The result is a city whose food and drink, imitated elsewhere, have become a reason to visit San Diego in their own right. We've rounded up San Diego's signature cuisines and libations for you to explore for yourself.
You're at the beach! Or at least close to it. Nothing screams being near the ocean quite like Tiki does, and thankfully San Diego has that in spades. San Diego's unpretentious style embraces Tiki, the laid-back yang to the yin of a naval base from which generations of American sailors have imported bits of Pacific island culture. Consider Tiki an ethos, if a kitschy one: Relax, imagine yourself in an undefined island locale, and listen to your whims.
San Diego's Tiki revival comes at the perfect time: Rum is the new hot liquor, following in the footsteps of mezcal and bourbon. More flexible than those other spirits, rum need only be distilled from sugar cane -- an ideal complement to tropical flavors of all sorts. It's game on.
For the old-school classic, head to Bali Hai on Shelter Island, which has an original Mai Tai that is 100% booze. This iconic spot has the best views of Downtown San Diego, bar none.
This festive outdoor terrace overlooking Petco Park has an extensive, inventive menu of classic and original Tiki-style drinks. Try its take on the Oaxacan Dead -- a must-drink for mezcal lovers.
This Pacific Beach speakeasy-style Tiki wonderland requires you to slip in through Good Time Poke. You'll head in through what looks like a refrigerator and be deposited in a volcano, which leads to the main dining room. It's decorated to the nines with volcano murals, fire, bamboo adornments, and giant Tiki figures. Importantly, it's also stocked with incredible drinks and Asian-fusion shared plates. Expect a soaring menu of rare rums.
A lush, speakeasy-style lounge in the happening downtown neighborhood of Little Italy requires you enter through an actual refrigerator at the back of popular restaurant Craft & Commerce. It's a tight space so reservations are a must. The place is also geeking out on rum, with a split menu of classic Tiki drinks alongside its modern interpretation of each one. Expect a dark, lush atmosphere -- a more secretive island vibe.
Simply put, this is the quintessential San Diego meal. It's understood that the fish taco originated about 90 minutes south, in the Mexican port city of Ensenada, where you may find it made with shark meat. In the United States, the protein is usually some kind of mild whitefish -- snapper, cod, halibut, flounder, or mahi-mahi -- battered and fried, then married to a tangy slaw, a creamy salsa, and a squeezed lime on, typically, a flour tortilla. Many fish taco joints also offer a grilled option, to give some variety. Knowing San Diego's relationship with the border, it's no surprise that the city is the fish taco's hometown outside of Mexico.
Fish 101 in Encinitas is serving what many locals say is the superlative fish taco with all the classic fixings. There really isn’t much more to say except that it’s likely the perfect fish taco in the perfect surf town.
Mitch's is a casual seafood joint right on the marina in Point Loma, well-known for other types of fresh seafood and just damn good at whipping up a fish taco. Its delicious swordfish taco isn't to be missed.
Oscars, with several locations around town, is the OG fish taco king. It’s hard to beat it, but for the best experience check out the Pacific Beach original, right next to the ocean.
On the other end of the taco spectrum are Tijuana-style street tacos, generally consisting of a doubled-up palm-sized corn tortilla and freshly grilled red or white meat. San Diego and Tijuana are siblings separated by some fences and a giant traffic jam. It was only a matter of time before street tacos made the leap over the border and were adopted as a proper hometown cuisine by San Diegans.
With beautifully outfitted locations in La Jolla and Seaport Village, Puesto pays homage to all kinds of street food. Its classic and original street tacos ride in style alongside other menu options amid its refreshed, modern decor.
This offshoot of a Tijuana chain now has several San Diego locations. It's hard to go wrong there, but if you've got just one wish, spend it on the adobada.
