12 Essential Women-Owned Restaurants You Should Know in San Diego
Support the women shaking up San Diego’s restaurant scene.
March is Women’s History Month, when we acknowledge the accomplishments and contributions women have made to our collective history. In the United States, the beginnings of this month of recognition began with the first International Women’s Day in 1911, but the movement really gained traction when the National Women’s History Project (now the National Women's History Alliance) lobbied to establish a National Women’s History Week in 1980. Their success, and the subsequent popularity of the annual celebration, led to Congress passing a law designating March as Women’s History Month in 1987.
Women have made progress towards equality, even holding the second-highest elected office in the land, but it’s still shocking to learn that less than a quarter of chefs in restaurants across the US are women and women chefs/owners number in the single digits, despite making up nearly half of culinary school students at the Culinary Institute of America. While women chefs and restaurant owners face the same general challenges as their men counterparts in the industry (COVID-19, anyone?), they bear the additional burdens of traditional gender norms, which can affect everything from being able to secure financing to raising children in an industry that’s notorious for not providing vacation or sick time off, health insurance, child care, and other typical employment benefits.Fortunately for us, San Diego’s culinary scene has a long history of influential women in charge of the kitchen, from Urban Kitchen Group’s powerhouse Tracy Borkum and dessert guru Karen Krasne to young guns like Priscilla Curiel, whose years honing her craft in her family’s restaurants have culminated in stellar debut venues. Mentorship programs and educational groups, such as the Mujeres Brew Club, the Pink Boots Society and San Diego Women in Food provide support, education, and resources for novices and experienced entrepreneurs alike, but they need your help too. It’s easy to do—support our local women chefs and restaurateurs by eating at their shops and dining rooms, tipping their staff generously, and by encouraging your family and friends to do the same. To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite woman-owned restaurants, breweries, and bars in San Diego, for you to enjoy not only during March, but all year long.
Owner/chef Priscilla Curiel’s tiny yellow taqueria just this side of the border, had barely opened its doors when she started getting rave reviews both locally and nationally. One bite of her slow-braised, succulent birria with tuétano, a thick hunk of roasted marrow bone, and you’ll know why. Besides tacos, tortas, and quesadillas, the shop offers frequent specialty items like flautas or chile en nogada, as well as collaborations and pop-up events with other local restaurants. And yes, you’ll want to pick up a jar or two of that addictive salsa macha to take home and put on everything you eat.
How to order: In person or online via Toast.
Okay, we’re cheating a little here, because Mujer Divina Coffeehouse is also owned by Priscilla Curiel, who revamped her popular Naturale Deli in National City into a coffee and burrito shop late last year. Using the same excellent birria that goes into Tuetano’s tacos, these are Tijuana-style burritos de hielera, available in flavors like machaca ranchera, chorizo with potatoes, and chicharron in salsa verde, plus weekly specialty burritos. Coffee drinks, using organic beans from Chiapas, Mexico, include café de olla, drip brews, and an array of flavored lattes, plus a nice selection of pastries, toasts, and scones.
How to order: In person or online via Toast.
Mujeres Brew Club co-founders Estela Davila and Carmen Favela opened San Diego’s first Latina-owned brewery last November with a handful of collaborative brews and guest taps. Since then they’ve been pouring every weekend, having added Mujeres y Musica Fridays with live music, a Saturday farmers market, and monthly pop ups like Sunday Low and Slow Day Market featuring local vendors, food items, and lowriders. Check their Facebook and Instagram pages for info on what’s pouring.
How to order: In person for patio dining or takeout.
San Diego native Laura Johnson, founder and distiller at You and Yours Distillery, knew she wanted to be in the industry when she toured her first distillery at age 18, and realized her dream when she opened San Diego’s only urban distillery in 2017. Just four years later she’s bottling gin and vodka, has launched a popular line of canned cocktails, gives tours and cocktail making classes and recently implemented a new bar program at Liberty Station’s Loma Club, in addition to hosting one of the most beautiful, Instagram-friendly tasting rooms in the city.
