4 JULY 2016
Happy Independence Day! CCI published its SDCC restaurant guide today which, though thorough, is more a list of restaurants than a guide to eating deliciously at San Diego Comic-Con. And you will want to eat well at the Con, not only because you're on vacation and should indulge yourself, but because you're going to work up quite an appetite.
I get asked a lot what my favorite restaurants are. But my favorites aren't necessarily going to be good for anyone else. There are a few factors to consider when eating out at SDCC, namely:
How much time do you want to spend on eating - getting to your restaurant, waiting for a table and then waiting for the food? If you have a full day of panels and events planned, you probably can't spare 2 hours to walk into the Gaslamp, put your name on a To Be Seated list, and then wait an eternity for lunch.
To save time, you can bring your own food in with you or eat the convention center cafe choices. There are a few Starbucks on site, but of course they serve muffins, banana bread and other pastries that don't really comprise a good meal.
If you want to go out without spending a lot of time, the Fox Sports Grill at Hilton Bayfront has always been able to seat and serve me quickly (granted, I'm usually with 1-2 others and not a huge group.) Going in the other direction, the Headquarters on the other side of the Hyatt has been able to seat me immediately or within minutes. The Cheesecake Factory is probably the busiest place there (even so, it's never been that bad) but the other restaurants have been almost empty when I've gone in. Generally speaking, I like that whole area quite a bit and for speed/quality prefer it to going into the Gaslamp.
If you do go into the Gaslamp, grabbing a slice at Gaslamp Pizza is usually painless. Depending on when you hit Subway, a very popular choice with attendees, you can be looking at a long line or hardly a line at all. You can also find Grab & Go menu items at a few places and there are food trucks as well - though these range from the super quick to the surprisingly slow.
Popular spots like Dick's Last Resort, Tin Fish, the Broken Yolk and Rockin' Baja Cantina usually involve a wait. Sometimes attendees assume these must be THE places to eat since there's a line, but in fact there are great places to eat that do not involve a wait - I never have to wait at Blue Point Coastal, for instance, and the food is great. My favorite breakfast spot is McCormick and Schmick at the Omni; again, never a wait.
Other options: Little Italy and Seaport Village. Sometimes these get crowded, but overall I find them an enjoyable option and often more convenient than Gaslamp at Peak Con.
If you want to spend all your money on the floor, rather than blowing it on meals, that's understandable. Obviously coupons and special offers help, but you've got other options. You can shop at Ralph's or Albertson's and keep cereal, granola bars and sandwich fixings in your room. You can do like a hundred other attendees and buy a sub at the all-night Subway, then live off it all day long. You can get fast food at Horton Plaza's food court. You can scout out some of the cheaper food trucks. And if you're diligent, you can find out which hospitality suites are putting out free drinks and cookies - although that action has dried up somewhat in recent years.
If you're looking for restaurant discounts that honor your badge, do
some homework first. Some of the discounts are probably not worth it if
you weren't going to eat there anyhow; some are. Generally speaking, a lot of places offer Con specials and so do a lot of Gaslamp bars like McFadden's. If you like bar food and have a busy Con schedule that doesn't release you until after 9 at night or so, you'll find plenty of cheap bar specials to fill your stomach.
One note: often attendees will avoid certain restaurants because they think they're too spendy. My favorites are Blue Point Coastal, DeMedici and Seasons 52 for dinner, sometimes Royal India, and McCormick and Schmick's for breakfast. While they're not as cheap as the Horton food court, most of their menus have reasonably priced items, especially if you want to eat lightly. So if you're looking for a restaurant where you can sit down and eat decent food without going bankrupt, don't automatically rule out those places.
Some attendees thrive on the cacophony of the popular spots listed above. Frankly, after being immersed in the physical humanity of the Con, I need to eat in quiet restaurants where I can have a decent conversation and my water glass doesn't stay empty for a half hour at a time.
If you want to be part of the crowd, places like Dick's will provide you with that experience. The Syfy Cafe at the Hard Rock is also crowded but tends to be a bit more manageable; and any restaurant or bar with street seating is going to be packed to the gills, but will deliver excellent people-watching. If you're intent on spotting celebrities promenading up and down the street (it happens) it's worth staking your table-claim and ordering enough drinks and food to justify your stay.
If you're looking to escape the Con for a bit, I recommend going to the beach. Especially if you're looking to decompress with friends and not necessarily meet other people. You can drink, get cheap burritos and tacos, and generally let the Comic-Con frenzy leak out of your molecules for a bit. It's a very nice feeling.
If you have some time to spare AND want to leave the Con behind temporarily, catch the ferry to Coronado Island (right behind the convention center.) There are plenty of restaurants here but the Hotel del Coronado is always my destination for a great dinner or Sunday brunch. It also has a killer ice cream shop and a beautiful beach.
And finally, don't forget the ultimate comfort of your own hotel room bed. If your feet hurt and you're exhausted, order up a pizza or room service and relax for a night. Even though the lights and noise of San Diego outside will half-convince you you're missing out on something spectacular, it's smarter to chill and conserve your energy for the next day. The half-version of this; eating in your hotel restaurant. Which, by the way, is where you're more likely to spot celebrities if you're in the right hotel. I eat at the main Marriott restaurant a lot, even when I'm staying at the Hyatt, and I see a parade of famous faces both during lunch and late at night.
Late Night Dining
You can find yourself keeping odd hours at the Con, due to camping, naps, long panels and other factors - and if your stomach is growling while your pals are going to bed, you can definitely find something to eat. The aforementioned Marriott Marquis restaurant has stayed open till 1 am in the past and the Syfy Cafe used to stay open till 3 am. Not sure if that's still true. The all-night sub shops, late night pizza places, and Gaslamp bars are options too.
Of course, you can opt simply to wing it - wait until that first Comic-Con hunger pang hits and worry about it then. On the whole, though, it's good to know what your options are. Once you come out of Preview Night hungry, or wake up Thursday and wonder where you can eat breakfast and still get to the Con on time, you'll want to know where the right watering holes are.