Thanks largely to you good people on this board, my girlfriend and I had a fine time in San Diego during our 5-day visit. The food we had wasn't nearly as grim as we'd been led to believe and there were a couple of restaurants the likes of which I wish we had here in San Francisco.
I will followup to this post with longer reviews of each place we visisted as I write them up (will take a few days I think), but here's the short of it (pardon me if I get the neighborhoods a bit wrong!):
Nick's by the Beach (PB) - had drinks and snacks here upon arrival - nice place, good-looking menu. Onion rings were chunky and flavorful, but the breading didn't adhere to the onions very well. Mashed potato quesadilla was an unusual texture experience that we would probably have appreciated more after a few pints :) Very cheap happy hour beers/pitchers. Bar upstairs rather frat-like.
Saigon Restaurant (El Cajon Blvd) - good standard Vietnamese fare, enormous menu, good prices. Pennyroyal leaf tea was a new one for me, interesting flavors and verrrry green. Goi cuon not served with bun or that yummy VN herb, nor cut into bite-sized pieces, tsk tsk tsk. Banh hoi w/bbq pork & shrimp was good, but not great.
Cantina Panaderia (PB) - one of our favorite restaurants we visited in SD, yum! We had breakfast here twice and loved it both times. Coconut french toast, oh yes! Dragon potatoes, very good. Roast beef hash, also very good. Nice healthy flavors and freshness to everything, and I liked their coffee to boot. Liked the attractive plating of everything. Cool space, and I wish we could have had lunch and/or dinner here. And I wish we had somewhere like this in SF!
Village Kabob (OB) - traditional greek fare in a cute and welcoming restaurant. Good gyros, mousaka, dolmas, chicken kabob. Combination platter for two ($20) was a nice sampler, and a lot of food.
En Fuego (Del Mar) - attended wedding rehearsal dinner here. Nothing special, bland ahi tacos and the usual fare. Definitely good margaritas, however! Nice outdoor dining w/heat lamps, good ambience.
Brian's (Washington St.) - brown-hot-and-plenty-of-it breakfast fare. Good, but not great. Surprisingly popular.
Saffron (India St.) - we liked this place a whole lot too, and wound up coming back for a pre-flight meal. Pad esam verrrry spicy, just how I like it. Pad see ew smoky and delicious. Take-away beef jerky also a hit. Goi cuon (VN spring rolls) not to my liking - wrappers too tough, and filled with chicken rather than shrimp. Baked egg rolls also good. Seems that noodles are the way to go here.
Big Kitchen (South Park) - my favorite kind of funky hole-in-the-wall breakfast joint, and tasty food. Very pulpy fresh-squeezed OJ, well-cooked, but not great-tasting bacon. Potatoes, eggs were good, and the zucchini muffin that came with my dish was excellent.
Hodad's (OB) - funkified in a good way, love the license plate decor. Tasty basic burgers and fries by the beach. Gotta love their chopped VW bus in the parking lot. Could spend hours deciphering the custom plates on the walls.
Costa Brava (PB) - tasty tapas, authentic spanish, unlike the mostly-fusion we get here in SF for tapas. Heavy on the garlic. Cheese plate special was very good indeed. Nice ambience, good music, polite, but not great service. Good spanish wine list. Dessert of ice cream w/strawberries was tasty but unrefined.
The Mission (PB) - oddly similar menu to Panaderia - did they have a chef in common or something? Good food, some attention to plating, not as atmospheric as Panaderia. Still, we enjoyed our breakfast here.
Thanks to all of you SD hounds for the recommendations! I wish we could have checked out Cass St. Bar & Grill, though; maybe next time.