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Best Bets for Super Dining : A Game Plan for Choosing Winning Restaurants in San Diego

January 28, 1988|DAVID NELSON

San Diego restaurateurs have been salivating over the prospect of Super Bowl week for months, and visitors can expect to find red carpets rolled out all over town. Many of the best restaurants are downtown, and thanks to this neighborhood's relative compactness, hotel guests will find all of them within convenient walking distance.

Best bets to try in San Diego are seafood and Mexican specialties, although downtown boasts plenty of classic French and Italian fare, and fine steaks for those who wouldn't leave Denver without one. For those visitors who want to savor San Diego's equivalent of Georgetown and Cherry Hills, several of the better establishments in posh, seaside La Jolla also are mentioned.

Cost estimates given are exclusive of tax, tip and drinks. The term "inexpensive" designates a meal costing less than $10; "moderate," $10 to $20, and "expensive," $20 or more. Reservations will be difficult to get at many places, but all will try to be as accommodating as possible. Late diners may find the best selection of tables. Group reservations at many of these restaurants will be impossible at this late date, but in any case, it is always wise to call ahead.

The Anthony's group of restaurants offers some of downtown's best waterfront dining. All feature an ocean-spanning selection of beautifully fresh seafood. Anthony's Harborside (1355A N. Harbor Drive; moderate) offers an excellent selection of items, many prepared quite simply; keep an eye out for the swordfish, and, if available, the local fish called corvina. Meals include a trip to an elaborate salad bar. The casual, family-style Anthony's Fish Grotto (1360 N. Harbor Drive; inexpensive) makes a specialty of broiled fish, shellfish salads and deep-fried seafoods. The chowder is reliable, the portions generous.

A few blocks south on the waterfront is Seaport Village (861 W. Harbor Drive), a popular tourist stop that features a couple of good restaurants and an almost endless selection of inexpensive, fast-food shops; these last are clustered together in a small, aromatic compound. For formal dining, though, the choice is between Papagayo (moderate) and the Harbor House (moderate), which are under the same management and which both make a specialty of seafood.

At Papagayo, the emphasis is Latin, and fresh fin and shellfish are treated to a variety of subtle and spicy south-of-the-border treatments. The view of the water is attractive, the atmosphere lively. Harbor House takes a much more straightforward, all-American view of creatures hoisted from the briny deep; the specialty is fish broiled over glowing mesquite, which imparts a special, savory tang to such local favorites as yellowtail tuna and swordfish. Locally caught Pacific lobster is currently in season, and both restaurants do a fine job with these juicy, succulent crustaceans.

The best place to get a taste of the new Southwestern cuisine, which tempers traditional Mexican flavors with updated, California cuisine principles, is at Pacifica Grill (1202 Kettner Blvd.; moderate). This trendy, attractive restaurant occupies spacious quarters in an elegantly restored warehouse, and serves such unusual dishes as canarditas , or succulent, slowly cooked morsels of duck that guests dress with any of a dozen spicy garnishes and wrap in tortillas. This restaurant also features imaginative appetizers and excellent pastas, and has a winning way with fresh, top-quality seafoods.

Another of downtown's best restaurants is on the floor above Pacifica Grill. The menu at Rainwater's (1202 Kettner Blvd.; expensive) will remind Washingtonians of the Palm--prime aged steaks, veal and pork chops, prime rib and other fine meats all are served in cuts sized sufficiently to sate the hungriest Redskin. Rainwater's also features excellent fish, live Maine lobsters, good vegetable side dishes and a delicious black bean soup.

Anyone who can't bear the thought of returning home without tasting a burrito, enchilada or tostada will find a full selection of these and other typical California-Mexican dishes at Alfonso's (135 Broadway; inexpensive). This new branch of a long-popular La Jolla eatery has become a downtown favorite, and is especially liked for its carne asada burritos, which enclose thin strips of grilled, marinated steak. Rice and beans abound here, and by all means give the guacamole a try.

Being Seen at Dobson's

Crowded, noisy and boisterous at lunch, and more serene at dinner, Dobson's (956 Broadway Circle; expensive) is very much the place to be seen. One of the city's most fashionable restaurants, it daily prints a menu that centers on careful, flavorful French treatments of the finest-quality meats and seafoods. The mussel bisque, baked under a coverlet of puff pastry, is a standing favorite. With the style and atmosphere of an old-fashioned men's grill, Dobson's emphasizes hearty foods served in more than generous portions.

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