If you are unfamiliar with San Diego’s restaurant scene, you are in for a treat. The divine culinary skills of celebrity chefs like Bernard Guillas, Amanda Baumgarten, Rich Sweeney and Brian Malarkey, along with award-winning chefs like Trey Foshee, Nick Shinton, and Anthony Rubino have put San Diego restaurants on the map. The exceptional visions of these and other outstanding Southern California chefs keep San Diegans and tourism well-fed and thriving. You can expect seasonal menus with the freshest ingredients – locally grown vegetables and fruits, foraged herbs, free-range chicken, humanely managed beef, and fish and shellfish from sustainable sources with an emphasis on all that is natural.
There are strong European and Asian influences across a range of SoCal restauratnts, but nowhere is Latin influence more prevalent than in San Diego, making this one of the best cities in the country to indulge in traditional, authentic Mexican and Modern Mexican foods. The trend toward Modern Mexican Fusion, is being led in San Diego by top chefs like Eduardo Baeza and Food Network star Marcela Valladolid who put a fresh, healthy, artisan spin on traditional dishes.
There is a little known burgeoning craft brew scene in San Diego that can be found throughout the city, but whose heartbeat is along the 30th Street corridor in the North Park neighborhood. It has sparked the rise of upscale Gastropubs across San Diego featuring New American menus that dazzle the eyes and satisfy the taste buds. Menu selections are often paired with brews by in-house beer sommeliers; it is a chance to experience the creativity of a new wave of chefs and brewers all at once.
Premier San Diego Restaurants
Innovative Mexican food specializing in ten types of street tacos from traditional carnitas to exotic zucchini and cactus vegetable, served in a modern, open-air restaurant blocks from the harbor.
Karl Strauss Brewery – Karl Strauss, on Columbia Street Downtown, is more than a brewery, more than a restaurant, it is a complete mind-blowing dining experience. Karl Strauss serves West Coast Pub food where nearly every dish is infused with one of their craft beers.
JRDN – The Pacific Beach restaurant, located in Tower23 Hotel, serves casual California cuisine with a sophisticated twist by day, and transforms into a chic steak and seafood restaurant by night.
Woody’s Breakfast & Burgers – Woody’s is a casual oceanfront eatery on the Pacific Beach boardwalk. It’s the definition of a local hangout. Known for knock-out breakfasts, they serve their breakfast burrito all day. Casual cuisine is served for lunch and dinner too.
Raglan Public House – Raglan Public House is a New Zealand burger joint in Ocean Beach. Their 100% organic burgers at good prices have earned them “Best Burger in San Diego” honors for years. This is a favorite among locals and surfers.
Werewolf American Pub – These experienced restaurateurs bring a classic American and SoCal menu with a twist to the Gaslamp Quarter. The funky décor enhances this fun dining experience. Signature cocktails will blow you away.
La Piñata – This lively restaurant in Old Town is family-friendly. The restaurant also has an outdoor patio and roving mariachi musicians. La Piñata is the place to be for Mexican food and a good time for the whole family.
A.R. Valentien – The high-end La Jolla restaurant at Torrey Pines Lodge is named for San Diego artist Albert Robert Valentien, and is home to the largest collection of his early works. Diners can indulge in artisanal California cuisine prepared by an award-winning chef and served in Craftsman-style elegance.
Mustangs and Burros – Located at Estancia Hotel & Spa in La Jolla, this restaurant is a premier supper club in a California rancho/hacienda style with intimate indoor and relaxing outdoor dining. Enjoy regional Cali cuisine with Mexican influences.
Brockton Villa – A perfect place for families, romantic dinners for two, or old friends catching up in a quaint La Jolla beach cottage with a view. The menu is a mixture of American, Mexican, and Mediterranean fusion of flavors for all to enjoy.
Café 21 Restaurant – Middle Eastern eats in the Gaslamp Quarter offering delectable daily brunch and dinner menus featuring a wide variety of exotic and flavorful cuisine. They are committed to using only organic and local ingredients.
Café 222 – A quaint East Village café that serves up delicious America-style dishes intermingled with a few Baja options. It has garnered accolades from Gourmet Magazine and culinary master, Bobby Flay.
Extraordinary Desserts – You’ll look at dessert in a whole new light after experiencing this full-service restaurant in Little Italy made famous by renowned pastry chef Karen Krasne.
NINE TEN – Iron Chef Jason Knibb and celebrated Pastry Chef Rachel King are the talent behind La Jolla’s award-winning NINE-TEN Restaurant & Bar. The fine dining restaurant is located in La Jolla’s historic Grande Colonial Hotel.
