Kirbie's Cravings

San Diego Gaslamp tasting tour

Whenever there are a bunch of events I'm interested in participating in, they always seem to fall on the same day. This past weekend was one of those weekends. I had already booked my reservations to try the Providence tasting menu weeks ahead of time. But there were about a million other things I wanted to do that weekend also.

One of them was the Taste of Gaslamp.  About thirty something restaurants in the gaslamp open their doors to customers participating, giving its patrons a "taste" of the restaurant's offerings. The tasting tour is a self-guided walking tour and tickets were $30 per person.

BF and I rarely dine in the gaslamp district anymore because parking is such a pain. You have to circle forever, park blocks away from your destination, and pay quite a bit for parking too. This tour was appealing as it would give us a chance to visit a lot of places in one afternoon. Of course, I was slightly wary of attending this tour so shortly after our Providence experience, but I had no choice, as this was the only weekend it was offered.

After we arrived, we got our wristbands and tickets and our maps of the places participating. Then we mapped out which places we planned on going to. Obviously we would not have time or room for all 32 participants.

We decided to start off at McCormick & Schmick's.

675 L Street
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 645-6545

The majority of restaurants held their tastings inside the restaurant. McCormick held their tasting outdoors. Chefs stood behind a table and prepared each individual samplings of a cold crab salad, garnished with mango avocado and a vinaigrette. They had menus laid out for people to take and browse. There was also wine being sold at a discounted rate.

Most of the places we went to were offering alcohol at a discounted rate. It was tempting, but we refused. How would we possibly have time or room for all the alcohol when we only had three hours to taste as many places as possible?

I was surprised by the small size of sampling at McCormicks. I also was not very impressed with the sample. I spied it on the menu. The full sized version is priced at $12.95. It didn't really taste that special to me.

Our next stop was Nobu.

207 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 814-4124

Nobu was a popular spot. I've dined at Nobu once. While the meal I had was tasty, I felt it was very overpriced and overhyped. I'm not quite sure what we were served. It was something wrapped in a lettuce leaf. The bite was small and tasty, but I don't know what it was..

Next we went Dussini Loft Bar, which is located inside the Old Spaghetti Factory.

275 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101

(619) 233-4323

I haven't been to the Spaghetti Factory since it closed and reopened. I have a lot of fond memories from college, going there for dinner with a bunch of friends. I'm not so sure how I would feel about the food now. I also don't recall if the original one had a bar.

The bar here is huge, taking up the entire top floor of the restaurant. It has nice plush chairs, and a fireplace too. Here, we were presented for the first time with something that was more than just a bite. There was a layout of bar foods: artichoke dip and toast, fried calamari, and onion rings. Nothing spectacular, but everything tasted decent, and I was happy with the spread.

Next we sampled Rockin Baja Coastal Cantina. 

310 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 234-6333

They served some chips, a shrimp ceviche and shrimp with some sauce. I was surprised by how tasty the ceviche is, and the shrimp used inside were big ones rather than the tiny ones I was expecting. The shrimp with the sauce was pretty good too.

Our next stop was Masala Restaurant.

314 Fifth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 232-5050

Here, we had the most impressive spread of all the places we visited. The spread was huge. Basically, the entire Indian lunch buffet spread was provided. There were lots of curries, rice, and even mango mousse, which I love.  Once upstairs, there was plenty of staff passing out water and taking away our plates. I was really impressed.  Many places did not provide drinks and were charging for water. The food, unfortunately, was quite watered down and pretty tasteless (even more so than usual for Indian lunch buffet food). But I was impressed enough with the service and generosity that I will be back to check out their regular menu.

We then went to Dick's Last Resort.

345 Fourth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 231-9100

Here, they offered two small bites of their fried alligator. While it was an interesting choice, I would have preferred a bit more in quantity. It was my first time eating gator. It tasted like chicken, but was chewier. The batter was heavily seasoned so you couldn't really taste much.

Next up was Jolt'n Joe's Sports Grill.

