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The journey never stops, people. But part of that journey is celebrating all of life’s big moments - from graduations to anniversaries to promotions. And when it comes to celebrations, San Diegans definitely know a thing or two. We’re constantly celebrating life because it’s 70 degrees and sunny every single day, so it’s pretty easy to do. Thankfully, our laid-back love of food and drink translates into great options for any kind of celebration. You could probably show up in flip flops at most of the best restaurants and nobody would bat an eye, but you’ll walk out having had an awesome meal and a memorable experience.
We’re all about finding restaurants that are especially perfect for all those important celebrations you want to do just right. That’s why we’ve teamed up with American Express to help you indulge in the kinds of celebrations you need to have when you live in paradise. And the rewards you’ll get by using the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express will help ensure many more celebration dinners to come - it’s the card to use if you eat out anywhere near as much as we do. With over 1,800 restaurant locations in San Diego added to the American Express network in the last two years,* there are so many places where you can swipe Gold . Follow this list, use that card, and you’ll be golden.
Here’s to your celebration, and look out for our upcoming Celebrations Guides for our other cities.
If you’re into supporting locally-owned small businesses as much as you’re into awesome eats, look for the asterisked restaurants on our list, part of the American Express Shop Small initiative.
The post is promoted by the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. Card Members now get more rewards like 2X Membership Rewards points at U.S. restaurants and a $100 airline fee credit on one airline for incidental charges like in-flight food and drink. Learn more here. This list was selected by The Infatuation.
**Based on internal comparison of American Express restaurant locations in San Diego in December 2013 vs. American Express restaurant locations in San Diego in December 2015.
Addison is the best fine dining experience in San Diego and goes largely ignored by most of the people who live here. Damn surfers. But seriously, this restaurant at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar offers excellent food not only from its creative head chef, but also from a rotating cast of celebrated chefs throughout the year. The tasting menu changes according to the season and the chef’s whims, and the dining room is elegant and situated in a truly gorgeous hotel. You’re going to shell out for this one, but it’s time to dress up for once and celebrate your relationship over more than a post-surf Cali burrito.
Not only a great addition to La Jolla’s increasingly solid food scene, Catania’s Pacific Ocean views are perfect for setting the mood for your most special date of the year. San Diego has been thankfully improving its Italian options over the last few years, and Catania is definitely one of the leaders of that charge. As one would hope from a restaurant with an ocean view, the seafood dishes are legit, but the pizzas are good options too should you not feel like staring at a whole fish’s eyes while trying to look into your lover’s.
Juniper & Ivy is an exciting, experimental and expensive restaurant that’s perfect for celebrating your new promotion. You’re flush with cash now and surging with creativity when thinking about your next step, so submit to their tasting menu and enjoy your newfound success. If you’re going a la carte, get the uni carbonara, but really, anything here will be a well-executed and delicious interpretation of California cuisine.
** Any steakhouse worth going to shouldn’t be cheap, and Cowboy Star is no exception. The difference here is that you’re guaranteed an excellent meal beyond standard steakhouse options and the cocktail list blows everyone else’s out of the water. You can even reserve a private room if you’ve managed to convince a whole group of people to celebrate your professional success. Whatever you do, don’t skip the scotch cocktails or the bread pudding dessert. You’ve earned them.
Herringbone, with one of the most festive dining rooms in the city, is the perfect spot for celebrating your graduation. It’s fish-centric but also has solid options across the board. The food is generally all very good, so there’ll be no complaints, even from your annoying uncle who has an opinion about everything and won’t stop waxing poetic about Donald Trump. Why is he even here again? No matter, grab him a surprisingly good pizza and he’ll shut right up.
** Civico 1845 is one of the most criminally overlooked restaurants in San Diego. It’s in the heart of Little Italy, which is maybe why it gets shafted at times due to sheer oversaturation. It has a bright, white, spacious dining room that’s perfect for large groups, as long as you reserve in advance. Their take on a caprese salad, which includes burrata and a tomato carpaccio slathered in pools of olive oil, is legitimately heavenly. And if you’re like us and think celebration = good pasta, this is your spot. They also have a vegan menu, which is surprisingly good and completely useful since your college-aged sibling is definitely in the middle of their vegan phase right now.
** Though it’ll take some creative maneuvering to get a table large enough for your crew, Crack Shack is the perfect birthday restaurant. The cocktails are excellent for such a casual restaurant, the beers rotate among the best of what San Diego has to offer and the fried chicken inspires, as described, crack-like cravings (or so we’ve heard). Plus, it’s all outdoor seating with a backdrop of the skyline and harbor. Nothing more festive than that.
