Food & Drink

15 San Diego Dishes That Need to Stay on the Menu Forever

Published On 03/09/2015 Published On 03/09/2015
Erin Jackson/Thrillist

Restaurants these days like to change their menus up in the name of things like "seasonality" or "keeping you from getting bored" or "changes in an ingredient's legal status." Generally speaking, this is a wonderful thing, until a dish you loved with the depths of your soul and tastebuds disappears. Some dishes are too good to mess with, so San Diego chefs: please add these 15 items to your Do Not Disturb list.

Cinnamon rolls

100 Wines (address and info)
If there’s ever going to be a strong argument for eating salad for dinner (and saving your calories for dessert), it’s the cinnamon rolls from 100 Wines. Served in a mini cast-iron pan, they’re frosted with vanilla icing and sprinkled with candied pecans. You can get them to-go (and try to save them for later), but that’s completely impossible. You will make it three blocks before you need to pull over to eat them in your car, which will only result in you getting icing all over your hands (and face). Just eat them in the restaurant, ok?


Bacon-wrapped dates

Prepkitchen (address and info)
Little Italy
Careful: biting into these sweet dates stuffed with savory blue cheese wrapped in salty bacon blankets is like pulling the pin on a flavor grenade. Want to kick it up a notch? Wrap ‘em in arugula before you pop them in your mouth for a burst of peppery flavor.


Half-baked chocolate cake

Nine-Ten (address and info)
La Jolla
It’s ooey. It’s gooey. It’s chocolatey. It’s warm. It’s served with house-made vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. You want this. No, you require this.

BO-beau kitchen + bar

Crispy Brussels sprouts

BO-beau kitchen + bar (address and info)
Ocean Beach
Any list of signature dishes that are never, ever allowed to exit the menu wouldn’t be complete without Katherine Humphus’ magnificent Brussels sprouts. By now, chances are good you’ve tried them, but for the uninitiated: they’re incredible for three main reasons: 1) they’re fried; 2) they’re drizzled with a sweet balsamic reduction; 3) they’re served with pancetta. P.S. they’re also available at 100 Wines.

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

French toast

The Mission (address and info)
Multiple locations
Swirls of cinnamon and wild berry coulis speed these thick slices of sweet and tender French toast directly to Tasty Town (population: you, and whomever you deem worthy of sharing it with).

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

Crepas de Cajetas

Romesco (address and info)
Chula Vista
Warm, house-made dulche de leche blankets paper-thin crepes sprinkled with toasted almond slivers on this show-stopping dessert served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream (for a tasty temperature contrast). The only other place to get cajeta crepes anywhere near this good is at Caesar’s in TJ (one of Javier Plasencia’s many other restaurants), but the Bonita location will save you a trip across the border.

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

Fried pizza knots

Soda & Swine (address and info)
Normal Heights
These insanely addictive cheese-stuffed fried dough balls served with tangy marinara sauce are proof that everything you eat at this Normal Heights meatball shop should be round. Bonus: a second location is planned for Liberty Station.

Urbn Coal Fired Pizza

Mashed potato pizza

Urbn Coal Fired Pizza (address and info) & BASIC (address and info)
North Park/East Village
If you think adding mashed potatoes on top of pizza would result in a starch-overload, you are sadly mistaken. The fluffy mashed potatoes on top of this signature pie meld effortlessly with the thin, charred crust, uniting to form one unforgettable (and awesome) pie. There’s also gooey fresh mozzarella cheese and crispy bacon. Add a dash of pepper flakes and you’re good to go.

Erin Jackson/Thrllist

Grilled four cheese sandwich

Urban Solace (address and info) and Solace & the Moonlight Lounge (address and info)
North Park/Encinitas
A melty mix of mozzarella, white cheddar, fontina, and Cambozola cheeses co-mingle with fresh basil and tomato between thick slices of griddled egg bread on this grown-up grilled cheese sandwich. On the side, you get a heap Kennebec fries and a cup of creamy tomato-fennel soup. It just might be the perfect meal. Bonus: you can order it any time of day (brunch, lunch, or dinner).


