For a long time now, people have been coming to or passing through San Diego for four main things: beach, beer, tacos, and Mexico. None of that has changed – in fact, all of those things have gotten even better – but America’s Finest City has been pushing beyond serving as the Mecca of surf bros, fish tacos, and all things 1975. Come visit us for the beaches, stay for the food, and make sure you order a craft beer from one of San Diego’s 180+ breweries to go with. Here are our best recommendations for eating in San Diego, 100% devoid of any and all Anchorman jokes.
We’re positive coming to San Diego means you have fish tacos on the brain, and you’ll find the best at Oscar’s Mexican Seafood in Pacific Beach. They have many different kinds, but start with the traditional battered fish and take it from there.
If you can’t quite make it down to the city or get “stuck” at the beautiful beaches in North County, go to dinner at Land & Water Company in Carlsbad. They’re committed to sustainable fishing practices, so there won’t be any bluefin tuna here, and they’re determined to serve you lesser-known but equally delicious sushi and sashimi options with a creative bent. They also have a great cooked menu, with plenty of non-seafood options.
Likely the most exciting restaurant in San Diego right now, Juniper & Ivy comes to us from former Top Chef contestant Richard Blais. In a town that is best known for tacos and “sick” bar food, this restaurant is a welcome departure from the norm and good enough to stand on its own in any other city. The one-night-a-week tasting menu is the move here, but really, any time you go will be satisfying and the space is truly gorgeous. If you can’t decide, a good way to tackle the menu is to get a bunch of small plates to share.
San Diego is home base for the new “Baja-Med” cuisine that’s coming out of northwestern Mexico, and considering San Diego and Tijuana are technically part of one giant metropolitan area, save for, well, the border, this makes sense. Baja Med is all about using local ingredients, and combining them with Mediterranean and Asian flavors. The best place to try it right now is Bracero Cocina de Raiz, the newest spot from a chef who operates a restaurant empire just south of the border. The restaurant itself is multi-tiered, open, and beautifully designed. The food is consistently excellent and well worth a visit (read: booked until forever).
If you don’t have time to sit down, but still want to try some of the Baja-Med thing, head up to the North Park neighborhood and check out City Tacos for the Baja-Med interpretation of street tacos. You’ll find tacos involving everything from panko-fried snow crab to mango habanero jelly to caramelized pineapple. And you'll want them all.
Another fast casual local option from the same people behind City Tacos, Tostadas specializes in tostadas topped with different, always interesting ceviches. You can get one topped, for example, with ahi tuna, watermelon, red onion, jicama, apples, cucumber, mango, peanuts, soy, lemon juice, orange, and chipotle mayo. Don't let anyone hold you back.
Las Cuatro Milpas keeps lunch hours only, but it’s worth a stop at this hole-in-the-wall in Barrio Logan for their handmade tortillas, rice and beans, rolled tacos, and insane carnitas. Don’t be swayed by the line out the door; it moves quickly and you’ll want to be on it. Pro-tip: bring cash and don’t use one of the identity theft ATMs at the bodegas next door. They never work anyway.
Super Cocina in City Heights is the go-to for pozole and other dishes your Mexican grandmother (that you don’t have) makes you cry over. You won’t know what to get, but they’ll let you try everything. Submit, do as they say, and thank god we turned you on to this place.
Tacos El Gordo has two locations close to the border in Otay Mesa and Chula Vista, and their adobada tacos are something from another planet. Otay Mesa is never as packed as Chula Vista is, which is good as the Chula Vista location can be an overcrowded, hair-raising sh*tshow if you go at the wrong time. Insider tip: split ordering duties with your compadres, as there are separate lines for different proteins.
We admit we avoided going here for months because we were positive it was a gimmicky “club slash restaurant.” We couldn’t have been more wrong. Kettner Exchange is excellent. And it doesn’t have to be nearly as good as it is, seeing that it’s on a prime corner in the hot Little Italy neighborhood and has a well-designed open concept plan with a small roof deck that revolves around an actual olive tree. It turns into a more lounge/club space at night, and drags all the requisite personalities in with it, but the dinner and cocktail menus are great and the food expertly prepared. Book a table, have fun, and don’t make the same mistake we did.
The existence of this little slice of Texas in the East Village ensures you’ll never have to go to a boilerplate chain steakhouse ever again. You’ll pay the same prices, but you’ll get a lot more in return. Expect perfectly aged and cooked steaks, great sides, very good cocktails, and a chef who is trying to shake things up. Also, you’ll probably still see a few “way older dude + way too young chick” combos, but steakhouses gonna steakhouse.
Sushi Ota is legendarily and truly the best sushi in San Diego, so you’ll need a reservation. It’s also in a creepy strip mall that is also home to tons of bums, but such is life in Southern California.
If you’re looking for less traditional sashimi, nigiri, and roll combinations, head to Saiko Sushi in North Park. This will also not be without bums hanging around outside, but the constantly-changing sashimi specials will impress you and they have a great sake menu.
This is the Wet Hot American Summer of restaurants: half the people you know are dialed in and absolutely obsess over it, and the other half have never heard of it, and therefore suck. Pomegranate, likely the most random restaurant in all of San Diego, is a casual Georgian spot, which means nothing to the average San Diegan, so many people call it “Russian.” In any case, the grilled meats at this North Park spot are exceptional, as are the various vegetable dishes and various dumpling options. The staff couldn’t be friendlier and the atmosphere is fun. Vodka will do that.
Whisknladle in La Jolla fills a lot of needs. We’d take our parents here, we’d meet friends for drinks and apps here, we’d go on a date here, and we’d take clients as well. Like many cool restaurants in San Diego, the interior design is great, and the space is partially open to the outside. The changing menu is interesting and challenges your average, more complacent suburban SoCal palate. Also a big plus, they were one of the first to throw foie gras back on the menu once our fair state finally came back to its senses. They refer to themselves as “Cali-French” cuisine; a term that gives us an aneurysm but which is actually more or less right. This is an exceptionally solid restaurant that will fit the bill in almost any situation.
This could easily fit under the “bar” category, but since we really do come here to eat, we’re going to throw it in. As far as bar/restaurants go, this place is amazing. It’s a true relic of the past with its super-retro decor, blindingly strong Mai Tais, on-point juke box, dim lighting, and grill your own steak with a side of potatoes and house salad with blue cheese dressing. The quality of the meat is good and since you’re cooking it yourself, it’s inexpensive and basically up to you how good or crappy it’s going to taste. Oh yeah, they serve food until 2am, which in this city is a true unicorn for anything that’s not a burrito.
Do you like pizza and all things vaguely European? Buona Forchetta is your spot. It’s in the South Park neighborhood, has a big patio with string lights, employs an appropriately gruff yet warm serving staff that evokes all the charm of ordering in Italy yet without any of the B.S., and serves a completely kick-ass Neapolitan pizza situation with a rotating list of meat, pasta, risotto, and other specials. It’s always packed, for good reason.