Everywhere You Need to Eat in San Diego Right Now

Worthwhile restaurant openings in San Diego include upscale Italian in the Gaslamp Quarter, organic fare from a seafood master, and more.

Joya Organic Kitchen
Photo courtesy of Joya Organic Kitchen

From charming bistros in Little Italy to romantic haunts and oceanfront dining, there’s something for everyone in America’s Finest City. The restaurant scene is blooming again, and San Diegans are ready to dig into the latest trends, from a flashy Italian newcomer in the Gaslamp Quarter to a new veggie-friendly kitchen in La Jolla, plus neighborhoods like Mission Valley rising as culinary contenders.

Keep in mind that while pandemic regulations are largely a thing of the past (fingers crossed!), the restaurant industry is still struggling with related staffing shortages and supply chain issues. All the more reason to be kind and patient when dining out and to tip your servers generously.

Whatever your culinary cravings, San Diego’s restaurants are ready to step up and give you the best our region has to offer. Here’s our list of the hottest, freshest, and tastiest places in town:

Lavo
Photo courtesy of LAVO

LAVO

Gaslamp
$$$$

Tao Group Hospitality, which operates an amazing array of beautiful restaurants and nightlife spots around the world, brings LAVO to the Gaslamp in spectacular fashion, taking over the space formerly occupied by Searsucker. There’s plenty of warm, honey-colored wood and flattering lighting to go with the fifteen-foot ceilings, open kitchen, and long, three-sided bar that’s perfect for watching the game or grabbing drinks with your besties. Chief culinary officer Ralph Scamardella’s menu has a surprising number of classic Italian-American dishes like Chicken Parmigiana and Penne alla Vodka, and there’s a quartet of hefty steaks and rack of lamb. Somewhere between the appetizers and salads falls The Meatball, a one-pound sphere of juicy, garlicky ground Wagyu atop tangy marinara and served Instagram-style in a cast iron pan. End your meal with another stunning dish: the 20 Layer Chocolate Cake is a devil's food cake and peanut butter mascarpone tower that's almost too pretty to eat, but we have faith that you’ll find a way.
How to book: Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations
The Lapper
Photo by Mary Beth Abate for Thrillist

Lapper Kitchen + Tap

Mission Valley
$$$$

It’s always summer at Lapper Kitchen + Tap, the final piece in the multi-million dollar rebuild at Town and Country Resort. The breezy, casual restaurant overlooks the gorgeous swimming pool, under the watchful eye of Thelma, a neon ode to Thelma Payne, a bronze medal winning Olympic diver whose perfect form graced Jantzen swimsuit ads during the 1920s. Chef Ernesto Hernandez’ menu is full of comfort faves like Surf and Turf Nachos, Baja Fish Tacos, Snap-O-Razzo® Beef Hot Dogs, and Fish and Chips. Sip a refreshing cocktail or mocktail from the full bar or a Stone Thelma Blond Ale, a special brew made especially for Lapper.
How to book: Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations
Joya Kitchen
Photo courtesy of Joya Organic Kitchen

From Las Vegas-based Clique Hospitality that’s behind San Diego’s Lionfish and Serēa, comes Joya Organic Kitchen, a bright and airy cafe landing at The Boardwalk at Science Center Drive, near UC San Diego. James Beard Smart Catch Leader, chef JoJo Ruiz, and chef de cuisine Ryan Bullock’s all-day menu features breakfast, lunch, and happy hour, with freshly pressed juices, smoothies, acai bowls, and coffee for breakfast, while lunch focuses on heartier fare like Steak and Grains, Big Eye Tuna Poke, or Keto Shrimp Curry Bowls, plus wraps, sandwiches, burgers, smoothies, and juices. Look out for weekly specials like a French Dip with Niman Ranch pastrami and a cornmeal-crusted Fried Chicken thigh served with smashed Yukon potatoes and broccolini.
How to book: Reservations can be made online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available. Order online for dine in, takeout, and delivery.

Valle

Oceanside
$$$$

After impressing Valle de Guadalupe diners with his noteworthy Malva Cocina de Baja California restaurant over the last eight years, chef Roberto Alcocer has put down roots in Oceanside with Valle, a lush, outdoor restaurant with views of the Pacific Ocean that serves as a destination for Baja Mexican cuisine. The menu features California-sourced ingredients, including seafood from local fisherman, with flavors that are sealed over an open wood fire and offered alongside robust Valle de Guadalupe wines. Standout entrees include tacos bursting with golden brown sweetbread, mushroom puree, aligot, and portobello chips on nixtamalized corn tortillas, and Liberty Duck with roasted beet flan, lacto-fermented stone fruits, and port jus. A full bar serves craft agave cocktails.
How to book: via SevenRooms.

