San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - entrance from the waterfront - WikipediaMy wife and I recently ventured through the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego to sample the local delicacies and learn a few things about its history.

We discovered some great places and learned that the downtown area used to be a haven for drunken sailors and houses of ill repute. Thankfully, it is now a place for the whole family to stroll around, shop, and enjoy world cuisines and delicious treats.

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Royal IndiaWe started our journey at the Royal India restaurant around lunchtime. The first thing that grabbed my attention was the fanciful decorations, authentic statues, and pottery. But I soon forgot about the ambiance as I browsed through the mouth-watering buffet choices.

I usually avoid buffets, but in this case, it was a nice way to sample different dishes. Everything I tried was flavorful and fresh, but my favorite was the Chicken Tikka Masala and Samosa. The kheer (rice pudding) was a great way to end the meal.

We knew we still had a lot of places to visit on this tour, so we tried hard not to stuff ourselves, but it was a losing battle.

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After this great beginning, we walked towards our next stop, Berkeley Pizza. Along San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Berkeley Pizzathe way, we learned some interesting facts about the area. It all started when, in 1867, Alonzo Horton, known as the father of downtown, purchased some land and developed “New Town” to the south of the established Old Town. The city later added 50 gas lamps to light up the streets, giving the area its current name.

“The Gaslamp Quarter is a dynamic urban playground that brings together Victorian-era buildings, modern skyscrapers, and a vibrant nightlife scene. It’s a perfect blend of history and modernity.”

New Town quickly filled up with gambling halls, saloons, and brothels and became a thriving red-light district. But in 1912, the city cleared the area in preparation for the Panama-California Exposition.

After this quick history lesson, we entered Berkeley Pizza to try their deep-dish Chicago-style pizza. The place is very small and always crowded, which I thought was a good sign—the pizza must be phenomenal. However, I was disappointed. The slices had way too much tomato sauce, and the pepperoni was too greasy. The crust and cheese were very good, so maybe I was just unlucky with my choice.

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Le Parfait ParisOur next stop made up for the disappointment. We headed towards Le Parfait Paris, a French bakery.

Along the way, we stopped at the Gaslamp Museum. This small museum is a nice way to learn about San Diego and its main founder, Horton. The garden outside the museum overlooks several historic buildings and has a statue of Bum, the dog who led many parades and ran with the fire brigade.

At Le Parfait Paris, we delighted our eyes and our palettes with the large selection of pastries and desserts. It was hard to choose our treat, but we ended up with 2 flavors of macaroons - the best macaroons ever. We liked this place so much we went back the next day for breakfast. They actually offer much more than dessert. You can order Crepes, Quiche, and Panini.

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After that delectable interlude, we started walking towards El Chingon. This San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - El Chingonrestaurant has multiple personalities. You can sit outside and enjoy your meal while gawking at people walking by, or you can sit inside with the noisy sports bar as your background music. We went for the third option, a quiet second floor overlooking the bar below.

“El Chingon is known for its vibrant atmosphere and delicious Mexican street food. It's a perfect spot to unwind after exploring the city.”

While sitting on our secluded balcony, we were served homemade chips and salsa. They brought a tray with several bottles of house salsa.

We tried their “Al Pastor,” the slow-cooked pork taco, along with the chips and salsa. It was very rich, tasty, and full of meat. Our only disappointment was when we ordered the house margaritas. We had to wait a very long time for our orders, and they weren't that special.

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Horton Plaza - WikipediaAfter this pork and margaritas stop, I was glad we had a long walk ahead of us. We needed to digest all this food.

Our destination was the Little Italy neighborhood, but we also visited Horton Plaza Mall, the US Grant Hotel, and Spreckels Theater.

“Horton Plaza is known for its unconventional architecture and vibrant colors, making it a fun and unique shopping experience in downtown San Diego.”

Horton Plaza is an outdoor 5-level shopping and dining mall right in downtown San Diego. Its bright colors and tricky architecture make it a unique place to visit. Stairways and pathways between the various sections and floors don't connect, so you must browse to find the next section.

The Plaza has large anchor stores like Macy’s and Forever 21 and plenty of small stores. It is not considered a major mall but is within walking distance of downtown hotels and the waterfront.

The US Grant Hotel is historic, with 11 stories and 270 guest rooms. The hotel was built by Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., son of President Ulysses S. Grant, who named the hotel after his father.

The hotel is infamous for its restaurant, the “Grant Grill”. Women were not permitted at this place before 3 pm until a group of women in 1969 staged a sit-in. After the bad publicity, the restaurant was forced to abandon its men-only policy.

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter - Little ItalyThe Spreckels Theater is another historic place in downtown San Diego. It started as a live performance theater, but now, it can show movies. Spreckels is a well-known name in town. John Spreckels was responsible for building the Hotel Coronado and financing the San Diego-Arizona railway.

After this long detour, we arrived at Little Italy, which has busy streets, festive shops, and restaurants. This little neighborhood started as a fishing town with immigrants from Italy founding Tuna fishing fleets and a large canary. All canneries closed by the 1980s, but the neighborhood transformed itself into a shopping and dining destination.

“Little Italy is a lively neighborhood with a rich history and vibrant community. It's a must-visit for anyone who loves good food and a festive atmosphere.”

We ended our food safari at Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy. This restaurant serves traditional Italian dishes with a few American standards. We were already stuffed by the time we arrived here, so we only had a dessert. We tried their tasty focaccia with cow cheese and topped with honey – a sweet and sour delight.

We were guided through this food tour by Eric from “Bite San Diego,” who was very knowledgeable and friendly. Ask them for their Downtown Walking Tour if you want a similar food tour.

Other great dining experiences in San Diego:

Over the years, I enjoyed various cuisines in San Diego. Some of my favorites are listed below:

Full Moon Sushi

Embargo Grill, San DiegoA great place for Sushi lovers with unique Rolls, Sushi, and Sashimi, along with a full hot-dish menu and bar.

Embargo Grill

A small place in a strip mall next to SeaWorld that offers great Caribbean dishes. Try the "Key West" - a grilled marinated chicken with curry and Rum Cranberries. You can also build your own dish by picking your meat, sides, and sauces.

The Donut Bar

Yes, it is a donut place, but its creations are huge and delicious. The menu changes daily depending on the availability of fresh ingredients.

Ramaki Japanese Restaurant

A small hole-in-the-wall restaurant offering fresh Poke and traditional Japanese dishes. You can build your Poke bowl yourself from the Poke Bar.

Read the full San Diego Guide here.