For a long time, people have been coming to San Diego for the beach, beer, and tacos, or on their way to Mexico. None of that has changed, but America’s Finest City has pushed beyond just serving as a mecca for surf bros and all things 1975, and the ever-expanding local food scene is a big reason why.
All of the microbreweries and fish tacos are still here, but now really good restaurants are popping up in neighborhoods across the city too, which makes deciding where to eat a challenge. That’s where we come in.
Here you’ll find our recommendations for where to eat and drink in San Diego. We’ve included everything from a few good date spots in Oceanside to some sushi places with great patios. This isn’t our first San Diego guide and it won’t be our last, so keep an eye out for more from The Infatuation in 2018.
THE NEW-ISH SPOTS EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT
Carlsbad’s Campfire is a hybrid indoor-outdoor restaurant that looks like the setting from Moonrise Kingdom. It feels like you’re eating in a cabin that you could never afford with rustic touches like outdoor bonfires, teepees, and s’mores that you cook yourself. Live fire cooking is the drill here, so expect everything, from whole fish to steaks to even broccoli, to come out smokey and nicely charred. The cocktails are excellent, too.
San Diego has always embraced tiki bars, but The Grass Skirt does a great job of balancing the kitschiness of umbrella drinks with a much-needed update to the standard pupu platter. This Pacific Beach spot serves pork buns, dan dan noodles, burgers, and kimchi fried rice, along with drinks like the Lava & Ice, which includes two types of liquor, four types of fruit, and is delivered to you on fire.
Blind Lady Ale House does two important things very well: beer and pizza. This Normal Heights staple has one of the city’s widest selections of local beers and a high-tech tap system to make sure you’re getting the best-tasting beer possible. Also, their pizzas are really good. Start with the margherita and once you’ve reached your third pint, try the Bianca al Prosciutto or House Chorizo.
We all have dreams and while some aren’t attainable - we’re looking at you actual hoverboard - others are, like eating high-quality sushi on a plant-lined patio. For those with more realistic dreams, head to Himitsu in La Jolla. This sushi place routinely flies in ingredients like sea urchin from Hokkaido and king salmon from New Zealand, along with serving less traditional dishes like Baja-style tostadas. Combine that with their jungle-esque patio and you’ll see that yes, some dreams do come true.
The next time you find yourself in La Jolla and want to spend a few hours eating tacos and drinking cocktails on a patio with the sound of waves crashing in the background, head to Galaxy Taco. There’s a lot of love and energy put into this upscale taco restaurant, which specializes in Mexican street food and uses heirloom corn to make their blue corn tortillas. Anything featuring those, like the tlayudas, squash blossom quesadillas, and steak tacos, are sure bets and go great with all of their cocktails.
Born & Raised opened in 2017 after spending $6 million on renovations to make it look like something out of The Great Gatsby. But unlike most “see and be seen” spots, this Little Italy restaurant actually has great food. Dress up a little more than you normally would for dinner and order a really nice steak and a fancy cocktail or two. After you eat, head to the patio to take in the great view of the harbor. Born & Raised is a little over the top, but that’s exactly why we like it.
Dija Mara in Oceanside serves elevated takes on classic Indonesian dishes, like beef short rib rendang and nasi goreng, which are really good and unlike anything else you’ll find in town. It’s one of our favorite neighborhood date spots, both because of how good the food is, but also because it’s a cool space and the staff is really attentive. They also have an extensive wine, beer, and cocktail menu, which makes it a great place to stop by just for a drink, and a possible second dinner.
This ramen chain is huge in Japan and when they opened their first American location in Kearny Mesa in 2017, people lost their minds. These days, there’s still a line whenever you go, but their house-made noodles continue to be the best in town. Both the Tonkotsu and Miso options are great, but they also serve Tantanmen (ramen topped with a pork or chicken cutlet), which is perfect for when you get bored of their other options, assuming that’s possible.
This spot in Old Town is where we go for lunch and end up staying at until dinner because of the super fresh seafood and relaxed vibe. The menu includes lots of good options, including tiradito and tostadas, both of which go great with the main attraction. Grab some seats at the bar, order the chef’s special ceviche, a few other dishes to share, and a beer. Repeat as needed.
608 serves high-end food in a low-key space. This Oceanside spot keeps things simple with a rotating menu of 15-ish seasonal dishes, most of which are under $20, that includes everything from trout tartare to uni mac and cheese. You could bring your not super adventurous parents here as easily as you could a date and if you want to eat outside, they also have a patio out front.
This taco truck makes some of the best Tijuana-style tacos and tortas this side of, well, Tijuana. They’re based in Barrio Logan, but the truck makes its way around the city by setting up outside bars, coffee shops, and clubs. The taco and torta selection is always rotating, but make sure to try the guajillo short rib, cauliflower mole, and chipotle meatball if they’re available.
This modern American restaurant found a permanent home in Chula Vista in 2017 after a series of pop-up dinners the year before. The farm-to-table menu changes at each setting, but expect lots of wagyu beef, fresh local and sustainable seafood, and produce from nearby farms. They also serve a wide variety of wine and sake, along with fancy takes on mimosas and sangria during brunch.
