Content originally written for the Let’s Go: USA & Canada Guide by our researcher-writer, Graham Bishai.
Breakfast Republic ($$)
707 G St.; (619) 501-8280; breakfastrepublic.com open daily 7am-3pm
Don’t miss the most important meal of the day, and make sure you go to Breakfast Republic. Take a classic favorite neighborhood brunch spot, with all the classic trappings of a breakfast menu, and give it modern décor and experimental flavor. Ever had caramel macchiato French toast? How about cinnamon roll pancakes? If you like iced coffee, try the “sweetie cocky.” It’s popular, loud, and hopping. Trust us, the line of people out the door have heard the accolades. Plenty bougie—the kind of place where some dishes are served in cast iron skillets—but there’s slow rock playing and enough people in t-shirts to give it a casual hangout feel.
Entrées from $10; gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options available; wheelchair accessible
La Puerta ($$)
560 Fourth Ave.; (619) 696-3466; lapuertasd.com; open M-F 11am-2am, Sa-Su 9am-2am
This beloved Gaslamp Quarter spot serves up Mexican fare with a sleek and sexy cocktail bar vibe. No laidback beach taco shack here—this place is hopping and happening, feeling like a nightlife hotspot even when it’s two in the afternoon. Two in the afternoon? Five o’clock somewhere? Screw it, and help yourself to some tequila. They have over 100 different tequilas, each with tasting notes and the agave’s place of origin. So just act like you have a clue what you’re talking about when you order one, even if your usual tequila experience is drinking from a bottle being passed around at a rager. There’s also tons of beers on tap. Dig into a quesadilla, some tacos, or one of their one pound burritos.
Entrées from $12; vegetarian options available; wheelchair accessible; 21+ after 3pm, kitchen closes 1am
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood ($)
746 Emerald St.; (858) 412-4009; oscarsmexicanseafood.com; open S-Th 8am-9pm, F-Sa 8am-10pm
Eat fish tacos the way fish tacos are supposed to be eaten: a stone’s throw from the beach, on wooden tables and stools. Oscar’s has got the chill and beachy taco joint vibe down to a T, keeping the locals flocking there for just another bite of their flaky, flavor-packed, handheld grub, served in cardboard bowls and deli paper. It’s a casual counter-serve place, emphasis on the casual. You can sit outside or in, and enjoy the company of local surfers, tourists, and groups of friends hitting the beach alike. The beauty of tacos being $2 is you can just keep ordering some if you’re still hungry. The danger of tacos being $2 is that even once you’re full, you’ll want another one.
Fish tacos from $2; cash only; wheelchair accessible
Tacos El Cabron ($)
532 Fourth Ave.; (619) 501-7752; open M-Th 11am-11pm, F-Sa 11am-3am, Su 11am-8pm
Tacos El Cabron is where to go when you want a fast, easy Mexican meal that’s still up to San Diego quality. It’s also open late on weekends, and a perfect place to make your last stop for the night to get some cheap chow. Order at the counter and grab a seat. The digs are plain, but when its crowded, a vibrant energy fills the space. And there’s something here for everyone. If you’re a gluttonous monster, you may be interested in the California burrito—stuffed (like you’ll be) with steak, fries, guac, and sour cream. If you want to keep it real, try the pollo tacos. If you’re somewhere in between, check out their carne asada fries or nachos.
Tacos from $3.25; vegan and vegetarian options available; wheelchair accessible
Graham left behind the stressed-out chaos of Cambridge for the laid back life on the West Coast. A refreshing change of pace, he assumed, until the line for coffee on his first morning took 2 mins longer than he’s used to, and the Northeast nasty jumped out. Starting in Vancouver, Graham meandered south, toning his calves being a pedestrian on San Francisco’s hills and by navigating the monstrosity that is Los Angeles using just his feet and public transit (only resorting to Uber twice!) Graham’s love for the West Coast life only increased as he sat by the Puget Sound in Seattle, sipped kombucha in the crunchy cafes of Portland, climbed into a waterfall in Yosemite and stayed in an abandoned opera house in Death Valley. By the time he hit upper 80s sun of San Diego, buff calves and sun tanned, the words “West Coast, Best Coast,” almost slipped out of his mouth. Identity crisis looming, he figured it was time to go home.