Food & Drink

San Diego’s Best Neighborhood Lunch Spots

Published On 09/28/2015 Published On 09/28/2015

Lunch: it’s more than the forgotten middle-meal child between breakfast and dinner. It’s a chance to escape the workday and eat so well you feel like your boss should be mad at you (which, if you linger too long, that might come true). Here are some of the very best places to eat midday in a dozen San Diego neighborhoods:

Urban Plates

What you’re getting: Grilled steak salad
 
Tasty and reasonably priced salads, sandwiches, and plates round out the menu at this casual restaurant at The Forum shopping center in Carlsbad. The parking lot can be busy during the lunch rush, but you won’t wait long to get your food, so it evens out in the end. Bonus: if you want to get a little grocery shopping done on your lunch break, there’s a Jimbo’s next door. 

Protein-heavy salads, like the grilled steak with pineapple-mango salsa, jicama, cashews, and jalapeño lime dressing, are a smart option for lunch. Salads come with a thick slice of grilled focaccia. It’s just the right amount of carbs, protein, and veggies.

That Good Boy

What you’re getting: A pulled pork sandwich

When you want to break out of your salad/soup/sandwich routine, hit this Southern BBQ joint for some legit barbecue. Big portions are standard here, so if you’re looking to eat a reasonable-sized meal, stick with the BBQ pulled pork or brisket sandwich. On Tuesdays, you can score a BBQ pulled pork or beef brisket sandwich with a bottle of beer (or soda) for under $10.

Native Foods

Encinitas

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Native Foods Café (address and info)

Venue node id

4102469

What you’re getting: The Hungry Lu’s Special

When you’re hungry for a classic Italian sandwich, head to this friendly shop in the north end of OB, where first-time visitors are often rewarded with a free cookie. Seating is limited so get your sandwich to go and picnic at Robb Field park. The Hungry Lu’s Special (rosemary porchetta, sweet capocollo, mortadella, and havarti) is always delicious... and you must get a container of the Italian cookies, or a cannoli, or both.

Blaze Pizza

What you’re getting: The pot roast sandwich

This affordable, pint-sized spot excels at tasty things between bread (sandwiches and burgers). The casual-to-the-core interior has limited seating; snag a spot looking out onto the street if you can. The pot roast sandwich with caramelized onions, creamy horseradish, and a mound of shredded iceberg lettuce is a great pick. If you have some extra stomach real estate to spare, split an order of spicy lamb “lollipops.”

Barrio Star

Bankers Hill

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Barrio Star (address and info)

Venue node id

4102397

What you’re getting: The Hot Poppa

Since 2009, this family-owned shop has been filling bellies with huge sandwiches and topped hot dogs made from Boar’s Head meat and cheeses. There is a small seating area outside that gets the job done. Don’t forget to browse the wide selection of craft sodas and salty snacks. The Hot Poppa sandwich (with turkey, Pepper Jack, cream cheese, Flamin' Hot Cheetos, and jalapeños) is the deli’s most famous creation, but there are plenty of more mainstream options too.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

Gaslamp

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Quad Alehouse (address and info)

Venue node id

4056277

What you’re getting: The Caipira

If all you know about Brazilian food is acai bowls, that’s actually OK! This particular cuisine is fairly underrepresented in San Diego, which is reason enough to get your butt to this super-casual spot to try things like pastels (essentially, giant empanadas), pão de queijo (cheese bread), and gluten-free tapioca crepes. A croissant stuffed with your choice of savory filling (the Caipira -- shredded chicken, tomato sauce, and cheese -- is particularly good), especially with a big glass of mango juice.

Saiko Sushi

Coronado

Saiko Sushi (address and info)

What you’re getting: The spicy tuna lunch combo

Just like anywhere else, there are a lot of cheap, crappy sushi places in San Diego. Saiko Sushi isn’t one of them. The restaurant’s commitment to sourcing sustainable fish means guests can enjoy seafood favorites like yellowtail, sea bass, scallops, octopus, and uni that have been scooped from local waters. This is a great reason to reward both locations (North Park and Coronado) with your lunch money. The spicy albacore tuna lunch combo (with a spicy albacore roll and tuna, shrimp, salmon, and yellowtail nigiri) ticks a lot of boxes, or live it up with the chirashi, a 15-piece sashimi platter with steamed rice.
 
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Writer Erin Jackson is a fan of both San Diego and lunch. Follow her @ErinJax.

