13 Essential Women-Owned Restaurants You Should Know in San Diego
Support the women shaking up San Diego’s restaurant scene.
Every March during Women’s History Month, we acknowledge the accomplishments and contributions women have made to our collective history. This month of recognition began in the United States in 1911, with the first International Women’s Day. The movement began in earnest, though, when the National Women’s History Project (now the National Women's History Alliance) lobbied to establish a National Women’s History Week in 1980. Their success, and the subsequent popularity of the annual celebration, led to Congress passing a law designating March as Women’s History Month in 1987.
While women have made some progress towards equality, even holding the second-highest elected office in the land, it’s troublesome to learn that less than 25% of chefs in restaurants across the US are women. Even more shocking—women chefs/owners number in the single digits, despite making up nearly half of culinary school students at the Culinary Institute of America. In addition to the same general challenges that their male counterparts in the industry face (COVID-19, anyone?), women chefs and restaurant owners bear the additional burdens of traditional gender norms, which can affect everything from being able to secure financing to raising children in an industry that’s notorious for not providing vacation leave or sick time, health insurance, child care, and other typical employment benefits.
San Diego’s culinary scene has a long history of influential women in charge of the kitchen, from Urban Kitchen Group’s powerhouse Tracy Borkum and dessert guru Karen Krasne to young guns like Priscilla Curiel, whose years honing her craft in her family’s restaurants have culminated in stellar venues that attract national attention. Mentorship programs and educational groups, such as the Mujeres Brew Club, the Pink Boots Society and San Diego Women in Food provide support, education, and resources for novices and experienced entrepreneurs alike, but they need your help too. It’s easy to do—support our local women chefs and restaurateurs by eating in their dining rooms, which span Mexican and Filipino cuisine, exciting newcomers, breweries, and more. To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite woman-owned restaurants, breweries, and bars in San Diego, for you to enjoy not only during March, but all year long. Don’t forget to tip generously.
Communal, the brainchild of Jen Byard, who opened the first location in 2016, offers a full craft coffee and drink menu, seasonal food dishes, fresh flowers, and curated goods in an inspired space that fosters community and creative thinking. The latest, in Oceanside, is the anchor of Tremont Collective, a community of like-minded businesses, and has a private patio, designated flower shop, and a home decor shop next door dubbed “The Annex.” All three locations have bagels, breakfast sandwiches, bowls, and latte flights—North Park and Oceanside also feature a toast bar, pizzettas, salads, and entrees, plus craft cocktails and beer and wine by the glass.
How to order: Seating is on a first-come basis.
Owner/chef Priscilla Curiel’s first shop in a tiny yellow taqueria just this side of the border, had barely opened its doors when she started getting rave reviews both locally and nationally, including glowing articles in Food and Wine, the Michelin Guide, and GQ. Recently, she moved the restaurant to the Old Town Urban Market, a new collective in the heart of Old Town. One bite of her slow-braised, succulent birria piled into house-made flour or corn tortillas, or tucked into a bolillo roll, and you’ll see what all the fuss is about. Be sure to order the tuétano, a thick hunk of roasted marrow bone on a stick, to slather over the juicy birria and a cup of consommé to dip the whole thing into. And yes, you’ll want to pick up a jar or two of that addictive Échale Macha to take home and put on everything you eat.
How to order: In person.
Okay, we’re cheating a little here, because Mujer Divina Coffeehouse is also owned by Priscilla Curiel. She turned her popular Naturale Deli in National City into a coffee and burrito shop that serves Tijuana-style burritos de hielera, using the same excellent birria that goes into Tuetano Taqueria’s tacos. They’re available in flavors like machaca ranchera, chorizo with potatoes, and chicharron in salsa verde, plus a weekly specialty burrito. Coffee drinks, using organic beans from Chiapas, Mexico, include café de olla, drip brews, and an array of flavored lattes, plus a nice selection of conchitas, toasts, and scones.
How to order: In person or online via Toast.
Mujeres Brew House
Mujeres Brew Club co-founders Estela Davila and Carmen Favela opened San Diego’s first Latina-owned brewery with a handful of collaborative brews and guest taps. Since then they’ve been pouring every Tuesday through Sunday, and have added daily events like Thursday Loteria Nights, Mujeres y Musica Fridays with live music and DJs, Saturday farmers markets, and monthly pop ups like Sunday Low and Slow Day Market featuring local vendors, food items, and lowriders. Check their Facebook and Instagram pages for info on what’s pouring and what’s happening.
How to order: In person for patio drinking or takeout.
