Wrench & Rodent | Lucid Impressions Photography
Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants in San Diego Right Now

Updated On 03/23/2018 at 05:11PM EST
Courtesy of Maestoso

Maestoso

Hillcrest

Finally, a creative Italian restaurant in San Diego
Brand new to Hillcrest in March 2018  is Maestoso, a modern Roman restaurant from Marco Maestoso and Dalila Ercolani, recent San Diego transplants. On the menu is a typical Roman street food called a pinsa, which is a type of flatbread made with rice and flour. Signature dishes are turned on their heads in creative interpretations and the restaurant employs a “chef-to-table” concept where the chefs rotate through the kitchen and onto the serving floor, where they take orders, serve customers and rotate back in to cook the dishes.

Bivouac Cider Works

Bivouac Ciderworks

North Park

Cider and creative cuisine in an outdoorsy-themed tasting room
Opened in January 2018 is Bivouac Ciderworks, a cidery-cum-restaurant bringing the great outdoors indoors with lauded chef DJ Tangalin behind the stove. Bivouac makes all its own cider in-house, with a rotating tap list of all kinds of flavors ranging from dry all the way to sweet and everything in-between. The menu is seasonal and creative, with dishes like Maple Leaf Duck Breast with toasted farro, summer squash puree, broccolini, confit garlic, grape demi-glace

Courtesy of Born & Raised

Born & Raised

Little Italy

The best place to see and be seen while dropping a lot of cash
San Diego’s newest, swankiest steakhouse is Born & Raised, which opened in fall 2017 after a $6 million build out. The menu is simple: prime cuts aged in-house, killer cocktails (from the bar or a roving cart), and a see-and-be-seen atmosphere unreplicated anywhere in downtown San Diego. To top it off, opt for a slice of the Alice in Wonderland-esque carrot cake before retiring to the buzzy rooftop for a night cap.

Courtesy of Cloak & Petal

Cloak & Petal

Little Italy

Come for the cocktails, stay for the high-quality seafood dishes
Cloak & Petal opened in Little Italy in late 2017 with a focus on high-end Japanese small plates with a highly creative cocktail list. The decor is intended to recall a fever-dreamed Tokyo subway stop with graffiti art, two centerpiece cherry trees, tiled walls and a black, urban edge. For the ultimate decadence, try the wagyu zabuton with wasabi greens, black pepper, nikiri, and yolk, with an uni upgrade for good measure.

Menya Ultra

Kearny Mesa

Arguably the best ramen in San Diego. ‘Nuff said.
Yes, San Diego’s best ramen can be found at Convoy’s Menya Ultra, which opened during summer 2017 to great fanfare (and lines). It’s the United States’ first outpost of the popular Japanese chain where everything -- the broth, the noodles and all the accoutrements -- is made fresh and in-house. There is basically no “good” time to go, as there’s always a well-deserved line, but here’s hoping a new Mira Mesa location will alleviate the crowds just a little bit.

Courtesy of Trust

Trust

Hillcrest

For when you’re not sure what you want, but you’re sure you want it to be good
Chef Brad Wise brought live fire cooking to Hillcrest’s once-waning dining scene when he opened Trust in 2016. Expect creative takes on vegetables, mains with unexpected touches and a stacked cocktail list that satisfies everyone that enjoys sweet and safe to bitter and more curious libations. Your must-gets include the ricotta agnolotti with sunchokes, black garlic struesel, black truffle, panna and basil; and the wood-grilled lamb meatballs with tzatziki, pickled shallots, fresno chiles, and mint.

Courtesy of Kettner Exchange

Kettner Exchange

Little Italy

One of San Diego’s best dinner menus at one of its best rooftop lounges
Considered one of the crown jewels of Little Italy’s exploding dining scene, Kettner Exchange burst onto the scene with a New American menu packed with asian flair, owing to executive chef Brian Redzikowski’s time spent in upscale Japanese kitchens after training at the Culinary Institute of America. The menu’s ever-changing, but you’ll always find one recurring must-try on there: Redzikowski’s pork bao buns, which are freshly made in-house every day. Stay after dinner and get a craft cocktail on the rooftop, which switches to a lounge-y vibe after 10pm.