Addison is San Diego’s fanciest fancy restaurant and looks like a cross between a palace and a country club. The French-Japanese tasting menu at this Carmel Valley institution costs $250 and is best reserved for when you get a big raise or someone else is picking up the tab. Yes, it’s expensive, but each dish is beautifully plated and besides the food, they also have one of the best wine and cocktail lists in the city. When you want to celebrate a major life moment, Addison is the place to go.
Nomad Donuts isn’t the kind of donut shop where you go to get a dozen plain glazed donuts, although you could, but that just feels like a wasted opportunity. This North Park shop specializes in unusual donut flavors, like blueberry lavender, Irish coffee car bomb, and ube taro. If you aren’t feeling a sugar rush first thing in the morning, try one of their Montreal-style bagels instead.
Everyone has a restaurant they would rather go back to instead of trying somewhere new. For us, that’s Trust. Whether it’s for a casual weeknight dinner at the bar or a group brunch, we know we’re going to eat well here, drink good wine and cocktails, and feel taken care of by their super attentive staff. Everything on the menu is great, but definitely order the ricotta agnolotti and wood-fired lamb meatballs. If you really want to go for it, the 22-oz bone-in ribeye is also a great choice.
San Diego is home to a lot of sushi restaurants, but there’s only one Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub. This Oceanside spot looks like a mix between a surf shack and an English pub, but it’s their unique take on sushi - think yellowtail served with chimichurri and specialty rolls topped with spicy berry sauce - that attracts so many regulars. The main reason to come here is for the omakase experience, which the chef customizes based on your preferences. Depending how hungry you are, it costs anywhere between $40 and $80 and provides a great overview of the entire menu.
North Park’s Cantina Mayahuel serves a wider selection of Mexican spirits than you could ever try in a lifetime. Tequila, mezcal, sotol, raicilla, and bacanora, they have it all. Luckily for everyone, they also make really good homestyle Mexican food, which is a real lifesaver after more than a few drinks. Try the Yucatan stew or the carnitas, which comes in taco, plate, and torta form. The food is both tasty and a reliable insurance policy to ensure that you can function the following morning.
Beach picnics always go one of two ways. They’re either just fine or completely disastrous, depending on how much sand gets in your food. Instead of gambling on the wind, make a stop before or after the beach at Little Lion Cafe, a really good all-day spot in Sunset Cliffs. In the morning, go for the baked eggs with chimichurri and greens or one of their grain bowls with farm fresh vegetables. At night, their bistro steak with a sweet fried onion, arugula from the garden, and Belgian potatoes is a sure bet.
Grand Ole BBQ y Asado in North Park is definitely San Diego’s best barbecue option, without question. Brisket should be your priority at this outdoor-only, Texas-inspired spot, but keep an eye out for the Argentine-style asado and choripán (grilled chorizo sandwiches) too. Also, be in line when they open at noon because they run out fast.
There’s nothing fancy about The Balboa Bar and Grill. It’s a dark, nondescript bar in Banker’s Hill that looks like a spot your grandpa would frequent in the middle of the day. What sets this place apart though, are the huge burgers. They have a ton of options, but the California Burgito is our go-to. It’s a riff on a Cali burrito with avocado, french fries, mozzarella cheese, and homemade salsa. If you’re not into burgers for whatever reason, try the thin-cut pastrami or one of their black bean patties instead.
Every person longboarding down the street in San Diego has a favorite fish taco spot. But Mariscos Mi Gusto Es in East Village is where we go - minus the longboard - whenever possible. This food truck fries their fish to order and the toppings are always super fresh. They definitely don’t make the fanciest fish tacos in town, but unless you’re taking a weekend trip to Baja, they’re the best ones around, hands down.
This simple hole-in-the-wall in Ocean Beach is the best place in town to get the kind of poke you’d actually see in Hawaii (read: not loaded with fried onions, avocado, gold leaf, or caviar). The kimchi ahi and furikake salmon are favorites, but they also serve plate lunches with poke, kalua pig and, chicken long rice if you want to sample a few things, which we definitely recommend.
This low-key cafeteria in National City serves some of the best Filipino food around. In a city with a large Filipino population, Tita’s continues to be a favorite because everything tastes homemade and is super fresh. There are always lots of options to choose from, but make sure to try the pork adobo, pancit, BBQ on a stick, sisig, and some halo-halo for dessert.
Chicken. All parts of it. That’s what you’re going to get at this 15-seat yakitori restaurant in Clairemont and it’s going to be deliciously grilled. Along the way, you’ll drink plenty of cheap beer and get to know the strangers eating closely next to you. If you’re there late, those strangers will probably be some of San Diego’s best chefs as this is where they all wind down after long shifts at nearby restaurants.
Crack Shack is the closest humanity has gotten to building an actual temple to fried chicken and eggs. This place in Little Italy is a bit gimmicky, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious. They have a huge patio and serve a bunch of really good chicken sandwiches. If you only try one, go with the The Coop DeVille, which is topped with pickled Fresno chiles, slaw, and lime mayo.
There are hundreds of Mexican restaurant across San Diego that serve everything from tacos to fajitas. But if you’re looking for classic Mexican stews and platters, Super Cocina is the spot to check out. This homey cafeteria-style restaurant in City Heights serves a rotating list of specialty dishes, like chicken in cilantro sauce and pozole. Best of all, if you want to try something before you order, the staff will be happy to give you as many samples as you want.