Wormwood
Photo courtesy of Wormwood

Wormwood

University Heights
$$$$

San Diego’s first absinthe bar and restaurant is bringing a brand new drinking and dining experience to University Heights. Shareable entrees and small plates feature French influences, updated for modern tastes and including luxurious dishes like Siberian Sturgeon Caviar served with a sea urchin custard and eggplant crème fraîche, and Confit de Canard over Parisian gnocchi, banana vinegar beurre blanc, parsnips, and peanuts. The cocktail program showcases more than 30 absinthes sourced from Europe, New York, Louisiana, and other distilleries, which you can enjoy in the traditional fashion of early 20th century Paris, served from slow-drip fountains with a cube of sugar, or choose from a cocktail menu showcasing revisited absinthe classics as well as a selection of non-absinthe drinks. Like its sister restaurant, Tahona Bar, Wormwood intends to be a place of education about this mysterious, often misunderstood spirit.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations
Arlo
Photo courtesy of ARLO

ARLO

Mission Valley
$$$$

The multi-million dollar renovation of the Town and Country Hotel includes ARLO, its stunning new restaurant. Helmed by executive chef Josh Mouzakes, whose 20-year career includes training at The French Laundry, the menu that features shareable plates like Brick Oven Bolognese and Jerk Spiced Veggie Churrasco, wood-fired flatbreads, and larger entrees such as a Bison Tenderloin and Steelhead Trout. Don’t sleep on the ARLO sourdough, a generous boule that comes with herb butter, smoked sea salt, and an addictive honey roasted garlic spread.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations
Wolfie’s
Photo by James Tran, courtesy of Wolfie’s Carousel Bar

Wolfie’s Carousel Bar

Little Italy
$$$$

Inspired by The Carousel Bar & Lounge in New Orleans, Wolfie’s Carousel Bar features stylish interpretations of the classics; think Oysters Rockefeller, prepared with Comté, shallots, spinach, and persillade; Wagyu Tartare with gremolata, quail yolk, and brioche toast points; and Steak Frites with an eight-ounce grilled Australian Wagyu New York strip, au poivre sauce, and pommes frites. The beverage program serves NOLA signature cocktails like the French 75, Sazerac, and Belle Fille from a dazzling 24-seat, carousel-shaped bar that rotates slowly, giving you a 360-degree view of the room every 14 minutes.
How to book: Reservations can be made online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations
Camino Riviera
Photo courtesy of Camino Riviera

Camino Riviera

Little Italy
$$$$

Rising from the ashes of the beloved El Camino in Little Italy, Camino Riviera celebrates the spirit of the Yucatán coast while paying homage to the original venue. Executive chef Brian Redzikowski’s menu explores the flavors of Riviera Maya with dishes like Pork Chop Anticucho, Sonoma Lamb Shoulder Barbacoa, and Beef Salpicón “Gordita Crunch.” Beverage directors Leigh Lecap and Eric Johnson created a similarly inspired cocktail menu, laced with the flavors of the Yucatán; cochinita pibil, papadzules, and various moles like pipián and mole blanco serve as flavor guides and inspiration.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Black Radish

North Park
$$$$

This lovingly restored building, formerly Tobacco Rhoda’s, now houses an upscale, casual bistro featuring a seasonal menu that melds the best of Southern California cuisine with modern French execution. The menu is conveniently divided into courses that you can mix and match, or choose the four-course prix fixe option. Standout starters include Butter Poached King Crab with saffron aioli, and noteworthy entrees encompass dishes like Riesling Braised Rabbit over saffron pearl couscous and roasted vegetables, or Wagyu Picanha and baby potatoes dressed in a spicy herb bèarnaise sauce. A half-dozen cocktails, beer, and wine by the glass round out the menu, and a short bar menu provides munchies like Rillette de Poulet and Kumamoto Oysters.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Hoxton Manor

North Park
$$$$

The traditional tastes of Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Thailand abound at this new addition to the North Park food scene. Start with dishes like Sri Lankan Coconut Roti with a smoky eggplant and an Imperial Roll stuffed with oyster mushrooms and duck confit or marinated hamachi, dressed in sesame, finger lime, and pickled cucumber. Larger plates include Palm Sugar-Glazed Brisket and a fried whole catch-of-the-day fish. Cocktails add zing with complementary flavors: think lychee, passionfruit, lime, Thai basil, and chili, or a refreshing “gintail”—they also make a mean White Negroni.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations
Vaga Restaurant
Photo by James Tran, courtesy of VAGA