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1. Urban Plates 1923 Calle Barcelona , Carlsbad, CA 92009

Urban Plates is a relaxed, farm-to-table restaurant that supplies healthy, affordable eats. Here, lunch consists of innovative salads (like kale coconut tofu or grilled wild ono nicoise) hearty sandwiches, and slow-cooked braises and stews.

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2. That Boy Good 207 N Coast Hwy, Oceanside, CA 92054

Everything's bigger in...San Diego? This southern-state-of-mind BBQ joint is known for its hearty portions and "dirty" sandwiches (drowning in cole slaw). The signature entrees are the country-fried chicken thighs and waffles and the cornmeal-crusted Delta catfish.

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3. Native Foods Café 127 N El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024

Native Foods Café reimagines unhealthy favorites—like cheeseburgers, meatball subs, and tacos—by using vegan-friendly meat alternatives. This casual, fast-food chain is 100% plant-based.

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4. Punjabi Tandoor 5424 Morehouse Dr, San Diego, CA 92121

With locations throughout San Diego, Punjabi Tandoor brings authentic India cuisine to the West Coast. This relaxed restaurant is known for their cheap lunch specials, featuring chicken tikka masala, samosas, navratan korma, and others.

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5. Hungry Lu's 4920 Voltaire St, San Diego, CA 92107

Offering homemade pizza, fresh bread, stacked subs, and an assortment of sweets, this casual bakery and deli is a San Diegoian's passport to Italy.

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6. Blaze Pizza 5604 Balboa Ave, , 92111

With 30 different toppings, six types of sauce, and a personal pie in just three minutes, Blaze Pizza is where dreams are made.

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7. The Promiscuous Fork 6984 La Jolla Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037 (La Jolla)

Co-owner Craig Sewell's wife's wandering fork helped inspire the Promiscuous Fork, a laid-back resto where food-sharing is encouraged and all you have to worry about is enjoying your friends' company.

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8. Barrio Star 2706 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92103

Bright jewel tone walls and Dia de los Muertos-style decor make dining here a casual event, as does the reasonably priced menu of delicious eats. The tortas (carnitas, carne asada, chicken, or veggie) are a can’t-miss, and come with a side of chips, but other items like shoestring plantains and chorizo tacos, also make apt complements for their margaritas, beer, and curated tequila selection.

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9. Fatboy’s Cornerstore & Deli 3050 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104

Since 2009, this family-owned shop has been filling bellies with huge sandwiches and hot dogs with towers of toppings made from Boar’s Head meat and cheeses. The must-try here is the ever-famous Hot Poppa, a goliath of a sandwich with turkey, Pepper Jack, cream cheese, Flamin' Hot Cheetos, and jalapeños, but there are plenty of less... scorching options too, like the ABC or Classic Egg. If those still don't float your boat, you can always make your own -- just make sure you pile it high, this place is called Fatboy's for a reason, after all.

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10. Quad Alehouse 868 5th Ave, Level 3, San Diego, CA 92101 (Gaslamp Quarter)

At any given time, this spot will have 28 varieties of beer on tap or nitro. The list rotates, and is curated by a local beer expert. It often features San Diego crafts along with independent brewers from all over. They also keep tons of different whiskeys available and have a signature cocktail list. For food, meat-filled sandwiches and platters are the work of Chef Brandon Brooks.

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11. Samba Brazilian Cuisine 819 C St, San Diego, CA 92101

If all you know about Brazilian food is acai bowls, that’s actually OK! This particular cuisine is fairly underrepresented in San Diego, which is reason enough to get your butt to this super-casual spot to try things like pastels (essentially, giant empanadas), pão de queijo (cheese bread), gluten-free tapioca crepes, and soft potato Coxinhas wrapped in breadcrumbs and filled with savory fillings.

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12. Saiko Sushi 116 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118

Just like in any other city, there are a lot of cheap, crappy sushi places in San Diego. Saiko Sushi isn’t one of them. The restaurant’s commitment to sourcing sustainable fish means guests can enjoy seafood favorites like yellowtail, sea bass, octopus, and uni that have been scooped from local waters. The spicy albacore tuna lunch combo (with a spicy albacore roll and tuna, shrimp, salmon, and yellowtail nigiri) ticks a lot of boxes, or live it up with the chirashi, a 15-piece sashimi platter served over steamed rice.

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