The name says it all: an emulation of a typical Tijuana taco stand, from decor to execution. You'll find paletas -- Mexican ice pops, in every flavor under the sun -- and Jarritos, that classic Mexican soda. There are rotating spits of meat and tortillas being griddled. It looks like it might be a ramshackle spot, bathed in fluorescent light -- except it’s in the middle of tiny La Jolla. The tacos are legit enough that you might feel stoked for a real live border run.
Galaxy Taco, also in La Jolla but down in the cove, takes a more modern approach and mixes things up with original recipes. You'll find Mexican wines on the menu and perhaps arugula in your taco, but all for good reason. These guys know what they’re doing.
San Diego County is home to more craft breweries -- north of 130 and counting -- than the entire United States had in the mid-'80s. Some, like Ballast Point and Stone, have found national and international fame and recognition. Others, you really have to discover while you're there.
Its original West Coast IPA (literally, that's what the beer is called) put San Diego's super-hoppy brews on the map.
Just down the road on the 8 freeway is the small town of Alpine, where they just opened up a new Alpine brewery restaurant. The food is indulgent and heavy; the beers, delightfully hoppy.
San Diego's premier vegan brewery, Modern Times, has two main tasting rooms in the city in Point Loma and North Park. Fans love its Black House stout with coconut and cacao nibs.
The Pacific is half (or all) of the reason people visit San Diego. But until recently, the pickings for real dining were admittedly slim -- you had a lot of phoned-in effort because beachside restaurateurs knew the sunsets would draw the crowds. Thankfully, San Diegans have begun to demand better, and the quality and creativity of waterfront dining has caught up with the rest of the city.
Freshly open after a several-month renovation, this La Jolla favorite is back with a new chef and bar manager. Oh, and that gorgeous view of the ocean and coastline? Yeah, that used to be the back wall of a mortgage office. Talk about an upgrade.
This bayfront restaurant at Paradise Point is earning rave reviews since chef DJ Tangalin took over in late 2016. Befitting its name and spot on the waterfront, seafood is the move here. Expect finer dining and a view that belies the fact that you're still in a city.
Another La Jolla stalwart. For the best experience, head to the roof, where the only restaurant is 100% outdoors. While you take in the unparalleled ocean views, make sure you sample from the great cocktail list and order away -- just don't skip the mussels.
Any coastal city worth its salt should offer some damn good sushi options. San Diego, while perhaps a rung below San Francisco or Los Angeles, can stack its sushi against pretty much any other city in North America. Further, San Diego chefs have built a culture of creativity and commitment to the environment. Several work with only sustainably caught fish, which means you may not get that bluefin tuna you were hoping for, but you can expect something just as (if not more) delicious and 100% better for enjoying the future bounty of our oceans. If you're looking for creativity in your raw fish, you've come to the right place.
You're not coming to Kaito Sushi in Encinitas for a California roll. You're coming for the omakase, and you'll like it, dammit. Submit to its will and enjoy the best sushi San Diego has to offer.
Chef Davin Waite’s sustainable fish temple up in the beach town of Oceanside is best experienced via omakase. Give the chef a rough budget and leave the rest to fate: You’ll be crying tears of joy after eating his divine creations, as well as crying tears of pain from how full you are.
Another destination for sustainable sushi in Carlsbad Village, chef Rob Ruiz is serving up creative and delicious riffs on traditional sushi combinations. Don't skip the famous Water Roll: a spicy tuna, Haas avocado, and stone crab roll with tsume, ryu, and layers of assorted sashimi, all topped with ginger, ponzu, and citrus slices.
San Diego comes right up to the ocean, and world cultures likewise funnel into San Diego. You can get the seasoned tuna that Hawaiians call poke (pronounced PO-kay), ceviche, tiraditos, and aguachile. Most likely, most of what you're eating is from just off the coast or a little further south from Baja California.
Zarlitos Family Restaurant is a National City staple for Filipino food but is also famous for its traditional Hawaiian poke. The spicy garlic is the move.
One of the newer options in town, this super-casual spot in Normal Heights is serving some of the freshest and most creative ceviches, aguachiles, and tiraditos north or south of the border.
