The Most Exciting Restaurants in San Diego Right Now

An absinthe bistro, NOLA-inspired fare in Little Italy, and more.

arlo
Photo courtesy of Arlo

Carefully curated meats, the freshest seafood from local waters, and an abundance of locally grown fruits and vegetables ensure that San Diego’s restaurant scene continues to grow and evolve. From charming bistros in Little Italy to romantic Downtown restaurants with a view to Michelin-starred cuisine in the Gaslamp District, there’s something for everyone in America’s Finest City.

Keep in mind that we’re still operating in a changing environment—call or check restaurant websites to confirm hours of operation and be aware that labor shortages mean you may experience longer waits for seating and service. Exercise patience, don’t be too quick to write a scathing review if things are a little slower than normal and, of course, tip generously. Here’s our list of the best places to eat in San Diego right now:

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 a wood-fire and offered alongside robust Valle de Guadalupe wines. Standout entrees include tacos bursting with Baja-farmed abalone and roasted cauliflower on nixtamalized corn tortillas, and rabbit loin with prosciutto, creamy millet, micro vegetables, and jus. A full bar serves craft agave cocktails.
How to book: via SevenRooms.

Wormwood
Photo courtesy of Wormwood

Wormwood

University Heights
$$$$

Wormwood, 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 caviar served with a sea urchin flan and Eggplant Crème Fraîche, or 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 absinthe 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 it’s 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 and four years as chef de cuisine for fine dining and executive banquet chef at the Hotel del Coronado, the menu that features shareable plates like Charcuterie de Mer and California Paella, wood-fired flatbreads, and larger entrees such as a Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin and Maple Leaf Farms Duck. 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 Carousel Bar
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, sourced from Baja and prepared with housemade butter, heavy cream, spinach, parmesan, and breadcrumbs; Wagyu Tartare with gremolata, quail yolk, and brioche toast points; and Steak Frites with a 16-ounce ribeye, maison béarnaise, and pommes frites, with optional shaved black truffles. The beverage program serves NOLA signature cocktails like the French 75, Sazerac, and Vieux Carré 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 fuses 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 Lobster Toast with lemon brown butter and red-veined sorrel on brioche, and Citrus-Poached Shrimp with tomato jam, and house-made chips. Noteworthy entrees include Cornish Game Hen with winter vegetables and potato gnocchi, and Wagyu Beef Bavette with natural risotto and Castelvetrano olive compound butter. A half-dozen cocktails, beer, and wine by the glass round out the menu, and a short bar menu provides munchies like Shrimp Puffs, Roasted Pork Belly, and Kumamoto Oysters. Brunch is only served on Sundays.
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
$$$$

Traditional tastes of Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Thailand abound at this new addition to the North Park food scene. Start with a Sri Lankan coconut roti and smoky eggplant to dip, an imperial roll stuffed with wood ear mushrooms and duck confit; peanut, tamarind, and lemongrass-laced oyster mushrooms; or Ribeye Phuket Au Poivre. Larger plates include a palm sugar-glazed brisket or Hanoi-style Fried Whole Snapper. Cocktails add zing with complementary flavors as well, think lychee, mango, lime, Thai basil, and chili, or a refreshing “gintail”—they also make a mean Singapore Sling.
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 Executive Chef 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, Chef Zepeda fuses diverse cultures with local ingredients in dishes such as heirloom bean soup, brisket buns, and Baja sea bass on a seasonal menu. The beverage program, led by Alexander Gregg, 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
$$$$

Executive Chef Travis Swikard’s on-again, off-again labor of love in the East Village features shareable dips and spreads, house-made pastas, and grilled seafood. Alternatively, let them curate your experience with the Mediterranean Feast, a five course, family-style meal that covers you from dips to dessert, 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.
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, founding chef of Juniper and Ivy in Little Italy, as well as 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 brawny aged steaks and fresh seafood in a classic California setting, while also offering unexpected, whimsical takes like a lobster knuckle sandwich, white chocolate-dipped radishes, Scotch eggs with maple, 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, pumpkin orgeat, Jamaican rum, and mole bitters, to go with your Breakfast Rice Bowl or bennies, or if you’re more of an afternoon drinker, pair a Kona Old Fashioned (bourbon, macadamia, molé bitters, large sexy cube) with a Pig Mac Bao or Double-Double Burger. The evening menu features elegant Sea Bass en Papillote and Roasted Pork Shoulder Lettuce Wraps, both of which pair perfectly with a smokey Bodega Boy (mezcal, toasted rice, coconut, lime, mango) or lush Dark Horse, pumped up with 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.

