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San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter thrums with energy. Unmissable restaurants have swarmed the small neighborhood, and its nightlife draws quite the crowd. New eateries, bars, theaters and concert venues have only celebrated its status as the trendy hub of San Diego.
Not quite as swanky as Little Italy and not quite as gritty as Barrio Logan, the Gaslamp Quarter wants to host your next night out with friends. And we’ve got the guide to the 9 best restaurants in the neighborhood. From Russian cuisine and classic pub eats to farm-fresh food and hearty breakfasts, Gaslamp Quarter restaurants make up a diverse roster of places to chow down that will appease any foodie.
Cafe 21 exemplifies innovation in the food and beverage industry, especially if you’re looking to set a sustainable table. The fresh meals made from scratch by the culinary talents of a married couple feature locally sourced ingredients. Wild-caught seafood, free-range chicken, grass-fed beef and more make Cafe 21’s table an attractive place to eat.
Don’t worry, vegans, vegetarians and opponents of gluten! This restaurant also offers options for those with dietary restrictions. Founded in 2006, with its original location based in University Heights, Cafe 21 has nestled into the Gaslamp Quarter and expanded its repertoire with live music and catering services.
STK San Diego
Already established in Chicago, Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles, London, Ibiza, Las Vegas, Milan, London, Orlando, Miami, Toronto and its New York flagship, STK has come to grace San Diego with mouthwatering meat and seafood. You can’t succeed among Gaslamp Quarter restaurants without a party vibe or a unique vision.
While STK isn’t necessarily unique, this sleek steakhouse inside the Andaz San Diego hotel is perfect for social gatherings. Its vast and various seating areas allow for big parties, including the main dining room, bar, patio, bistro seating area and private spaces.
Come here for an upscale dining experience starring luxurious, classic American cuisine. Grilled summer squash, flavorful pasta dishes, rich truffle fries and a beautiful selection of quality cuts make the menu pop. Be careful at STK, or it will break your bank account, though. But, if you want to indulge, this is the spot to do so in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Metl Bar & Restaurant
Metl Bar & Restaurant’s spicy southern food and boozy desserts easily seduce the indulgent eaters of the city. Its comfort food features fan-favorite meals with a San Diegan twist, including chicken-fried steak and over 40 rotating flavors of spiked ice cream. Can an American restaurant indeed be the best without alcohol and dessert?
If you can’t manage to cram a creamy epilogue into your eating experience, take home mini pints, cocktail lickers, ice cream sandwiches and cocktails in a cup. Try Slam Diego, a mélange of pretzels, peanuts, Cracker Jack and Templeton rye. Southern food and ice cream might sound like the antithesis to veganism, but Metl Bar & Restaurant can accommodate dietary restrictions without issue.
While the Gaslamp Quarter might be notorious for its raucous nightlife, it has earned a flourishing reputation for morning meals. Breakfast Company will cure the aftermath of your wild night with its hearty menu items. It didn’t take long after its opening in 2019 for locals to claim this spot as a neighborhood brunch favorite. After all, what are San Diegans without their brunch?
To rank among the best brunch places in this seaside city, a restaurant must have an adequate array of both sweet and savory dishes in addition to perky cocktails. The Breakfast Company more than delivers with waffles, French toast, eggs galore and creative libations (such as the “tipsy mocha” special).
Trailer Park After Dark
Don’t worry, you can bring the kids to Trailer Park After Dark without worrying over their innocence. This eclectic celebration of the “grit and glitter of trailer park life” offers entertainment, comfort food and cocktails. You can reserve a themed trailer for a night out with the family or your friend group. Trailer Park After Dark is 21 and up after 11 p.m., so get the babysitter lined up!
Mattarello Cooking Lab
Experimental San Diegan restaurants often nestle in the Gaslamp Quarter, a downtown neighborhood that revs its engine when the sun sets. The fresh décor of Mattarello Cooking Lab blends trendy marble with wood and foliage. One thing they want to be made clear: “At Mattarello we’re pasta makers.”
They offer a simple menu with spectacular dishes made from scratch and a range of cooking classes, including Italian bread making and make-your-own pasta. Check out their house made sauces and jams if you can’t survive without a reserve of Italian food at home. You can even order goodies from their online store.
Pushkin Russian Restaurant
If you can’t seem to conjure an image of what Russian cuisine looks like, you’re not alone. Maybe vodka is the only thing that comes to mind. Pushkin is here to educate you in Russian food.
Pushkin Russian Restaurant is among San Diego’s very few Russian eateries. Come for the borscht, pelmeni and excellent vodka. Experiment with Armenian dishes, such as grilled salad. Oh, and by the way, if the restaurant sounds familiar, it might be because of viral photos of armed men protecting it from protesters in 2020.
At barleymash, it starts with the barroom staples of bourbon and beef. In other words, if you enjoy food, you’ll enjoy life. In the heart of San Diego’s Gaslamp District shines a restaurant and bar that elevates American culture with its loaded fries, flatbreads, experimental mac ’n’ cheese, burgers and duck empanadas.
Its name references a grain mixture used in beer and bourbon brewing and distillation processes. From the reclaimed wood and the modern interiors to the garage-door windows and chummy but sophisticated vibe, barleymash celebrates San Diego and its affair with breweries.
A tried-and-true spot for Champagne and mimosa at brunch and comforting pub food at dinner, Werewolf has claimed 4th Avenue as its territory. Their night menu is available from 3 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday through Saturday.
Do not skip the grilled garlic ginger wings. You’ll almost certainly regret it. Brunch serves up a mean eggs Benedict and a substantial breakfast burrito. Werewolf wants you to party, and the locals haven’t yet resisted its call. Come for the food and stay for the unhinged karaoke.
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