You’ll Barely Recognize This Spicy Strip of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter

The reborn Hot Block in downtown San Diego’s entertainment district is Market Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues
A Spicy Spring square offering at Prince St. Pizza.

Anyone who went into deep COVID quarantine and is just now venturing back downtown will barely recognize one city block in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter.

Market Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues has been reborn.

In the fairly recent past, four new ventures have breathed new life into this east-west-running main drag. 

Filling empty storefronts is a good thing for downtown San Diego residents, other businesses and visitors. Answering the Market call: Prince St. Pizza, WNDR Museum, Madam Bonnie’s restaurant and Cali Cream Homemade Ice Cream.

“We’re excited about the new kids on the block,” says Gaslamp Quarter Association Social & Digital Media Manager Alma Ascencio. “It is great to see a boom of new merchants in the Gaslamp Quarter, and we’re happy about all the amazing things coming this year.”  

All four new Market Street venues are a short hop from the Gaslamp Quarter’s epicenter, the scramble crosswalk at Fifth and Market (where Barleymash serves a steady stream of hungry diners seven days and nights a week).

During the pandemic, vacancies bedeviled downtown’s historic, 16-and-a-half-block entertainment district. There’s still one empty window on the Market Street Hot Block (the former Funky Garcias, née Sun Cafe). On the bright side, here’s what’s new:

Prince St. Pizza

Prince St. Pizza.

The January 26 grand opening party for this New York City chain included free pizza. The wait line snaked out the door, went west on Market Street and curled well onto Fourth Avenue. The calling cards for this pizzeria are SoHo Squares (instead of triangular slices). The San Diego location looks identical to the ones found in NYC. Brick walls. Industrial sized pizza oven. There’s no inhouse dining (to-go only). The menu includes vegan options. I went wild for the Sicilian Square “Naughty Pie,” with spicy pepperoni drizzled with honey. Fuhgettaboutit

(415 Market Street. Used to be: Mariscos El Pulpo seafood restaurant)

WNDR Museum

WNDR Museum.

Coincidentally, WNDR Museum held its grand-opening fete right across the street on the same night as Prince St. Pizza’s party. An equally sizable crowd came inside for WNDR’s interactive experiences and multi-sensory showcases of tech-art. I enjoyed swiping my arm in front of a projected photo of the Mona Liza, as movement caused swirls of colors to cover Ms. Mona. There’s lots like this to ogle and interact with. Before exiting (and browsing) through the gift shop, post a note with your thoughts on The Wisdom Project Wall. WNDR also has a lounge with booze and assorted noshes.    

(422 Market Street. Used to be: side-by-side Subway and Hooters)

Madam Bonnie’s

Madam Bonnie’s.

More than 100 years ago, Bertha “Bonnie” White ran a “respectable” brothel here in the Hotel Lester building. The new name is an homage. Today, the Madam Bonnie’s open-brick-walled restaurant version of the former house of ill repute focuses on rotisserie-style cooking and a la carte offerings. The main bar serves craft-cocktail-forward libations. Gin lovers might go for The Kisser (gin, elderflower, agave, cucumber, strawberry and grapefruit soda). Or, It’s All Jake (gin, sparkling wine and Prosecco syrup). 

(411 Market Street. Used to be: Sushi Lounge)

Cali Cream Homemade Ice Cream

Cali Cream Homemade Ice Cream.

Your tastebuds will want to scream (in delight) for everything about this delicious dessert spot. The menu boasts an astonishing 70-plus flavors. Chocolate Caramel Pecan. Strawberry Cheesecake. Lavender Honeycomb. Best of all, portions are huge (singles look like doubles). And given the mountainous size of ice cream that servers fit into cups and cones, prices are astonishingly affordable. Outdoor seating is available.  

(425 Market Street. Used to be: Pasha Lounge hookah bar)


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