I've just returned from a 5-day solo trip to San Diego. I trolled this message board for budget-friendly, casual restaurants and my tummy left San Diego very happy. Here are the restaurants I visited, the dishes I ordered, and my general observations:
Azucar in Ocean Beach - Guava/cheese pastry, meat pie and mojito cookie. This uber-casual cuban bakery in Ocean Beach was delightful. The pastry dough was perfectly flaky. I realized too late I should have asked for hot sauce to go with the meat pie as I overheard someone else order that. But without it, I still enjoyed the yummy seasoned ground beef filling. The cookie was limey and great. Loved this place and would return. It was fun to walk to the beach to watch the surfers after my breakfast.
Prep Kitchen in Little Italy - Spinach salad with beets, avocado and tangerines. Delish! It felt like a very "California" dish and I loved the hip atmosphere of the restaurant. I would definitely return for dinner and drinks with friends. I ate at the bar and even though they were slammed with people (it was during the art festival) the service was outstanding. A pleasant surprise.
In-n-Out Burger - Cheese burger, fries and a chocolate shake. I'd never been to one before and honestly, I don't see what the big deal is. It was good, but I wouldn't seek it out again. Given my screen name (frygirl) I was excited to try the fries since I know they're hand cut and cooked fresh, but I thought they were just 'meh.'
Marisco's Taco Truck - Fish taco. OMG this was tied with Mama Testas as my favorite food of the trip. The generous portion of fish is so perfectly cooked, and the corn tortillas are soft and fresh. My only regret is that I didn't return a second time during my visit. Note they have moved from University to El Cajon, but I didn't jot down the cross street. Luckily there was a truck parked at the old University location advertising the new address. The new location is in the parking lot of a Chevron station. Yum yum yummy yum.
Point Loma Seafood - Scallop sandwich + cole slaw. I'm glad I tried this. It's a hugely generous portion. I thought the sourdough flavor of the sandwich bread clashed slightly with the mild scallops, but not enough to ruin the meal. The cole slaw was a nice complement to the sandwich - it has the standard mayo dressing.
Mama Testas - Mojados de carne + side of refried beans and rice. This dish is beef flautas chopped into a bowl of chili broth. Ignore my lame description and just go eat it. It's heavenly. The beef is pot-roast tender, and the fried flautas very slowly soften as they sit in the broth so the texture gradually changes during the meal. I read on the board that their refried beans are noteable, but I thought they were just average. The salsa bar was fun. I loved the pickled carrots, the tomatillo salsa with parmesean, and the blended tomato/jalapeno salsa. I licked my plate. Seriously.
Tender Greens - Roasted vegetable salad with lemon vinaigrette. I wish they'd open an outpost in Seattle because I could eat these freshly tossed salads every day. The roasted veggies were tossed with crunchy greens and made for a surprisingly filling meal. The grilled artisan bread slice that came with it was finger-lickin' good.
Cafe Chloe in East Village (or is it Gaslamp?) - Pan seared king salmon salad. Being from Seattle, I have high standards for salmon, and this dish met them to a tee. The fish was perfectly medium-rare and served over frisee, beets and asparagus. It was simply perfect. And I snagged a sidewalk table on a beautiful day.
Pomodoro in Point Loma - Spaghetti carbonara + ceasar salad. This meal was disappointing, probably due to my own preferences. The carbonara sauce was extremely creamy, almost like an alfredo sauce, and it just didn't appeal to me although the flavor was good. Most carbonaras aren't quite that saucy or creamy. The salad was served room temperature (ick), was over dressed, and underseasoned. Maybe I just caught them on a bad night.
El Pescador Fish Market in La Jolla - Grilled seabass sandwich with avocado. This is a great sandwich to pick up and take to the waterfront to watch the seals. I can't say I'd recommend it as worth a drive from SD, but it should be on your list if you're already in LJ. It was a nice item to fill my tummy after hitting the Green Flash tasting room in Mira Mesa for IPA samples.
You have a wonderful city and a fantastic food scene. Thanks for maintaining a vibrant discussion on chowhound. It made my trip a pleasure, because my trips are always all about the food.