It's that time again: from September 22nd through September 29th, more than 180 restaurants all over San Diego County will participate in San Diego Restaurant Week. There are so many tempting options, from casual eateries to special occasion destinations, each offering discounted prices compared to what you'd find there normally, that narrowing down your choices can be intimidating. That's why we're here, though, and we’ve chosen twenty of our favorites to help you take the guesswork out. Pro tip: Tables at popular venues fill up quickly, so be sure to make reservations at your favorite participating restaurants. Oh, and keep in mind that tax, tips and drinks are not included.
La Mesa Executive Chef and owner Francesco Basile’s popular La Mesa eatery showcases his Sicilian roots and Italian culinary education, with a multi-regional menu chock full of local, in-season ingredients, all served up in a charmingly rustic atmosphere. Discounted dinners are available every day, but they only serve lunch Tuesday through Friday, so make your mid-day getaway plans accordingly. Order: Cavoletti, pappardelle, and cannoli at lunch. Filet mignon tartare or burrata, gnocchi or artichoke ravioli, and lava cake at dinner. Cost: $20 for a three-course lunch, $40 for a three-course dinner, +$15 for optional wine pairing
Rancho Bernardo Throughout San Diego Restaurant Week, diners can enjoy three courses from AVANT’s full dinner menu for $60. Chef de Cuisine Chris Gentile incorporates fruits, vegetables and greens from the expansive on-property orchard and garden into his sophisticated yet unpretentious menu, while Sommelier Joe Baumgardner can guide you towards the best bottle or by-the-glass wine pairing from their award-winning wine list. Order: Charred brassica with saffron, currants and Calabrian chili, ibérico pork rib chop with leek, apple and smoke and chocolate cylinder. Cost: $60 for a three-course dinner
Pacific Beach Located at the celebrated intersection of Garnet Avenue and Mission Boulevard in Pacific Beach, Backyard Kitchen & Tap delivers a from-scratch menu along with an award-winning beer list and craft cocktails made with house-made infusions. The PB-mandatory dog-friendly patio, comfy fire pits, outdoor cabanas, and indoor/outdoor bar create a welcoming space for both delightful dining and spirited late-night entertainment. Order: Shrimp toast and achiote short rib tostada and caramelized bourbon pears (+$5) at lunch. Skillet cornbread, steak frites and brownie skillet at dinner. Cost: $15 for a two-course lunch, +$5 for dessert, $30 for a three-course dinner
Bankers Hill A chic warehouse interior, ubiquitous succulent wall, and warm wood accents complement this lively restaurant where the after-work crowd rubs shoulders with the denizens of this peaceful section of Bankers Hill. Dinner standbys are sophisticated comfort food with a Southwest flair, and the optional beverage pairing (at +$21) includes your choice of a specially selected wine, cocktail, or beer with each course. Desserts are paired with a ruby port, madeira, or sauternes. Order: Crispy squash blossoms, roasted bistro filet and butterscotch pudding. Cost: $40 for a three-course dinner, +$21 for optional beverage pairing
Kensington Rustic beams, exposed stone walls and comfy sofas, and classic French fare have made this cozy bistro a beloved neighborhood favorite for more than a decade. Bleu Boheme serves up traditional, affordable plates with influences from all over France. The restaurant week menu includes more choices for each course than the typical three or four, as well as several luxurious starters and entrees at additional cost. If you enjoy wine -- and who doesn’t? -- the wine list has over one hundred to choose from, including 30 served au pichet. Order: Moules à la crème d'ail or crêpe au homard (+$7), Raviolis Maison or Confit de Canard (+$9) and Mousse au Chocolat Cost: $50 for a three-course dinner, premium starters are +$7, premium entrees are +$9
East Village For south of the border street food with a modern twist, this is your go-to spot downtown. The SDRW menu showcases coastal cuisine and spirits, with tacos inspired by Baja’s signature flavors. At a paltry $15 for lunch and $20 for dinner, you’ll want to make a return visit before the week is out. Since the price is right, check out their extensive collection of tequilas, mezcals, bacanoras and raicillas. Order: Queso especial, lengua tacos, and street corn at lunch. Baja ceviche, fresh catch or al pastor tacos, pinto beans, and cinnamon sugar churros with crème anglaise at dinner. Cost: $15 for a two-course lunch, $20 for a three-course dinner