Set in the shadow of better-known restaurants in Little Italy, Sirena nonetheless brings some of the best Latin American raw fish options anywhere, period.
TJ Oyster Bar in Chula Vista will have you convinced you crossed the border. Tostadas and aguachiles reign supreme here.
You don’t need to surf to enjoy this delicious monstrosity, but it’ll certainly help if you want to burn off its calories. The true version has grilled carne asada, salsa, sour cream, cheese, guacamole, and French fries. That’s right. Unsurprisingly, it's also a late-night post-drinking fave, but every San Diegan knows the craving strikes at random. One more tip: Don't ever tell a San Diegan that beans or rice belong in a burrito, or they’ll give you what's coming to you.
Nestled in a taco shop-cum-convenience store in the upscale beach community of Solana Beach, Rudy's is an unassuming spot that serves greasy, delicious, afternoon-ending burritos.
Lolita's in Chula Vista is probably San Diego's most storied and famous Cali burrito. Unlike the restaurant's waifish literary namesake, they're also humongous.
SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY
Next to San Diego State University, Trujillo's is a late-night -- and surprisingly high-quality -- go-to for many coeds.
Among several locations in North County, the San Elijo State Park location reigns supreme, if only because it's on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Oh yeah, this version has tater tots instead of fries.
San Diego has a lot of, generously speaking, throwback architecture that hasn't been updated in a few decades. Driving around the city, you'll notice a lot of old-school donut joints that might even appear to be a bit janky. That's just time, telling you what's good. San Diego is known for having incredible donuts, with classic options and updated versions for every type of pastry hound. You may even spot a donut egg sandwich floating around town.
Considered one of the best original donut spots, VG's is famous for the old fashioned. Don’t sleep on the other bakery treats though -- everything is delicious.
Adjacent to (and part of the same restaurant group as) finer-dining spot Kettner Exchange is Devil's Dozen, which sells out mid-morning every day and is particularly famous for its sublime tres leches donut.
South Bay’s neighborhood standard has been open for several decades. This is your classic of classics.
Another spot for unique and globally inspired donuts is Nomad Donuts in North Park. Prickly pear, Jamaican jerk, Thai tea, ube? It's got those and more. It's also well-known for having the best vegan donuts in town.
Besides the Cali burrito, there's one other iconic San Diego surf snack: the acai bowl. There isn't a beachfront in this town that isn't littered with them -- but some are better than others. It's basically a smoothie bowl, with blended acai as the base, and a range of toppings that can include any kind of berry, bananas, honey, peanut butter, granola, or anything else you can think of. Think tropical drinks without all the booze.
The best, hands down, are at the duo of The Nest and its sister location, Lazy Hummingbird, in Ocean Beach. They use raw acai and have inventive toppings like matcha powder and mint.
Another favorite is Captain Kirk’s in South Park, where the 420 Bowl using hemp granola reigns supreme. It also has an OB counterpart, called Tiki Port, which has the same menu.
A long-standing Pacific Beach favorite, it also has a great selection of smoothies and healthy wraps. Being just steps from the beach means you can take it to go and enjoy your bowl oceanside.
The huge Somali, Eritrean, and Ethiopian communities in San Diego cook up a mean dinner, favored by vegetarian gourmands and anyone who dislikes utensils. A large round of injera -- a tangy, spongy, thin bread that soaks up all it touches -- comes heaped with various spiced, stewed meats and vegetables. You rip off a section of bread, use it to pinch-scoop a proper bite, and tuck it all into your mouth. It gets messy, which is half the fun.
For a higher-end, more bougie option, Muzita is a good bet. The food is excellent and the restaurant is in a cute craftsman house in University Heights.
The aptly named Harar Special gets you a sampling of almost everything the resto makes. Good luck choosing which is your favorite.
