Where To Eat In San Diego Right Now
San Diego may be famous for fish tacos and craft beer, but there’s so much more to our culinary landscape. From seafood just pulled out of the ocean to freshly harvested fruits and vegetables, we enjoy a bounty that other parts of the country can only look at with envy. Whether they’re upstarts making waves or white tablecloths redefining extravagance, our curated list of brand new and almost new restaurants are skillfully navigating the uncharted waters of socially distanced outdoor dining, as well as pivots to convenient pickup and delivery options. So mask up, wash your hands, and enjoy the best restaurants our city has to offer. And, as always, tip generously and thank profusely.
The gist: Liberty Station’s newest outdoor dining spot for all American noshes and boozy slushies.
The food: Landing in the space formerly occupied by Fireside, The Presley makes the most of its nearly 2,100 square feet of dedicated outdoor dining area. Executive Chef Todd Nash’s menu features classic American fare including lobster roll 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 Frozen Gin Fizz.
The cost: Starters cost $5-20, flatbreads and salads run $10-13, entrees are $12-26, cocktails are $8-12, beer and wine by the glass are $6-13.
How to order: Make reservations for patio dining on OpenTable.
The gist: The team behind Rustic Root, Volcano Rabbit, and Side Bar expand with a luxury steakhouse and whisky society.
The food: 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, whiskey caramel, chocolate crumb, peanut butter 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. Those who prefer takeout can enjoy Huntress At Home, meals that serve up flavor-filled entrées, sides, and dessert for two or four that include simple directions for cooking and reheating and a code to download a curated playlist.
The cost: Appetizers and salads are $9-65, entrees are $25-150, desserts are $8-16, most cocktails are around $14, beer and wine by the glass are $6-25, whisky flights are $35-310. Take-home meals are $60-110, orders must be placed by 7pm on Wednesday for Friday pickup (between 3-7pm).
How to order: Make a reservation for patio dining online.
Puesto Mission Valley
The gist: San Diego’s favorite tacoteurs open their first brewery in Mission Valley.
The food: The Puesto empire has expanded 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 Mexico City-style tacos, mariscos and shared plates, there’s a new brewery, manned by industry vet Doug Hasker, who plans to focus 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.
The cost: Snacks, guac, ceviches and small plates run $3-25, mix and match tacos are three for $19, wood fired enchiladas and large plates cost $18-54, cocktails run $14-18, beer is $5-8, shots and flights of tequila and mezcal are $11-98.
How to order: Make a reservation for patio dining via OpenTable or order pickup or delivery through Postmates.
The gist: Michelin-starred Chef Back and Executive Chef James Jung bring modern Japanese cuisine to the Gaslamp Quarter.
The food: Expect contemporary Japanese fare with Nikkei and Korean influences, including warm and cool shared plates like rock shrimp tempura with spicy aioli and cabbage slaw. For something a bit different, try the Akira Back Pizza topped with tuna, yellowtail, serrano, red onion, beets, tomato, micro cilantro and ponzu mayo or diverse sushi offerings, a weekly nazo (mystery in Japanese) dish, and a curated selection of chef’s sushi and sashimi specials held every Wednesday with limited availability. Signature sips include the largest selection of top-tier Japanese whisky, Akira Back’s very own sake, and a host of hand-crafted cocktails.
The cost: Shared plates run $5-22, sushi, sashimi and entrees are $5-30, cocktails and sake flights are $13-15.
How to order: Make reservations for rooftop dining online.
The gist: An all-day bakery, cafe, and supper club serving Italian American comfort food.
The food: Cardellino just launched its new seasonal menu packed with fresh, summery dishes. Think summer corn agnolotti with sunchokes, lamb and pistachio triangole with crème fraîche, and coal-roasted Cedar River ribeye topped with scampi sauce and pecorino. Wednesday is Lasagna Night -- choose a meat or roasted vegetable lasagna dinner that feeds 4-6 and includes antipasto, house made bread and butter, house chop salad with pickled ramp vinaigrette, and a pint of Mr. Trustee’s Cookies and Cream ice cream. The dynamic beverage menu features refreshing house cocktails, adult slushies, and cocktails on tap.
The cost: Antipasti runs $6-17, pasta and pizza al forno cost $15-25, entrees are $28-52, cocktails are $10-13, beer and wine btg run $8-14. Lasagna dinners run $50-60.
How to order:Reserve a patio table or order for pickup online.
The gist: The Puffer/Malarkey Collective’s finally reopens with a new James Beard Award-winning culinary director.
The food: PMC took time reopening Animae, after studying how other restaurants pivoted to outdoor dining and the pitfalls of socially distanced service. Now under the helm of acclaimed chef Nate Appleman, it has a lighter, more Southeast Asian focused menu. Sip a Salty Szechuan Dog (szechuan pepper gin, Aperol, citrus) alongside savory, citrusy lobster nuoc cham or golden butter dumplings with Wagyu carpaccio and shrimp. Then explore the sake menu while you indulge in A5 Wagyu, Singapore chili lobster atop hand cut egg noodles, or steamed rock cod with celery, mushrooms, ginger, yuzu kosho butter, and aonori seaweed.