Metl
Photo courtesy of Metl Bar & Restaurant

Metl

Gaslamp Quarter & North Park
$$$$

Dig into comfort food like Poutine, Chicken Fried Steak, and burgers, but save room for the headliners—more than 40 rotating flavors of liquored-up ice creams like Birthday Bitch (rainbow cake flavored vodka, birthday cake, blue raspberry pop rocks in white chocolate) or Slam Diego (Templeton rye, peanuts, Cracker Jack, and pretzels) available in scoops, cones, pints, shakes, sundaes, and flights, along with ice cream sandwiches and cocktail lickers (push pops). There’s a number of vegan options as well as menus for kids and fur kids, a first-rate cocktail program, and an extensive array of agave-based spirits. Pick up pints and push pops only at the Gaslamp location, or head to North Park for a full menu of ice cream options for dine-in or to-go.
How to book: Gaslamp: Reservations can be made via TableAgent. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available. Reservations for groups of six or more can be made by calling 619-546-6424. Order for takeout online. North Park: Reservations can be made via TableAgent. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available. Order for takeout online.

Available for Delivery/Takeout
Serẽa Coastal Cuisine
Photo courtesy of Serea

Serea 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 in both 2019 and 2020 for his commitment to sustainable seafood practices. Pair your meal with a luxurious hand-crafted cocktail or a selection from the eclectic wine cellar.

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

Gelati & Peccati

North Park
$$$$

The newest member of the Buona Forchetta family, Gelati & Peccati, is modeled after the walk-up pizzerias and gelati shops common in Rome. High-hydration dough ferments for 72 hours, and is baked in sheet pans for light, airy, and crispy crusts. Sold al taglio, or “by the cut,” there’s dozens of combinations that rotate throughout the day, and while it’s difficult to pick favorites, standouts include luxurious Lussuria with mozzarella, caciocavallo, guanciale, and fresh truffle or their best-selling Invidia, simply topped with zucchini, ricotta, lemon zest, black pepper. It goes without saying that you’ll want to save room for a scoop or two of gelato, which comes in 18 flavors, and includes vegan options as well as fruit sorbets.
How to book: Patio 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, but 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 vegan 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

Puesto Cerveceria

Mission Valley
$$$$

The Puesto empire has grown again with Puesto Cerveceria in Mission Valley, taking over the old Gordon Biersch Brewery and expanding it with an $8 million buildout. Along with all your favorite Puesto signature blue corn tacos, seafood, and shared plates, there’s an enhanced brewery, manned by industry vet Doug Hasker and focused on Mexican lagers. In addition, a new bar program 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.

Available for Delivery/Takeout
Available for Reservations
Lumi
Photo courtesy of Lumi by Akira Back

Lumi by Akira Back

Gaslamp Quarter

Expect contemporary Japanese fare with Nikkei and Korean influences, 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: Make reservations for indoor or rooftop dining online via SevenRooms. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available. Takeout or delivery can be ordered via UberEats and other delivery apps.

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

Cardellino

Mission Hills
$$$$

Cardellino’s menu is packed with signature dishes like Merguez Sausage Cavatelli and Butternut Squash Triangoli, plus a selection of pizzas and pastas. Other dinner options include Coal-Roasted Cedar River Prime Ribeye topped with fried truffle potatoes, charred broccolini, and bone marrow sauce and Grilled Mediterranean Branzino with chickpeas, sun dried tomatoes, arugula, and grilled lemon. The dynamic beverage menu features refreshing house cocktails, adult slushies, and cocktails on tap; stop in every Tuesday through Sunday from 4–6 pm 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 light, Southeast Asian-focused menu. Sip a Blood Moon Rising (pink peppercorn gin, gentian amaro, blood orange, lemon egg white) alongside 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 Kare Kare Short Ribs 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 at Cesarina’s centerpiece is a pastificio, with an enormous mixer and extruder where a dozen or so 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. Their 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. Worth mentioning: 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 Bar

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, grilled carne asada, fried shrimp, and Maitake mushroom and cauliflower, and fillings that include mole negro, almonds, pickled onions, and sesame. 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 Delivery/Takeout
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 ‘til 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 like a 45-day aged, two-pound Born and Raised porterhouse with eggs, hash browns, and truffles serves 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.

Original 40

North Park
$$$$

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, house-made Beef Chili, Short Rib Street Tacos, and a Spicy Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich available all day, with Mussels and Frites, Adobo Baby Back Ribs, and a Flatiron Steak with fries and chimichurri 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 spicy feta; 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.