This restaurant in North Park not only serves good down-home Ethiopian treats, it also has a market with imported goods from Africa that are hard to find anywhere else.
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1. Bali Hai2230 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego
2. Fairweather795 J St, San Diego
3. The Grass Skirt & Good Time Poke910 Grand Ave, San Diego
4. False Idol675 W Beech St, San Diego
5. Fish 1011468 N Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
6. Mitch's Seafood1403 Scott St, San Diego
7. Oscar's Mexican Seafood746 Emerald St, San Diego
8. Puesto789 W Harbor Dr, San Diego
9. Tacos El Gordo3265 Palm Ave, San Diego
10. The Taco Stand621 Pearl St, La Jolla
11. Galaxy Taco2259 Avenida de La Playa, La Jolla
12. Green Flash Brewing Company6550 Mira Mesa Blvd, San Diego
13. Alpine Beer Company Pub1347 Tavern Rd, Ste C, Alpine
14. Modern Times Flavordome3000 Upas St, San Diego
15. The Hake Kitchen and Bar1250 Prospect St, San Diego
16. Tidal1404 Vacation Rd, San Diego
17. George's at the Cove1250 Prospect St, San Diego
18. Kaito Sushi130 N El Camino Real, Encinitas
19. Wrench & Rodent1815 S Coast Hwy, Oceanside
20. The Land & Water Company2978 Carlsbad Blvd #110, Carlsbad
21. Zarlitos Family Restaurant505 E 8th St, National City
22. Ceviche House4594 30th St, San Diego
23. Sirena Latin Seafood1901 Columbia St, San Diego
24. TJ Oyster Bar4246 Bonita Rd, Bonita
25. Rudy's Taco Shop524 Stevens Ave, Solana Beach
26. Lolita's Taco Shop413 Telegraph Canyon Rd, Chula Vista
27. Trujillo's Taco Shop5119 College Ave, San Diego
28. Bull Taco101 N Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
29. VG Donut & Bakery106 Aberdeen Dr, Cardiff-by-the-Sea
30. Devil's Dozen Donut Shop2001 Kettner Blvd, San Diego
31. Stardust Donut Shop698 Highway 75, Imperial Beach
32. Nomad Donuts4504 30th St, San Diego
33. The Nest Coffee & Tea5025-5033 Niagara Ave, San Diego
34. Captain Kirk's Coffee2031 Fern St, San Diego
35. Rum Jungle Cafe4150 Mission Blvd Ste 153, San Diego
36. Muzita Abyssinian Bistro4651 Park Blvd, San Diego
37. Harar Ethiopian Restaurant2432 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego
38. Awash Ethiopian Restaurant4979 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego
The Polynesian paradise that is Bali Hai is known for its Hawaiian-inspired food, tiki cocktails, and unparalleled views of the Downtown San Diego skyline. Bali Hai's signature is its Mai Tai, a juice-free cocktail so high in alcohol content that the menu includes a note touting it as "quite possibly the strongest drink you'll ever consume." Lightweights should order from the "Mild to Medium Potency" section of the menu or try one of the whipped cream-topped frozen drinks. Either way, you'll need something substantial to eat, like spam carbonara or lamb pad thai.
Located above Rare Form, Fairweather isn't perched very high for a rooftop bar, but it does offer a killer view of Petco Park. Cozy dotted blue sofas and fruit displays offer bright bursts of color amidst white marble benches and a mosaic-tile bar backdrop. You can take your pick from over a dozen specialty cocktails, like the honey-and-lime flavored King Bee or the sugary Oh Captain My Captain, and if you get peckish, just head downstairs for a grilled cheese or hummus plate.