379 4th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 230-1968

This was definitely the most disappointing spot we went to. While all the other places had servers directing traffic and greeting people, Jolt'n Joe's did not. Once inside, we were quite confused where to go. And they didn't make it easy as there "taste" was all the way up the stairs and outside on the patio. Their offering consisted of a chef's special. which was basically chicken and rice soup, with some guacamole and lime to add to it. The serving was tiny, and very forgetable, as it was just chicken broth and some rice.

We next went to Red Pearl Kitchen.

440 J Street
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 231-1100

The food here was served on really large plates, which made the food look so much smaller. We were given pepper fried shrimp and a steak kabob. The pepper fried shrimp was surprisingly good and the steak kabob was decent too, with the meat served medium rather than well done.

We then headed to Palm Restaurant.

615 J Street
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 702-6500

Here, they offered chicken sliders and beef served on a toasted slice of baguette. The sandwich was your basic bar food and definitely forgettable. One thing that was memorable was all the art on the walls. Boyfriend was particularly impressed with drawings done by many famous comic artists.

We next headed to [email protected] 

660 K Street
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 450-2437

Steak, served on a bed of risotto.  I was happy with the generous serving and this higher quality "taste." The only thing was that one of the servers was sprinkling the fried onions on top of each plate and he used his bare hands! Definitely a red flag. I scrapped mine off. The risotto was a bit too heavy. But the steak was good. And this was one of the few fancier restaurants that was offering something nice. I think I may be back, though I worry about the server not using any gloves..

By this time, we were getting quite full. But we had made good time and had quite a bit of time left. We headed to Sam Adams Beer Garden because they were serving free beer. In hindsight, this was not a good idea, as the beer made us even more full.

Next up was Cafe Sevilla.

555 4th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 233-5979

We passed by some spots, but opted to not check them out as they were mainly bars. I went to Cafe Sevilla a long time ago and wasn't very impressed with their food. However, I was pleasantly surprised this time around. We were served seafood paella, some cold potatoes, and this coffee creme brulee. I really liked the paella. I think I'll have to give Cafe Sevilla another shot.

Next was La Puerta.

560 4th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 696-3466

They served rolled tacos and enchiladas. Nothing special. I took a bite and didn't finish as I needed to save room.

Blue Point Coastal Cuisine

565 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 233-6623

I had been looking forward to Blue Point Coastal Cuisine, as I have not yet dined there. Like some of the other more high end places, the offerings here were pretty small.  A chip with some fish. One bite and it was gone and forgotten.

Next up was Ocean Room.

630 Fifth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 501-6550

Here we were served blue crab cakes and handrolls. I didn't care much for the crab cake, but I enjoyed my fresh made spicy tuna handroll.


644 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 235-8144

Chianti served up some pasta and bruschetta. I'm a sucker for the big pasta noodles. It reminds me a lot of the homemade pasta I used to sample from BF's roommate's mom.

Ghirardelli Ice Cream

643 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 234-2449

At this point we were ready to call it quits. We had about 15 minutes left but we were stuffed. However, Ghiradeli's was across the street, and one of the stops. How perfect to end our tasting with ice cream. So we trotted over and we were treated to mini sundaes.

Of course once we finished, I couldn't help it…we still had time left!. I had to take full advantage of our tickets. So off we went to Monsoon.

729 4th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 234-5555

A few years ago, we really loved dining at Monsoon. Then they changed the menu and apparently the kitchen staff, and we stopped going back because we no longer liked it anymore. Much like Masala, Monsoon offered almost an entire lunch buffet. They are both owned by the same company. They also offered some sort of fruit drink. No mango mousse unfortunately, but they did have a variety of curries that were different from the ones offered at Masala. They also gave us each a stamp card with five out of the ten stamps filled towards a free lunch buffet.  The food was watered down. I had eaten at Monsoon for their lunch buffet a few years ago and remembered it being watered down too. I was appreciative of how seriously they took the Taste of Gaslamp and their generous offerings.

Finally we were done. But wait! We had about one minute left. And next door was Whiskey Girl. So we stopped by. All they had were some wings. No pictures. I was too full to eat and to take any.