Vessel – Vessel is the flagship restaurant of Kona Kai Resort & Marina on Point Loma’s Shelter Island. Executive Chef Roy Hendrickson works his magic creating coastal dishes with a sophisticated twist. Eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch here; the restaurant often features live music.
The Cottage – This restaurant is a popular La Jolla hangout out that serves up classic American and Southern California dishes in a vintage seaside cottage. It is an award-winning culinary experience.
Brian’s 24 – Located in the Gaslamp Quarter’s Ramada St. James Hotel, this family-owned restaurant serves breakfast 24 hours a day. It’s known for its generous portions of comfort food.
Bencotto Italian Kitchen
Authentic artisanal Italian cuisine is served in an urban-chic restaurant in the “Q” building in the heart of Little Italy. “Made from scratch” is the name of the game at Bencotto.
Café 1134 – A Coronado French café with an old European ambiance, next to Lambs Players Theater. They have a full espresso bar and a variety of organic coffees and loose leaf teas. Free customer Wi-Fi.
Café Coyote y Cantina – One of two certified Tequila Houses in the United States and an award-winning restaurant. Every Thursday evening they teach guests about their extensive menu of over 100 tequilas.
Filippi’s Pizza Grotto – They’re a traditional authentic Italian food restaurant in Little Italy. Sometimes, there’s a line out the door, so call ahead. Portions, true to Italian-style cooking, are large.
Elegant authentic French cuisine, like vanilla infused sea scallops paired with your favorite wine, in the intimate setting of a beautifully refurbished white Victorian house on Coronado Island.
Candelas on the Bay
Located on Coronado Island and known as the best Mexico City-style cuisine in San Diego, enjoy the chef’s specialty Placer Poblano and stunning views of San Diego Bay day or night.
La Puerta Restaurant and Tequila Bar
Fresh, delicious, and authentic Sinaloa Mexican food made to order in a fun, sports bar atmosphere summed up in the restaurant’s motto Tacos, Tunes, & Tequila.
Casual Italian restaurant serving authentic Neapolitan wood-fired pizza created by renowned chef Anthony Rubino under the tutelage of World Pizza Champion Marcello Avitabile.
A sophisticated restaurant located in the historic downtown Grant Hotel where Chef Sam Burman combines seasonal inspirations and local ingredients to create twists on traditional dishes.
An unpretentious family-run Mexican restaurant with traditional fare like mom makes: mole poblano, zarape, and grilled cactus salad to name a few; have yours with the freshest margaritas around.
Authentic Mexican gourmet tacos and burritos with 10 kinds of Mother B’s secret salsas in a playful representation of a favorite Mexican past-time – Lucha Libre professional wrestling.
Baja Beach Café
A casual oceanfront beach café with a party vibe, serving fresh Baja-style menu selections for lunch and dinner with mega-sized margaritas and craft beers. Breakfast served daily.
Currant American Brasserie
This classic French brasserie with a contemporary American twist is located downtown in the Sophia Hotel, serving a popular weekend brunch with bottomless mimosas.
The Crack Shack – This laid-back restaurant in Little Italy is all about locally grown ingredients in “world” dishes, and a fried chicken recipe to die for. When you’re looking for fast food that tastes more like fine dining, look no further than the Crack Shack.
South Beach Bar & Grill – This restaurant sits at the ocean end of Newport Avenue, the palm-lined main-drag in Ocean Beach. Their menu is heavy on the fresh seafood with a few landlubber entrées. They serve 25 tequilas, 40 beers, signature cocktails, and of course stunning San Diego sunsets.
Shades Oceanfront Bistro – Shades serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner by the sea, using locally grown vegetables, organic meats, and fresh seafood in all their dishes. They’re family-friendly, they love dogs, and they have a prime oceanfront location near the OB pier.
OB Warehouse – This restaurant fits right in with San Diego’s most bohemian neighborhood – Ocean Beach (also known as OB). It has an industrial design, and serves a global bites street food menu. There are extensive house cocktail, wine, and draught beer menus.
Escape Fish Bar
An unassuming, casual restaurant in the Gaslamp Quarter with a wide range of Pacific Northwest fish selections and well-known for signature tacones, which are Japanese-style seafood tacos.
Fat Fish Cantinagrill
Trendy and affordable, this Pacific Beach restaurant serves Mexican food with Southern California influences and has a lovely garden patio. Enjoy live music and $2 tacos on Thursdays.
Old Town Mexican Café
Famous for their hand-made artisan tortillas and carnitas, customers also rave about the Mexican-style rotisserie pork ribs and molcajete served in a festive and colorful atmosphere.
Leroy’s Kitchen & Lounge – Leroy’s Kitchen & Lounge is an upscale farm-to-tabe restaurant on Coronado Island. They make delicious dishes with sustainably sourced food. An eclectic menu with global influences changes seasonally.
