Pret-a-Reporter

Where to Hang at Comic-Con

Courtesy of Neighborhood

Convention Center food not your thing? Try these hot spots near San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter during the July 20 to 24 fanboy fest.

Once just a few dudes in a hotel conference room, the annual Comic-Con International (July 20 to 24) now resembles a film festival on steroids (or one that was bitten by a radioactive spider) with star power, premieres, parties, concerts and a devoted fanboy audience in the hundreds of thousands. San Diego's once-seedy downtown Gaslamp Quarter itself has transformed, becoming a food and nightlife destination with hundreds of options within walking distance of the packed halls of the convention center.

"It's such a great neighborhood for not having a plan," says Comic-Con veteran Keith Goldberg, senior vp production at Dark Horse Entertainment. "You can stumble from one place to another."

WHERE TO EAT

The city's most swarmed lunchtime spot is SEARSUCKER (611 5th Ave., searsucker.com). This unpretentious new restaurant, complete with an open kitchen and reclaimed wooden chairs, is all about the grub Mom used to make -- OK, had your mom been Top Chef star Brian Malarkey. While the wait for a seat can be drawn out, getting a to-go order should be fairly easy. Kevin Dillon and Larry King already have been in.

For an even livelier comfort-food experience, head two blocks north to the rock 'n' roll-inspired ANALOG (801 5th Ave., analogbar.com). Album covers line the walls, and the menu ranges from gourmet "Tater Tots" to pancetta mac and cheese. While the culinary style is similar to Analog, THE LINCOLN ROOM (901 4th Ave., thelincolnroomsd.com) is more welcoming and subdued thanks to the log cabin-esque design and dim lighting that makes customers like Jessica Biel look as if they're eating by candlelight.

Reservations will be hard to come by, so hop on a bike-drawn pedicab and head to Little Italy's first-come, first-served gastropub CRAFT & COMMERCE (675 West Beech St., craft-commerce.com), which is designed to look like a used bookstore. The new restaurant/bar is a perfect postscreening haunt with communal tables, expert mixologists and cocktail-filled punch bowls for an entire group. Better yet, it serves drinks until 1 a.m.

During last year's Comic-Con, the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World cast -- including Michael Cera, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh and Kieran Culkin, Scotch in hand -- were spied chowing down on steak frites inside QUALITY SOCIAL (789 6th Ave., qualitysocial.com). Even with its sprawling bar, there's a laid-back atmosphere plus menu items courtesy of James Beard nominee Jared Van Camp. If group cravings call for burgers, NEIGHBORHOOD (777 G St., neighborhoodsd.com) has some of the best in town, not to mention a veggie sandwich that will satisfy a carnivore. The newest pub is 2-month-old THE KNOTTY BARREL (844 Market St., knottybarrel.com), where patrons can get four decent-size craft beer samples from such breweries as Green Flash and Stone to help wash down that curry shrimp po'boy and deep-fried Twinkie.

WHERE TO CHILL

To get away from the madness of the Con, duck into one of San Diego's Prohibition-style speakeasies. VIN DE SYRAH (901 5th Ave., syrahwineparlor.com) is a wine bar nestled underneath an old building that first-timers might have a hard time finding (look for the hidden doorknob on the faux-moss wall). Once inside, the welcoming spaciousness gives way to a flapper party atmosphere, with a jazz band often playing alongside a DJ. There is no music at NOBLE EXPERIMENT (777 G St., nobleexperimentsd.com), which makes for intimate conservation. Customers will have to text the phone number on the website to get a reservation, but once inside -- it's located in the back of the aforementioned Neighborhood, behind a door disguised to look like a giant stack of kegs -- order a summertime drink like the Tuscan Night courtesy of master craftsman Anthony Schmidt, who recently won San Diego's first Bartender Challenge competition.

But it's not necessary to lurk in the shadows to catch a break. The recently refurbished Ivy Hotel, renamed the ANDAZ SAN DIEGO (600 F St., sandiego.andaz.hyatt.com), offers multiple bars and lounges for a bit more privacy, not to mention a wine list that ranks among the city's best. Two newer hotels, THE HOTEL INDIGO (509 9th Ave., hotelindigo.com) and the SE HOTEL (1047 5th Ave., sesandiego.com), offer relaxing poolside rooftop bars with magnificent skyline views. Says Lionsgate vp theatrical promotions Matthew Clasby, a fan of the latter: "It's well away from the throngs of costumed fans -- a poolside oasis for cocktails and reclaiming some sanity."           

COMIC-CON STARS: Where They Go

Elijah Wood: "Have an amazing breakfast at Hash House a Go Go." It's known for its sage-fried chicken and waffles. 3628 5th Ave., hashhouseagogo.com            

Steve Franks: "Cafe 222 has the most amazing French toast," says the Psych creator. He's referring to its peanut butter and banana stuffed version. 222 Island Ave., cafe222.com

Robert Kirkman: "Kansas City Barbeque has a nice patio area, and they filmed a scene from Top Gun there. It's a lot of fun," says The Walking Dead writer. 600 W. Harbor Drive, kcbbq.net

Stephen Lang: The star of the upcoming Terra Nova likes the distinguished atmosphere of the 100-year-old US Grant Hotel and its Art Deco lounge. 326 Broadway, usgrant.net

Kunal Nayyar: The Big Bang Theory star says room service is his first choice, followed by renowned sushi joint Nobu, located in the Hard Rock Hotel. 207 5th Ave., noburestaurants.com

Felicia Day: "I always go to Masala, an Indian place right off the Convention Center," The Guild star says. 314 5th Ave., masalarestaurant.com 
               

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