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:
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.
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.
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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.
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.”
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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.
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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.
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.
1. Urban Plates1923 Calle Barcelona , Carlsbad
2. That Boy Good207 N Coast Hwy, Oceanside
3. Native Foods Café127 N El Camino Real, Encinitas
4. Punjabi Tandoor5424 Morehouse Dr, San Diego
5. Hungry Lu's4920 Voltaire St, San Diego
6. Blaze Pizza5604 Balboa Ave,
7. The Promiscuous Fork6984 La Jolla Blvd, La Jolla
8. Barrio Star2706 5th Ave, San Diego
9. Fatboy’s Cornerstore & Deli3050 University Ave, San Diego
10. Quad Alehouse868 5th Ave, Level 3, San Diego
11. Samba Brazilian Cuisine819 C St, San Diego
12. Saiko Sushi116 Orange Ave, Coronado
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With 30 different toppings, six types of sauce, and a personal pie in just three minutes, Blaze Pizza is where dreams are made.
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.
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.
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.
You probably would have studied harder in college had your quad study hall doubled as craft beer hall. But better late than never; Quad Alehouse in Downtown has all the trappings of a campus study hall, including a warm wooden interior and the institution’s signature burgundy seal adorning the walls, with the added beer bonus of 28 brews on tap. Chef Ben Miller’s menu is a California take on BBQ bar snacks, juxtaposing seared ahi sashimi with a hickory smoked pulled pork sandwich that’s accompanied by candied roasted tomato and garlic chive aioli. While the beer list is dominated by the stuff of craft West Coast breweries, European draughts are also available.
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.
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.