How to order: In person for patio dining or order online for takeout.
Vivian Hernandez-Jackson combined her Le Cordon Bleu credentials and Cuban heritage to create Azucar, a pretty, cozy little place to satisfy your sweet, savory, or caffeinated cravings. If it’s lunchtime, go for pastelitos de carne—all-butter puff pastries stuffed with picadillo, a soft, fragrant stew of ground beef, tomatoes, and olives. But really, the desserts and pastries are the stars here, and none satisfies a sweet tooth like Divina, a spectacular combination of white chocolate cake, passion fruit curd, and raspberries under a blanket of toasted marshmallow.
How to order: In person or order online for pickup.
Chef Hanna Tesfamichael has been a mainstay of the Adams Avenue culinary scene for more than a decade, cooking dishes from Tunisia one week, Ghana the next, and later in the month perhaps Polish cuisine. These days, you can still get her beloved prosciutto and caramelized apple tortellini, Moroccan chicken and meat lasagne, along with a large selection of soups (the creamy tomato bisque is highly recommended), stews, and salads. Do splurge on dessert: carrot cake enthusiasts won’t want to pass up Hanna’s special version.
How to order: Order online by Thursday for pickup on Sunday between 2–6 pm.
Navy veterans Kathy Hansen and Barbara Jeanine opened the first Industrial Grind in Hillcrest back in 2011, learning the industry by trial and error and eventually becoming a mini-chain of four shops before circumstances scaled them back to just their popular Tierrasanta location. Along the way, they’ve brought in niece Crystal Jones as manager and developed their own line of gluten-free baked goods and mixes, which they sell at the shop as well as at local Whole Foods stores. Check their website’s How To for Crystal’s gluten-free baking videos.
How to order: In person or online for patio dining or pickup.
The first nanobrewery to open in North Park, Poor House Brewing has been serving up suds and good times under co-founder Alanna Scheer and her crew since 2012. Specializing in ales, the beer menu runs the gamut from pale blondes to robust Imperial stouts that push the ABV into double digits.
How to order: In person for outdoor dining and takeout.
Cafe 222 serves Terryl Gavre’s famous peanut butter and banana stuffed French toast, big, fluffy pancakes, and other breakfast mainstays at her award-winning cafe in the heart of downtown. A perennial on “Best Breakfast” lists for more than 20 years, they also serve classic diner lunches like melts, burgers, and chili.
How to order: Outdoor dining is on a first-come, first-served basis, or order online for pickup.
From the Kensington Grill, Chive, and Laurel to the Cucina family of restaurants including Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill, Cucina Enoteca in Del Mar and Cucina Sorella in Kensington, Tracy Borkum has been a powerhouse in the San Diego culinary scene and was one of the first to introduce the restaurant-within-a-wine-shop concept to Southern California. Putting fresh SoCal spins on traditional Italian recipes, menu standouts include house-made pastas, pizza, and shareable large plates. Family-style meals, provision boxes, and pantry items are available to order online.
How to order: Make reservations for outdoor dining or pickup via Toast.
After co-founding the LA bakery Proof in 2010 and a stint at the famed Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, Crystal White opened Wayfarer Bread & Pastry in 2018. Naturally fermented breads form the core of the menu, but there’s plenty of flaky croissants, buttery scones, cinnamon buns, and cookies to satisfy the most hardcore sweet tooth. Sandwiches, organic flours, yeast, and a few grocery items are also available for purchase. Thursday through Saturday is Pizza Night, featuring thin crust pies that rotate weekly.
How to order: In person or pre-order for bakery items, pizza by pre-order only.
Little Italy, Bankers Hill
From the mile-high layer cakes to creamy brulees, Karen Krasne knows that the little flourishes: a touch of gold leaf, a few perfect raspberries, or a scattering of fresh flowers, take her desserts from delicious to over-the-top stunning. In addition to perfectly crafted sweets, you’ll find a full menu of shareable boards, paninis, salads, and soup/grilled cheese combos.
How to order: Order online for pickup or delivery via Postmates or UberEats.
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