The Best Restaurants & Bars In North Park

A French bistro that’s been around for over a decade, somewhere to try absinthe, and more in San Diego’s hippest neighborhood.
The Best Restaurants & Bars In North Park image

photo credit: Deanna Sandoval

Once you get tired of San Diego’s amusement parks and beaches, you might want to see what else the city has to offer. Exploring North Park is a good place to start. You’ll find almost as many coffee shops as breweries, succulent-packed boutiques, and The Observatory—a theater from 1939 that’s been restored to host rock shows, drag queens, and more.

But you’re not here just to learn about places dishing out lattes and housewarming gifts—you want restaurant recommendations. And North Park is one of the best neighborhoods in San Diego to eat and drink in. Up, down, and around 30th Street, you’ll find restaurants where you can relax after a long day in the sun or kick off a rowdy night of bar hopping. There’s a French bistro that’s been around for over a decade, somewhere to try absinthe cocktails, and a pizza place that puts their own spin on pies from all over the world.

This guide will point you in the direction of the best restaurants and bars in North Park. If you’re spending more time in the city, check out our list of the best spots in San Diego.


photo credit: Deanna Sandoval


North Park

$$$$Perfect For:Date NightUnique Dining ExperienceDrinking Good Cocktails


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Wormwood is basically a woodland nymph fantasy where you can have a nicer meal without the fuss of a fine dining restaurant. Definitely snag a reservation for the secret garden-esque outdoor patio in the back—it’s got tall shrubs, succulents bursting out of hanging planters, and an old piano in one corner. This is where you should eat French bistro dishes with Latin American twists, like oysters topped with a mezcal-infused mignonette and wagyu tartare flavored with roasted bone marrow and guajillo chili. Trying every single one of their absinthes during one sitting is impossible, but the Ab-Solo Normal drink is a great intro to the spirit, made with Mexican whiskey, absinthe, pineapple, lime, and ginger. Sure, this is one of the pricier places in the neighborhood, but you’ll see both people dressed up and locals sporting half-zip sweatshirts and Birkenstocks.

When you first walk into Fortunate Son, your eyes might be overwhelmed. But all the decor details come together in a managed chaos that makes the space feel warm and soothing. There’s a metal dragon door handle at the entrance, green velvet banquette seating, hanging red lanterns, mismatched flatware on floating shelves, and a fireplace that just so happens to be in the mouth of a huge stone beast in the middle of the space. 

A few orders of crab rangoon with sweet chili sauce and a couple plates of lo mein and General Tso’s chicken are enough to halt any game of I Spy your table is playing though. If you’re all ready to go out after the meal, grab a drink at the nearby apothecary-themed Polite Provisions or Swan Bar’s covered patio.

Mabel’s works for date night or catching up with a few friends, and you’ll keep company with a mostly local crowd and some mermaid sculpture friends at the bar—not to mention the service is always attentive even during the weekend crush. The menu leans heavily on Iberian Peninsula-inspired seafood dishes and snacks, which are great for sharing a few bites or a full meal. You could pair your Spanish gin and tonic with a platter of Baja oysters and a side of chorizo and bread and stop there, but you should keep going and add a whole, delicately fried fish and smashed potatoes, and clams in ham broth.

Getting a reservation at Mabel’s is like trying to squeeze into a hot yoga class around here at peak hours—it’s basically impossible, even if you’re just trying to get a seat at the bar. But they do accept walk-ins when available and reservation slots drop about two months in advance, so you can always plan ahead. After you eat, head a few blocks down to catch a show at The Observatory.

City Tacos is one of the best and most reliable places for a round of tacos in San Diego. You’ll find tacos inspired by Mexico’s regional specialties, like the achiote-tinged cochinita pibil or a veracruzana fish taco topped with the classic medley of tomato, onion, garlic, and capers. Finish off with a round of churros. While they have multiple locations, this one is just a stone’s throw from the light-up North Park sign and there are a ton of bars, a bookstore, and plant shops around the corner to check out after eating.

The Smoking Goat has been around since 2010, and has been the neighborhood’s go-to, date night French spot for years. Dark walls, exposed brick, a chandelier, and an eclectic mix of art make it feel like a speakeasy, only this one serves steak frites. Their duck fat truffle fries are so good you’ll ask your date if you can have the last bite (they’ll say yes, a sign romance is not dead). You’ll both be pleased with entrees like the mussels and chorizo in a tomato broth you’ll want to slurp up with a straw (a biodegradable one, of course), and local swordfish cooked in sauce vierge with crispy fingerlings.

Whether you’re getting dinner to define your situationship or dining solo, don't leave before you try the goat cheese cheesecake. If your night is just beginning, let loose next door at Bluefoot Bar, where they have guest DJs on the weekend, strobe lights, smoke machines, and a packed dance floor. 

The pizzas at Tribute remind us of "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia. Technically a cover, but maybe better than the original. Much of the menu is creative takes on pies or remixes of famous ones—Costco may have axed its popular Combo Pizza, but thankfully, Tribute’s spin on the food court’s national treasure is exponentially tastier. To round out the meal, order shareables like California white oak-roasted vegetables, and a meat and cheese board with house pickles and preserves. It’s in a huge, former post office building and now has a patio with heat lamps, making it a great spot for large groups.

Cori Pastificio Trattoria is an aesthetically-pleasing restaurant with some very good Italian food. There are yellow-painted walls with colorful Italian pop art illustrations, hexagon-tiled floors, and hanging light fixtures in the shape of different pastas. The top-notch food centers around traditional Sicilian dishes, so start with an antipasto or two before a pasta course like the lasagna with angus beef and pork bolognese, or gnocchi alla norma. 

The tiny bar area offers a view of the pasta-making process (they even have gluten-free and vegan options), though the restaurant is spacious enough inside or on the covered outdoor patio to accommodate larger parties. It’s the kind of spot that works for either impressing a date or solo dining after you’ve been shopping for books (at Verbatim) and plants (at Pigment) around the neighborhood. 

Home to a tiny record shop, Part Time Lover is a bar and lounge that will be a sure hit with your friend who unironically describes themselves as an "audiophile." All the browns and beiges, late mid-century furniture, and checkerboard flooring come together under muted lighting, while the rotating roster of guest vinyl selectors spin jazz, ‘80s pop, modern funk, and more.

There’s no food here, but the cocktail menu covers all the bases, from tequila- and cachaça-spiked drinks to classics like martinis, Old Fashioneds, and whiskey highballs. Skip the line by timing a visit for pre-dinner drinks before 7pm so you’re lucid enough to take in the vibes before bar hopping—especially with the full-bodied sound of Thundercat booming from their sound system.

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