San Diegans can once again enjoy the cuisine of Creative Director Claudette Zepeda at VAGA Restaurant and Bar at Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas. The restaurant sits atop the Encinitas bluffs and boasts expansive ocean and sunset views. In the dramatic open kitchen, Executive chef Ananda Bareño fuses diverse cultures with local ingredients in dishes such as Green Shakshuka Mussels, Brisket Buns, and Al Pastor Pork Belly on a seasonal menu. The beverage program, led by Juan Sanchez, features rotating signature cocktails, local microbrews, and a dynamic wine list.
How to book: Reservations are required and can be made online via SevenRooms.

Callie
Photo by Lucianna McIntosh, courtesy of Callie

Callie

East Village
$$$$

Translating to “the most beautiful” in Greek, Callie is executive chef Travis Swikard’s charming ode to the Mediterranean coastline, featuring shareable dips and spreads, house-made pastas, and grilled dishes like Harissa-Spiced Lamb Chops and Aleppo Chicken. Let them curate your experience with the Mediterranean Feast, a five-course, family-style meal, with an optional wine pairing. Save room for dessert, too, especially the Eureka lemon Pavlova, decorated with rose meringue kisses and honey-whipped labneh, topped with pistachio halva. In addition to a global wine list that includes reds, whites, roses, skin-contact, and dessert options by the glass, Callie also boasts a noteworthy craft cocktail list, with Espresso Self (vodka, espresso, nola coffee liqueur, vanilla bean, pistachio, cardamom) acting as their version of the popular Espresso Martini.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Ember & Rye
Photo courtesy of Ember & Rye

Ember & Rye

Carlsbad
$$$$

Richard Blais, whose past ventures include being founding chef of Juniper and Ivy in Little Italy and the Crack Shack empire, continues to delight San Diegans with his latest venture, Ember & Rye at Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Carlsbad. The newly-imagined steakhouse specializes in sturdy aged steaks and fresh seafood in a classic California setting, while also offering unexpected, whimsical snacks like a Lobster Knuckle Sandwich, White Chocolate-Dipped Radishes, and Caviar Service, complete with little fish-shaped blini.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations

The Waverly

Cardiff-by-the-Sea
$$$$

Get your morning started right with a Kingston King, cold brew infused with Caffe Lolita, Jamaican rum, and mole bitters, to go with your Funfetti Pancakes or Turkish Poached Eggs, or if you’re more of an afternoon drinker, pair a Sunny Day Old Fashioned with Grilled Selva Shrimp or a Double-Double Burger. The evening menu features elegant a Spring Vegetable “Cronut” and Roasted Pork Shoulder Lettuce Wraps, both of which pair perfectly with a smokey Bodega Boy (mezcal, toasted rice, coconut, lime, and mango) or lush Dark Horse (tequila blanco, aloe, dry vermouth, salted orgeat, lime, cucumber, and activated charcoal).
How to order: Reservations are recommended and can be made via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Serẽa
Photo courtesy of Serēa Coastal Cuisine

Serēa Coastal Cuisine

Coronado Island
$$$$

Whether you’re seated on the outdoor patio or inside Serēa’s airy, sophisticated dining room, everyone gets a great view of gorgeous sunsets thanks to cleverly raised floors and multi-level terraces. Splurge on local seafood—whole fish is wood-grilled or flash-fried and served with style by chef Jojo Ruiz, a James Beard Smart Catch Leader recipient for his commitment to sustainable seafood practices. Pair your meal with a luxurious hand-crafted cocktail or a selection from the eclectic wine cellar.
How to book: Reservations for indoor and patio dining can be made online. Walk-ins are accepted if available.

Available for Reservations
Gelati & Peccati
Photo courtesy of Gelati & Peccati

Gelati & Peccati

North Park
$$$$

Gelati & Peccati, part of the Buona Forchetta restaurant family, is modeled after the walk-up pizzerias and gelati shops common in Rome. Light, airy, crispy crusts are the result of high-hydration dough that ferments for three days before being topped with an extensive array of fresh ingredients and baked in sheet pans. Sold al taglio, or “by the cut,” there’s dozens of varieties available throughout the day—try luxurious Lussuria with mozzarella, caciocavallo, guanciale, and fresh truffle, or the best-selling Invidia, simply adorned with zucchini, ricotta, lemon zest, black pepper. Save room for a scoop or two of gelato, which comes in 18 flavors like the sublime Roasted Pistachio or Cherry Hazelnut with Chocolate Chip, plus vegan options and fruit sorbets.
How to book: Outdoor seating on a first-come basis.

