The Best Restaurants in San Diego

Casual meals like tacos and pizza reign in San Diego, but chefs are getting more creative with the city’s unparalleled produce and easy access to fresh seafood and fish.

1026 Wall St, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
Given the lines you’ll almost inevitably find at the original Puesto—an authentic taqueria so beloved, it’s expanding into a small SoCal empire—you may well be discouraged. But don’t be: Simply put your name down, walk the two blocks to the beach at La Jolla Cove, and consider the seaside view your appetizer. Or the first of many appetizers. Back at Puesto, forget moderation altogether as you’re contemplating the house offerings—most dreamt up by Mexico City–born Luisteen Gonzales, who still loves to visit his father’s fish stall in the famed Mercado San Juan. Blending this inherited appreciation for seafood with an equal reverence for seasonal produce, Chef Gonzales has created an array of award-winning tacos, from spicy atún (seared ahi with avocado, jalapeno-cucumber salsa, and chipotle crema) to zucchini and cactus (crispy melted cheese with calabaza à la Mexicana, avocado, and cilantro-tomatillo salsa). Pro tip: If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll find some—but not all—of your options on the main menu. There’s also a separate plant-based menu available on request (don’t miss the Sikil Pak—a Yucatan pepita dip served with jicama, cucumber, and heirloom carrots).
2210 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
At Little Italy’s Herb & Wood, Chef Brian Malarkey’s wood-fired dishes include roasted parsnips with pickled raisins, parsley-shallot verde, and molten Marin County brie; roasted beets with sherry, walnut pesto, jamón Ibérico, and burrata; and grilled flat bread with whipped eggplant, za’atar, onions, and pine nuts. But the Mediterranean- and California-inspired menu isn’t the only big draw here: The industrial-boudoir aesthetic is equally inviting, with tufted sofas, soft lighting, and feathery fronds under the soaring ceilings of this onetime warehouse. A charmingly tattered edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette book has pride of place on the hostess stand. But the restaurant is unlikely to call guests on any manners infractions except one. In calligraphy at the bottom of the menu, you’ll find the following note: “Substitutions and additions politely declined.”
1654 India St, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
Like a nautical version of the yellow brick road, illuminated anchors embedded in the floors of Ironside Fish & Oyster lead you to the Emerald City of raw bars, where the bounteous platters come in Big, Bigger, Biggest, and Holy Sh*t. This last assortment might include, say, 24 oysters, 14 shrimp, 14 mussels, two pounds of lobster, two ounces of sustainable royal white sturgeon caviar, a portion of rockfish ceviche, and some kanpachi crudo for good measure (the mix changes daily according to what’s fresh). Not that lovers of cooked seafood will go hungry at chef Jason McLeod’s Little Italy hot spot, where the catch of the day is a perennial favorite. There’s even a small yet mighty vegetarian lineup (think charred broccolini with dried chilis, garlic, and parmesan; and Japanese sweet potato with scallion chimichurri and puffed quinoa). It’s all rounded out by an impressive bar, where 11 categories of whiskey are represented. While the menu occasionally diverges from the strictly seafaring, the decor never does. The interior design features prow figureheads turned lighting fixtures and artful stacks of steamer trunks.
3408 30th Street
Although the Smoking Goat is credited with pioneering a culinary renaissance in a once-sleepy corner of North Park, nothing else about chef Fred Piehl’s flagship restaurant screams “culinary vanguard”—and that’s precisely what devotees love about the place. Regulars come here for the reliably exquisite staples: French onion soup with what’s essentially an open-face grilled cheese sandwich afloat in rich veal broth; duck fat truffle fries with pecorino romano and mustard aioli; beef cheeks à la Bourguignonne with carrots, cioppolini onions, cherry tomatoes, mashed potatoes, and braising jus; and other creations that blend traditional French tastes with sustainable, organic San Diego–sourced ingredients. While dinner at this rustic, romantic spot is hardly the time to eat lightly, if you want to go vegetarian, opt for the indulgent raclette au gratin with fingerling potatoes, cornichons, and toast, along with a salad of poached and raw pears with mixed greens, pistachio pesto, and champagne vinaigrette. And as befits the restaurant’s caprine theme, the goat cheese cheesecake with poached peach and whipped cream is a favorite dessert.