Little Italy San Diego has the first outpost of this Los Angeles-based restaurant group that vegans and raw-food enthusiasts rave about, but you don’t have to follow a vegan diet to enjoy the plant-based, all organic cuisine. Dishes are named with positive affirmations like Mindful (turmeric roasted carrots) and Liberated (pesto-kelp noodles), so be prepared to get your "woo-woo" on when you order. Order: Eclectic, Buffalo-style cauliflower and Enthusiastic, a chicken-fried mushroom sandwich at lunch. Exquisite, coconut calamari with smoked salt, gremolata, lime, cocktail sauce, Elated, Southwestern-style jackfruit enchiladas and Awakening, key lime pie at dinner. Cost: $20 for a two-course lunch, $30 for a three-course dinner, with upgraded courses at +$3-$4
Harbor Island You’d be hard-pressed to find a better view at any San Diego restaurant -- the cityscape is dazzling day or night at Coasterra, perfect for a special occasion dinner or a romantic date night. It’s especially spectacular from the expansive patio areas, but floor to ceiling windows ensure panoramic vistas from nearly every table. The SDRW menu includes Chef Deborah Scott’s favorite dishes featuring modern Mexican flavors, including a reasonably priced six-ounce lobster tail option for an additional $28. Order: Mussels and clams “Michelada," roasted chicken “Divorciadas” and pineapple butter cake. Cost: $40 for a three-course dinner, +$28 for lobster option
Downtown Take this opportunity to indulge in Del Frisco’s hand-cut steaks and fresh seafood in their gorgeous, two-level dining rooms overlooking San Diego Bay. Their SDRW lunch and dinner menus are each three-course affairs with numerous entree upgrades and enhancement opportunities at an extra charge. The heavy hitters are, of course, the steaks, but their seafood game is on point as well. Order: Lobster bisque, Wagyu beef French dip and cheesecake at lunch; lobster bisque, filet mignon or Del’s jumbo lump crab cakes and Belgian chocolate mousse at dinner. Cost: $25 for a three-course lunch +$ for upgrades; $60 for a three-course dinner +$ for upgrades
Hillcrest / Westfield UTC Blending American diner chic with a soupçon of European refinement, Great Maple uses seasonal and sustainably sourced ingredients in its over-the-top comfort foods, baked goods, and excellent craft cocktails. Order: Pumpkin and brown butter apple soup, mesquite smoked pork belly hash and a warm salted caramel brownie at lunch. Truffled deviled eggs, salted caramel pork ribs or crispy skin chicken and orange cream pie with pistachio shortbread crust at dinner. Cost: $20 for a three-course lunch, $30 for a three-course dinner.
Banker’s Hill A perennial favorite on almost every “most romantic” and “best view” list, SDRW is the perfect time to sample Mr. A’s elegant digs and upscale cuisine at bargain-ish prices. Their bill of fare has several more choices in each category than the typical prix fixe menu, including gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. And while we’re all used to our Southern California casual attitude towards attire, they do have a dress code, so don’t show up in your yoga pants and flip flops. The SDRW lunch menu will be available Monday through Friday only. Order: Chilled soup of Japanese eggplant, line caught local swordfish piccata and local plum crisp (+$7.50) at lunch. Prosciutto di Parma and corn cakes, Cedar River Farm Beef Wellington and peach and fig pavlova at dinner. Cost: $25 for a two-course lunch (+$7.50 for three courses), $50 for a three-course dinner
Pacific Beach Locals, tourists, and beach-goers alike flock to Pacific Beach Alehouse for comfort food made from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Head upstairs for unobstructed ocean views, refreshing breezes, and spectacular sunsets to go along with seasonal craft beer, cocktails, and locally sourced fare. The SDRW menu includes favorites from the regular menu, along with suggested optional beer pairings for $3 per five-ounce pour. Order: Baja ceviche, beer cheese burger, and thin mint mud pie (+$5) at lunch. Lobster bisque, coffee-rubbed NY strip or vegan bolognese, and “beeramisu” at dinner. Cost: $15 for a two-course lunch, $30 for a three-course dinner
Balboa Park Stroll through the gardens, galleries, and museums of Balboa Park, San Diego’s crown jewel, before heading to The Prado for lunch or dinner at nearly half the price you’d regularly pay. Located in the historic House of Hospitality, The Prado offers four main dining areas -- each with its own distinctive décor and ambiance -- including the outdoor terrace, a courtyard overlooking gardens and a fountain, a solarium, and a lounge. Order: Black bean soup and prime steak panini at lunch. Spicy calamari fries, red wine braised short ribs or pan roasted sea bass (+$10) and vanilla mascarpone flan at dinner. Cost: $15 for a two-course lunch, $30 for a three-course dinner, two premium options are +$10.