This two-in-one Pacific Beach spot consists of a grab-and-go poke joint (Good Time Poke) and a tiki-themed speakeasy (The Grass Skirt). Good Time Poke is the daytime spot of the two, serving traditional and not-so-traditional riffs on the classic Hawaiian raw fish salad. Enjoy a signature bowl and pork belly steamed buns, or create your own poke… and still get the pork belly steamed buns. A pair of double doors at the back of Good Time Poke leads to The Grass Skirt, where quintessential Tiki drinks are made with high-quality rum, and an Asian-and-Hawaiian-inflected food menu features small plates like kimchee fried rice, shrimp yakisoba, and drunken noodles. There's poke here too, but it's a bit more meta than what's served at the fronting cafe. Exhibit A: the Tuna Ribbon Poke Fishbowl served atop a fishbowl, complete with live goldfish. Raw fish, live fish, we'll take it.
At False Idol, the saying "secrets secrets are no fun" couldn't be farther from the truth. This hidden Tiki bar is found through a stainless steel door next to the main bar at Craft & Commerce, and once you pass crates of pineapples and citrus fruit, you'll find a Polynesian oasis brimming with tropical drinks and wood-carved decor. The bar slings a mix of classic and modern Tiki drinks, including the citrusy Demerara Dry Float and the Pearl Diver with a spiced butter syrup. There's no food here, so if you're looking for something to eat, head back to Craft & Commerce.
California coastal seafood house Fish 101 has a menu that changes not only with the seasons, but with whatever fish bites the line that morning. The Encinitas seafood shack is local and sustainable in both fishing practices and ingredient sourcing, as the produce and herbs come from from various SoCal farms. Order at the counter, grab a seat at the communal table, and enjoy a glass of wine or a craft beer while you wait for your California-caught, simply grilled (or fried) catch-of-the-day to join you at the table.
From its post on the dock, Mitch's Seafood is a Point Loma destination for California-centric fish dinners and Bay views. Mitch's has a laid-back atmosphere with prices to match, a menu chock full of simply prepared dishes, and a craft beer and wine selection based entirely in California. Tacos are top billing, and depending on the day, you can expect fillings like octopus, fried oysters, or scallops. If you don’t want to chance it, the grilled shrimp and battered cod tacos are offered daily. In true seafood shack style, service is casual.
What began as just one small storefront on Turquoise St. is now a San Diego marisco fixture and mini chain known for its variety of Latin-flavored dishes. Expect an ample selection of market seafood served in salad, tacos, burritos, or tortas, plus non-surf fare like breakfast burritos, steak tacos, and chorizo tortas. Oscar's is a quick counter-serve, but don't judge the fish by how it's served: the ceviche may come in plastic cups, but it's flavorful and most importantly, fresh.
The vibrantly decorated Puesto pays homage to all kinds of Mexican street food, with a heavy emphasis on tacos. You'll find a mix of familiar fillings (chicken al pastor and filet mignon) alongside refreshing combinations like lobster with black beans and crispy onions, and zucchini with sweet corn and cactus. The house-made corn tortillas here prove to be so much more than a vessel for the meat and cheese fillings, and you'll find yourself savoring their earthy taste -- or spreading them with guacamole when the chips run low. Speaking of guac, you can stick with cilantro and onion classic or have yours loaded with Brussels sprouts and crispy bacon.
With locations across Southern California and Nevada, Tacos El Gordo is a bustling spot serving up authentic Tijuana-style tacos. It's best known for its marinated, spiced pork loin adobada taco, made with meat sliced straight from the spit and served on a house-made corn tortilla with your choice of toppings. Opt for an adventure with the cabeza (beef head), or the tripa (beef stomach), and enjoy them with a side of mulas and a Mexican Coke.
This straight-out-of-TJ mini-chain turns out traditional Mexican handhelds from its various SoCal outposts. Inspired by Tijuana street food but rooted in La Jolla, The Taco Stand boasts burritos, quesadillas, elotes, and churros from its scrap metal menu that's posted outside its doors. Step up to the counter and pick your poison, but know that you'd be remiss not to try the flame-grilled cactus tacos.