Though the inside dining room is small and in a craftsman cottage, Muzita is extremely accommodating for groups of different sizes, and they have great deck space out front. Ethiopian, by definition, is communal food, and nothing inspires celebratory intimacy quite like using your hands to dig into the same plate with all your best friends and family. The food is exceptionally good here, the Ethiopian beers are plentiful, and the manager will do anything to make sure you have a great time.
meeting the parents
** The Smoking Goat is a solid restaurant in the hipster neighborhood of North Park, which will hopefully get you cool and interesting points with your new flame’s parents. The menu changes often but offers a French-inspired selection of standard meat and fish proteins with creative sides. We also like The Smoking Goat for a meeting of the parents because it doesn’t have a full liquor license, so you’re less likely to get hammered and tell them you can’t wait to be their daughter/son-in-law. Don’t worry though, the wine list is pretty good, so you won’t have to do this stone cold sober.
Great Maple is a Hillcrest favorite for both brunch and dinner and has a varied menu that will make absolutely anyone happy. Their cocktails are strong and delicious, the decor comfortable and retro, and the fennel pork chop is next-level indulgent. The maple bacon donuts are not only a suitable appetizer for any time of the day, but a great icebreaker - and let’s face it, you’re probably going to need one.
** Our recommendation for Ironside is partly for the crowd - a pretty rowdy party crew at the bar - and partly for the seafood, which is awesome. The interior is very stylish, which means you can feel classy as your behavior starts to deteriorate. Bachelor parties tend to like shooting things, and since this is California, we’ll stick to liquor and oysters, and you won’t find any better in San Diego than at Ironside. It’s also right in the heart of Little Italy, which means you can take it straight to the club right after hitting up the bar post-dinner.
I’d be wrong of us not to suggest copious quantities of meat when thinking about a bachelor party, and while there are plenty of options in San Diego, our vote goes to Grand Ole BBQ Y Asado. It’s next to Thorn Street Brewery, and those gracious proprietors encourage you to bring over growlers while getting your meat-eating on in various ways. Usually, this means a choice between Texas and Argentinian style BBQ, or the opportunity to try one of everything, which is definitely our move.
** If you’re looking for the kind of bachelorette party that’s low on food and high on genitalia paraphernalia, this probably isn’t the list for you. If you’re part of a group of women who love to eat and mingle, look no further than Kettner Exchange. The dining rooms are gorgeous and the food is some of the best in San Diego. Afterwards, head over to the open-air bar and lounge to enjoy cocktails without skipping a beat.
Soda & Swine is another great bachelorette option that serves shareable, elevated bar food, craft beer and sodas, soft serve ice cream, and - most importantly - pie. Even better, it connects to their sister craft cocktail spot, Polite Provisions, which is serving some of the best drinks in San Diego. Plus, there are plenty of other bars nearby if you want to keep the party going after dinner and cocktails.
moving away dinner
** If you’re unlucky enough to move away from San Diego, you’re going to want a memorable last dinner. You won’t find the kind of food at Bracero anywhere else in the country, so this is definitely where you need to send yourself off. Not only is Bracero’s set-up lush and partially outdoors, the food is excellent and will make you completely rethink anything you had ever previously thought about Mexican food. All the seafood is particularly great, but there’s also almost nothing on the menu that’s not worth trying. As for drinks, Bracero has exciting cocktails and knowledgeable bartenders, as well as a great wine list full of the best Mexican wines you’ve never heard of that will rival anything coming out of Napa or Europe.
** On the other end of the spectrum is Mitch’s, home to a killer fish taco, which is another thing that you’re going to miss about San Diego. Mitch’s is in the marina in Point Loma, which means it has direct access to everything coming right off the boat, and they know how to cook it better than anyone else around. They also get props for having a solid San Diego beer selection and a cast of salty fishermen that give it an east coast clam shack kind of feel.
Friends in town
Sitting right on Cardiff State Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway is Pacific Coast grill, serving food that’s much better than it needs to be for a beachfront restaurant. The upstairs patio is the place to sit, where you could be forgiven for even thinking you’re anywhere but your private balcony in your zillion-dollar oceanfront home. Sadly, you totally don’t have one, but that’s where their awesome cocktail list and surprisingly good BBQ ribs come in to take the pain away.
George’s is a long-time La Jolla staple that also has really good food and easily the best view in San Diego. Even though the ascent to the restaurant is through a cheesy strip-mall complex, you’re treated to 360 degrees of La Jolla hillside, the cliffs at Torrey Pines and Scripps Pier, La Jolla Cove down below and the Pacific Ocean beyond that. The mussels grilled in butter are the star of the show, but mostly everything we’ve had here has been pretty solid. If you’re trying to get someone to move to California, this is the spot that will convince them.