Gaslamp Breakfast Company
Photo courtesy of Gaslamp Breakfast Company

Gaslamp Breakfast Company

Gaslamp Quarter
$$$$

The Gaslamp Quarter is more famous for late nights than early mornings, but the Gaslamp Breakfast Company means to change that reputation. Their simple yet comprehensive menu has everything from S’mores Waffles to a Fried Rice Benedict with crispy ham, sambal hollandaise, pickled radish salad, and two poached eggs. There are several vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options to accompany the various cocktails, as well as mocktails, cold brews, and kombuchas.
How to book: Indoor and patio dining is available on a first-come basis. Order takeout in person or online, delivery is available online.

Available for Delivery/Takeout
The Presley
Photo courtesy of The Presley

The Presley

Liberty Station
$$$$

The Presley makes the most of its nearly 2,100-square-feet of dedicated outdoor dining space with cleverly styled swing loungers, cozy couches, and luminous fire pits. Executive Chef Todd Nash’s menu features classic American fare including lobster and shrimp sliders, horseradish-crusted salmon, grilled pork prime rib, and a variety of flatbreads, sandwiches, and salads. The playful beverage menu incorporates twists on classic cocktails, including a Dole Whip Mimosa and a Lava Flow slushy.
How to book: Make reservations for indoor or patio dining online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations
Huntress
Photo by Sam Wells, courtesy of Huntress

Huntress

Gaslamp Quarter
$$$$

Big, brawny steaks are the stars here, of course, but executive chef James Montejano shows a deft hand with seafood as well, sugar-spicing a hefty prime rib of salmon or finessing Chilean sea bass with delicate dashi consommé and truffle prawn wontons. Don’t miss the desserts, especially the Insta-worthy Magic Mushroom, a peanut butter mousse, huckleberry jam, dark chocolate crumb, and cassis sorbet micro sponge and ice cream marvel that wouldn’t look out of place on the forest floor. The bar program boasts one of the largest selections of Japanese whisky in California.
How to book: Make a reservation for indoor or patio dining online via SevenRooms. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Delivery/Takeout
Available for Reservations

Puesto Cervecería

Mission Valley
$$$$

The Puesto empire added brewing beer to their empire with Puesto Cerveceria in Mission Valley, manned by industry vet Doug Hasker and focused on Mexican lagers. Along with all your favorite Puesto signature blue corn tacos, seafood, and shared plates, there’s an extensive bar program that includes margaritas on draft, seasonal cocktails with a focus on agave spirits, and a selection of over 70 tequilas, 50 mezcals, and more than 300 spirits.
How to book: Make a reservation for indoor or patio dining online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available. Order takeout online.

Lumi by Akira Back
Photo courtesy of Lumi by Akira Back

Lumi by Akira Back

Gaslamp Quarter
$$$$

Expect contemporary Japanese fare with Nikkei cuisine influenced by Japanese and Peruvian flavors, including warm and cold shared plates, like Rock Shrimp Tempura with spicy aioli and apple-dressed arugula. For something a bit different, try the Akira Back Pizza, that’s topped with tuna, serrano, red onion, beets, tomato, micro cilantro, and ponzu mayo, or diverse sushi offerings, a signature mystery box called Nazo 9 for two, plus a curated selection of the chef’s sushi and sashimi specials with limited availability. Signature sips include the largest selection of top-tier Japanese whiskies in the city, Akira Back’s very own sake, and a host of hand-crafted cocktails.
How to book: Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available. Takeout or delivery can be ordered via UberEats.

Available for Delivery/Takeout
Available for Reservations
Cardellino
Photo courtesy of Cardellino

Cardellino

Mission Hills
$$$$

Cardellino’s menu is packed with signature dishes like Merguez Sausage Cavatelli and Mafalde Nere Alla Puttanesca, plus a selection of pizzas and pastas. Other dinner options include Coal Roasted Filet Mignon topped with fried truffle potatoes, charred broccolini, and bone marrow sauce, and Grilled Branzino with chickpeas, sun dried tomatoes, arugula, and grilled lemon. The dynamic beverage menu features refreshing house cocktails, sangrias, and wines by the glass; stop in every Tuesday through Sunday from 5–6 pm (4pm on Fridays) for happy hour specials on select appetizers and cocktails.
How to book: Make reservations for indoor or patio dining via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available. Takeout can be ordered online via Toast.