Galaxy Taco delivers on its name's magical promise in an airy space brought to life by an extravagant mural of purple, orange, and yellow corn. The painted wall is a nod to the restaurant's Masienda corn tortillas, which are made daily out of house-ground masa. Galaxy serves the tortillas with most dishes, from tacos filled with fried fish or grilled steak to entrées like chicken enchiladas and vegetable tamales. Given the group-friendly size of the space, a portion of the menu is dedicated to shared plates like grilled blue corn quesadillas and octopus tostadas.
Green Flash Brewing's “beer-first” philosophy has earned the San Diego-based team a reputation for being draught trailblazers. The 30 beers on tap at this massive tasting room in Sorrento Valley include a variety of flagship beers as well as seasonal, rare, and special release selections. Clink your glasses outside in the beer garden and order bites like truffle mac & cheese, tater tots, and wasabi deviled eggs from the on-site Green Flash food truck.
The family-run Alpine Beer Company Pub takes customer experience seriously, meaning meats are smoked daily with handpicked hickory and mesquite wood, fish is served fresh, and dressings and sauces are made from scratch. Pair house-made brews with spinach artichoke dip, shrimp ceviche, smoked grilled cheese, or opt for a pulled pork or beef brisket sandwich. The space is dog-friendly and has an expansive patio with an outdoor bar.
Modern Times' tasting room, the Flavordome, is located in North Park, and like the Point Loma location, this spot has some interesting design elements -- think upside down lampshades covering the ceiling and an epic mosaic mural covering one of the walls. There are 16 Modern Times brews on tap at this location, so hang on the patio and try them all, or get a growler full of your favorite to take home. Modern Times doesn't serve food, but you can bring your own or have snacks delivered straight to your table from Tacos Perla, and if you plan on tasting all 16 beers, that’s probably a good idea.
The Hake Kitchen and Bar reels in loyal La Jolla regulars with its coastal, seafood-centric menu. The key to a memorable dinner here is to order multiple dishes: start with small plates like the shrimp and pork tamale with crispy, glistening pork skin, then select an entrée for the main event. The spiced Colorado lamb loin, which arrives with plump little masa dumplings, leek, and watercress, is a standout. Oceanfront views will inspire heavenly dreams as you drift into your food coma.
The bay view from the patio at this upscale yet laid-back restaurant located within Paradise Point Resort in Mission Bay is beautiful any time of day, but you get the best return on your investment during sunset. The cuisine matches the atmosphere with refined seafood dishes like wood-roasted arctic char and Baja prawns with house-made Longanisa sausage, though the land options are just as impressive. With plentiful parking and easy access to the sand (and fire pits), you can easily turn a dinner or happy hour visit into multiple hours of fun and relaxation.
Views like those at George's are worth paying for, so it comes as a pleasant surprise that the seafood-centric menu here isn't insanely overpriced. The ocean terrace is where you want to sit for a full meal, but if you're here for cocktails and something lighter, head to the Level 2 bar, where classic negronis are served alongside proprietary concoctions like the chili-infused tequila Sea 3.
Some of San Diego’s best sushi restaurants are located in strip malls, and Kaito Sushi in Encinitas is no different. Though à la carte ordering is available, the best way to experience the Edomae-style sushi here is by opting for the chef's choice omakase at the sushi bar. You'll be treated to a multi-stage meal that features anything from silky squid nigiri and torched gold eye snapper with yuzu to Santa Barbara uni. The chefs helming the bar are friendly and highly skilled, so expect nothing less than the freshest cuts of fish and delicate portions of rice.
Wrench & Rodent pushes boundaries with its innovative (and sometimes twisted) menu of seafood dishes crafted from the fresh catch of local fishermen and some of the city’s top suppliers (Catalina Offshore Products and Specialty Produce). Items like black garlic mahi mahi on a block of pink Himalayan salt, plant-based sushi rolls, and shishito pepper "poutine” with duck fat gravy are just some of the reasons the eclectic restaurant is worth the drive.
