Where to Eat in San Diego Right Now
Between indoor and outdoor dining, takeout, and delivery, our options are plentiful.
While 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic attempted to beat our restaurant industry down with repeated lockdowns, ever-changing operating protocols, and expensive build outs to accommodate outdoor dining, they’ve stood tall through every challenge like the champions they are. They’ve sacrificed so much to keep us well-fed, all the while cooking up amazing, creative fare and serving it to us in ingenious new formats from streetside dining and cook-at-home meals to family-sized bundles and cocktail kits. Whether you’re comfortable with indoor and patio dining or prefer to take your dinner home to enjoy, there are dozens of delicious options for safely supporting our restaurant community. Here’s a look at some of the newest and best restaurants you can support in San Diego right now:
The buzz: Hot southern food and cool boozy ice cream served with a side of rock & roll.
The food: The Gaslamp Quarter isn’t usually a hotspot for locals, but it got a teensy bit cooler with the arrival of Metl. 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, and pints, 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.
The cost: Food runs $3.50-25, cocktails are $10-12, ice cream is $7-8 a scoop and $10 for a 12-oz carton, and cocktail lickers are $6.
How to book: Reservations for indoor and patio dining can be made online (reservations are not accepted after 7 pm on weekends, walk-ins only). Walk-ins are accepted at all other times if available. Order for takeout online.
Serẽa 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 due to the 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 $18-22, entrees cost $26-52, whole fish is market price, cocktails are $18, beer and wine are $10-41.
How to book: Reservations for indoor and patio dining can be made via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if available.
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 pizzerie 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 simple marinara; cherry tomatoes, oregano, basil, and garlic. 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 $3.50-4.50, gelato scoops are $4-6, pints are $9.
How to book: Open for dine-in and patio seating on a first-come basis. Takeout is available in person.
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 yogurt bowls to mashed potato waffles, and 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 $6, and a bottle of bubbly +OJ is $24.
How to book: Indoor and patio dining is available on a first-come basis. Order takeout in person or online, delivery is available via DoorDash.
The buzz: 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 space. 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.
The cost: Starters cost $5-24, flatbreads and salads run $13-15, entrees are $12-26.50, cocktails are $9-13, beer and wine by the glass are $6-14.
How to book: Make reservations for indoor or patio dining on OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if available.
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 $10-16, 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. Walk-ins are accepted if available. Pickup or delivery is available online.
Puesto Mission Valley
The buzz: 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 signature blue corn tacos, seafood, 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 $19.50, wood-fired enchiladas cost $19-32, cocktails run $14-$18, beer is $8, flights of tequila and mezcal are $20-35.
How to book: Make a reservation for indoor or patio dining via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if available. Order takeout online or delivery through Postmates.
The buzz: 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 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 $5-22, sushi, sashimi and entrees are $5-32, cocktails and sake flights are $13-22.
How to book: Make reservations for indoor or rooftop dining online. Walk-ins are accepted if available. Takeout or delivery can be ordered via Postmates.
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 3-6pm for happy hour specials on select appetizers and cocktails.
The cost: Antipasti runs $6-19, pasta and pizza al forno cost $15-25, entrees are $28-52, cocktails are $10-13, 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. Takeout can be ordered online via Toast.
The buzz: The Puffer/Malarkey Collective’s finally reopens with a dynamic new culinary director.
The food: Now under the helm of acclaimed chef Tara Monsod, it has a lighter, more Southeast Asian focused menu. Sip a Chai Paloma (tequila, coconut chai, cinnamon, grapefruit) alongside savory uni 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 $7-22, entrees go for $24-69, cocktails are $14-19, beer and wine by the glass are $8-25, and sake flights run $25.
How to book: Make reservations for indoor dining via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if available.
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 including 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, though 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 are $14.50-21, build your own pasta costs $17.95-21, specialty pasta and entrees are $18.95-35.95 and family dinners run $39.95-79.95.
How to book: Make a reservation for indoor or patio dining via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if available. Order takeout online via Toast.
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 tostadas, tacos, and burritos stuffed with proteins like 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, tostadas and burritos run $4-10, cocktails are $10-14 and mezcal flights are $30-60.
How to book:Make a reservation for indoor dining via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if available. Order takeout or delivery online via Toast.
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 new 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 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 $10-12, breakfast items cost $5.99-26, Family Affair entrees run $99-135 and require 48 hour notice.
How to book: Make a reservation for patio and indoor dining via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if available.
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, 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, entrees go for $8-$20.
How to book: Indoor and patio dining is available on a first-come basis. Pickup via Toast and delivery via GrubHub.
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, Jamaican jerk chicken cutlets, and five-spice fried chicken charbroiled miso Chilean sea bass, Korean smoked brisket, and five 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 Cold Smoked Old Fashioned (Evan Williams bourbon, 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 $6-17, smoked meats are $22-60, entrees run $19-67, cocktails are $14, and beer and wine by the glass are $7-28. Take home family-style meals are $97-147 for two, and can be scaled up to eight servings.
How to book: Make a reservation for indoor or patio dining via SevenRooms. Walk-ins are accepted if available. Order for pickup or local delivery (seven miles) online via bbot.
Black Rail Kitchen & Tavern
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 pasta made from scratch and a serious emphasis on fresh seafood. Shareable starters like tuna 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 16-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 $16-65, all house cocktails are $12, beer and wine by the glass go for $8-16.
How to book: Make a reservation for indoor or patio dining online via GetWisely. Walk-ins are accepted if available. Order online for pickup via Toast or delivery via GrubHub.
The buzz: 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 including a mezze platter, bhel puri, Mexican street cauliflower, 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 $18.95-28.75 and beer starts at $3.50 for tasters and up to $7.75 for a full pour.
How to book: Make reservations for indoor or patio dining via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if available. Takeout can be ordered online via Toast or delivery via DoorDash.
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 one 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 $8-14, smoked meats and ribs are $22-26 per pound, house cocktails cost $10, 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 $7-24, chilled raw seafood and towers run $16-138, entrees cost $34-99, cocktails are $12-15 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. Order takeout or delivery online via Toast.
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 $2.50-9, tuétano is $3.75, soft drinks and coffee are $2-3.
How to book: A few indoor tables are available on a first-come basis. Order takeout via Toast.
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 reinvented itself as an outdoor-only bistro, and is currently revamping its menu entirely. The Starry Night five-course tasting menu will run through May 2, and on May 5, they’ll launch a new four-course menu in which guests make their own selections. 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: Starry Night’s five-course tasting dinner is $115 per person, including tax and gratuity. The new tasting menu will cost $75 per person and Le Menu du Bar runs $8-32. Cocktails are $14, wine by the glass is $13-$19.
How to book: Reservations can be made via OpenTable. Walk-ins are welcome at the bar.
The buzz: Fast-casual counter service spot serving fancy tacos.
The food: Lola 55 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 and tequila, including tasting flights.
The cost: Tacos and sides run $2.95-8.
How to book: A few patio tables are available on a first-come basis. Order takeout via Toast.
Jackie Bryant is a contributor for Thrillist.