San Diego is one of the premier gastronomy cities in the United States with over 5,000 diverse restaurants boasting an array of ethnic flavors and unique culinary styles. With that astounding number of dining options visitors and locals alike can struggle with making a selection. Sometimes having too many choices is just as bad as having too little. The struggle is real.
While it’s easy to be drawn in by the allure of shiny new eateries, there is something to be said for establishments that have managed to stand the test of time. Below we’ve compiled a list of the top eight iconic restaurants that have been enticing the masses for more than fifty years, many of which have defined San Diego’s culinary culture.
Iconic Dining Landmarks: The Breakdown
There are roughly 25 iconic dining landmarks in the city that are scattered throughout the various unique neighborhoods that make up San Diego. And while we’d love to name them all it would require you to read a book rather than a simple bog post, so we’ll get your list started instead. These are the top three leading breakfast/brunch spots who’ve managed to withstand time.
Harry’s Coffee Shop
Situated in the upscale beachside neighborhood of La Jolla, Harry’s Coffee Shop has been a thriving family-owned-and-operated restaurant since 1960. It is known for serving breakfast all day. Harry’s décor and ambience are influenced by the East Coast roots of the original owner, and reminiscent of diners and coffee shops of Brooklyn. It’s centered on friendliness and neighborhood comfort. Diners can indulge in American classics such as eggs benedict, fried egg sandwiches, omelets, and giant waffles while sipping on coffee, cappuccinos, and espressos.
The Waterfront Bar and Grill
Established in 1933, The Waterfront Bar & Grill is San Diego’s oldest tavern. Many love this old-school spot for its whisky, burgers, and specialty grilled cheeses at night. But it’s also well-known for its delicious breakfast menu. A beautiful blend of classic American fare and authentic Mexican dishes await diners each morning. Guests will enjoy everything from two-eggs any style plates and country fried steak to huevos rancheros and chilaquiles in a warm and inviting rustic atmosphere.
Tobey’s 19th Hole Restaurant
Opened in 1934, Tobey’s 19th Hole Restaurant is situated next to the clubhouse of the Balboa Park Golf Course. It overlooks the course’s 1st tee and 18th green providing exceptional views of the downtown skyline. Somewhat of a hidden gem, Tobey’s is known for offering boozy brunches ideal for a Sunday Funday. Corned beef hash, chicken fried steak smothered in rich gravy, biscuits and gravy, and traditional sweet treats such as French toast, waffles, and pancakes pair with a choice of coffee, juice, tap beer, or mimosas.
Honorable Mention: Slinging hash since 1944, Hob Nob Hill is a Bankers Hill breakfast icon.
Lunch or Dinner? You Decide
Since lunch and dinner can sometimes blur together in San Diego, we decided to put the best places for both in the same section. Whether you are looking for an early afternoon snack, a midday meal, or an evening feast you can find it at any of the following restaurants. Hawaiian vibes, classic steakhouses, beachside fish shacks, Italian eateries, and authentic Mexican restaurants are just a few of the exceptional dining options that have managed to outlast the competition.
Bali Hai Restaurant
For more than 50 years Bali Hai Restaurant has remained a family-owned-and-operated establishment. This island-inspired oasis is situated on Shelter Island boasting enchanting views of the Pacific Ocean and the Downtown San Diego skyline. Serving lunch and dinner, guests will enjoy menu delights such as grilled pineapple salad, coconut shrimp, and pan seared halibut complemented by their tiki-inspired signature cocktail menu.
Turf Supper Club
Located in the historic neighborhood of Golden Hill, the Turf Supper Club has been an iconic dining landmark since 1950. This piano bar and DIY steakhouse was once regularly frequented by legendary Rat Packers and Hollywood movie stars making it one of the most notorious restaurants in the city. Unlike most restaurants there isn’t a lot of fanfare here with just a simple menu of raw meat to be prepared on self-serviced grills, and cold drinks. Designed for the 21 and up crowd, subdued lighting, large plush booths, and a full bar create the ideal old-school ambiance.
Opened in 1940, El Indio is a legendary Mexican restaurant located in the historic Little Italy neighborhood. As the self-proclaimed inventors of the delectable rolled taco, they’ve managed to remain a top contender in their culinary niche. They offer the classic dishes in this style with options such as enchiladas, burritos, tacos, chimichangas, quesadillas, nachos, tostadas, and tamales. But they kick it up a notch with hand-made, fresh daily, straight-from-the-oven tortillas and taquitos.
Anthony’s Fish Grotto
A waterfront landmark, Anthony’s Fish Grotto has been serving up mouthwatering fried seafood dishes since their 1946 opening. Although originally situated along the San Diego Harbor, the restaurant made a move to the up-and-coming neighborhood of La Mesa. The restaurant received a much needed face-lift, but retained their incredible menu. Diners will enjoy fine dining selections such as Maine lobster tails, shrimp scampi, and Mama Ghio’s crab cakes as well as various beef and poultry options such like their delectable filet mignon.
Pernicano’s Family Restaurant
Pernicano’s was established in 1946 in the El Cajon neighborhood. This family-owned-and-operated restaurant has been serving hearty Italian-American cuisine for decades. An unassuming neighborhood spot, it features a classic Italian-style ambience with bold reds, booths, and an outdoor patio adorned with romantic string lights. Menu selections include authentic pizzas, calzones, pastas, and select dishes such as veal marsala, sea bass marinara, chicken a la baffi, and zucchini parmigiana.
Honorable Mention’s: Café La Maze, Old Trieste, and the San Diego Chicken Pie Shop.
That’s it for our list! What are your favorite old-school San Diego restaurants? They don’t count unless they’re at least 50 years old!