Everywhere You Need to Eat in San Diego Right Now
From Southeast Asian flavors to modern steakhouses, new brunch destinations, and more.
Craft beer and fish tacos may be San Diego’s most beloved food combo, but our culinary landscape is so much more than that. Famously perfect weather, miles of coastline, and our status as an international port of call ensure that our restaurants have an abundance of locally grown fruits and vegetables, the freshest seafood, and carefully curated meats. Add to that a host of phenomenal chefs, including Michelin Bib Gourmand recipients and Top Chef All Stars, and you’ve got a restaurant scene that’s continuously evolving and expanding. From rising young guns pushing the boundaries of imaginative nouvelle cuisine to seasoned masters redefining the classics, there’s something for everyone in America’s Finest City.
Keep in mind that we’re still operating in a changing environment—tuck a mask into your pocket and be aware that labor shortages mean you may experience longer waits for seating and service. Call or check restaurant websites to confirm hours of operation and additional restrictions. Exercise patience, don’t be too quick to write a scathing social media review if things are a little slower than normal and, of course, tip generously. Here are our choices for the best places to eat in San Diego right now:
The buzz: Southeast Asian flavors from the folks behind Oceanside’s Dija Mara.
The food: Traditional tastes of Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Thailand abound at this brand 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 black cod in turmeric and summery herbs of dill, lovage, and dandelion. Cocktails add zing with complimentary flavors as well, think lychee, mango, lime, Thai basil, and chili, or a refreshing “gintail”—they make a mean Singapore Sling.
The cost: Starters and shareables run $13-18, entrees are $25-37. Cocktails are $11-13, drafts cost $8-9.
VAGA Restaurant and Bar
The buzz: Chef Claudette Zepeda puts her stamp on a beautiful new resort restaurant.
The food: 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 incorporating natural wines utilizing grapes from low-intervention/biodynamic vineyards.
The cost: Signature cocktails are $11-18, drafts, bottled beer and wine by the glass run $7-19. Starters and shared plates cost $8-25, entrees are $30-75.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online via SevenRooms. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.
The buzz: Upscale Mediterranean fare in an industrial-chic stunner.
The food: Callie, Executive Chef Travis Swikard’s on-again, off-again labor of love, finally opened this June in the East Village. Shareable dips and spreads, house-made pastas, and grilled seafood are standouts, or 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 curd, decorated with rose meringue kisses and honey-whipped labneh, topped with sesame halva floss.
The cost: Spreads and small plates are $12-21, pastas, seafood, and entrees run $19-34. The Mediterranean feast is $65 per person, with an optional wine pairing for an additional $40.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.
Ember & Rye
The buzz: Playful takes on old favorites give this steakhouse a modern twist.
The food: 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.
The cost: Snacks are $7-35, entrees run $29-230, cocktails go for $18-50, beer is $8-16, and wines by the glass are $12-28.
The buzz: An all-day cocktail menu—why not?
The food: Get your morning started right with a Kingston Cold Brew, infused with Jamaican rum and mole bitters, to go with your breakfast rice bowl or bennies, or if you’re more of an afternoon drinker, pair an A&G Root Beer with a pig mac bao or double-double burger. The evening menu features elegant sea bass en papillote, grilled Australian lamb chops and roasted pork shoulder lettuce wraps, perfect with a smokey Bodega Boy (mezcal, toasted rice, coconut, lime, mango) or lush 7th Note Old Fashioned, pumped up with Amaro Montenegro and black walnut bitters.
The cost: Cocktails run $14-18, drafts are $8-9, wine by the glass is $12-17. Breakfast items go for $7-16, lunch runs $13-21, dinners entrees are $32-95.
How to order: Reservations are recommended and can be made via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.
The buzz: Hot southern food and cool boozy ice cream served with a side of rock and roll.
The food: 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.
The cost: Food runs $4-25, cocktails are $10-12, ice cream is $3 for a regular scoop, $8 for a boozy scoop and $12.50 for a 12-oz carton, and cocktail lickers are $7.50.