It’s not often you find yourself in a sushi restaurant that splits its menu between nigiri, izakaya small plates, and hearty French dishes. It's also not often you find yourself in a restaurant where everything from the tables and light fixtures to the breads and fish is sustainably sourced or made in-house. The Land & Water Company in Carlsbad is all of those things. Here, you’ll find aquaculture-raised yellowtail sashimi alongside crispy pork belly bacon with jalapeño cornbread, hot dinner entrées like pork bourguignon and vegetable pot pie. If you're looking for the fatty flesh of endangered bluefin tuna, you've come to the wrong place.
Since 1991, people have been driving from all over the city to Zarlitos for a taste of the restaurant’s award-winning poke. Zarlitos specializes in traditional Filipino cuisine but has a decided penchant for Hawaiian-style poke dressed in the sauce of your choosing (choose the spicy garlic). Also on offer is a long list of traditional Filipino proteins (like sisig, longanisa, and spam) that can be enjoyed in taco, burrito, torta, or poutine form, as well as globally influenced dishes like pork or chicken adobo enchiladas and fried rice with eggs over easy.
One-time San Diego farmers market favorite Ceviche House is turning out high-quality Peruvian food at its minimalist, North Park counter-serve spot. The namesake dish is served in a few formats: on a tostada, wrapped in lettuce, or in a bowl with a side of chips. Other items on offer include sashimi-like tiraditos for those averse to the citrus in ceviche, rice bowls, and the popular Tostada Gobernador, topped with fire-roasted shrimp, avocado, queso fresco, cabbage, and chipotle cream salsa.
Sirena Cocina Latina is led by Executive Chef Jaime Chavez who hails from Chile. His mostly seafood creations are inspired by his journeys through South America, as well as his technical training in Spain and Mexico. Extensive Latin American flavors are reflected in dishes like the red aguachile, the Peruano -- a white fish with glazed sweet potato -- and even beer-battered fish tacos for those who just can’t let go.
TJ Oyster Bar is a Baja-style mini-chain that began as a ceviche tostada and fish taco cart in Tijuana in 1980. It's since expanded with more locations and menu items (oysters and seafood burritos, for instance), all prepared with Baja-inspired flavors. Stop by the original location for 99 cent fish tacos, an homage to TJ's food cart roots.
Located in Solana Beach (and with another location in Carlsbad), Rudy’s Taco Shop is a fast-casual stop for all-day Mexican cuisine. Rudy’s has a vast selection of dishes, including street tacos and rolled tacos, tostadas and burritos, soups and salads, and morning-specific items like eggs with chorizo and breakfast burritos. The menu items are from scratch and cooked using traditional methods, providing authentic flavor and soulful dishes across the board.
Lolita’s Taco Shop is a family-run Mexican mini-chain that serves family recipes that taste of authenticity in every bite. The quick counter-serve is home to some of the city’s most storied burritos, namely because of their size. Try the California -- made with Angus beef, refried pinto beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, guacamole, sour cream, salsa, and French fries -- or the 2 in 1 with Angus beef, guacamole, three cheeses, and two rolled tacos inside.
Steps from the San Diego State campus, Trujillo's Taco Shop serves the kind of quick, cheap, and large-portioned Mexican food every college needs. The family-owned spot is known for its house burrito, made of a flour tortilla fully loaded with cheese, chicken, or beef asada, sour cream, guacamole, French fries, and salsa. If you aren't having fries in your burrito, order them nacho-style with all the same toppings. Trujillo's is open late because if its food is one thing, it's excellent after a night out.
The fourth outpost of North County’s Bull Taco in Encinitas serves the same innovative tacos as its predecessors. The taco chain's tagline reads “inauthentic tacos,” so alongside traditional carne asada and chicken fillings, expect combinations like the SBC (shrimp, bacon, and chorizo), and the California (tater tots and guacamole). All fillings can be served in a taco, burrito, torta, bowl, or "Fancy Quesadilla." Breakfast burritos and snacks like the popular carne asada tater tots are also on offer.
