The Best Restaurants in San Diego Right Now
San Diego may be famous for fish tacos and craft beer, but why stop there? There’s so much more to this beach town’s culinary scene than fast-casual dining (although there’s still plenty of that). Even Michelin noticed the up-and-comers earlier this year when it awarded Addison in Del Mar one of its coveted stars, as well as eight “Bib Gourmand” awards to rising icons. From newcomers making waves to white tablecloths redefining extravagance, there’s something for everyone in America’s Finest (and possibly Most Delicious) City.
A hip way to start the day
North Park is more known for late nights than early mornings, but the opening of North Park Breakfast Company means that’s poised to change. Their menu is simple but extensive, with everything from yogurt bowls to mashed potato waffles (which are perfect for those who can’t decide between sweet and savory). This being North Park, the heart of hipster territory, there are several vegan options as well as mocktails to accompany the various cocktails, cold brews, and kombuchas.
Authentic Italian gets the California treatment
A duo of Michelin-starred chefs run the kitchen at Il Dandy, a much-hyped addition to the thriving San Diego food scene. The Calabrian-inspired menu features regional Italian favorites with a California spin, including locally-caught sea bass, spot prawns, and sea urchin served over spaghetti. There’s plenty of pizza and pasta, of course, but expect a much grander presentation with serious attention to detail. This eye for perfection extends to the decor as well; every inch of the gigantic space is lavishly and lovingly created with plenty of European touches paying homage to the Calabrian countryside.
A painfully photogenic work of art -- and the food’s good, too
Morning Glory is an Instagrammer’s paradise, provided you’re up early enough to beat the crowds. This ostentatious eatery promises to zap droopy-eyed diners awake with a combination of caffeine and equally high-octane decor. Their fluffy soufflé pancakes are already famous in San Diego, and the rest of their menu is just as dazzling. It’s a mix of high and low art, with offerings like an “Afternoon Tea Service” nestled next to “McDiddle with Spam,” a play on the quintessential breakfast sandwich. Don’t skimp on the liquid libations; adventurous groups should opt for the “Reign in Blood” Bloody Mary pitcher that’s tailor-made for sharing under the iconic pink sunburst-shaped chandelier.
Korean cuisine curated to the best of the best
The second outpost of this Asian megastore is home to one of San Diego’s most exciting food halls, stuffed to the brim with delicious stalls hawking Korean street food, Chinese-Korean fusion, and even specialty hot dogs from beloved Korean chain Myungrang Hot Dog. Comfort foods like tteokbokki (spicy stir-fried rice cakes), jajangmyeon (noodles in a black bean sauce), donkatsu (breaded and deep-fried pork cutlets) and tofu soup are all abundant, so sampling something from every stall is the best way to find your new favorite. For dessert, the South Korean franchise Tous Les Jours Bakery has a huge variety of fresh baked goods sure to satiate the sweet-toothed diner.
Elevated brewpub that offers brunch, brews, and neighborhood views
This North Park newcomer gets its name from the first 40 acre plot that eventually became the modern day Mid-City neighborhood. Over the past few years, North Park has transformed into a drinking-and-dining destination for anyone looking for local beer and high-quality eats (both of which it boasts in abundance). Head brewer Chris Gillogly is a local vet of the craft beer scene and keeps the taps flowing with a variety of beers like hazy IPAs, Mexican lagers, blonde ales, stouts, and a bevy of collaborations with other local breweries. The accompanying food menu is anything but your basic brewpub fare; think braised adobo ribs and mussels, rather than buffalo wings and onion rings. OG40 also recently opened for brunch, so you can turn a trip to this stylish brewery into an all-day affair.
Star power and smokey flavors provide the heat at this small chain
The fourth location of this celebrity-backed wood-fired cuisine concept brings an elevated look to the already chic One Paseo development in the center of San Diego county. With Michelin award-winning chef Michael Mina and restaurateur/cookbook author Ayesha Curry at the helm, the menu spans the globe in search of different approaches to utilizing fire and smoke in every dish. 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 without getting stuffy.
High-quality eats in a high-dollar area
Compared to neighborhoods like Little Italy and East Village, the upscale North County region has lagged in adding innovative eateries. However, that’s rapidly changing with several high-profile restaurants that have opened in the past few years, most recently Black Rail’s take on modern California cuisine. Hints of Mediterranean influence echo through the menu, including pasta made from scratch and a serious emphasis on fresh seafood options. Many of the plates are meant to be shared, so be sure to bring a friend who’s not afraid to order a little bit of everything.
Just another San Diego brewery? With a food menu this good, think again
The ‘burbs play home to this gorgeous restaurant-brewery concept, the latest opening from the Whisknladle group. Opened in February 2019, 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, all of which is more befitting of a hipster event space than a brewery or pizza joint. 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 globally-inspired dishes. A new beer list is rolled out every Monday, according to what was brewed most recently.
Authentic Texas barbecue that’s worth the drive
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 in a town that historically lacked smoked meat-centric options. 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.
A multifaceted culinary experience in one of San Diego's fanciest neighborhoods
The third opening from the Trust Restaurant Group (following Trust and Hundred Proof), Fort Oak debuted in Mission Hills in January 2019. It’s situated in the new mixed-use building The Fort, and 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. Similar to Trust, the menu at Fort Oak zeroes in on wood-fired cooking with surprising and creative twists. One of the most exciting aspects is the bar, which is housed in an old Ford dealership away from the main dining room; the cocktail menu features a separate section for both martinis and low-ABV drinks, ensuring something for everyone.