Animae
Photo courtesy of Animae

Animae

Downtown
$$$$

Under the helm of acclaimed chef Tara Monsod, Animae has a lighter, more Southeast Asian-focused menu. We recommend pairing Tara's ABG, a craft cocktail featuring a blend of rums, taro, cream of coconut, and pineapple, with savory Caviar Shrimp Toast or Tuna Crispy Rice. Then explore the sake menu while you indulge in A5 Wagyu; Shanghai Crab Noodles with snap peas, garlic chili butter, and cilantro; or Short Rib Kare Kare with green beans and eggplant.
How to book: Make reservations for indoor dining online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations

Cesarina

Point Loma
$$$$

The kitchen that acts as Cesarina’s centerpiece is a pastificio, with an enormous mixer and extruder where a dozen or so pasta varieties are made, including ruffled, twisted, and stuffed shapes that you mix and match with different sauces and toppings like octopus meatballs, guanciale, and earthy porcini. An array of antipasti, several specialty pasta dishes, and chicken, beef, and seafood entrees round out the bill of fare, and there’s a full vegan menu as well. The deconstructed tiramisu is worth saving room for—homemade ladyfingers are doused with fresh espresso from a tiny Bialetti pot, then topped with mounds of crema al mascarpone and a dusting of cocoa—it’s also available gluten-free and/or vegan. It’s worth mentioning that the service at Cesarina is always as warm and enthusiastic as a nonna’s hug.
How to book: Make a reservation for indoor or patio dining online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available. Order takeout online via Toast.

Available for Reservations

Tahona

Old Town
$$$$

Located next to one of San Diego’s most iconic landmarks, the Campo Santo Cemetery, Tahona features executive chef Adrian Villarreal’s extraordinary craft cocktails and contemporary Mexican cuisine sourced from local, sustainable vendors. Enjoy tacos stuffed with slow-braised carnitas, quesabirria, mussels, or the Taco Green Goodness with a Tehachapi Heritage Grain Project flour tortilla, creamy leeks, farmers market greens, grilled nopal, and salsa macha. Wash it down with an Old Town Fashioned, a combo of verde mezcal, lapsang-infused demerara, Scotch rinse, Angostura, and grapefruit bitters.
How to book: Make a reservation online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Available for Reservations

Morning Glory

Little Italy
$$$$

A bucket list destination for the brunch and Instagram crowd, Morning Glory’s menu more than lives up to the visual theatrics. The poofy souffle pancakes and instantly classic Morning Glory fried rice are must-tries, along with items like breakfast dim sum (served till noon) and Breakfast Carbonara, a tangle of al dente bucatini topped with crispy pork belly, a soft poached egg, and a drizzle of Calabrian chili oil. For special occasions, Family Affair entrees include a 45-day aged, two-pound Born and Raised porterhouse with eggs, hash browns, and truffles and serve two to three people. Of course, no self-respecting bruncher skimps on the liquid libations—we suggest the Socialist Republic of Coffee Cocktail, a boozy riff on Vietnamese coffee (if you want to wake up) or the Morning Wood Old Fashioned (if you need a little hair of the dog).
How to book: Indoor dining is on a first-come basis.

This is first and foremost a brewery, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t begin with head brewer Cosimo Sorrentino’s outstanding variety of beers, including Mexican dark and light lagers, pale ales, West Coast and hazy IPAs, hard seltzers, and collaborations. And lest you think that such an ambitious beer menu means basic brewpub bites, you’ll find hearty OG40 Homemade Chili, Short Rib Street Tacos, and a Spicy Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich available all day, with Mussels and Frites, Adobo Baby Back Ribs, and Steak Frites on the dinner menu.
How to book: Indoor and patio dining is available on a first-come basis. Order takeout online via Toast.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

Black Rail’s take on modern Californian fare captures hints of Mediterranean influence, including scratch-made pasta and a serious emphasis on fresh seafood. Shareable starters like Kino White Mexican Garlic Shrimp or Charred Octopus can sub for a light entree with the help of a fresh salad or rib-sticking White Bean and Kale Soup. Large plates include Hearth-Roasted Cauliflower on black lentils, quinoa, and labneh; a 20-ounce Bone-In Prime Ribeye; and a Half-Pound Prime Beef Burger topped with crispy prosciutto, havarti cheese, and black garlic aioli. Juicy, refreshing cocktails are bursting with citrus, pineapple, stone fruit, and floral accents.
How to book: Make a reservation for indoor or patio dining by calling 760-931-0020 or online via GetWisely. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available. Order online for pickup via Toast.

Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting stuff, reading cookbooks and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.