Food & Drink

San Diego's 9 Most Underappreciated Restaurants

Published On 04/27/2015 Published On 04/27/2015
BLUE SMOKE

In a city where hot new restaurant openings come almost as fast and furious as certain Vin Diesel films, some legitimately fantastic establishments sometimes get lost in the shuffle. If you already know and love these fine places, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back and a thumbs-up in the mirror. If not, prepare to update your restaurant hit-list with nine more noteworthy spots to try.

Erin Jackson/Thrillist

Osteria Panevino

Gaslamp
Italian restaurants are so plentiful in the Gaslamp Quarter, they tend to blur into one amorphous, tomato sauce-scented blob. And while it’s easy to write off entire blocks as tourist traps set to snag unknowing convention-goers, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to overlook Osteria Panevino -- a friendly, approachable spot with a slew of tempting items, including house-made spinach ravioli in creamy pesto sauce, and braised veal osso bucco over saffron risotto.

SARA NORRIS/THRILLIST

Magnolia Tap & Kitchen

Downtown
This Southern-inflected restaurant is home to one of San Diego’s most unsung burgers, made with a beef/bacon patty, lettuce, tomato, and savory roasted garlic aioli (no cheese necessary). It’s similar to that other spot known for mixing pork products into beef patties, but more expertly executed. Get some dry-rub chicken wings and a slice of gooey pecan pie to complete the experience.

ERIN JACKSON/THRILLIST

Kitchen 4140

Clairemont
The odd location, next to a designer rug showroom on a seldom-traveled stretch of Morena Blvd, makes Kurt Metzger’s farm-to-table spot tricky to find, but deeply satisfying dishes like red velvet waffles with cherry syrup, candied walnuts, and cream cheese frosting make it a cinch to love. It’s a solid pick for lunch or dinner, too.

ERIN JACKSON/THRILLIST

Hanna's Gourmet

University Heights
Hanna’s sunny-side patio is a prime destination to discover flavor-packed international eats, including South African meatloaf, Moroccan chicken tagine, and the "Mediterranean feast" appetizer pictured above, which comes with a duo of tasty dips, spicy eggplant salad, and baked ricotta wrapped with grape leaves (plus plenty of warm pita wedges). There’s also a monthly family style dinner highlighting several dishes from a specific cuisine for $35 per person. Date night: done.

ERIN JACKSON/THRILLIST

Cheba Hut

Pacific Beach & Rolando
San Diego’s two outposts of this Tempe, AZ-based, stoner-themed sub shop have somehow remained under the radar, despite serving bomb toasted subs available in three sizes: "nug" (4in), "pinner" (6in), or "blunt" (12in); Kool-Aid on tap; and evil-genius desserts like Froot Loops cereal bars.

BLUE SMOKE

Blue Smoke Sushi Lounge

Mission Valley
High-quality rolls, robata items, bento boxes, and all manner of teriyaki-glazed meats round out the robust menu at this reasonably priced sushi spot in Fashion Valley Mall. Don’t leave without ordering something with pork, like the grilled pork belly skewer or the Wave Hog: a Japanese-Californian fusion roll with pork belly, pickled red onion, garlic chips, pomegranate foam, and a crisp chicharron "surfboard."

ERIN JACKSON/THRILLIST

Sundara

Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach might not be the first destination that springs to mind for belly warming Indian fare, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at Sundara, along with a decent selection of craft brews and a shortlist of cocktails, like rum mango lassis. The friendly vibe in the snug interior or covered back patio is much more appealing than the over-dressed spaces slinging tepid fare in the Gaslamp Quarter or even the casual, hole-in-the-wall spots in Miramar. Two tips: "medium" is all the spice you’ll need, and at least one order of garlic naan is an absolute must.

Talavera Azul

Talavera Azul

Chula Vista
Hearty, affordable breakfast and lunch dishes are the main order of business at this cozy Mexican restaurant in Downtown Chula Vista. Sopes piled with chorizo, or righteous chilaquiles bathed in green, red, mole, or chipotle cream sauce are a must. If you love your coffee super-sweet, a bottomless cup of café de la olla with cinnamon will get your motor running.

ERIN JACKSON/THRILLIST

Venga Venga

Chula Vista
Most people are partial to their local, neighborhood taco shop, which is probably why this Mexican restaurant hidden away in deepest Chula Vista (at the Otay Ranch Town Center) doesn’t get the credit it deserves. A new menu that pays tribute to Guadalajara, with tasty items like tostadas, street tacos, and breaded hanger steak tortas make it well worth the drive (just over 20 minutes from Downtown, as long as you don’t go during rush-hour).

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Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Osteria Panevino 722 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101 (Gaslamp Quarter)

Osteria Panevino is a friendly, approachable Italian spot with a slew of tempting items, including house-made spinach ravioli in creamy pesto sauce, and braised veal osso bucco over saffron risotto.

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2. Magnolia Tap and Kitchen 624 E St, San Diego, CA 92101 (East Village)

Southern food with a California twist in Downtown San Diego.

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3. Kitchen 4140 4140 Morena Blvd, San Diego, CA 92117 (Mission Valley)

Headed by Chef Kurt Metzger, this eatery offers 'ingredient-inspired' food across various menus, including comprehensive wine and beer lists to complement the versatile cuisine.

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4. Hanna’s Gourmet 2864 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116 (University Heights)

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.

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5. Blue Smoke Sushi Lounge 7007 Friars Rd, San Diego, CA 92108 (Mission Valley)

High-quality rolls, robata items, bento boxes, and all manner of teriyaki-glazed meats round out the robust menu at this reasonably priced sushi spot in Fashion Valley Mall. Don’t leave without ordering something with pork, like the grilled pork belly skewer or the Wave Hog: a Japanese-Californian fusion roll with pork belly, pickled red onion, garlic chips, pomegranate foam, and a crisp chicharron "surfboard."

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
6. Sundara 1774 Sunset Cliffs Blvd, San Diego, CA 92107 (Ocean Beach)

Ocean Beach might not be the first destination that springs to mind for belly warming Indian fare, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at Sundara, along with a decent selection of craft brews and a shortlist of cocktails, like rum mango lassis. The friendly vibe in the snug interior or covered back patio is much more appealing than the over-dressed spaces slinging tepid fare in the Gaslamp Quarter or even the casual, hole-in-the-wall spots in Miramar. Two tips: "medium" is all the spice you’ll need, and at least one order of garlic naan is an absolute must.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
7. Talavera Azul 365 3rd Ave, Chula Vista, CA 91910 (Chula Vista)

Hearty, affordable breakfast and lunch dishes are the main order of business at this cozy Mexican restaurant in Downtown Chula Vista. Sopes piled with chorizo, or righteous chilaquiles bathed in green, red, mole, or chipotle cream sauce are a must. If you love your coffee super-sweet, a bottomless cup of café de la olla with cinnamon will get your motor running.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
8. Venga Venga 2015 Birch Rd, San Diego, CA 91915 (Chula Vista)

Pair Mexican comfort food with 100 tequilas & mezcals behind the bar (all of which are also comforting), add in guac prepared tableside and a large patio outfitted with firepits, and you've got Venga Venga. They host a bottomless brunch on the weekends with unlimited breakfast tacos and shareable small plates, plus unlimited access to the brunch bar stocked with micheladas, Bloody Marias, margaritas, and mimosas.

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