The cost: Hot and cold starters are $7-22, entrees go for $16-160, cocktails are around $15, beer and wine btg are $8-23 and sake flights run $25.
How to order: Reserve a patio table online.
The gist: A warm, Italian restaurant known for fresh pasta, stellar service, and a dessert cart.
The food: 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 including polpette, octopus meatballs, guanciale, and earthy porcini. An array of antipasti, several specialty pasta dishes and chicken, beef, or seafood entrees round out the bill of fare, there’s a full vegan menu and family-style dinners for two or four as well. Worth mentioning: The service at Cesarina is always as warm and enthusiastic as a nonna’s hug.
The cost: Antipasti is $13.50-16.95, build your own pasta costs $15.95-19.95, specialty pasta and entrees are $18.95-35.95 and family dinners run $39.95-79.95.
How to order: Reserve a patio table via OpenTable, or order for pickup or delivery on Toast.
The gist: San Diego’s first mezcaleria features Oaxacan influences and agave-based libations.
The food: 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 tostadas, tacos, and burritos stuffed with slow-braised carnitas, grilled carne asada, fried shrimp, and Maitake mushroom and cauliflower with mole negro, almonds, pickled onions, and sesame. Wash it down with a strong Whaley House Punch, a combo of El Silencio Mezcal, pineapple, salted watermelon, Campari, and Absinthe. Join them every Thursday at 8pm for Virtual Zoom Mezcal Society, where you’ll be guided through three 1-ounce pours of small batch mezcal, focusing on the tasting process and flavor notes of each.
The cost: Tacos, tostadas, and burritos run $4-10, cocktails are $10, and the Virtual Zoom Mezcal Society tasting is $30.
How to order: Order pickup and delivery online.
The gist: Come for the insane decor, stay for the standout brunch menu.
The food: 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 new 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 like a 45-day aged, 2-pound Born and Raised porterhouse with eggs, hash browns, and truffles serves a few 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).
The cost: Coffee, tea and mocktails are $3-5.50, cocktails range from $8-11, breakfast items cost $8-21, Family Affair entrees run $60-99 and require 48 hour notice.
How to order: Make a reservation for patio dining on OpenTable.
The gist: Brunch and brews are the attraction at this trendy North Park pub.
The food: This is a first and foremost a brewery, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t begin with head brewer Chris Gillogly’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 angus beef chili, short rib street tacos, and a seared pork belly banh mi sandwich available all day. Mussels and frites, baby back ribs, and a bavette steak with crispy fingerlings are on the dinner menu. Weekend brunch creations include prosciutto eggs benedict, an OG croque madame, and citrus salmon gravlax, along with a trio of specialty mimosas by the glass or bottomless.
The cost: Pints of beer, cider and hard seltzer run $6-8, small plates are $2.50-19, entrees and brunch options go for $8-$0, with $12 specialty and $16 bottomless mimosas
How to order: Patio dining is available on a first-come basis, or order online for pickup.
The gist: Star power and smokey flavors provide the heat at this small chain.
The food: Michelin award-winning chef Michael Mina and author/restaurateur Ayesha Curry are the powerhouse duo behind International Smoke’s woodfired cuisine. Inspired by their extensive travels, plates like wood-fired oysters, Jamaican jerk chicken cutlets, and five-spice fried chicken capture the smells and tastes from around the world and present them in a fresh space that’s both kid-friendly and upscale. Cocktails are also infused with smoky and/or warmly spiced elements, especially the ultra-smooth Smoke Signal (Basil Hayden, cardamom, corazón bitters) that’s reminiscent of a slow-cooked mole. A trio of family style meals are available and include starters, salads, two entrees, sides, and dessert.
The cost: Starters and salads cost $6-28, wood-fired seafood is $18-95, sandwiches and entrees run $15-135, cocktails are $12-55, beer and wine btg are $6-19. Take home family-style meals are $90 for two, and can be scaled up to eight servings.
How to order: Make a reservation for patio dining via SevenRooms, or order for pickup or local delivery (within seven miles) online.
Black Rail Kitchen & Tavern
The gist: Some of the best in California cuisine with a Mediterranean flair.
The food: Black Rail’s take on modern Californian fare captures hints of Mediterranean influence, including pasta made from scratch and a serious emphasis on fresh seafood. Shareable starters like yellowfin tartare and charred octopus can sub for a light entree with 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 massive bone-in ribeye for two, and a half-pound prime beef burger topped with crispy prosciutto, havarti cheese, and black garlic aioli. Refreshing cocktails are bursting with citrus, pineapple, stone fruit, and floral accents.
The cost: Starters, flatbreads and pasta run $8-24, large plates cost $16-65, all house cocktails are $12, beer and wine btg go for 6-$16.
How to order: Reserve a table for patio seating online.
The gist: Globally inspired fare in a chic, contemporary brewery.
