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San Diego’s Food Scene

South Park
San Diego’s Food Scene
San Diego’s restaurant scene matches its laid-back lifestyle, with simple fare like pizza, burgers, and barbecue being the most popular. Increasingly, however, chefs are pushing diners’ palates by using fresh produce in more-refined dishes.
By Casey Hatfield-Chiotti, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Scott Andrews
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    South Park
    South Park
    This historic neighborhood east of Balboa Park is a great place to eat, stroll, and admire the California bungalows. Located on a quaint corner, Italian-owned Buona Forchetta is a dream of a local restaurant that churns out San Diego’s best Neapolitan-style pizza. Across the street, Kindred, a vegan restaurant and bar popular with hipsters, serves a wonderful weekend brunch. There’s also family-friendly Station Tavern & Burgers, which offers eco-chic design, picnic-table seating, and a deliciously spicy black-bean burger.
    Photo by Scott Andrews
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    Barrio Logan
    Barrio Logan
    Southeast of downtown, Barrio Logan has remained San Diego’s epicenter of Latino culture for more than a hundred years, making it the best place to find authentic Mexican cuisine. The neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, Logan Avenue, is lined with art galleries, breweries, and restaurants like Salud, a Chicano-style taquería serving aguas frescas and beer-battered-fish tacos. Also not to be missed is Las Cuatro Milpas, where the staff has been making tortillas and tamales by hand since 1933.
    Photo Courtesy of Salud
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    Encinitas
    Encinitas
    This famous North County surf destination maintains a small-town feel thanks to its Main Street, which thrives with a historic theater, bars, and a host of restaurants dishing up everything from Peruvian fare to vegan cuisine. Head north on Highway 101 to find two excellent spots: Moto Deli, a sandwich shop that uses only the highest-quality ingredients, and Haggo’s Organic Taco, which serves organic meat, fresh vegetables, and locally caught fish.
    Photo Courtesy of Haggo's Organic Taco
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    Fine Dining
    Fine Dining
    While San Diego generally prefers casual fare, several restaurants are raising the bar for chefs and diners. Addison, at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, is the city’s undisputed top table, with its grand dining room, meticulous French technique, and dishes like calotte de boeuf. For something more modern, try Veladora in the Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, where elegant plates like poached-lobster salad with beet carpaccio are served in a hacienda-inspired setting.
    Photo by Jakob Layman
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    Elevated Mexican Food
    Elevated Mexican Food
    Given San Diego’s proximity to Mexico, it’s no wonder the city is crazy for tacos. Everyone here has their favorite stand, but if you’re looking for something beyond the typical California burrito or quesadilla, head to Galaxy Taco in La Jolla. A passion project from George’s at the Cove chef Trey Foshee, the restaurant uses top-of-the-line local ingredients to craft some of the city’s best Mexican food. Tortillas are made in-house daily with heirloom corn; the Baja fried fish-taco arrives perfectly crispy, with just a drizzle of crema. Also not to be missed are the margaritas, especially the refreshing Zanahoria, made with Cimarrón blanco tequila, carrot, lime, and celery salt.
    Photo by Robert Petrie
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    Desserts and Bakeries
    Desserts and Bakeries
    While it can seem like San Diegans prefer kombucha and matcha lattes to cake and ice cream, there are indeed spots to take care of your sweet tooth. Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon in Encinitas makes personal and full-size pies from scratch in flavors like peach, strawberry-rhubarb, and peanut butter, while Nomad Donuts in North Park offers creative doughnut options like a white-chocolate-mint-glazed variety with a passion-fruit-jalapeño drizzle.
    Photo Courtesy of Nomad Donuts
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    Seafood
    Seafood
    In San Diego, diners are spoiled by an abundance of fresh seafood procured off the coast and just south in Baja. Every Saturday on the waterfront, sustainable-source advocates even host the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, making it easier for fisherfolk and local chefs to connect. Anglers sell sometimes underutilized species like blue and black perch, leopard shark, and lingcod here, as well as more popular swimmers like bluefin tuna and California halibut, inviting the general public to shop alongside chefs. To try just-caught regional seafood, head to Ironside Fish & Oyster, which can dish up swordfish or bigeye tuna a la plancha with your choice of sauce, or Liberty Public Market, where fishmonger FishBone Kitchen offers a range of oysters, crudos, and ceviches.
    Photo by Lyudmila Zotova