VG Donut & Bakery is a family-owned bakery that's been operating out of its post in Cardiff-by-the-Sea for over 50 years. There are over two dozen types of doughnuts to choose from here, as well as a vast array of cookies, cakes, cupcakes, brownies, and more -- all made in house -- so rest assured, you'll (almost) never have to get the same combination of doughnuts and pastries twice.
Devil's Dozen serves devilishly simple, deep-fried doughnuts that stick to traditional flavors like old fashioned, vanilla bean, chocolate, and cinnamon-sugar. Specials fluctuate with the seasons, and when they do, you'll find some sweeter flavors like nutella-hazelnut, s'mores, and tres leches cake. The rooftop is always open for you to enjoy your doughnuts with a cup of locally roasted coffee and views of the city.
Stardust Donut Shop's small selection of doughnuts changes daily based on the whims of the owners, who bake everything from scratch. The typical roster includes old-fashioned, glazed, and chocolate-frosted donuts, plus buttermilk twists and peanut-topped cinnamon rolls. Be sure to get here early because when the doughnuts run out, the shop closes its walk-up window -- no matter the time of day.
This is probably about as healthy as donuts get (although you’d never think it) -- Nomad has an entire menu section dedicated to vegan options alongside its list of specialty donuts that changes daily. We recommend the Ube Taro Coconut donut (vegan and otherwise) which has a purplish tint from taro, a root vegetable with a nutty flavor. Combined with coconut, this donut is unexpected and original.
Lazy Hummingbird's second location, The Nest, serves the same brand of healthful acai bowls, fruit smoothies, and turmeric-infused tonics as the original coffee shop. Find the counter inside the organic home goods store Teter -- just off Ocean Beach pier.
This walk-up cafe in South Park serves coffee and tea, plus smoothies, croissants, and highly praised acai bowls. The 420 Bowl is a must-try, featuring a colorful array of fruit, honey, coconut, agave, and hence its name, hemp granola. Captain Kirk's OB counterpart, Tiki Port, serves the same menu of superfood-infused morning pick-me-ups.
Founded in 2002 on the ethos that food has healing powers, Rum Jungle Cafe serves good-for-you foods like granola-topped acai bowls, nutrient-forward sandwiches and salads, and naturally sweet smoothies. The cafe was a pioneer in blending acai into its recipes, so if you're going to try the superfood, this is the place to do it.
Finger food has never been as loaded, hearty, and, well, fun to eat, as it is at Muzita Abyssinian Bistro in University Heights. Inspired by the concept of home, Muzita exudes unmistakable warmth from its bungalow-style exterior. Spongy Ethiopian injera, a teff-based crepe, is both a serving mat and utensil for stews like the vegetarian Kantisha Kilwa and seared boneless chicken Dorho Alitcha Kilwa. Dishes are naturally spicy here thanks to a dry and powdery combination of peppers, garlic, onion, cumin and other traditional spices. You'll need a glass of wine or two to wash it all down, so be sure to indulge in Muzita's sinfully sweet honey wine as your meal comes to an end.
North Park’s Harar Ethiopian Cuisine is a mecca for injera and and spicy stews. Standouts include Azifa, a dish comprised of lentils, mustard, and onion, and Yebeg Alicha, made with strips of succulent lamb and spiced with ginger, garlic, and jalapeno peppers. The weekly Friday night buffet is a hit among locals for its various lamb, beef, chicken, and vegetable choices, and the outdoor back patio offers plenty of room to spread out as you indulge.
Behind this unassuming, convenience store-reminiscent storefront on El Cajon Boulevard is some of San Diego's most authentic Ethiopian cuisine. Part market, part restaurant, Awash serves spicy stews, vegetables, and meats -- all with spongy, teff-based injera. The fronting market sells house-baked injera, bagged and ready to-go, along with other hard-to-find African imports.