As the San Diego Comic-Con has gotten bigger, one of the big impacts has been the spillover into the local area. It is now notoriously difficult to get a hotel room in the area at convention time, and rooms are priced in line with demand. Similarly, since the San Diego convention center feeds into the trendy Gaslamp District, the local area restaurants are packed at dinnertime right after the show closes each evening. As such, over the years, I’ve discovered a few “tricks” of avoiding long lines at eateries.
(By the way, I'm not covering fast food here—as I've gotten older, fast food just doesn't have any appeal to me at dinnertime. Regardless, fast food restaurants during Comic-Con likewise get very crowded, particularly given the infamous penny-pinching ways of the fanboy crowd.)
First off, of course, avoid the Gaslamp’s main drag on 5th Street at all costs. For the unimaginative, the bars and upscale restaurants immediately draw the crowds and long waits. Yes, there are good restaurants and I guess it’s fun to “see and be seen,” but there are also plenty of terrific restaurants just one block over. Even better, take a short cab ride up to Little Italy where it's even less crowded and there are many great restaurants.
Since I go every year, I've compiled a list of restaurants and their addresses so that I can remember the locations of many of these small restaurants. Last year, I ate at Indian, Italian, Japanese, and Afghani restaurants! (Sorry, that restaurant list must remain a state secret!)
It’s well known that you should avoid buying food at the convention center due to the high cost, long lines and poor quality. It’s surprising that given the size of this show that the food selection is so limited and low quality, even by the standards of such facilities. Most people bring food in, go out for lunch, or use the Ralph’s supermarket across the street. But if you have no choice, there is a Greek cart there every year that is good and affordable. I noticed it occasionally changes locations each year (it used to be up in the open pavilion area), but the last few years it's been at the far north end of the center (i.e., around aisle 100). There's never the kind of line like you see at the regular concession stands. Better yet, plan ahead and order a takeout lunch at one of the local restaurants that are open in the morning (I know the Ralph's across the street is popular for this.)
Finally, if you're not in a rush to get home and want to avoid traffic going out of San Diego if you drove, I found it's worth it to grab some dinner before you hit the road on the Sunday evening after the show has ended. It gives you time to relax and decompress before the drive home, and the restaurants are less hectic and, in fact, pretty dead—that’s when I usually hit a restaurant on the Gaslamp! My friends and I used to have the tradition of meeting for dinner on the drive home at Anderson's Split Pea a little north of San Diego in Carlsbad, but unfortunately that closed years ago, to be replaced by a TGIFs. Which just isn’t the same I’m afraid.