Fast-casual restaurants are having a moment in San Diego. These days, you can score anything from sushi burritos and poke bowls to stacked sandwiches and over-the-top fries for less than $10, and get them faster than you can ask, "What's a sushi burrito?" To help keep your stomach full and your money in your pocket, we’ve rounded up a bunch of the best fast-casual lunches in San Diego. Look no further the next time you're debating where to go to lunch that won't take all afternoon.
A giant sandwich
Pete’s Seafood and SandwichAddress and Info
This fast-casual spot in North Park has 15 sandwiches priced under $10 on the menu, ranging from homemade meatloaf to a lightly breaded fish sandwich, which means you’ll probably want/need to make at least a few return trips before you find your favorite. If you’re stumped, the chicken cutlet sandwich is a good place to start. It’s also huge, so it’s best to think of it as a quick lunch and dinner option.
The OG SD
San Diego Poke Co.Address and Info
Ringing in at just under $10, this poke bowl starts with three scoops of tuna marinated in a mix of soy sauce, sesame oil, and honey, served on white rice, brown rice, or mixed greens, and topped with onion, avocado, and sesame seeds. From there, you can customize it to your liking with a slew of different toppings like pineapple, mango, seaweed salad, and even crushed Flamin' Hot Cheetos. If you want a little extra heat, ask for a dash of Oh No sauce (spicy mayo with citrus and chili flakes).
The Veg Out roll
Rolled UpAddress and Info
Most options at this snug storefront, notorious for housing burrito concepts, are on the pricier lunch side, but you can snag the Veg Out roll, a vegetarian-friendly item with beets, arugula, Persian cucumber, jicama, and blue corn chips wrapped up in rice and nori with Bitchin' Sauce and lemon garlic dill yogurt for $9. If you’re at all worried that the vegetarian option will translate to a lack of flavor, don’t -- the burrito packs a tasty punch on its own and comes with three zesty dipping sauces (and tiny spoons for precise placement of said sauces) so you can amp it up if need be.
The Crack ShackAddress and Info
The most affordable sandwich on the menu at The Crack Shack is also one of the most delicious. Nestled between a toasted house-made English muffin is a delicious savory Jidori chicken sausage patty, an organic sunny-side-up egg, and a slice of smoked cheddar. It’s everything you need in a breakfast (or lunch!) sandwich, and nothing you don’t. Not bad for $9.
Carnitas’ Snack Shack - EmbarcaderoAddress and Info
Carnitas’ Snack Shack is always a good place to go when you’re trying to rein in your lunchtime spending, but you’ll only find these blackened and grilled Mahi Mahi tacos at the chain’s newest digs on the Embarcadero. They’re topped with the standard shredded cabbage and pico de gallo (plus not-so-standard avocado crema). At $9 for the pair, it's a pretty solid deal, especially when you factor in the bay views and prime people-watching.
Chicken Chile Verde or Spicy Southwest pizza
PieologyAddress and Info
Kearny Mesa (& others)
The spicy, smoky flavors and Southwestern ingredients on these limited-time pies (like red & green enchilada sauce, roasted red peppers, and spiked sour cream) make them the perfect compromise when you’re simultaneously craving pizza and an enchilada. Don’t put off getting your fix for too long; both pies will disappear from the menu on August 1st, only to be replaced with a new, delicious, nontraditional pizza.
Street cart fries
SpitzAddress and Info
The street cart fries at Spitz are one of the best running arguments for eating a salad for lunch some other day. Topped with garlic aioli, feta cheese, onion, green pepper, tomato, olives, and pepperoncinis, they’re everything you’ve always wanted from a plate of loaded spuds. The straight-up version will set you back $8.50. There’s also the option of getting "the works" -- which nets you some zesty feta and your choice of meat, but that’ll bump you a smidge over $10. Considering you’ll end up with enough food to share, count it split two ways.
PipirinsAddress and Info
If you count yourself among the carne asada-obsessed residents of San Diego, you might want to put this budget-friendly spot at the top of your go-to lunch list. Don’t go in expecting to find the same carne asada you’ll find elsewhere. Here, the tender cuts of steak are cooked Guadalajara-style (order over lava rocks), which gives the meat an unmistakable campfire flavor. The 4oz lunch portion (served with beans, soft white corn tortillas, and salsas) will set you back a mere $6.50. Portions are generous, so you probably won’t feel like you have any room for a slice of chocolate cake or flan ($2.80 each), but get dessert anyway. Both options are so delicious you’ll find a way to polish them off without too much trouble.
Plant Power Fast FoodAddress and Info
Good veggie burgers are hard to find. Many are mushy, bland discs of sadness that only taste good to people who haven’t eaten meat in years. That’s not the case here, where chipper staffers will hook you up with your choice of three different patties (tempeh, black bean, or "beefy" -- a Gardein patty available for $1 extra) stacked with flavorful toppings like sautéed mushrooms, crispy onion rings, and chipotle aioli. The Mushroom Swiss and Holy Guacamole (both $7.25) provide enough fuel for lunch, but if you want a fountain drink and a side order, the classic burger combo (with a tempeh or black bean patty) rings in at just under $10. Oh, and it has a dedicated parking lot! That’s a BFD in OB.