Gaslamp Quarter Situated in the ultra-modern Pendry Hotel, Provisional Kitchen, Café and Mercantile’s Chef Brandon Sloan’s menu reflects his Italian influences and favorite flavors. In addition to your dining experience, you can peruse a curated collection of apothecary items, pantry staples, homeware and jewelry. The SDRW dinner menu includes premium selections such as veal Milanese and 100-day dry-aged, bone-in ribeye, available at an additional cost. Order: Baby kale salad and pork cubano at lunch. Burrata and tomato, bucatini and torta di cioccolato at dinner. Dry aged ribeye as the premium option (+$30). Cost: $20 for a two-course lunch +$10 for optional wine pairings, $40 for a three-course dinner, +$10-$30 for premium dinner options +$20 for optional wine pairings
The Headquarters / La Jolla Award-winning tacos, dynamic cocktails, and to-die-for desserts make a trip to Puesto a must during SDRW -- in fact, the outstanding menus might just have you considering more than one visit. Lunch includes a starter, two tacos, and a dessert, while dinner includes everything from lunch along with a side dish. There’s a slight upcharge ($2-$3.50) for specialty tacos, though. Order: Esquite, smoked tuna and verduras tacos and frozen horchata at lunch. Nogada guacamole, carnitas, and grilled shrimp (+$2) tacos, black beans and tres leches de café at dinner. Cost: $15 for a two-course lunch, $30 for a three-course dinner
College Grove Terra American Bistro’s farm-to-table, organic fare has been a local favorite since 1998. The SDRW menu gives you three dining options: two glasses of wine and one appetizer, or one appetizer, one entrée and one dessert, or one glass of wine, one entrée, and one dessert. In addition, you can substitute a sweet, boozy dessert cocktail for any dessert. Order: Baked brie, Grandma’s brisket with mashed potatoes and fried Brussels sprouts, with either the cast iron baked banana bread pudding or an espresso martini for dessert. Cost: $30 for a three-course dinner
Encinitas / Gaslamp Quarter Hungry San Diegans can either make their way north to Encinitas or downtown to the Gaslamp Quarter (or both!) to indulge in Union Kitchen & Tap’s restaurant week selections. While each location will have a different prixe fixe menu, both venues are stylish, rustic neighborhood haunts, with their own distinctive personality. Optional adult beverage suggestions range from $7- $25. Order: At Encinitas, hamachi crudo, Nashville hot chicken sandwich and Aunt Dubo’s peanut butter pie (+$5) at lunch; roasted bone marrow, braised beef cheek and lemon vanilla parfait at dinner. At Gaslamp, gumbo poutine, shrimp and grits and grasshopper pie(+$5) at lunch; bigeye tuna poke, pan seared Berkshire pork chop and coffee hazelnut crème brûlée at dinner. Cost: At Encinitas, $20 for a two-course lunch (+$5 for dessert), $40 for a three-course dinner dinner At Gaslamp, $20 for a two-course lunch (+$5 for dessert), $40 for a three-course dinner
Gaslamp Quarter The posh Water Grill offers an elegant-yet-approachable fine dining seafood experience in the heart of downtown, and SDRW is the perfect time to sample their plush digs and upscale cuisine at bargain-ish prices. Order: New England clam chowder, wild Eastern sea scallops and caramel bread pudding. Cost: $50 for a three-course dinner
La Jolla Want to try a new restaurant but don’t want to be restricted to a prix fixe menu? Whisknladle has you covered: the SDRW menu includes nearly any starter, entree and dessert or house cocktail on the regular dinner menu, giving you a chance to satisfy your taste buds with the widest possible variety of the restaurant’s specialty items. The only catch? Everyone at the table must participate in the SDRW pricing. Order: Charred bone marrow or house-made charcuterie plate, Maine lobster taglierini or local grouper and butterscotch budino for dessert. Cost: $50 for a three-course dinner
Middletown The Wine Vault and Bistro’s wine pairing dinners are one of San Diego’s best, most reasonably priced nights out for wine and food lovers. Fun fact: They’ve hosted hundreds of different wine pairing dinners over the past decade, yet have never repeated a menu. Although this seems impossible, they manage to do it with a labor-intensive process they’ve dubbed “carnage”. Their pain, our gain. Order: Pan roasted duck breast, grilled hanger steak, and chocolate chip bread pudding Cost: $30 for a three-course dinner, $15 for optional wine pairing with each course
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Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting various vegetables and beverages, reading cookbooks and traveling around Mexico. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.