over when there are too many panels and too little time for lunch! The pastries and nut breads are especially delish!
    We check restaurant.com for Gaslamp deals all year long; the coupons never expire, and during an 80% off sale, you can buy a $25 certificate for two bucks! Red Pearl, Jolt’n Joe’s, Broken Yolk, and Elephant & Castle have all participated in the past, as well as House of Blues and dozens of others within an easy walk from the convention center. Just a heads up- Broken Yolk starts their special Comic Con menu on Thursday. There are fewer choices and it’s a little pricier than their regular menu. We ate there on Wednesday last year after picking up our badges at the Town and Country and we were very pleased; we plan to do the same again next week!
    I’m also psyched because Starbucks is starting their “Treat Receipt” promotion on Monday (any grande iced drink $2 after 2:00 with your morning’s receipt) and the Starbucks stores at both the Bayfront and the Marriott participate! And, as a last resort, don’t forget the Hospitality Suite at the Marriott. Although the snacks (chips, pretzels, m&ms) are lacking, they have cold sodas out all night, from 5:00pm-2:00am, and you can’t beat the price- everything is free, as are many of the treats handed out at the food trucks along the tracks in front of the convention center.
    My only bone to pick is with McCormick and Schmicks- contrary to the article, last year they did NOT offer their regular happy hour specials during Comic Con, although they did the year before.

  • Red Pearl was nasty last year! I mean worse then delivery food. Oh and like idiots we read it was terrible on Foursquare and still went. Trust Foursquare….

  • If you want to schlep to the mall, the food court stays open late-ish. Panda Express, Ben&jerry’s and a Mongolian BBQ place upstairs. There’s also a Panera and Jamba Juice. Also, I found a little hole in the wall shawerma place on my birthday last year, can’t remember the name
    Street, but it was near the Hilton Gaslamp. Affordable, really good and they had the Real Madrid/Chivas match on the tv when I was there.

  • Don’t eat the Con food. This summer will be my third con and I have yet to buy anything besides Starbucks coffee and pastries for breakfast at the convention center.

    I usually bring a huge tub of trail mix from Target and munch my way though that while I’m spending hours in Ballroom 20. Starbucks for breakfast, DIY snacks from home for lunch, and then save your food money for dinner around 9-10 at night. It’s definitely easier to eat at irregular times.

    Last year I picked up a pizza for dinner and enjoyed it while sitting line outside the convention center. No lines, reasonably priced, and a great way to meet your neighbors in line! This year I might try to get someone to deliver something, for my own amusement.

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