The Taco StandAddress and Info
The new Downtown digs of this popular spot, holding it down in La Jolla for years, offers a multitude of hunger-annihilating eats served up fast. A duo of tacos is a good way to go for lunch, especially if you want to avoid burrito bloat. We're particularly into the al pastor (tender marinated pork that's slow-cooked on a rotisserie and served with pineapple and chipotle sauce) and the classic carne asada, but there are also several seafood options, and a nopal taco for vegetarians. Tacos range from $2.69 to $4.29, so depending on which two you choose, you can probably still squeeze in a side, like grilled corn on the cob with mayo, Parmesan cheese, and chili pepper ($2.99) or a paleta ($2.79), and still spend less than a Hamilton.
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1. Pete's Seafood & Sandwich3382 30th St, San Diego
2. San Diego Poke Company10387 Friars Rd, San Diego
3. Rolled Up3884 4th Ave, San Diego
4. The Crack Shack2266 Kettner Blvd, San Diego
5. Carnitas' Snack Shack2632 University Ave, San Diego
6. Pieology Pizzeria5575 Balboa Ave, San Diego
7. Spitz3515 5th Ave, San Diego
8. Carnes Asadas Pipirins531 Broadway, San Diego
9. Plant Power Fast Food2204 Sunset Cliffs Blvd, San Diego
10. The Taco Stand Downtown645 B St, San Diego
This fast-casual spot in North Park has 15 sandwiches priced under $10 on the menu, ranging from homemade meatloaf to a lightly breaded fish sandwich, which means you’ll probably want/need to make at least a few return trips before you find your favorite. The casual spot caters to both a neighborhood and out-of-town crowd, with a long bar where draft beer and wine selections await to pair your oversize chicken cutlet order.
This farmers market vendor turned brick-and-mortar shop is where you should get your poke fix in San Diego. Located in a Grantville strip mall, San Diego Poke Company is ultra-casual with an assembly-line ordering system that lets you easily customize your own bowl. You don't have to go your own way though, as there are many pre-designed options that play up each seafood base with the right kind of mix-ins and sauces.
Most options at this snug Hillcrest storefront, notorious for housing burrito concepts, are on the pricier lunch side, but you can snag the Veg Out roll, a vegetarian-friendly item with beets, arugula, Persian cucumber, jicama, and blue corn chips wrapped up in rice and nori with Bitchin Sauce and lemon garlic dill yogurt for $9. The space is cozily sized, hip and consistently crowded -- the least we'd expect from a spot serving up all kinds of fresh seafood fusion rolls.
It doesn't matter which came first at San Diego's The Crack Shack: both the chicken and the egg are taken to new heights via an affordable, fast-casual menu featuring chicken & egg sandwiches, fried chicken served with scratch-made sauces, and specialities like Schmaltz-fried fries, biscuits with miso maple butter, and matzo ball posole. The outdoor spot is recognizable by a giant rooster statue, surrounded by a patio filled with group-friendly tables.
At Carnitas' Snack Shack, just about everything is influenced by pork, from the menu of bacon-heavy fare to the big black pig that sits atop the roof. In true southern California fashion, 100% of the seating is in an outdoor area out back that's shaded by umbrellas and wooden roofs. The space includes a spacious bar serving up wine, beer, and snacks (also pork-focused) like chicharrones and pork belly.
This customizable pizza chain in Kearney Mesa gives customers the option of picking their own sauce and toppings from an extensive list of ingredients, to create a one price-fits-all pizza. The crusts are housemade, and the space is casually decor-ed, making it the ideal location for large groups and special events. Because who doesn't like bread.
The street cart fries at Spitz are one of the best running arguments for eating a salad for lunch some other day. Otherwise, there's also a full bar, kebabs, salads, and french fries, and bar snacks like the restaurant's signature döquitos, a Mediterranean version of Mexican taquitos, and a beachy street art-inspired space with a large patio in which to enjoy it all.
If you count yourself among the carne asada-obsessed residents of San Diego, you might want to put this budget-friendly spot at the top of your go-to lunch list. Here, the tender cuts of steak are cooked Guadalajara-style, which gives the meat an unmistakable campfire flavor. Portions are generous, so you probably won’t feel like you have any room for a slice of chocolate cake or flan ($2.80 each), but get dessert anyway.
Casual, counter-serve vegetarian eats are offered at this Ocean Beach spot, which boasts a complete lack of animal products, GMOs, artificial ingredients. Menu options include handheld wraps and sandwiches -- such as a "honey" mustard "chicken" wrap and Baja "fish" tacos. The real winners, however, are the veggie burgers: guests are given a choice of three different patties (tempeh, black bean or ‘beefy) stacked with flavorful toppings like sautéed mushrooms, crispy onion rings, and chipotle aioli.
The Core-Columbia location of this family-owned La Jolla spot offers offers a multitude of hunger-annihilating Mexican eats served up fast. Alongside house-made tortillas, guacamole, and salsa, The Taco Stand offers a number of traditional, South of the Border-inspired menu items. Be sure to try the al pastor tacos (tender marinated pork that's slow-cooked on a rotisserie and served with pineapple and chipotle sauce) and the classic carne asada.