Clayton’s Coffee Shop – A genuine 1940s diner (no New Age mock up here) serving classic American comfort food from their Orange Street location on Coronado Island. Step back in time to cozy red booths, table jukeboxes, and classic breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts.
Miguel’s Cocina – Miguel’s Cocina is one of San Diego’s most popular Mexican restaurants. There are seven locations, including this Coronado Island restaurant. From signature fajitas to signature white sauce, everything is house-made from scratch…everything.
New Orleans Creole Café – The New Orleans Creole Café, located behind the legendary Whaley House in Old Town, serves traditional authentic New Orleans cuisine. They import many ingredients and beers from Louisiana, and specialize in New Orleans entrées like Jambalaya and Crawfish Étouffée.
Saltbox – Saltbox is a trendy gastro-lounge under the expert culinary direction of San Diego Chef Jerimiah Bryant, who created the restaurant’s New American comfort food menu with a grown-up twist. It’s located in Hotel Palomar in the Gaslamp Quarter
Marvelous Muffins – Marvelous Muffins is a demure mom and pop shop on Point Loma at the northwest end of Shelter Island Drive, the causeway leading to Shelter Island. It’s a great place to get your morning coffee, breakfast sandwich, muffins, or pastries
Blue Wave Bar and Grill – This restaurant is in the Best Western Island Palms Hotel on Point Loma’s Shelter Island. Dine inside the South Pacific-inspired restaurant, or eat al fresco on the restaurant’s poolside patio. Expect California coastal cuisine with an emphasis on seafood.
Queenstown Public House – A fun New Zealand-themed restaurant serving American food “with a Kiwi twist” in Little Italy. This is a casual restaurant where you’re meant to linger over your meal, and sharing plates is encouraged.
Searsucker – Top Chef Brian Malarkey’s menu features small plates; savory entrées from ocean, ranch, and farm; and sumptuous desserts or craft cocktails. Dishes are designed to be shared as part of the social dining experience.
Sol Cal Café Vegan – A small café with fresh, local, organic, gluten-free, GMO-free, dairy-free, vegan eats in trendy East Village. Diners can also purchase superfoods, essential oils, and Ayurvedic elixirs. A holistic healer is on-site.
The Blind Burro – A fun East Village restaurant named among “San Diego’s 10 Best Cultural Restaurants” serving Mexican Baja costal cuisine that emphasizes local sustainable seafood, fresh locally sourced chiles and produce, and grilled chicken, beef, and pork.
Hash House A Go Go – They serve American Midwest comfort food in Hillcrest, San Diego’s hippest neighborhood. Their countless awards include a Gold Medallion for Best Breakfast/Brunch.
Jake’s Del Mar – They’re a favorite among locals who enjoy the panoramic ocean views, relaxed atmosphere, daily specials, and buzzing happy hours. They serve New American with imaginative flair.
Pacifica Del Mar Breeze – This bistro-style café provides one of the most affordable ocean-view dining experiences you’ll find in Old Del Mar. They are open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week.
Pomegranate – Pomegranate is a warm and friendly University Heights neighborhood restaurant featuring Russian fare like their popular beef stroganoff. Finish with a cup of black Turkish coffee.
Sbicca – This Del Mar New American bistro features California cuisine crafted from locally sourced ingredients, and an extensive wine list. Dine at their award-winning restaurant after the races.
The Waffle Spot – A Mission Valley waffle house on Hotel Circle South, they have been a family favorite for over 20 years. The breakfast and lunch restaurant earns consistently high marks on Yelp.
Whisknladle Bar & Bistro – La Jolla’s farm-fresh restaurant that creates from-scratch meals without all the fussiness of fine dining tops a number of national “best of” lists, including Condé Nast.
Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill – An unpretentious seafood restaurant in Mission Hills with a fishing village vibe. Voted one of America’s top restaurants by Zagat.com and featured on the Food Network.
Brigantine Seafood & Oyster Bar – They’re known for award-winning tacos and fresh shucked oysters. Sunday through Thursday they offer First Catch – prix fixe three-course dinners reserved for early-birds.
Harbor Breakfast – This is a quaint café in Little Italy serving an upscale menu of breakfast classics with an edgy interpretation. Nearly everything is homemade from the flaky biscuits to the catsup.
Rocky’s Crown Pub
Choose from either ⅓ or ½ pound burgers with the option of cheese or no cheese, and fries or no fries, served with a craft beer in an unpretentious Pacific Beach neighborhood pub.
George’s at the Cove
Chef Trey Foshee says he serves, “San Diego on a plate” when describing the fresh local ingredients in the unique SoCal dishes he prepares for à la carte and fixed menu options.
