Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this



Part IV in a series

By the East County Eaters

Week 4:  Downtown Café (El Cajon) and Anthony’s Seafood Grotto (La Mesa)

October 16, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) –In our fourth week of savoring great happy hours across our region, we stopped in at two establishments with deep roots in the community: Downtown Café, located in a historic brick that dates back to El  Cajon’s pioneer past, and Anthony’s Fish Grotto, a landmark restaurant serving up fresh seafood in La Mesa since 1946.



Downtown Café Has It All

182 East Main St., El Cajon; (619)440-5687

Happy hour 2-6 daily and all day on Mondays

The Downtown Café in El Cajon is not just a bar, it’s an institution—an semi-official meeting place for all things El Cajon.  Located in one of the oldest building in town, it’s brick walls, wood floors and high ceilings appear unchanged in a century.  One can still imagine the hardware, feed and hay store here when the talk of the town was the new city ordinance forbidding horse racing down Main Street.  Vintage photos of yesteryear in El Cajon add to the ambience.

How things have changed!  Today you can belly up to the mahogany bar, where they serve up fish tacos and pints of local Brews to customers rather than hardware and hay. “Good food, good music, good times” is the Café’s slogan on its website and the happy hour is gold standard. 

From 2:00 to 6:00 pm daily you can get arguably the best fish taco in town and a craft beer for pocket change!   The happy-hour specials includes carne asada tacos, salads, burgers and  flatbreads (margarita, BBQ chicken and more) for three dollars to five dollars each.  The Downtown Café has 42 different beers on tap from all over the world and especially the local breweries that have made San Diego County the Napa Valley of craft brewing. 

There are also great and affordable margaritas and a full bar with offerings including the signature “DTC Paradise” cocktail.

Downtown Café also offers live music on weekends, a full restaurant and a sidewalk café that fronts on Main Street (now paved) and Promenade Park, where car shows, parades and street fairs now take place.  Windows in the bar and restaurant open onto the street, making it much like having a front row seat to El Cajon's past present and future while time stands still at the Downtown Cafe.



Anthony’s Fish Grotto:  Historic Hideaway

9530 Murray Drive, La Mesa; (619)463-0368

Happy hour starts at 3:30 daily

There aren’t many places where you can get fresh seafood in East County—and a view! Anthony’s Fish Grotto has been a staple in the community ever since Mama Ghio and her family first started dishing out homemade dishes in 1946 at the end of World War II.  It’s still owned by the Ghio family – and you can opt to enjoy happy hour in a bar resembling an undersea grotto or outdoors overlooking a private lake.

Happy hour features some delectable specials, such as grilled fish taco ($2.95), coconut shrimp ($7.95) and crispy brussel sprouts ($4.95).  Other good options include crab-stuffed mushrooms, calamari, and the irresistible (though not a happy hour item) Mama Ghio’s famous chowder, served in a crusty sourdough bread bowl.

Highlights here are the $4 well drinks such as sangria sparklers and a half-pound bay shrimp cocktail for $6.50. You can also get draft beers for $4 and limited wines for $3, plus an array of exotic drinks.

You can even bring your dog for happy hour on the patio, and soon Anthony’s will be adding a bocci ball court plus catch and release fishing for guests.

Anthony’s in La Mesa is a sister restaurant to the more elegant Anthony’s Star of the Sea on Harbor Drive downtown, which is undergoing an extensive remodel.  But you can savor many of the same dishes at affordable prices in La Mesa.  The outdoor dining area, complete with umbrella tables and heaters for cooler weather, also make Anthony’s a good choice for those seeking a quiet place for conversing with a guest, date, or business associate. 

Just how popular is this place?  Nearly seven decades after opening its doors, Anthony’s now serves up five million pounds of seafood to one million hungry customers every year.

One last treat – there’s a also a fresh fish counter, where you can buy fresh seafood to cook, or take out menu items to enjoy at home.

Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.


Anthony's Grotto

Anthony's in La Mesa is a great place to dine or drop in for a cocktail but the Harbor Drive location is the place to go. Plan your visit for a day when there's no fog or coastal clouds and you will see Navy and private boats in San Diego bay from the dining room. The best dining experience is in the early evening when there is a full moon rising over the City skyline, priceless.