We left ridiculously stuffed and realizing we can no longer go on more than one day of food binging. Of course, we still had dinner plans that night to celebrate Little Sis' birthday…

18 comments on “San Diego Gaslamp tasting tour”

  1. I think those may have been the miso cod lettuce wraps at Nobu. They did that at Taste of a Nation and I was very unimpressed with it. Meh…
    Well, I guess I know what places to NOT go to while I’m there for Comic-con! ๐Ÿ˜› We may have to go to Palm though, just for wall art. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. You’re probably right. I was disappointed with Nobu, esp after waiting in the line for that little bite.
    Hehe, I was thinking of checking out Palm again also cuz of the artwork.
    Ooh, you’re going to be in town for CC? Let’s meet up one night! I’m surprised, so many food bloggers will be at CC. I never knew how well the two interests mixed.

  3. Wow Kirbie – EPIC post! Thanks for taking the time to take pics and write commentary on each place! I don’t know how you were able to remember all details on each photo. Wow.
    I think $30 for everything is ok. Just wish the restaurants would offer more, high quality stuff.
    I’m proud of you that you pushed yourself to the very last minute to eat as much as you can ๐Ÿ™‚ I’d do the same thing…
    Again, really wonderful post!

  4. WOW. That was a lot of food to pack into 3 hours. On whole, did you think the food was satisfactory? Would you do it again next year if they held it again?

  5. Hi Faye- Yeah this post took me forever to write..I also wish there was more higher quality stuff, esp from the more expensive restaurants. $30 wasn’t bad; we sampled so much!

  6. You know I have been clamoring for some CCI recommendations of places close to the convention center for lunch – which ones would you recommend? Last year we had dinner after picking up our badges and going back for preview night at the Old Spaghetti Factory, and we really enjoyed it!
    This trip – we are booked at Oceannaire (sp) Room for our BIG night out on Friday. (I mentioned that I’m a Kirbie reader when I made the reservations hoping that will help get you extra love on your next trip.) We always stop by Extraordinary Desserts, for dessert on one night.

  7. It is a lot of food..even all the walking in between didn’t help. Overall, I was satisfied. For $30, I got to see a lot of places, and sample quite a bit of food. I would have liked some better samples from the higher end places though. I don’t know if I would do it again. I think once was enough. But I think it is fun to do at least once.

  8. You know, I actually had you in mind when I signed up for this. I remember you asking me a while back for lunch places near the convention center. And then I realized I didn’t really know much about the places near the convention center. So I thought this tour would familiarize me with more places. I’ve been trying to find time to check out stuff close to the convention, but haven’t had a chance. If I have a chance before CC, I’ll definitely let you know of places.
    Based on this tour, Rockin Baja Coastal Cantina seemed like a good spot for a quick lunch. I think there may be some food trucks in the area too during CC; I need to check with them. If you like Indian food, Royal India has a pretty good lunch buffet and it’s nearby. The Cheese shop makes some pretty delicious grilled cheese sandwiches. I’ll give this some more thought and email you or write a post.

  9. Thank you Kirbie! It’s funny I started following your blog because I wanted an insider’s guide to San Diego, this is our BIG vacation every year and I hate to waste our time on mediocre dining experiences. However, I just love to follow along with all of your dining (and cooking) adventures. I’m so glad I found your blog!

  10. holy mackerel, this post was BANANAS! that’s a pretty good deal but maybe not since you didn’t seem to like a lot of the offerings? i always wanted to do one of those things when i was down in sd. thanks for letting me live vicariously through your writeup!

  11. wow Kirbie! Awesome post of EPIC proportions! you and your BF sure went to a lot of places and got your $$’s worth too. My husband would have also appreciated those drawings of the superheros at the Palm. Very cool! Props to the Indian places for offering full buffets but too bad it was “watered down”.
    i hardly go out to the gaslamp becuase of the parking too. unless i’m going to horton plaza andhave time to kill. at night, forget about it. i’m not a nighttime/night club person and the crowds scare me.
    one of these days my husband and i will have to try this taste of downtown thing! again, great post! loved it!

  12. Sure! I volunteer so I will be in town from Wednesday all thru Sunday.

  13. I’m glad to hear you enjoy following along my dining adventures =)

  14. A lot of the food was just so so, but it was fun to experience at least once. And for $30, it was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

  15. Glad you enjoyed the post! They offer it every year, so maybe you and your husband can try it next year.

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