With a commitment to eating local, almost every ingredient, bottle of wine, craft beer, and more are from the West Coast and used to create the freshest, most natural, classic southern meals.
Executive Chef and season seven Bravo’s Top Chef contestant uses her culinary expertise with Asian, Latin, and European influences to create fresh, dynamic seasonal SoCal dishes.
A local favorite since 1997 when it was just a little coffee house, it has evolved into an urban bistro that never lacks a crowd; there are long lines out the door for breakfast on the weekends.
A 1920s beach house with a lovely garden three blocks from the beach, this is the go to coffee shop for locals with early morning lines at the counter for breakfasts and espresso specialties.
Pacific Beach Ale House
Enjoy craft beers and locally sourced California cuisine in this world class microbrewery and restaurant featuring epic ocean views from their rooftop outdoor dining space.
The Baked Bear
Score big mom and dad points bringing the kids to this unique ice cream sandwich shop with fresh baked gourmet cookies, premium ice cream, and fixings. Other adults welcome too!
The Prado at Balboa Park
Enjoy a New American menu and signature Prado cocktails in a luxurious National Historic Landmark; the terrace with a view is surrounded by lush gardens. All attire welcome.
Hodads – This breakout burger sensation in Ocean Beach was over 40 years in the making. They serve “old-fashioned, sloppy, run down your arms burgers” that are fresh-made, never frozen. You’ll find them on Newport Avenue.
Stratford Court Café – This is one of Del Mar’s coolest early morning eateries where you can get breakfast all day. Sumptuous breakfasts are made to order with natural and organic ingredients. It’s off 13th Street on the way to the beach, surrounded by a white picket fence.
Kitchen 1540 – Kitchen 1540 is the signature restaurant of L’Auberge Del Mar, one of the swankiest hotels in the Del Mar neighborhood. They have an award-winning sustainable menu that changes with the seasons and takes advantage of San Diego’s freshest in-season ingredients.
Islander – Islander is a casual family-friendly seafood restaurant on Coronado Island, about two blocks from the only white sand beach in San Diego. More than a meal, this is an interactive culinary experience.
Catch the green flash of the setting sun from this casual beachfront restaurant that serves contemporary California coastal cuisine specializing in seafood. Enjoy the popular Taco Tuesday.
A fusion of indigenous and Spanish recipes used for hundreds of years in Mexico, usually regional in nature. Examples are tamales, enchiladas, posole, mole, menudo, sopes, and regional specialties.
A fresh look at traditional Mexican dishes from the perspectives of top chefs creating Modern Mexican fusion with an emphasis on locally sourced fresh ingredients and seasonal menus.
Menus heavy with $10 or less items. In San Diego, that means food truck selections, wings, tacos, burritos, hot dogs, deli sandwiches, barbecue, pizza, ethnic specialties, and healthy lunches.
Restaurants that favor fresh, locally sourced ingredients from sustainable sources. Seasonal menus emphasize fish, seafood, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and organic meats and dairy.
An informal restaurant that serves breakfast, coffee, made-to-order sandwiches, or hot meals; it sometimes has an outdoor patio.
Casual restaurants whose main focus is hot and cold coffee drinks and other beverages, serves a limited selection of food, and doesn’t pressure patrons to leave promptly.
Bars that rely as much on an upscale menu as a large selection of bottled beers and craft brews on tap, usually pricey.
A casual restaurant that caters to families with a kids’ menu and other family-friendly amenities; some offer family-style platter dining where diners serve themselves from a platter.
Italian restaurants in San Diego can be a fine dining ristorante, a more casual, but still upscale trattoria, a casual-style osteria with short, specialty menus, or a pizzaria. Menus are often along Italian regional lines.
Traditional American dishes, often referred to as comfort food. In San Diego, New American cuisine dominates the scene referring to traditional American dishes reinvented by award-winning chefs in upscale restaurants.
A restaurant that specializes in fish and shellfish; the menu is usually locally-sourced and dictated by seasonal catches.
A bistro or upscale restaurant with a menu that combines influences from different cuisine traditions; a contemporary example is Chino-Latino fusion.
A combination of breakfast and lunch usually served buffet-style. Many San Diego brunches are upscale offerings from finer restaurants only on Sundays, often with music; some are more casual and may also include Saturday.
The range of burger restaurants includes franchise (In-N-Out in San Diego) burgers, independent burger joints and pubs, and specialty burgers with imaginative designs at upscale New American and Gastropub establishments.
In California, a bistro serves a finer continental menu in an upscale décor with few tables and higher prices.
In San Diego, Japanese food is synonymous with sushi, although teppanyaki is also popular, where chefs often perform for diners as they cook.