Campfire

Campfire

Carlsbad

An outdoorsy restaurant where camping takes center stage
Paying homage to the great outdoors, Carlsbad’s Campfire lives up to its name with tasteful design reminiscent of the chicest campground, ever. Live fire cooking is the word here, with roasted broccoli being one of the surprising stars on the menu, as well as the whole-grilled fish (which changes depending on market availability). Another delight is the cocktail list, which blends elements of smoke and fire to create one-of-a-kind tipples that would be impossible to find anywhere else in San Diego.

Blind Lady Ale House | Flickr/osbornb

Blind Lady Ale House

Normal Heights

Thin-crust pizza and a wall of craft beer taps
Sometimes known as BLAH, this Normal Heights beer bar and pizza-centric restaurant is anything but. It’s a fine go-to for vegetarians, neighborhood locals with kids, and anyone who appreciates a great thin-crust pie (which, who doesn’t?), whether you’re in the market for something simple like a margherita or the egg & bacon, decked out with that dynamic duo along with Swiss chard, caramelized onion, and truffle oil.

Courtesy of BIGA

BIGA

Gaslamp Quarter

Where farm-to-table meets quality Italian cooking
Downtown office workers (and dwellers) got a gift from the pizza gods when this all-purpose cafe opened on Broadway. There’s a lot to love besides pizza -- like fluffy focaccia, sandwiches made with fresh-baked bread, pasta, oven-roasted vegetable small plates, Bird Rock espresso-based drinks, gelato, and dessert -- but since the pizza recently landed in the top spot in our city-wide roundup, it’s a smart way to go for your first visit. Prices start at $7 for an excellent Margherita pizza and and top out at $11 for a pie with three primo Italian meats (soppressata, housemade Italian sausage, and guanciale). On Saturdays, stop by at dinnertime for porchetta. Nowhere else in town comes close to executing the traditional Italian roast pork dish (wrapped in crispy skin) as expertly as the team at BIGA.

Carnitas' Snack Shack | Lyudmila Zotova

Carnitas' Snack Shack

North Park

An approachable haven for pork lovers
This pork-centric eatery satisfies with its short-but-sweet menu of comfort food favorites like the pork-on-pork-on-pork Triple Threat sandwich, bacon jam-topped burger, and Shack poutine. Its third location is now open on the North Embarcadero with live music on weekends and a spankin' new cocktail menu to go with those oceanside views.

Crack Shack | Monica Hoover

The Crack Shack

Little Italy

Fast-casual concept where chicken reigns supreme
This buzzy chicken and egg-centric spot by the team behind Juniper & Ivy offers an affordable menu of fast-casual eats like chicken and egg sandwiches, fried chicken served with six scratch-made sauces, plus cocktails and desserts in an all-outdoor space with a giant rooster statue that seems pretty accepting of the enthusiastic and non-stop carnage of his once-feathered friends that's been taking place from morning til night since this place opened last November. The concept has been so successful that a second location is slated to open late this year/early 2017 in Encinitas (on Encinitas Boulevard, just east of the 5), plus a third in Costa Mesa next spring.

The Cork and Craft | Kim Marcelo

The Cork and Craft

Rancho Bernardo

Upscale restaurant/winery/brewery combo in the suburbs
From the parking lot, you’d never guess that behind the building’s modest exterior is a booze and food trifecta. Housing The Cork & Craft, Abnormal Wine Company, and Abnormal Beer Company, this is San Diego’s first restaurant, winery, and brewery all under one roof. The Cork and Craft is putting forward modern plates imbued with French techniques that are causing a stir in the local culinary scene. Thanks to the large open kitchen, guests get a behind-the-scenes view of all the edible magic Esteban and his staff are creating. Pair their dishes with an Abnormal wine or an Abnormal beer, and you’ve struck a winning combo all your friends need to know about.

Juniper & Ivy | Cece Canton

Juniper & Ivy Restaurant

Little Italy

San Diego’s OG hub for experimental cuisine
Some of SD’s top culinary talent come together to create dumbfoundingly delicious plates the likes of which you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Yeah, you could easily drop a wad of cash here on dishes like a 16oz bone-in prime ribeye (and probably not regret it) but considering one of the best things on the menu -- the buttermilk biscuit with smoked butter -- is only $5, with a little careful planning, you could easily make dinner here a regular thing. The not-so-secret “In-N-Haute” burger made with a custom blend of short rib, brisket, and chuck mixed with dry-aged beef fat is a gotta-try dish.

