Gaslamp Quarter and University Heights
Indecisive drinkers will appreciate the mimosa, mojito, and sangria flights served at this colorful duo of restaurants with a large location smack dab in the center of the Gaslamp Quarter, and another on Adams Avenue in University Heights. The overachieving brunch menu stars tempting items like tiramisu pancakes heaped with mascarpone whipped cream, plus crepes, pancakes, salads, cast-iron omelets, burgers, and so much more. And because the brunch menu is available 8am to 3pm daily, you don’t have to wait until the weekend to get your fix.
There's usually a line out the door by 11am, but it's worth the wait. Once you make it to a table, you're going to have your way with bananas Foster-stuffed French toast (house-made ricotta-stuffed brioche topped with toasted pecans and bananas, served with rum-infused maple syrup), short rib hash, and green enchiladas & eggs. Bonus: the back patio is dog-friendly.
There’s only one rule for brunching at TRUST: you must order the sticky bun for reasons that should be immediately clear just by looking at the photo of it that’s currently right in front of your face. A good partner for it is something savory, like smoked pork shoulder hash, egg in a hole, or the Wood Grill burger (a cheffy presentation that features sharp Asiago cheese, smoky bacon-tomato jam, pickled onions, and arugula on a house-made poppy seed bun). If that’s not brunchy enough for you, get it with a fried egg & bacon on top for a few extra bucks.
There’s a good variety of inventive and eye-catching dishes on the recently launched brunch menu at Madison, including this beet waffle topped with blackberry coconut puree that tastes like a grownup version of Smucker's Boysenberry Syrup. On the savory side, you’ll find plenty of delicious meat-based dishes like braised lamb and grilled leeks over a potato & beet hash, buffalo burgers topped with a creamy chive yogurt sauce, and skirt steak Benedicts on toasted 12-grain bread.
Hillcrest (& other locations)
This local chain is busy slinging inspired brunch eats like short rib Benedicts, pistachio pancakes, and breakfast sushi (thick slices of candied bacon wrapped around fried rice & egg with plum sauce on top). It’s also the top brunch pick of Juniper & Ivy chef Jon Sloan, who digs the restaurant’s "quiet and charming vibe." He’s big on the granola with fresh fruit and strawberry yogurt, and French toast stuffed with mascarpone cheese, strawberries, and mango, in case you’re curious.
National City and Chula Vista
Since 1964, this old-school diner has been known for its huge portions and friendly service. The no-nonsense decor, complete with tight booths and swiveling barstools, is the opposite of the meticulously designed spaces dominating the San Diego food scene lately (and a welcome change). As you might expect, the pancakes are a great option, but the waffles, omelettes, and Mexican dishes (like chilaquiles, burritos, and house-made chorizo) all have their fans, too. The breakfast menu is available any time, so if you’re craving a heaping stack of pecan ‘cakes at 9pm, they’ll hook you up. (FYI: the Chula Vista location is open 6am to 2pm Monday through Sunday; National City stays open until 10pm every day).
When you’re looking for the classy brunch option, this East Village stunner delivers. The "Bottega Favorites" section is a good place to start; that’s where you’ll find the caramel-topped baked French toast (really just bread pudding in disguise) and Tuscan shrimp & grits with poached eggs and hollandaise. If you arrive closer to lunchtime craving carbs, there’s also a solid variety of pasta and pizza dishes, plus "flowing mimosas" (bottomless for two hours, with the purchase of a meal).
The team behind Hash House a Go Go and The Tractor Room is responsible for this midcentury-modern space serving creative spins on typical brunch fare, like lolliwaffles with dipping sauces, peanut butter & fried banana pancakes, and maple bacon doughnuts, served warm from the fryer. On weekends, the place is mobbed, so if you intend to eat immediately, get there early. For a more laid-back experience, consider brunching mid-week. Brunch is served from 8am to 2pm on weekdays and 8am to 2:30pm on weekends, so you’ve got options.
Whether you go for traditional fare or one of several global-inspired egg dishes, one of those being eggs a la Africana with fava beans cooked in African spices with tomato yogurt sauce, you’ll leave this tiny neighborhood cafe happy. Pancakes are always a prime pick. The carrot cake berry ricotta pancakes are the popular choice, but the blueberry ‘cakes with a side of lemon curd cream are the unsung heroes.