Guava cheese pastry

Azúcar (address and info)
Point Loma
These pastries might not look as enticing as the other items in the case at this Cuban-inspired bakery, but don’t pass them up. Between layers of light and flaky puff pastry brushed with cinnamon syrup, there’s just enough sweet and tart guava paste and cream cheese filling to satisfy any craving. If you’re lucky, you can land one fresh from the oven, but if not, it’s worth waiting a few minutes to get yours warmed up.

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

Macaroni and pancetta gratin

Cafe Chloe (address and info)
East Village
Yes, mac and cheese is pretty much always delicious (even the stuff that comes in a box) but this baked version from Cafe Chloe is about 1000x better, due to the creamy Béchamel, made with a blend of mild blue cheese, Gruyère, fontina, and white cheddar cheese. It’s crisp on the top, melty in the middle, and sprinkled with cubes of salty pancetta. Enough said.

Carnitas Snack Shack

Steak sandwich

Carnitas’ Snack Shack (address and info)
North Park
Porcine cuisine may be the main order of business here, but this spicy ‘wich -- made with sliced ribeye, tomato, pickled serranos, jalapeño-Jack cheese, and a squeeze of aioli between two slices of toasted jalapeño-cheddar bread -- gives everything else on the menu a run for its money.


Guacamole Nogada

Puesto (address and info)
La Jolla
Guacamole is delicious. Guacamole with pomegranate, green mango, chile de árbol, tomato, and candied walnuts is WAY BETTER. Get some.

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

Popper Tots

R-Gang (address and info)
Rich Sweeney’s from-scratch tater tots should be considered a local treasure, right up there with fish tacos and California burritos. The cheddar and chive tots with chipotle ranch are noted as the signature offering on the menu, but we think the Popper Tots -- perked up with jalapeño, cheddar, and cream cheese (and served with cilantro-chive crème fraiche for your dunking pleasure) -- have the edge. Score an order for $4 during happy hour (Wednesday to Friday, 3-7pm) or "Tot Tuesday" which starts at 3pm and runs all night long.

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

Nutella and banana pizza

Project Pie (address and info)
It’s only right to give props to a fast-casual DIY pizza shop that understands that sometimes we want to skip directly to dessert and eat a thin-crust "pizza" topped with sliced bananas. Thanks to the super-hot oven, they emerge caramelized on top and warm and gooey in the middle. Things get even better when you factor in the generous drizzle of Nutella. YES PLEASE.

Sign up here for our daily San Diego email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Prepkitchen 1660 India St, San Diego, CA 92101 (Little Italy)

Prepkitchen's Little Italy location serves farm-to-table cuisine including homemade soups, salads, sandwiches, pastas, and cured meats made in-house. The gourmet comfort food at Prepkitchen has been carefully selected and prepared by chefs with chefs in mind, and there's also a killer selection of Happy Hour specials on the menu.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
2. Nine-Ten 910 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037 (La Jolla)

This New-American La Jolla restaurant features innovative menu items with fresh, seasonal ingredients alongside great service and ambiance. Be sure to try the infamous half-baked chocolate cake.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
3. BO-beau Kitchen + Bar 4996 W Point Loma Blvd, San Diego, CA 92107 (Ocean Beach)

It's low-lit, cozy, and romantic as hell with glowing candle chandeliers, and on Tuesdays they have a date night special with a specially priced food and wine paring for two.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
4. Romesco 4346 Bonita Rd, Bonita, CA 91902

This Chula Vista "Mexiterranean bistro" offers a delicious hybrid menu, as well as a separate tapas menu and a Wednesday Pasta Night.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
5. Soda & Swine 2943 Adams Ave, North Park, CA 92116 (North Park)

Soda & Swine does meatballs in a way that you might not expect, assuming that the word "meatball" conjures up images of spaghetti all covered with cheese. Sure, they've got spaghetti and meatballs too, but this place gives you the ability to choose your mix and match your meat, creating anything from a meatball slider to meatballs a la carte. There's a wild bevy of sodas to choose from as well, so there's really no excuse for you to be anywhere other than here.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
6. URBN 3085 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104 (North Park)