2228 Kettner Boulevard
For a place that’s best known for its buttermilk biscuits, Juniper & Ivy seems improbably swanky at first. Picture curtained-off banquettes, modern light fixtures, and painstakingly turned-out patrons. But the upscale/down-home contrast is exactly the point. Trendsetting chef Richard Blais, of Top Chef All Stars fame, is known for starting with American classics—say, buttermilk biscuits—and elevating them (in this case, with individual serving domes full of biscuit-infusing alderwood smoke). Similarly, the New York strip steak deviates from the norm with crispy sunchokes and mushroom sofrito, among other touches. Then there’s the semi-secret menu item: the so-called In-N-Haute burger, made from a blend of short rib, brisket, chuck and dry-aged beef, then wrapped and seared in cheese before landing on an egg bun next to a heap of salt-and-pepper-dusted fries. Although you’ll be tempted to order something from the wine collection that spans two stories—if only to see the sliding library ladder in use—you should at least consider one of the cocktails, and particularly the Salt of the Earth: mezcal, tequila, Ancho Reyes liqueur, beet juice, lemon juice, mole bitters, honey, and cracked salt. This magenta elixir is almost too pretty to drink. Almost.
5921 Valencia Cir, Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92091, USA
Tucked in a lush canyon perfumed with the smell of eucalyptus, Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa is one of the San Diego area’s most sublime getaways. Even if you’re not staying there, you can experience the magic by dining at the property’s signature restaurant, Veladora. Its hacienda-inspired dining room, with wrought-iron chandeliers and a Damien Hirst original, is a fine setting for enjoying dishes like a Chino Farm corn soup with vanilla popcorn and Alaskan king crab or a Brandt beef tomahawk steak for two served with duck-fat potato fondant, marinated ramps, and heirloom carrots. A deep wine cellar means an impressive selection of wines by the glass, from a chablis 1er Cru to an Andrew Rich pinot noir from the Willamette Valley.
5200 Grand Del Mar Way, San Diego, CA 92130, USA
When the Michelin Guide extended into Southern California in 2019, it came as no suprise that this restaurant in the Fairmont Grand Del Mar became San Diego’s first to earn a coveted star. Its executive chef, William Bradley, is essentially San Diego’s Thomas Keller. A Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef, he attracts top talent from around the country, ensuring a top-notch kitchen. Named after an architect who was inspired by Spanish, Portuguese, and Venetian decorative arts, Addison screams opulence with everything from iron-and-glass doorways trimmed in 22-karat gold to Venetian plaster walls and limestone fireplaces in the dining room. Guests can choose between a four-course menu or a chef’s tasting menu, either of which might include coffee-roasted canard with Koshihikari rice and candied peanuts, or fruits de mer with fennel, saffron, and piment d’espelette. All that deliciousness doesn’t come cheap, however—the four-course menu is $110. For a slightly more affordable evening, dine in Addison’s bar, Le Salon, which offers a four-course canapé menu for two plus a bottle of wine for $135.
2725 State Street, Carlsbad, CA 92008, USA
In 2016, one of San Diego’s most seasoned restaurant managers decided to open his first solo project, bringing Campfire to Carlsbad. The eatery is dedicated to the art of live-fire cooking and draws inspiration from famed Argentine chef Francis Mallmann. In the kitchen, executive chef Andrew Bachelier uses a custom 12-foot hearth, powered by a Grillworks grill named Grace, to cook dishes like manila clams with smoked pork belly, and brisket with cornbread purée. Located in a former auto repair shop, the restaurant features quirky design elements like a Quonset-style corrugated-metal arch sourced from nearby Camp Pendleton and dating back to World War II.
2820 Historic Decatur Rd, San Diego, CA 92106, USA
San Diego’s first food hall is housed in the city’s former naval training center, a 361-acre site in Point Loma that now features a lively business district with wide lawns, a waterfront park, and historic Spanish Revival–style buildings. Here, vendors serve everything from coconut-curry chicken sausages to ahi tuna poke bowls, providing the makings of a casual lunch or dinner. Take your food to the patio, or sit inside at the high-top tables near the bar and enjoy the untouched murals that line the upper walls. Painted by naval recruits in the 1950s, they depict various vessels, from a late 18th-century sailing ship to a World War II aircraft carrier.
2259 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
Trey Foshee, executive chef of George’s at the Cove in La Jolla, is one of the most talented and respected chefs in San Diego. At his casual Mexican restaurant near La Jolla Shores, he cooks with equal skill, using only the best ingredients to create pure, intense flavors. Head to Galaxy Taco for heirloom Masienda corn tortillas, made-to-order guacamole, and epic margaritas with top-shelf liquor and charred fruit. A balance of sweet, sour, and smoke, the Oaxacan Guava (Los Javis mezcal, guava, lime, orange-vanilla shrub, and grapefruit) is a must.
