Everywhere You Need to Eat Right Now in San Diego

From brunch to Baja flavors to a brand-new food hall.

VAGA Restaurant and Bar
Photo courtesy of VAGA Restaurant and Bar

Someday we’ll be able to stop referring to time in pre-and post-pandemic terms, but for now, we’re just so incredibly grateful to our restaurant community for their steadfast dedication and for pressing ever forward when things seemed impossible to overcome. Even more incredible are the fearless entrepreneurs who forged ahead with new ventures despite the uncertainties of opening during an active pandemic. And so it’s with well-deserved thanks and high-fives that we proudly present our list of the most exciting new restaurant openings in San Diego:

VAGA Restaurant and Bar
Photo courtesy of VAGA Restaurant and Bar

Encinitas
San Diegans can once again experience the cuisine of Executive Chef Claudette Zepeda, whose former restaurant in Liberty Station, El Jardín, was included on Michelin's Bib Gourmand list in 2019, at VAGA Restaurant and Bar, newly opened at Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas. Boasting expansive ocean views and a dramatic open kitchen, Chef Zepeda fuses diverse cultures with local ingredients from places like Chino Farms and Cyclops Farms in dishes such as heirloom bean soup, brisket buns, and Baja sea bass on a seasonal menu. The beverage program, led by Alexander Gregg, features rotating signature cocktails, local microbrews, and a dynamic wine list incorporating natural wines utilizing grapes from low-intervention/biodynamic vineyards.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online via SevenRooms. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Ember & Rye
Photo courtesy of Ember & Rye

Carlsbad
Richard Blais, Bravo’s first Top Chef All Star winner and founding chef of Juniper and Ivy in Little Italy, as well as the Crack Shack empire, continues to delight San Diegans with his latest venture, Ember & Rye at Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Carlsbad. The newly-imagined steakhouse specializes in hefty vintage steaks and fresh seafood in a classic California setting, while also offering unexpected, whimsical takes like a lobster knuckle sandwich, white chocolate-dipped radishes, Scotch eggs with maple, and caviar service, complete with little fish-shaped blini. 
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Photo by Lucianna McIntosh, courtesy of Callie

East Village 
Callie, Executive Chef Travis Swikard’s on-again, off-again labor of love, finally opened this June in the East Village. While the original opening was sidelined by COVID-19, Swikard wisely used his pandemic downtime to establish strong relationships with local farmers, fishers, and other suppliers for his upscale tour-around-the-Mediterranean menu. Shareable dips and spreads, house-made pastas, and grilled seafood are standouts, but save room for dessert, too, especially the Eureka lemon curd, decorated with rose meringue kisses and honey-whipped labneh, topped with sesame halva floss.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online via Tock. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Photo courtesy of Mike’s Red Tacos

Bay Park
Birria aficionado and San Diego business owner Mike Touma, who spent more than a year working with local chefs to create his flavorful birria and savory consommé, has opened Mike’s Red Tacos, a food truck that he parks on Morena Boulevard, near the now-defunct Old Trieste restaurant, every Friday from 4 pm until the food runs out. The signature red tacos get their color from a dip in chili oil and a quick turn on the flat top, which crisps up the locally sourced fresh tortillas. Besides tacos, Mike serves up birria mulitas, birria ramen, and the Crunchstack, a riff on Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap Supreme; layers of griddled cheese, birria-loaded tostadas, cilantro and onions, all wrapped inside a warm flour tortilla, which then gets the chili oil dip and glaze to seal in all its juicy goodness. Long-term plans include extended days/hours and a possible brick and mortar venue sometime in 2022.  
How to book: Walk up and order, but don’t wait too long, because when it’s gone, it’s gone!