How to book:Gaslamp: Indoor and patio dining is on a first-come basis. Reservations for groups of six or more can be made by calling 619-546-6424.North Park: Reservations can be made via TableAgent. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.
Serea Coastal Cuisine
The buzz: Dive into sustainable seafood and spectacular sunsets.
The food: 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.
The cost: Starters run $18-23, entrees cost $26-61, whole fish is market price, cocktails are $19, beer and wine by the glass are $10-45.
Gelati & Peccati
The buzz: Roman-style pizza, served by the slice.
The food: 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.
The cost: Pizza slices cost $3.50-5, gelato scoops are $4-6, pints are $9.
How to book: Patio seating on a first-come basis.
Gaslamp Breakfast Company
The buzz: These innovative waffles and vibrant cocktails just might turn you into a morning person.
The food: 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, gambar 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.
The cost: Full breakfast plates are $8-$19, coffee drinks, tea, mocktails, and booch are $2.50-$7, most cocktails are $9.50, beer is $7, and a bottle of bubbly with OJ is $24.
The buzz: Liberty Station’s newest outdoor dining spot for all-American noshes and boozy slushies.
The food: 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 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 a Lava Flow slushy.
The cost: Starters cost $6-25, flatbreads and salads run $12-18, entrees are $14-28.50, cocktails are $9-15, beer and wine by the glass are $6-14.
The buzz: 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 cherry, vanilla, dark chocolate, and pistachio 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.
The cost: Appetizers and salads are $9-35, entrees are $25-150+, desserts are $10-18, most cocktails are around $15, beer and wine by the glass are $6-59, and whisky flights are $35-310.
How to book: Make a reservation for indoor or patio dining online via SevenRooms. Walk-ins are accepted if available.
Puesto Mission Valley
The buzz: San Diego’s favorite tacoteurs open their first brewery in Mission Valley.
The food: 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, 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 $6-17, tacos are $7-12, enchiladas cost $20-23, cocktails run $14-$18, beer is $8, flights of tequila and mezcal are $22-35.
Lumi by Akira Back
The buzz: Michelin-starred Chef Akira 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 cold 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 signature mystery box called Nazo 9, 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.
The cost: Shared plates run $6-25, sushi, sashimi and entrees are $6-36, cocktails and sake flights are $13-17.
How to book: Make reservations for indoor or rooftop dining online via SevenRooms.
The buzz: An all-day bakery, cafe, and supper club serving Italian-American comfort food.
The food: Cardellino just launched their new brunch menu, packed with fresh, summery dishes like tasty tartines on house-baked bread and signature dishes like a roasted wild mushroom omelet and banana vanilla pancakes, plus a selection of pizzas and pastas. Dinner options include coal-roasted Cedar River ribeye topped with roasted garlic, fennel, white wine herb butter, and grana padano and spiced lamb orecchiette in dill cream, pine nuts, currant, sumac, and mint. The dynamic beverage menu features refreshing house cocktails, adult slushies, and cocktails on tap; stop in every Wednesday through Sunday from 3–6 pm for happy hour specials on select appetizers and cocktails.
The cost: Antipasti runs $6-20, pasta and pizza al forno cost $16-22, entrees are $28-52, cocktails are $12-15, beer and wine by the glass run $8-$14.
How to book: Make reservations for indoor or patio dining via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if available.
The buzz: The Puffer/Malarkey Collective’s latest venue has a dynamic new culinary director.
The food: Now under the helm of acclaimed chef Tara Monsod, Animae has a lighter, more Southeast Asian focused menu. Sip a Calamansi Cooler (tequila, calamansi, sakura blossom, togarashi rim) alongside savory caviar shrimp toast or sweet and sour cauliflower. 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.
The cost: Hot and cold starters are 6-26, entrees go for 28-55+, cocktails are 16-21, beer and wine by the glass are $8-25, and sake flights run $25.
The buzz: 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 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 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.
The cost: Antipasti are $14.50–23.95, build your own pasta costs $18.95-21.95, and specialty pasta and entrees are $18.95-36.95.
