As a preteen Padre fan in the '80s, the coolest thing about Mission Valley was reading the Convention Center marquee to see which pro baseball team was staying at the adjacent hotel. Nowadays, it's affordable-hotel central and mall paradise (both retail and auto). Here's the best on the belt of the city's midsection:
McGregor's Grill & Ale House (10475 San Diego Mission Road)-When the Padres were still at The Q, this was the place to see Phil Nevin or Ken Caminiti relax for a post-game drink. Surprisingly, the place is still packed to the gills now that the Pads made like the Jeffersons and moved on up. Sports fans, SDSU girls and fans of SDSU girls make it the most happenin' grill in MV.
Albie's Beef Inn (1201 Hotel Circle S, at the Travelodge)-Last time I was at this motel bar 'n' beef house, geriatric clowns recklessly drank martinis while a pianist tickled out a tasteful tune. This place is all about the Rat Pack atmosphere and the steaks-big, meaty slabs o' moo moo. It's like Nunu's for the Fixident crowd.
That mural with the dude cutting meat (Interstate 8 near Texas/Qualcomm)-Sure, we got murals of cute monkeys and whales and surfers all over San Diego. But only in Mission Valley can you see a large, blue-collar man slicing through what's left of an animal corpse. Righteous.
Benihana (477 Camino Del Rio S.)-It's like Japanese cooking as extreme sport-we're surprised Fox hasn't made a reality show out of it yet. Sit at the teppanyak tables and watch the stoic man with the funny hat and the fast hands slice, dice, toss, tumble and grill your food close enough to slip and cut off your one good arm. Locals who haven't been in a long time should go back.
Dave & Buster's (2931 Camino Del Rio N.)-It's the fountain of youth, if drinking from the fountain could get you a DUI. Sure, it's famous for letting the now-grown Arcade Youth (those raised in the '70s and '80s) pretend like they're kids again, but the food at this joint is top-notch, especially the blackened chicken pasta.
Todai (2828 Camino Del Rio S.)-Once they learned that Americans loved all-you-can-eat salad, pizza bread and muffins, they figured we'd probably pig out on sushi, too. Call it Sushiplantation. They just hope you're not a real big fat person who can out-eat the price of admission.
Forever Fondue (6110 Friars Road)-Whoever thought this one up is a genius-charge people to cook their own food! The burner in front of you sets your broth to boil, and then you order your choice of raw meats and veggies. Pop 'em on a stick, dip 'em in, and two minutes later you got Grade-A finger foods. Note: This is no kick-back-and-be-served experience-you do all the work and then tip the server. Even more genius.
The shopping cart escalators at Target (Mission Valley Mall)-Slide your cart in and it pulleys it right next to you on the escalator at the two-story super-Target. It's like a wild, soccer-mom roller-coaster!
Nordstrom's Rack & Loehmann's (Mission Valley Mall)-Two places right next door to each other where you can find top-quality clothes for cheap. So what if it's not the "latest line" of fashion? You're no sucker.
Gordon Biersch (5010 Mission Center Road)-One of the few places in Mission Valley with a touch of the Gaslamp. Forget the food and the beer-go there for the throng of genetically enhanced pretty people that elbow into the joint every weekend. It's where you can find a wealthy future spouse without paying $20 to park.
The Hilton-Sure, you might say that when the hotel lights up certain rooms during the holidays so that it reads "NOEL," they're just using religious tidings as a marketing ploy. But it makes me all warm and fuzzy-that is, until I remember that means I gotta buy all those people all that expensive crap.
Costco gas pumps-Gas prices in San Diego rise faster than a man overdosing on Levitra. But for those San Diegans in the know, the money you save filling up on Costco gas is worth the membership fee alone. And that's not even counting the money you save buying corn by the 12-pack!
The Apple Store-This company is brilliant. The best looking store in the Fashion Valley Mall, and instead of a "customer service center" they have the "genius bar." It's worth a look, if only to marvel at the power of marketing alone.
Trophy's Sports Grill (7510 Hazard Center Drive, Suite 215)-If for no other reason than all the servers can write their name backwards and upside-down on your paper tablecloth. Oh, and they have a ton of sports on TVs and a really good Trophy's salad. It's as American as NASCAR and men who get paid millions to run around in tights chasing balls.
Longhorn Café (6519 Mission Gorge Road)-Like serial killers, it's always the ones you don't expect. Set in a pallid strip mall, the Longhorn is a burger-lover's haven that's decoratively dedicated to John Wayne. The Longhorn Burger could possibly kill any man that's not a folkloric cowboy-a half-pound with about as much fixin's.
PF Chang's (7077 Friars Road)-Two words: lettuce wraps. Two more words: really hot single people out on the prowl because it's Friday night and all the civilized people eat lettuce wraps. But they can't count worth a hill of beans.
In Cahoots (5373 Mission Center Road)-If Brooks and Dunn are your Bel, Biv and Devoe, this is the place to get jiggy. All the country line dancing you can handle, and men who drive American trucks and know that Lee Greenwood is the best damn American period.
Hooters (1400 Camino de la Reina)-Because if men who watched NASCAR and liked looking at college girls in short, slinky shorts and tight boob-hugging shirts didn't eat here, they'd be dining at your favorite restaurant. Now that I think about it, the part that wasn't about NASCAR sounds pretty damn good.
The Container Store (Fashion Valley Mall)-You didn't even know that the shit you have had a thing to put that shit in until you went to this store. Think of how many more dead bodies you could store under your bed if you put all that shit in these shit-containers.
The second stoplight at the Fashion Valley Mall-Watch and laugh as all the suckers wait forever trying to make the first Friars Road entrance into the mall. You whiz by and effortlessly enter at the third light, finding parking immediately as road rage rages on behind you.