My husband and I have visited Dobson’s many times over the past 10 years, and it remains one of our favorite restaurants in downtown San Diego.
The historic Gaslamp District restaurant at Spreckel’s Theatre opened 39 years ago and is still a popular hangout, packed with faithful urban patrons. Short and sweet, we love the history, ambiance, and delectable land and sea entrees creatively prepared and plated. That’s a trifecta worth celebrating.
DOBSON’S BAR & RESTAURANT – REVIEW FROM A LOCAL
Address: 956 Broadway Circle, San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 231-6771
MORE ABOUT DOBSON’S
Dobson’s Bar and Restaurant was opened in 1984 by Paul Dobson, America’s professional bullfighter. Like he courageously faced the bulls, Paul threw his hat in the ring and opened an eatery in a downtown area where no other restaurants existed.
Paul believed San Diego needed a place where lawyers, politicians, newspaper editors, and the city-hall crowd could “power-lunch” in a neighborhood-friendly atmosphere.
The restaurant is renowned for its colorful stained-glass windows and rich mahogany tiger-oak bar brought around the horn of Africa from England to service the downtown San Diego Spreckels Theatre, built in 1912 to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal.
It’s like a journey back in time with a classy yet relaxed atmosphere with bar seating, limited main level seating and an upstairs balcony dining area. And if you notice the clock on the wall behind the bar seems broken, ask the bartender and he’ll share one incredible story.
Tips to consider if you’re planning to dine at Dobson’s:
If you want to belly up to the iconic bar, make reservations at least a week in advance due to its immense popularity. There are no televisions in the restaurant as people come here to mingle and chat. This instantly reminded us of the famous Boston Cheers bar “where everyone knows your name.”
The most requested restaurant table is the main floor’s Hollywood Booth. Celebrities like Sean Penn, Maria Shriver, and Yo-Yo Ma sat at this table in times past. It’s also the owner’s and chef’s favorite table. With a perfect view of what’s happening at the bar from its own tucked away corner, you’ll understand why it’s so popular.
If you dine in the upstairs mezzanine, tables 201 and 202 overlooking the main level give diners a spectacular view. Rich chandeliers and tied-back Victorian curtains lend an air of early 1900s sophistication to the balcony dining.
WHAT TO ORDER AT DOBSON’S
Dobson’s French-influenced menu with a California twist offers superb choices. When you look at the menu, you’ll be hard-pressed to narrow your selections. And it’s difficult if you return (and I guarantee, you will) to not order the same mouthwatering entrees that impressed you the first time around.
Let’s talk about the local’s favorites thanks to Chef Martin San Roman who trained at the renowned L’Ecole Lenôtre in Paris, France.
FAMOUS MUSSEL BISQUE
Unless you’re not a Mussels fan, you can’t pass on this delicious bisque that’s been a forever favorite of the restaurant. The creamy Mussel Bisque en Croûte is piping hot in a white bowl with a puff pastry topping. The server will ask your permission to cut into the crust and offer a generous pour of sherry on top. This dish is so incredible, I never pass it up.
SHRIMP AND MUSHROOM AJILLO
This is my husband’s favorite, a close second to the mussel bisque. The rich, delectable dish is under the starter menu, but portions are large and it’s plenty enough to share as an appetizer. Sautéed shrimp and mushrooms are served in a white wine garlic butter sauce with crostini for dipping as you won’t want to leave a drop of this dish behind. Just be aware, that’s it’s a little spicy, so if you’re ok with that, you are about to fall in love!
This is where it gets tough. Dobson’s main entrees run the gamut of foodie favorites. If can’t decide between a few, make sure to ask your server. Many have been with the restaurant for a good while and are fully aware of their and patron’s top favorites. These are ones we particularly love.
FILET MIGÑON CHEZ MARTIN
The quality of beef here is fantastic. And as a result, I love Dobson’s filets. Diners can choose from an 8-ounce portion with red wine sauce and buttermilk mashed potatoes or the 8-ounce with escargot, tomatoes and garlic sauce (my favorite).
If you dine here on a Monday night, the chef special includes the 8-ounce filet with a bordelaise sauce served with a 4-ounce wild lobster tail, au gratin mashed potatoes, fresh vegetables and an accompanying mussel bisque or a Caesar Salad. Whichever way you choose your filet the chef will be prepare it to perfection and melt-in-your-mouth tender.
DUCK BREAST AL’ ORANGE
My husband is a huge duck fan (as are the French), and a result, he selected Dobson’s duck entree with an orange sauce accompanied by mashed potatoes and vegetables. The duck breast was thin-filed, tender and medium-rare and served al’ orange. While not as strong as a cherry or berry sauce he’s had in other restaurants, the lighter orange sauce was not in the least way overwhelming, allowing the quality of the duck to speak for itself.
SEARED SEA SCALLOPS
One of my other favorite entrees is Chef Martin’s Sea Scallops with oven-dried tomatoes, spinach, caramelized onions and an herb sauce. The mouthwatering scallops were perfectly seared, and the vegetable herb sauce was such an ideal accompaniment to the seafood.
OTHER NOTEWORTHY CHOICES:
I’m going to leave dessert for its own category, but regarding starters and main entrees, these are also some of our favorites:
Steamed Mediterranean Mussels: steamed and served with a yellow curry sauce, these are absolutely delightful.
Chilean Sea Bass: with a caper beurre blanc sauce, this is a savory combination bursting with flavor.
Be aware that these change frequently. On our last visit, we selected a carrot cake and vanilla crème brulee. Both are ideal choices with French character.
Dobson’s prices tend to run on the higher-end spectrum as do most top restaurants, however, portions are hearty, shareable and of high value. The mussels bisque runs either $12 or $14 depending on size, shrimp and mushroom ajillo $18.
Filets are $45-$48 dollars depending on your selection with the Monday filet special at $59.95. The duck breast runs $38 while the Chilean sea bass and scallop entrees are priced at $45. You can expect lunch prices to be less.
Happy Hour every Monday-Friday offers discounted house wine, well drinks, draft beer, and bar food specials. In addition, Wine Wednesday allows patrons to bring in their favorite vino with no corkage fee.
DOBSON’S SAN DIEGO – FINAL VERDICT
No matter how many times we’ve dined at Dobson’s, it never ceases to impress. Ambiance, service, quality of food, cocktails, and wine always deliver.
And while they don’t have their own parking area or valet parking, if you come for dinner, you’ll only pay a flat fee of $10 in the Spreckel’s underground lot. If you’re looking for a special occasion restaurant or one to impress business clients, Dobson’s is your go-to.
Dobson’s San Diego Review was written by Noreen Kompanik and photographed by Michael Kompanik for San Diego Explorer. As customary in travel writing, some or all of the food and drinks were provided by the restaurant free of charge. This has not influenced their opinion and the content of this article.
Last Updated on July 24, 2023 by Maria Haase