San Diego (college-age splurge)

My college-age kiddo is going on a road trip with friends to San Diego. They want to have one nice dinner (splurgy for students) that would cost around $25-$30/person. Any suggestions? Thanks!

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Where are they in SD (which is quite spread out) and do they have a car ? And do they have any preference wrt cuisine ?

That doesn’t get you very far these days, esp. in certain parts of San Diego.

I mean, heck, my usual order at Shake Shack is around $25 (before tax).


I think they’re going to be near the Normal Heights area. They will have a car.

I realize that, but as I said, they’re students, so splurging has a different meaning for them.

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Oh, and they’re open about the type of cuisine.

+1 for Puesto. It isn’t life changing, but it is fun.

Another +1 for Puesto. Good selection of tacos and apps for sharing.

I would look for restaurants on Convoy Street (many different Asia restaurants). Even a taco place like Puesto would only allow you for two tacos at that price range (and just water to drink).

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Mexican is a good bet for both price & quantity for college kids. Also the suggestion for Convoy St which is an Asian food hub (I don’t have specific suggestions there, maybe others do).

Jimmy Carter’s near Balboa Park is fun and has good food. In South Park is a location of one of our favorite Italian restaurants, Buona Forchetta (they’d have to be prudent, but they can get out of there at around $35 with pasta and shared apps).

Puesto and Barrio Star are trendier and spendier Mexican places.

But if they are up for a bit of a pretty drive, there are a bunch of places in North County that will fit the bill.

Tamarindo in Del Mar isn’t as cheap as Jimmy Carter’s but there’s plenty that’s shareable and they also have happy hour (as does Monarch upstairs from them, and Shimbashi Izakaya).

In Solana Beach there’s Tony Jacal’s and Fidel’s (I think the latter fries their chips in lard in case that’s an issue).

A bit further up and divier but delicious is El Norte Especial in Encinitas.

Not quite as far and a bit more casual / flexible in Del Mar Highlands is a newish food hall with warehouse vibes that was pretty fun – Sky Deck at Del Mar Highlands Town Center. We had pretty good ramen and more there at Marufuku, but there are a bunch of other eateries under the same roof, and they also have happy hour. (There may be similar options closer to Normal Heights, but others can advise if that’s true.)

Tajima for ramen? It’s got branches on Convoy and in the East Village.


If Jimmy Carter’s is considered splurge worthy, even for college-age diners, then it’s time to take out student loans (or more student loans).

In the same area (Hillcrest), instead of Jimmy Carter’s, I would stretch the budget a little and go to Barrio Star. Better food, better execution and better vibe. Just better.

Thank you!

Thank you! I’m also going to suggest El Pescador Fish Market for them.

Thank you! These look like they’re at the right price point.

Thank you for these suggestions!

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Consider the possibility that your viewpoint may be from a place of privilege all college students do not share.

When we “splurged” for birthdays in college, it included everyone from the people being entirely funded by their parents to the people putting themselves through on scholarships, loans, and multiple jobs.

Our most frequent celebration location was a big, fun, Mexican place where some people could be done under $10, others at $15. In what today’s money buys, maybe that’s $20-$30.

Our second most frequent location was Uno’s.

There were other places, but not that we’d make people feel bad about not being able to afford and therefore skipping, or not wanting to spend that kind of money at.

My nephews consider Puesto and Barrio Star (which I mentioned, maybe you missed it) “fancy Mexican”, which it is. And they’re not constrained by the $$, that’s just an objective assessment having eaten there frequently enough. They also love Jimmy Carter’s. And Norte. The order of preference is in the reverse.