The buzz: 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 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 Whaley House Punch, a combo of mezcal verde, pineapple juice, salted watermelon syrup, Campari, fresh lime, and an absinthe rinse. Join them for live Spanish guitar music on Sunday evenings.
The cost: Tacos run $6 each or 3 for $16, cocktails are $10-14, and mezcal flights are $30-60.
The buzz: 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 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).
The cost: Coffee, tea, and mocktails are $3-5.50, cocktails range from $10-12, breakfast items cost $5.99-26, Family Affair entrees run $99-135 and require 48 hour notice.
How to book: Indoor dining is on a first-come basis.
The buzz: Brunch and brews are the attraction at this trendy North Park pub.
The food: This is 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 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.
The cost: Pints of beer, cider and hard seltzer run $6-8, small plates are $4-18, sandwiches, burgers and flatbreads run $10-16, entrees go for $8-$20.
The buzz: Star power and smokey flavors provide the heat at this small chain.
The food: Michelin award-winning chef Michael Mina and cookbook author/restaurateur Ayesha Curry are the powerhouse duo behind International Smoke’s wood-fired cuisine. Inspired by their extensive travels, plates like wood-fired oysters, Sinaloan-style chicken, charbroiled miso Chilean sea bass, Korean smoked brisket, and three different takes on mac and cheese capture 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 International Smoke Old Fashioned (bacon washed bourbon, smoked maple syrup, angostura bitters, cherry, vanilla).
The cost: Starters and salads cost $6-19, smoked meats are $26-72, entrees run $19–72, cocktails are $16, and beer and wine by the glass are $7-28.
How to book: Make a reservation for indoor or patio dining via SevenRooms. Walk-ins are accepted if available. Order for pickup online via SevenRooms.
Black Rail Kitchen & Bar
The buzz: 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 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
The cost: Starters, flatbreads, and pasta run $8-24, large plates cost $19-48, house cocktails are $12-14, beer and wine by the glass go for $8-17.
How to book: Make a reservation for indoor or patio dining online via GetWisely. Walk-ins are accepted if available.
The buzz: Globally-inspired fare in a chic, contemporary brewery.
The food: The latest opening from Whisknladle Hospitality, 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 including a mezze platter, bhel puri, Mexican street corn, and other international dishes. A new beer list is rolled out every Monday.
The cost: Snacky, munchy plates are $11.75–15.50, wood-fired pizzas, sandwiches and burgers run $14.95-16.95, entrees cost $16.95-28.95 and beer starts at $3.50 for tasters and up to $7.75 for a full pour.
Grand Ole BBQ Flinn Springs
The buzz: 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, along with St. Louis cut pork ribs and beef short ribs in quantities of a quarter-pound or more. Wash it down with classic cocktails like mules, margs, and Marys, or a beer from their surprisingly diverse draft menu.
The cost: Links and sandwiches are $8-15, smoked meats and ribs are $25-28 per pound, house cocktails cost $11, drafts and wine by the glass run $6-9.
How to book: Indoor and patio dining is available on a first-come basis. Order online for pickup via ChowNow.
The buzz: 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; and garlicky hearth-grilled prawns with 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 $8-26, chilled raw seafood and towers run $95-155, entrees cost $35-105, cocktails are $13-34, while beer and by the glass wine are $12-18.
How to book: Make a reservation for indoor or patio dining via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if available.
The buzz: 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 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, aka tuétano.
The cost: Tacos, quesadillas, and guisados are $2.75-9, tuétano is $3.75, soft drinks and coffee are $2-3.
Jeune et Jolie
The buzz: 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 has launched a new four-course menu, Le Diner, in which guests make their own selections from four choices per course, including vegetarian options. For those who want a more laid back approach, Le Menu du Bar will offer à la carte options to walk-in guests at the bar and lounge. 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: The Le Diner menu costs $85 per person and Le Menu du Bar runs $8–22. Cocktails are $14, wine by the glass is $15-$19.
Jackie Bryant is a contributor for Thrillist.