San Diego dining: International Restaurant Row

Welcome to International Restaurant Row

International Restaurant Row Sam Diego

International Restaurant Row at night, photo/Billie Frank

Traveling and want to know the best places to eat? Ask a local food lover. We did just that on our recent trip to San Diego. It was Saturday night and we didn’t know where to have dinner. I contacted local resident and fellow travel blogger Elaine J. Masters who shares her travel experiences at Trip Wellness. I told her we were looking for Thai or Vietnamese food that was tasty, interesting, and reasonably priced. She had the perfect answer: Saffron. We Googled their address, went to their website, and read the menu. It looked good and off we went. What we didn’t know was this area of India Street near Washington Street is now dubbed International Restaurant Row.

El Indio

El Indio San Diego photo Billie Frank

The retro neon sign at El Indio, photo/Billie Frank

We got on the 5, exited at India Street and headed north. When we passed El Indio we knew we’d been to this area before. Almost four years ago we grabbed breakfast at this popular Mexican restaurant which started as a tortilla factory in 1940. We wanted something we could eat on the run on the way to return our rental car before flying home. I remember being mesmerized by the tortilla machine that was automatically turning out hundreds of tortillas (in 1046, El Indio introduced San Didgo’s first tortilla machine. Stop by and watch the current version churn these out.


Drunken noodles at Saffron San Diego photo Billie Frank

Drunken noodles at Saffron, photo Billie Frank

After parking, we walked up International Restaurant Row to Saffron. What we didn’t realize from talking to Elaine and the website, it’s no frills. Order at the counter and the food is delivered to your table. There are large photos of many of the dishes on the wall. This is usually the kind of place that we flee from but armed with an enthusiastic recommendation and the information that owner Su-Mei Yu has appeared on Martha Stewart Living, Home Cooking on PBS, Home Matters, Cooking Live on the Food Network, Good Morning America as well as the Today Show, we decided it would be okay and it was.

Masiman curry at Saffron San Diego photo Billie Frank

Saturday night special: masuman curry at Saffron, photo/Billie Frank

I ordered the Saturday night special, masuman [sic] curry which Saffron makes with red curry paste blended with peanuts. The more common name for this Southern Thai Muslim curry is massaman. You can choose between chicken or tofu. When I asked if they could substitute noodles for the rice, “no substitutions,” was the prompt reply. Luckily, a customer who was waiting for her order chimed in. “Get it with the red rice,” she suggested. “It’s delicious.” I did and it was. Steve went for #30, spicy drunken noodles. What makes them “drunken?” Pad kee mow, drunken in Thai, got its name from its spice level, which supposed is so hot it makes you swoon. They say it starts at spiciness level 7, but it seemed mild to me. Steve ordered the Buddha Beer for the cool green bottle and pronounced it tasty.

Gelato Vero Caffe

Gelato Vero Caffe photo Billie Frank

Gelato Vero Caffe, photo/Billie Frank

After dinner, we headed to Gelato Vero Caffe on the corner of India and Washington Street. Elaine raved about their gelato. As I don’t eat dairy and Steve’s not a huge fan, we got a slice of the gluten-free and delicious house-baked almond cake made with chickpea and rice flour to go. If you’re a gelato fan, there are 12 flavors to choose from. They also server breakfast, brunch and lunch upstairs from the gelato shop.

In addition to these three eateries, the street’s also home to the internationally themed Shakespeare Pub and Grill, and Yoshino’s as well as a number of restaurants that don’t fit the “international” umbrella.

Want some more of our San Diego dining recommendations? Click here.

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