The kitchen at URBN's 5,000 square-foot spot churns out coal-fired pizza as fast as the patrons can scarf it down, and that's saying something. Each of the craft pizzas on the menu bring their own unique flavor to the table (get it?), and you can even choose from a galaxy of sauces, toppings and cheeses, ensuring that the pizza you get is exactly the pizza you want. There's also a killer collection of craft and imported beers, as well as a number of craft cocktails and a fine wine list.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
7. Basic 410 10th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101 (East Village)

This trendy East Village pizzeria and brewpub is serving pizza that's anything but basic: pies are super fresh and anything-but-simple. The quirky "Mashed" pie with mashed potatoes, bacon, and mozzarella, is a favorite. Converted from an old warehouse, this space boasts a 5,000 square foot lounge and restaurant, will a full bar and an open-air setup.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
8. Urban Solace 3823 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104 (North Park)

You can always rely on filling, farm-fresh food at this North Park eatery. Instead of brunch, Urban Solace serves "blunch" (on weekdays and Saturdays) where egg-centric breakfast dishes, hot & cold sandwiches, and soups & salads will leave anyone with functioning tastebuds happy. The Sunday Bluegrass Brunch draws crowds for standouts like the cinnamon roll with butter pecan sauce, braised pork belly Benedicts, and the grilled four-cheese sandwich served with fries and creamy tomato-fennel soup.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
9. Solace & Moonlight Lounge 25 East E St, San Diego, CA 92024 (Encinitas)

Solace & Moonlight Lounge serves adventurous American cuisine within an artistic, wood-furnished interior.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
10. Azucar 4820 Newport Ave, San Diego, CA 92107 (Ocean Beach)

Azucar, translating from Spanish to 'sugar,' brings lots of just that to Ocean Beach from within a Cuban-style patisserie that draws customers in with a tantalizing display case. The goods fuse French technique with Latin island flavors: passion fruit scones, mojito cookies and pastries stuffed with guava and cream cheese. Those looking for something con mas sal can opt for savories like cuban sandwiches and ham croquetas to cover lunchtime cravings.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
11. Cafe Chloe 721 9th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101 (East Village)

This East Village French-insprired cafe offers bistro classics and tons of boutique wines. Be sure to try the delicious macaroni and pancetta gratin, with a creamy Béchamel made with a blend of mild blue cheese, Gruyère, fontina, and white cheddar cheese.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
12. Carnitas' Snack Shack 2632 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104 (North Park)

At Carnitas' Snack Shack, just about everything is influenced by pork, from the menu of bacon-heavy fare to the big black pig that sits atop the roof. In true southern California fashion, 100% of the seating is in an outdoor area out back that's shaded by umbrellas and wooden roofs. The space includes a spacious bar serving up wine, beer, and snacks (also pork-focused) like chicharrones and pork belly.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
13. Puesto 789 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

The vibrantly decorated Puesto pays homage to all kinds of Mexican street food, with a heavy emphasis on tacos. You'll find a mix of familiar fillings (chicken al pastor and filet mignon) alongside refreshing combinations like lobster with black beans and crispy onions, and zucchini with sweet corn and cactus. The house-made corn tortillas here prove to be so much more than a vessel for the meat and cheese fillings, and you'll find yourself savoring their earthy taste -- or spreading them with guacamole when the chips run low. Speaking of guac, you can stick with cilantro and onion classic or have yours loaded with Brussels sprouts and crispy bacon.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
14. R Gang Eatery 3683 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92103 (Hillcrest)

R-Gang serves up top-quality American comfort food, including must-try homemade tater tots.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
15. Project Pie 3888 4th Ave, Hillcrest , CA 92103 (Hillcrest)

Hillcrest is one competitive restaurant neighborhood, but Project Pie has earned an edge over the fast-casual pizza chain competition by holding it down for over three years. Here, you can build a pizza with whatever you want on it (or everything!) for one reasonable price. Don’t feel like making decisions? There’s also a menu of pre-designed pies that are reliably tasty.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
16. 100 Wines Hillcrest 1027 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103 (Hillcrest)

Mediterranean cuisine with lots of good wine pairings.