15505 Olde Hwy 80, El Cajon, CA 92021, USA
San Diego foodies all swear by this Central Texas-style barbecue joint. If you’re dying to try it, get there close to when it opens (11:30 a.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday), as lines can be long and the restaurant shuts when the meat runs out. Order pulled pork or Texas turkey either in a sandwich or by the pound, then pair it with sides like Peruvian white beans, coleslaw (traditional or spicy), and potato salad. On Sundays, the restaurant also does an Argentinean-style asado, complete with chorizo, skirt steak, blood sausage, and house-made chimichurri. The original North Park location is currently closed for renovations, but the larger El Cajon location, which also hosts live music, is open.
2266 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
From Top Chef: All-Stars winner Richard Blais comes this Little Italy favorite, a fast-casual spot specializing in humanely raised chicken and eggs. Here, the fried chicken is crispy and not too greasy, and sandwiches like the Malibu Barbie Q (chicken thigh, cornmeal onion ring, pineapple mustard) are addictive. An almost entirely outdoor spot, the Crack Shack features a walk-up window, bocce ball court, and cocktail bar. For something more traditional, head next door to Blais’s second concept, Juniper & Ivy, where you can enjoy an ever-changing menu of seasonal shared plates. From time to time, the restaurant hosts a Farm Dinner centered on a special ingredient like lamb from a local purveyor, making for one of the best splurge meals in the city.
1503 30th St, San Diego, CA 92102, USA
When it comes to Kindred, you can forget your preconceived notions of vegan restaurants. The South Park spot features killer cocktails, filling food, and an edgy design, complete with a coffered ceiling, a white-marble bar, and a demon-wolf-head sculpture mounted on the wall. Pair the refreshing Place of Certainty (vodka, elderflower, Aperol, lemon, Thai basil, winter melon bitters, and cucumber) with Kindred’s take on the charcuterie board (smoked golden beets, kale pesto, and red-chili-and-orange-fennel seitan), or order something more substantial, like the beet risotto or the seared cauliflower steak with squash puree and steak sauce. The restaurant also offers an excellent weekend brunch with everything from cinnamon rolls and banana bread French toast to pancakes with bourbon butterscotch.
3001 Beech St, San Diego, CA 92102, USA
Thanks to an owner and several staff members who hail from Italy, this Neapolitan-style pizzeria has an authentic feel that locals love. Its popularity shows—San Diego restaurants are rarely crowded, yet Buona Forchetta often boasts wait times of up to two hours. Much of the dining happens outside beneath an awning. Indoors, simple decor lets the gold Stefano Ferrara pizza oven shine. Go for perfectly blistered pies like the Nicola (mozzarella, mushroom, prosciutto di Parma, and truffle oil) or the Isabella (buffalo mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, goat cheese, and rosemary). If Point Loma is more convenient, know that there’s a second, larger location called Officine Buona Forchetta in Liberty Station.
1302 N Coast Hwy 101 #101, Encinitas, CA 92024, USA
The spirit of Jacques Cousteau is very much alive at this Encinitas restaurant, which specializes in tacos filled with local fish, organic meat, and fresh vegetables. The Cousteau taco—featuring catch of the day (like California halibut) with cumin-lime crema, mango salsa, and cabbage slaw—should be in the running for San Diego’s best fish taco. Equally delicious are the Azul (grass-fed flank steak, caramelized onions, mushrooms, blue cheese, arugula, and cilantro) and the vegan Veronica Corningstone (red quinoa, sweet potatoes, garlic, Daiya vegan cheese, avocado, and cilantro). One look at the menu and it’s easy to tell the owner is a movie buff—many of the items are named after famous characters, from Ron Burgundy to Kelly Leak from The Bad News Bears.
2196 Logan Ave, San Diego, CA 92113, USA
In a city with a taco shop on nearly every corner, Salud stands out for its Chicano-inspired food and decor: According to owner Ernie Becerra, the tacos served here are not traditionally Mexican. The signature Barrio is served on a tortilla made of flour instead of corn, and its filling (stewed beef topped with nopal, beans, and sour cream) is a take on a popular dish in Southern California’s Mexican community. In the dining room, a tattoo mural and a car hood mounted on the wall nod to the lowrider lifestyle Chicano kids grow up idealizing.
3102 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104, USA
This travel-inspired eatery got so popular that it moved to a larger space on University Avenue in August 2017. Once in the new location, executive pastry chef Kristianna Zabala was able to expand her menu (which changes daily) to include breakfast sandwiches and Montreal-style bagels alongside her usual blood-orange-Creamsicle and blueberry-lavender doughnuts. Available in a range of creative flavors, Zabala’s signature creations feature organic eggs and fresh ingredients from local farmers. Don’t leave without trying the classic ube-taro-coconut variety or the white-chocolate-mint-glazed doughnut with a passion-fruit-jalapeño drizzle, if they are available.