The Sunday brunch menu here is short and sweet, but no matter what you order, you really can’t miss. If you want something on the lighter side, go with the yogurt parfait with best-in-class ingredients like locally made yogurt, gluten-free granola (made in-house), seasonal jam, and fresh fruit. If that won’t quite quell your hunger pangs, the heartier baked mac & cheese (made with Assenti’s cavatelli pasta and a crust of seasoned breadcrumbs) is equally excellent.
1. Cafe 21750 5th Ave, San Diego
2. Claire's on Cedros246 N Cedros Ave, Solana Beach
3. TRUST Restaurant3752 Park Boulevard, San Diego
4. Madison4622 Park Blvd, San Diego
5. Fig Tree Cafe416 University Ave #100, San Diego
6. Family House Of Pancakes1900 E Plaza Blvd, National City
7. Bottega Americano1195 Island Ave, San Diego
8. Great Maple1451 Washington St, San Diego
9. Hanna’s Gourmet2864 Adams Ave, San Diego
10. The Cheese Store of San Diego1980 Kettner Blvd, San Diego
Extending their reach from 2121 Adams Ave, the twice-as-big, brick walled Gaslamp locale's outfitted with laser-cut metal, classic Turkish designs, and is serving up everything from sandwiches and kabobs to ridiculous, decadent brunch fare. There's a whole section of the drink menu devoted to Bloody Mary and Mimosa variations, giving you ultimate customization opportunities. Be sure to stop by for happy hour when there are 21 tapas to mix and match.
This Solana Beach cafe and bakery serves California-style comfort food alongside homemade breads and pastries. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Claire's is a great spot for any time of day, and their dog friendly patio is perfect for enjoying the sunshine. Pro tip: Order anything that comes on their daily-baked bread.
This Hillcrest restaurant serves market-driven continental cuisine in an airy, mid-century inspired space. There's a distinctly New American feel to the menu, evident in shareable small plates like rich chicken liver toast with house mostarda and grilled levain drizzled with olive oil; entrée options highlight the spot's wood-fired grill, especially the standout prime Flatiron steak, juicy and decadent with roasted potatoes. Mixology-forward cocktails reign at the quartz-topped bar (pro tip: try the TRUST cocktail #2, which marries jalapeño-infused tequila, fresh grapefruit and cucumber juice, agave, and a dash of firewater bitters), where communal seating proves a pleasant alternative for those unable to make last minute reservations during peak dinner and brunch times.
This University Heights restaurant serves Mediterranean fare in a sleek, cedar-walled space. There's a front bar and lounge that leads to a large, dramatic indoor/outdoor dining area. The menu is fairly small and curated, divided into shares, salads and plates. They're open for brunch as well, serving eclectic variations of classics (think grown-up beet waffles).
Fig Tree Cafe in University Heights is a cozy cafe with sleek wooden and metal accents. It operates as an on-the-go concept during the day and transitions to a slower pace for dinner in the evening. There's an open kitchen so diners can observe the culinary action. There's patio seating if you'd rather enjoy the outdoors while savoring well-prepared Californian fare. They're open for brunch as well, serving classics like Eggs Benedict and and fruit with granola.
Family House of Pancakes in National City is a classic diner-style spot serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu is enormous, serving over ten varieties of pancake by morning and everything from Italian to Mexican by night. The prices are reasonable and the space is comfortable and family-friendly, with large leather booth seating and hanging chandeliers.
This East Village European market/Italian eatery offers pasta, wood-fired pizzas, anti-pastas, and seafood dishes. There are also five interactive food bars, so you can see all the action happening in the kitchen, or grab-and-go from the market.
Not just a common compliment among syrup makers, Great Maple's a fancied-up '60s diner with a bit of European flair, coming at you from the guys who brought you Hash House a-Go-Go and The Tractor Room. This East Village spot offers extensive menu lineups, from brunch through dinner. Make a reservation if you can, because this place is constantly busy.
This multi-national kitchen in University Heights features dishes from France, Morocco, India, and beyond. Hanna's started as a catering company, but due to high demand a brick and mortar space was created to serve dinner and brunch five days a week. The menu is constantly changing to highlight different regions, and family-style dinners are offered periodically for a fixed price.
Any sane person knows that you can’t ever get enough cheese in your diet, and this place in Little Italy knows that all too well. They specialize in cheese, charcuterie, gourmet salads, soups, sandwiches and, of course, mac & cheese. There's even a selection of beer and wine available to pair it all with.