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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.