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

Kindred

South Park

Some of the best cocktails in town, with a death metal vibe
Plant-based comfort fare and tasty craft cocktails are served amid gothic/Victorian decor (and a soundtrack of death metal) at this undeniably original bar/restaurant in the heart of South Park. Generous portions and affordable prices make it a worthy gamble, even if you’re not entirely convinced you like vegan cuisine. Must-try items include the seared cauliflower steak, beet risotto, and Memphis BBQ jackfruit sandwich. The restaurant also serves a great brunch with healthy items like smoked carrot (a creative take on smoked salmon) and definitely-not-healthy banana bread French toast topped with whipped coconut cream and dark chocolate. Long live fat kid vegan food!

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

San Diego Poke Company

Mission Valley

Your go-to for trendy Hawaiian fish bowls
Poke is having a moment in San Diego, and this farmer's’ market turned brick-and-mortar vendor is where you should get your fix. The ultra casual, assembly-line style spot in a Grantville strip mall allows diners to trick out their own custom poke bowl or choose one of the pre-designed options, like the Off the Hook: tuna, serrano peppers, chili flakes, onion, and crushed Hot Cheetos drizzled with Oh No Sauce -- a creamy option made with mayo, Sriracha, citrus, and chili flakes. If you’re the type of person who likes to play around with your food and tweak the seasoning until it’s just right, ask for a second type of sauce on the side, like the Seoul Hott, a spicy bean paste sauce with a Korean flavor profile.

The Original Sab-E-Lee | Flickr/Kirk K.

The Original Sab-E-Lee

Linda Vista

Authentic Thai food in an unassuming strip mall
Fans of this authentic Isaan-style Thai restaurant were more than happy to squeeze into the restaurant’s former space (a hole in the wall if there ever was one!), but now that the restaurant has moved to a new, larger location, dining here is significantly more enjoyable. The best approach is to go family style, so you’ll taste a variety of different dishes. No matter what you do, don’t skip the panang curry and DO be careful with your spice level (three is a good place to start).

Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

The Smoking Goat

North Park

Fine bistro fare with a spectacular wine list
Executive Chef and owner Fred Piehl’s French-American bistro fare is perfect when you want to enjoy a nice night out with solid food, great service, and a comfortable (not stuffy) atmosphere. Hit the restaurant early and you can open your meal with happy hour specials like duck fat truffle fries, goat meatballs, and escargot au gratin before moving on to top-notch entrees like chicken, pork chops, and steak frites -- all priced very reasonably considering the quality of the cuts and expert preparation.

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

Tostadas

North Park

Fresh & inventive Baja-style seafood you don’t need to cross the border for
This seafood-and-juice outfit from the same team behind City Tacos serves a compact menu of tasty tostadas with fine-tuned flavors derived from a unique mix of traditional and modern ingredients. Not a seafood fan? No problem; there are duck, pork, and cactus tostadas too.

Urban Solace | Kevin Andrew Falk

Urban Solace

North Park

A leader in San Diego’s restaurant revolution, still standing strong
You can always rely on good, honest eats at this North Park institution. Whether you’re there for a quick bite, a big dinner, or the weekly bluegrass “blunch,” as long as you have functioning taste buds, you’ll leave happy. Standouts are many, but you’ll never go wrong with the grilled four-cheese sandwich (served with fries and creamy tomato-fennel soup). At brunch, always get the cinnamon roll.

Lucid Impressions Photography

Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub

Oceanside

The best sushi just about anywhere on the planet
Executive Chef Davin Waite pushes boundaries with his innovative (and sometimes twisted) menu of seafood dishes crafted from the fresh catch of local fishermen and some of the city’s top suppliers (Catalina Offshore Products and Specialty Produce). Items like black garlic mahi mahi on a block of pink Himalayan salt, plant-based sushi rolls, and shishito pepper "poutine” with duck fat gravy are just some of the reasons it’s worth the drive.

Up Next
Giordano's deep dish pizza. | Meredith Heil/Thrillist
Food & Drink

Chicago Is Getting a Pizza Museum and New Yorkers Are Pissed About It

Published On 08/09/2018
Sponsored

The Chicago Vegan Soul Food Revolution Is Here

Published On 08/13/2018
Courtesy of Plant Power
Food & Drink

This “Vegan McDonald’s” Wants to Reinvent San Diego’s Fast Food Scene

Published On 08/06/2018