The food: The latest opening from the Whisknladle group, Gravity Heights humbly aims to serve simply good beer and food in an inspired locale that’s decked out to the nines with plenty of air plants, wood, glass, and metal. Wood-fired pizzas are the star of the show here, as is the stacked bar munchies list chock full of interesting bites like banh mi crostini, bhel puri, Mexican street corn, and other international dishes. A new beer list is rolled out every Monday.
The cost: Snacky, munchy plates are $11.50-15.50, wood-fired pizzas, sandwiches and burgers run $14.95-21.50, entrees cost $17.50-48 and beer starts at $3.50 for tasters and up to $7.75 for a full pour.
How to order: Reserve a table for the patio via OpenTable, order for pickup online or delivery via DoorDash.
Grand Ole BBQ Flinn Springs
The gist: Authentic Texas barbecue that’s worth the drive.
The food: Owner and pitmaster Andy Harris opened the first Grand Ole BBQ y Asado in North Park to rave reviews, thanks to his unapologetic devotion to high-quality Central Texas-style barbecue. His second location, although a decent distance away from the city center, has proven to be a draw for folks looking for a chiller vibe and much more seating. (The addition of two full bars helps, too.) You can’t go wrong with the pulled pork and short ribs, but the Texas hot links are a surprise favorite. Brisket, Texas turkey, and pulled pork also get the sandwich treatment, or can be purchased for as little as 1/4 pound. Wash it down with classic cocktails like mules, margs, and Marys, or a beer from the surprisingly diverse draft menu.
The cost: Links and sandwiches are $8-14, smoked meats and ribs are $22-26/lb., house cocktails cost $10, drafts and wine by the glass run $4-9.
How to order: Patio dining is available on a first-come, first-serve basis or order takeout online.
The gist: A multifaceted culinary experience in one of San Diego's fanciest neighborhoods.
The food: Fort Oak is conveniently situated in the new mixed-use building The Fort, and in normal times offers disjointed bars and dining rooms that provide a variety of experiences, including the main dining room, a separate bar, and a chef’s table section with a grill and intimate seating. The menu at Fort Oak zeroes in on wood-fired cooking with surprising and creative twists like hearth roasted carrots with quinoa, humboldt fog, pickled fennel, and smoky yogurt or garlicky hearth grilled prawns, elote aioli, and shishito relish. The quirky cocktail menu features separate sections for martinis and low-ABV drinks, ensuring something for everyone.
The cost: Shareable starters are $6-21, chilled raw seafood and towers run $16-138, entrees cost $33-92, cocktails are $12-15 while beer and by the glass wine are $7-26.
How to order: Reserve patio seating online, or use Toast for takeout or curbside pickup.
The gist: San Diego’s best taco shop comes from a Tijuana transplant
The food: This bare-bones taco shop overlooking the border in San Ysidro is likely one of San Diego’s best new openings in recent years. Tuétano Taqueria is the effort of Priscilla Curiel, a graduate of the culinary program at the Arts Institute and a scion of a family of Tijuana restaurateurs. Her birria is executed perfectly -- just don’t forget to order it with the star of the show, and the reason for the name: a side of slowly roasted bone marrow.
The cost: Tacos, quesadillas, and guisados are $2.50-9, tuétano is $3.50, soft drinks and coffee are $2-2.50.
How to order: Walk up or text 619-856-7013 with your name and order for takeout.
Jeune et Jolie
The gist: Stodgy French classics get a facelift at this modern take on a classic bistro.
The food: Billing itself an exuberant new spin on a traditional French restaurant, Jeune et Jolie recently reinvented itself as an outdoor-only bistro. A five-course tasting menu called Starry Night changes weekly and features inventive takes on familiar dishes like a duo of salmon cured and smoked with crispy potatoes and crème fraîche, grilled Wagyu with tomato farci and mushrooms, and pavlova of passionfruit and berries. There’s a stacked list of lower-intervention wines, as well as a collection of cocktails that pay tribute to former French colonies like Vietnam, Haiti, and Algeria.
The cost: Starry Night’s five-course tasting dinner is $95 per person, including tax and gratuity, cocktails are $11-14, wine btg is $13-19.
How to order: Reservations for patio seating are required, make them via OpenTable.
The gist: Fast-casual counter service spot serving fancy tacos.
The food: Lola 55 finally opened in the IDEA1 building near Petco Park after two years of culinary research and development. The name of the game at Lola 55 is fast casual: It’s counter service only, with higher-end tacos like squash blossom relleno and spicy smoked fish making up the majority of the menu. A full bar serves refreshing agave-based house cocktails and a large selection of mezcal, tequila, and tasting flights.
The cost: Tacos and sides run $2.50-6,
How to order: A few patio tables are available on a first-come basis, or order online for takeout or curbside pickup.
The gist: Arguably the best ramen in San Diego. ‘Nuff said.
The food: San Diego’s best ramen can be found at Menya Ultra, 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. While there’s no outdoor seating, you can still order ramen by the bowl or in family-sized kits that include everything you need to create your own Menya Ultra experience at home.
The cost: Apps are $2.95-$6.95, ramen bowls run $10.95-$16.95, kits cost $38-$50.
How to order: Order online for pickup or delivery via several third party services.