Del Mar
The SkyDeck at Del Mar Highlands Town Center, a stunning two-story, nearly 27,000-square foot venue that holds 14 different restaurants and tap rooms under one roof, is slowly opening its diverse roster. Rather than follow the traditional food court model with communal seating, each 1,500-square foot restaurant has its own seating area. On the main floor you’ll find Zizikis Street Food, Ambrogio 15, Le Parfait Paris, J at the Sky Deck, Urbana Mexican Gastronomy, Kiin Extraordinary Thai, Marufuku Ramen, and a central, reservation-only cocktail bar, Understory. On the second level is the Brewers Deck, featuring Northern Pine Brewing, Rough Draft Brewing Company, and the first-ever tap room for Boochcraft Organic Hard Kombucha. Glass Box Asian Kitchen and Craft House will open later this summer, completing the restaurant collective. 
How to book: Call or check the individual restaurant’s website for whether reservations required, walk-ins are accepted or seating is on a first-come basis. Seating on the Brewers Deck is on a first-come basis.

Barrio Logan
We’ve come a long way from when White Claw was the new big thing in hard beverages — now there’s more than 100 brands of hard seltzer alone, with hard lemonade, hard coffee, hard kombucha, and now, hard yerba mate entering the market as well. Barrio Logan’s brand new taproom, Kové Hard Yerba Mate, serves up the world’s first hard version of this popular South American tea-like brew in four different flavors; mojito, lemonade iced tea, mango colada, and passion berry. At a moderate 5% ABV, Kové’s version is organic, vegan, and gluten-free, making it practically a health food. Check out their beautiful outdoor venue in a shared space with Thorn Brewing (KHYM uses Thorn’s brewing equipment), at the Acre of Awesome, which also includes Sideyard BBQ, HottMess Woodfired Pizza, and ReBru Spirits
How to book: Seating is on a first-come basis. You can also purchase KHYM in cans online or at locations throughout San Diego County.

Photo courtesy of ARLO

Mission Valley
Hotel Circle usually doesn’t spring to mind when you think of fine dining, but the multi-million dollar renovation of the Town and Country Hotel includes ARLO, its stunning new restaurant, helmed by Executive Chef Josh Mouzakes. Mouzakes, whose 20-year career includes training at The French Laundry and four years as chef de cuisine for fine dining and executive banquet chef at the Hotel del Coronado, has created a menu that features shareable plates like Charcuterie de Mer and California paella, wood-fired flatbreads and larger entrees such as a Black Lava Crêpe and chunky cowboy ribeye. The small but thoughtful wine list is surprisingly affordable, with most bottles in the $35-$50 range.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made online via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Ponto Lago green rice
Photo courtesy of Ponto Lago

Carlsbad
Gorgeous ocean views, an innovative Baja California-inspired, locally sourced menu and a bespoke bar program are the hallmarks of Ponto Lago, the newly opened dining experience at Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Carlsbad. Under the helm of Executive Chef Pierre Albaladejo, who graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute Lycee d’ Enseignement Professionel de Capbreton in Landes, France, and had a stint at the Palais de L’Elysee in Paris in the private kitchen of President Francois Mitterand, you’ll enjoy brasa y leña (charcoal and firewood) dishes like organic peri peri chicken or a 20-ounce bone-in prime ribeye, or something from the Daily Roast, a rotating menu that consists of a beautiful wood-fired protein such as Moulard Duck Magret or suckling pig, served with roasted vegetables and bean ragout. There’s also an exclusive Surfing with the Chef program, taking guests from the kitchen to the beach, where Chef Pierre not only cooks for you, but surfs with you as well. 
How to book:  Reservations are recommended and can be made online via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.

Hillcrest
Offering bubbles from all over the world and dynamic new cocktails, Breakfast & Bubbles, a fun new all-day brunch eatery in Hillcrest, features luxe options like a raw bar, champagne flights, caviar service, breakfast charcuterie boards, and personalized champagne bottles. Executive Chef Marco Provino (RustiCucina, Farmers Table) shares his Sicilian-inspired specials and unique twists on classic brunch dishes, including vegetarian, vegan, keto-friendly, and gluten-free options in plush, pink-tinged surroundings.
How to book: Seating is on a first-come basis.

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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 stuff, reading cookbooks and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.