San Diego’s best taco shop comes from a Tijuana transplant
This casual, unassuming, bare-bones taco shop overlooking the border in San Ysidro is likely one of San Diego’s best new openings as well as its best taco shop. 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 the star of the show, executed perfectly and the reason for the name -- just don’t forget to order it with a side of bone marrow.
Stodgy French classics get a facelift at this modern take on a classic bistro
January saw the debut of Jeune et Jolie in Carlsbad village, just up the road from its sister restaurant, Campfire. Billing itself an exuberant new spin on a French restaurant, the quality manages to live up to the hype with dishes like rabbit sausage, prawns with peanut in consomme, and a cote de boeuf with parsley root. The drinks are just as inspired, too: 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.
Fast-casual counter service spot serving fancy tacos
One of the most highly anticipated openings of the year, Lola 55 finally opened in late summer 2018 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 making up the majority of the menu along with a fully stacked bar serving refreshing cocktails.
Arguably the best ramen in San Diego. ‘Nuff said.
Yes, San Diego’s best ramen can be found at Convoy’s Menya Ultra, which opened during summer 2017 to great fanfare (and lines). It’s 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. There is basically no “good” time to go, as there’s always a well-deserved line, but here’s hoping a new Mira Mesa location will alleviate the crowds just a little bit.
The best place to see and be seen while dropping a lot of cash
San Diego’s newest, swankiest steakhouse is Born & Raised, which opened in fall 2017 after a $6 million build out. The menu is simple: prime cuts aged in-house, killer cocktails (from the bar or a roving cart), and a see-and-be-seen atmosphere unreplicated anywhere in downtown San Diego. To top it off, opt for a slice of the Alice in Wonderland-esque carrot cake before retiring to the buzzy rooftop for a night cap.
An outdoorsy restaurant where camping takes center stage
Paying homage to the great outdoors, Carlsbad’s Campfire lives up to its name with tasteful design reminiscent of the chicest campground, ever. Live fire cooking is the word here, with roasted broccoli being one of the surprising stars on the menu, as well as the whole-grilled fish (which changes depending on market availability). Another delight is the cocktail list, which blends elements of smoke and fire to create one-of-a-kind tipples that would be impossible to find anywhere else in San Diego.
Where farm-to-table meets quality Italian cooking
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.
Some of the best cocktails in town, with a death metal vibe
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!
San Diego’s OG hub for experimental cuisine
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.
The best sushi just about anywhere on the planet
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.
Authentic Thai food in an unassuming strip mall
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).
Absolute precision meets culinary opulence
Despite its size and burgeoning restaurant scene, there’s only one Michelin-starred restaurant in San Diego: Addison at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar. Chef William Bradley is known for complete attention to detail throughout the contemporary French service, which stands in opposition to the laid-back style of dining that the town has traditionally been known for. It’s well worth the price tag; the immersive culinary experience here is unmatched. It may be the first Michelin star in California’s second largest city, but Addison is already setting the stage for a new era of dining in San Diego.
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Unpretentious Chinese food hidden in plain sight
The menu at this Cantonese-meets-Vietnamese restaurant uses three languages to appeal to its diverse clientele, but no matter what you order, it’s sure to knock your socks off. Located in the heart of Little Saigon in City Heights, this tiny restaurant slings some of the best Southern China-style noodles in town, as well as Chinese-American favorites and innovative Vietnamese fusion. Although the gigantic menu can be intimidating, the chow mein and egg noodles are great places to start -- you can graduate to the crispy chicken leg if you're feeling fancy. Parking is notoriously terrible in this area, but the budget-friendly prices and delicious variety make the trip worthwhile.
Premium sushi in an unfussy setting
In-the-know locals agree that Sushi Ota is one of the best -- if not the best -- places to get sushi in San Diego. The preferred way to experience Ota is opting for omakase at the bar, but if that’s not available, table service is attentive and just as pleasant. Unlike some of the “hipper” sushi spots in town, there’s no DJ blasting music or cheesy decor littering the dining room. What Ota "lacks" in ambiance, though, it more than makes up for with quality. Dinner reservations are strongly recommended, and be sure to check the specials board for the latest catches.
In-the-know burger fans claim this one's the best in the city
Ask anyone in San Diego who has the best burger in town, and they’re likely to put Rocky’s at the top of the list. This beachside pub is a true hole-in-the-wall experience, with plenty of cold beer on draft to wash down its famous made-to-order burgers -- it's a pub after all, though, so don’t try to stop by with the family after a beach day since a valid 21+ ID is required to get in. If you do happen to stumble inside craving sustenance, make sure you bring cash (as no credit cards accepted).
Family-style Mexican food from a not-so-secret San Diego staple
It would be easy to miss this landmark restaurant, if it weren’t for the line of hungry patrons wrapping around the block each morning until it closes at 3pm. The no-frills spot slings authentic tacos, tamales, and tortillas by the thousands every day except Sunday, when it closes for a well-deserved day of rest. Take the long wait time to have your order ready to go once you get to the register -- anything that holds up the line is a big no-no.
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