COURTESY OF BIGA
Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants in San Diego Right Now

Published On 10/04/2017
Andrew Zimmer/Thrillist

Bencotto Italian Kitchen

Little Italy

San Diego has some seriously good Italian restaurants, but none can touch this Little Italy mainstay, especially where fresh pasta is concerned. A variety of different types are made fresh daily and topped with luxurious sauces. The ambiance is well suited for date night, but visiting for lunch is an equally good (perhaps better) idea.

Blind Lady Ale House | Flickr/osbornb

Blind Lady Ale House

Normal Heights

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

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.

Breakfast Republic

Breakfast Republic

North Park

Yep, you guessed it: this fun spot in North Park slings a mean breakfast that’s anything but boring. Some of the unique menu offerings include a Vietnamese chicken wing breakfast bowl, Oreo cookie pancakes, and breakfast hot dogs -- plus every caffeinated beverage conceivable, antioxidant shots, and even organic kombucha on tap.

Carnitas' Snack Shack | Lyudmila Zotova

Carnitas' Snack Shack

North Park

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

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

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 crafted by head brewer Derek Gallanosa, and you’ve struck a winning combo all your friends need to know about.

Arlene Ibarra/Courtesy of Cowboy Star

Cowboy Star Restaurant & Butcher Shop

East Village

This East Village chophouse shattered the mold of what a steakhouse should be. Instead of the same tired decor and Rat Pack soundtrack, you’ll find thoughtfully sourced meat from the nation’s leading Certified Humane Angus herd, an exhibition-style kitchen, cowboy-chic decor, and flawless service. Yes, it’s pricey, but every cut is prepared with so much precision and respect for the animal that it’s absolutely worth the splurge.

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

Duke's La Jolla

La Jolla

Chef TJ Sinsay and company do such a bang-up job executing basic items at this ocean-view spot overlooking La Jolla Cove that they end up being anything but. A few examples you need to try include note-perfect nachos topped with duroc kalua pork, burgers made with three different cuts of beef (served with French fries that you will want to compose poetry about) and the macadamia nut and panko crusted calamari with guava mustard remoulade. If you’re so inclined, they also make a mean mai tai and the Hula pie is a must, at least once.

Hodad's | Flickr/Mity

Hodad's

Ocean Beach

Restaurants don’t get much more iconic to San Diego than this beloved family-owned burger joint famous for burgers topped with bacon patties, thick-cut fries, and super-thick shakes. The community mourned the death of beloved owner Mike “Bossman” Hardin earlier this year, but the dedicated crew he left behind hasn’t changed a thing. Let’s hope it stays that way... forever.

Juniper & Ivy | Cece Canton

Juniper & Ivy Restaurant

Little Italy

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

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!

Courtesy of Lobster West

Lobster West Coronado

Coronado

Sandwiches stuffed with chunks of fresh Maine lobster, shrimp, crab, or scallops are a great pick here. Get yours Maine-style (cold seafood on warm, toasted bread) or Connecticut-style (warm seafood, warm bread). You can double your meat for an extra charge, but the regular serving is pretty generous on its own. Seating is cozy but can feel cramped -- luckily both locations are a few short blocks from the beach.

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

San Diego Poke Company

Mission Valley

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

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

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.

Tajima Ramen House | Flickr/Kirk K.

Tajima Ramen House

Kearny Mesa

This is the place for real-deal ramen made with your choice of thin or thick noodles, plus rice plates, Japanese curry, and tapas-sized plates of salmon tataki and gyoza. The kitchen is open late on Friday and Saturday nights -- good news for anyone whose cravings tend to be strongest outside of traditional dining hours.

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

Tostadas

North Park

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

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.

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

WESTROOT tavern

Carmel Valley

Executive Chef Joseph Rodriguez (formerly of barleymash) leads the kitchen at this spacious, bi-level space with two bars and tons of outdoor seating in The Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch, a swanky new shopping center in Carmel Valley. The menu stars crowd-pleasing, modern tavern fare like wings, nachos, and sandwiches, but with quality ingredients and high-level attention to detail (case in point: the carne asada fries are topped with seared skirt steak, spicy citrus-kissed guacamole, and lime crema along with the standard pico de gallo and cotija cheese). Thirty beers on tap and a strong cocktail list makes it a great place to grab grub in the area.

Lucid Impressions Photography

Wrench & Rodent

Oceanside

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.

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