You & Yours Distilling
Laura Johnson, founder and distiller at You & Yours Distilling Co., toured her first distillery at age 18, and immediately knew that this was the industry for her. In 2017, she realized her dream when she opened San Diego’s only urban distillery in the East Village. Just five years later, she’s bottling regular and citrus-infused vodka and two different gins, a citrus-forward American-style and a traditional London dry gin. She’s also launched a popular line of canned cocktails, and offers distillery tours and cocktail-making classes. Relax in the stylish tasting room and sip one of their craft cocktails, some of which feature limited-edition, barrel-aged gins. Most recently, Johnson has implemented a new bar program at Liberty Station’s revamped Loma Club.
How to order: In person, order online, or at bars and retail stores.
Combining her Le Cordon Bleu credentials with her Cuban heritage, Vivian
Hernandez-Jackson created Azúcar, a pretty, cozy little place to satisfy your sweet, savory, or caffeinated cravings. Go for pastelitos de carne at lunchtime; the all-butter puff pastries are stuffed with picadillo, a soft, fragrant stew of ground beef, tomatoes, and olives. But really, the desserts and pastries are the stars here, and none satisfies a sweet tooth like Divina, a spectacular combination of white chocolate cake, passion fruit curd, and raspberries under a blanket of toasted marshmallow.
How to order: In person or order online for pickup.
For more than a decade, chef Hanna Tesfamichael has been a mainstay of the Adams Avenue culinary scene. Pre-Covid-19, her menu rotated weekly, featuring dishes from Tunisia one week, Ghana the next, and later in the month, perhaps Polish cuisine. These days, you can still get her beloved Prosciutto and Caramelized Apple Tortellini, Moroccan Chicken and Meat Lasagne, along with a large selection of soups (the creamy Tomato Bisque is highly recommended), stews, and salads via Hanna’s @Home, her online pickup service. Do splurge on dessert: carrot cake enthusiasts won’t want to pass up Hanna’s special version.
How to order: Order online by Thursday for pickup on Sunday between 2–6 pm.
Industrial Grind Coffee
Navy veterans Kathy Hansen and Barbara Jeanine learned the coffee industry by trial and error when they first opened Industrial Grind in Hillcrest back in 2011. Eventually, they opened a mini-chain of four shops before scaling back to concentrate on their popular Tierrasanta location. Along the way, they’ve brought in niece Crystal Jones as manager and developed their own line of gluten-free cookies, cupcakes, pastries, brownies, and mixes, all of which are available for purchase at the shop. Check their website’s How To for Crystal’s gluten-free baking videos.
How to order: In person or online for pickup.
Poor House Brewing Company
North Park’s first nanobrewery, Poor House Brewing, has been serving up suds and good times since 2012. Under co-founder Alanna Scheer and her crew, the brewery specializes in ales, and the beer menu runs the gamut from pale blondes to robust Imperial stouts that push the ABV into double digits. Check their Instagram and Facebook pages for what they’re currently pouring.
How to order: In person for tastings and growler fills.
Terryl Gavre’s legendary peanut butter and banana-stuffed French toast may have won Bobby Flay’s heart, but there’s also big, fluffy pancakes, French toast, scrambles, and other breakfast mainstays on the menu at Cafe 222, the award-winning cafe in the heart of downtown. A perennial on “Best Breakfast” lists for more than 20 years, they also serve classic diner lunches like melts, burgers, and chili.
How to order: Indoor and patio dining is on a first-come basis, or order online for pickup.
After co-founding the LA bakery Proof in 2010 and a stint at the famed Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, Crystal White opened Wayfarer Bread & Pastry in the cozy hamlet of Bird Rock. Naturally fermented breads form the core of the menu, but there’s plenty of flaky croissants, buttery scones, cinnamon buns, and cookies to satisfy the most hardcore sweet tooth. Sandwiches, organic flours, yeast, and a few grocery items are also available for purchase. Friday and Saturday are Pizza Nights, featuring thin crust pies that rotate monthly.
How to order: In person or pre-order for bakery items, pizza is sold by pre-order only.
Tracy Borkum has been a powerhouse in the San Diego culinary scene since her days at the Kensington Grill, and was one of the first to introduce the restaurant-within-a-wine-shop concept to Southern California. The Cucina family of restaurants, which includes Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill, Cucina Enoteca in Del Mar, and Cucina Sorella in Kensington, puts fresh SoCal spins on traditional Italian recipes. Menu standouts include house-made pastas, pizza, and shareable large plates. Family-style meals, provision boxes, and pantry items are available to order online.
How to order: Walkins are accepted if seating is available. Order pickup via Toast.
From the mile-high layer cakes to creamy brulees, Karen Krasne knows that the little flourishes: a touch of gold leaf, a few perfect raspberries, or a scattering of fresh flowers, take her desserts from delicious to over-the-top stunning. In addition to perfectly crafted sweets, you’ll find a full menu of shareable boards, paninis, salads, and soup/grilled cheese combos. They’re open Friday through Sunday for indoor dining and pickup only Monday through Thursday.
How to order: Indoor seating is on a first-come basis (Friday-Sunday only). Order online for pickup Monday-Thursday.