114 N El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024, USA
Good, old-fashioned pie can be hard to find these days, which makes Betty’s in Encinitas more than worth a trip. Don’t be turned off by the location in a strip mall, Betty’s pies are delicious; they always use real fruit, pure butter, premium chocolate and local eggs. Betty’s doesn’t sell pie slices, hence the name Betty’s Pie Hole, but they do make sweet and savory pies in individual and full-size portions. The chicken potpie is hearty and delicious—but it’s the fruit pies, like the perfectly balanced strawberry-rhubarb with a flaky crust, that you’ll be dreaming of for days.
723 Felspar Street
Surprisingly, great cocktails and an ocean breeze can be hard to find in San Diego, which makes JRDN at the Tower23 Hotel somewhat of an anomaly. It may be a scene—there are bouncers at the door, and the 70-foot-long wave wall would be more at home in Miami—but the wind-protected patio is practically on the boardwalk, offering great views of Crystal Pier and surfers catching waves. On warm evenings, drinks like the cava-based Raspberry Sparkler and the spicy chili-mango margarita make the experience even sweeter. JRDN’s happy hour (Mondays–Fridays, 4 p.m.–6 p.m.) offers discounted beer, wine and sake and coincides with the sunset for much of the year, making it a prime time to score a seat outside.
777 G St, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
More than worth a visit if you’re in the Gaslamp Quarter, Neighborhood features healthy food for everyone from the meat lover to the gluten avoider. Guests will also find around 27 local brews on tap and many more kinds of bottled beer. The vibe here is cozy, with plenty of shared seating by large, open windows. Note: it can get busy during peak hours, so it’s best to visit just before or after the usual lunch and dinner times.
11480 North Torrey Pines Road
Breakfast at A.R. Valentien in La Jolla is a relaxing way to start the day. Located in the Lodge at Torrey Pines, the restaurant is just minutes away from Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, so you can head there after your meal to enjoy this beautiful part of the California coastline. In the kitchen, chef Jeff Jackson uses locally sourced ingredients to create simple yet elegant dishes. Start with the refreshing carrot-ginger juice and then move on to the hearty poached eggs with crispy polenta and Italian sausage velouté. For a scenic meal, request a seat on the charming balcony, which overlooks the 18th hole of the famous golf course.
1909 India St, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
Opulent is the word that may occur to you as you stroll into this split-level steakhouse. The art deco-inspired main dining room features oak pillars, camel-colored banquettes, and a jaw-dropping six-tiered brass and crystal chandelier. Upstairs, diners sit on a teak terrace with views of the San Diego skyline. A meal here often includes a show: Many dishes from caesar salad to Tournedos Rossini are prepared and served tableside from custom-made carts. The star of the menu is the Creekstone Farms Beef which has been dry-aged in a glass-enclosed meat locker for more than 25 days. Dry-aged duck and lamb, vegan tartares, and vegetable side dishes like leeks roasted over coals, or broccoli with salty bagna cauda round out the menu. Executive Chef Jason McCleod earned two Michelin stars working at Ria at the Elysian in Chicago. While Born & Raised is a high-end venue, the service is friendly and laid back with suit-clad servers sporting sneakers.
5525 La Jolla Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
This charming bakery by the beach in La Jolla rivals the best bakeries in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Founder Crystal White, a former lead bread baker at San Francisco’s Tartine, sources the best ingredients from California, except the high-fat European style butter. Fruit from Chino Farms, organic flour from Central Milling in Petaluma, and organic milk from Clover Dairy in Sonoma are showcased in fruit-filled galettes, nutty multigrain loaves, and croissant flavors like the sweet and salty strawberry-pistachio, inspired in part by Parisian baker Pierre Hermé’s famed croissant Ispahan. The bright seating area is decorated with a cheerful mural and midcentury modern couches, but the most desirable seats are on the patio outside.
1011 Fort Stockton Dr, San Diego, CA 92103, USA
Inspired by a former Ford car dealership that once sat on the site in upscale Mission Hills, Fort Oak’s interior mixes old and new; hexagonal tiles and brass accents give the space a vintage feel, while a black oak communal table and plank flooring bring a modern industrial vibe. Executive Chef Brad Wise excels at wood-fired cuisine—the exhibition kitchen has a 7,000-pound grill and range where he fires up 45-day dry-aged ribeye and Australian wagyu beef—but what really sets Fort Oak apart is a raw bar serving seafood towers and buttery hamachi poke. For a decadent night out, slide into Fort Oak’s chef’s counter for a six-course tasting menu cooked by Wise (offered Wednesday and Thursday nights every other week; reserve ahead).
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