Coastal San Diego has more small farms than anywhere in the country, so it’s no surprise there’s a plethora of restaurants using local fresh ingredients throughout the city that favor pulled-from-the-ground produce, fresh catch, fine meats and ingredient-driven cocktail programs. San Diego now has four Michelin-starred restaurants and an exciting slate of renowned chefs that are revolutionizing the food scene of the former fish taco-centric town. Little Italy has blossomed into a dynamic culinary hub with a parade of Top Chef eateries and noteworthy spots where cutting-edge design meets innovative fare. North County is also home to knockout fine dining. There’s something for everyone from handsome hand rolls and rustic wood-fired fare to white tablecloth elegance and French savoir faire. Check out some of our favorites.
Feature photo: Courtesy of Bailey Films
Chef William Bradley’s immense talent first brought Michelin to San Diego four years ago and, in December 2022, he achieved his ultimate dream — a coveted three-star rating. A stand-alone elegant restaurant on the Fairmont Grand Del Mar grounds, Addison dazzles with Bradley’s inimitable California Gastronomy, seamless orchestrated service and an impressive wine list. The nine-course tasting menu evolves with the seasons and Bradley’s inventive dishes are both playful and artful — everything from chicken liver churros and shellfish Chawanmushi with broccoli, bok choy and daikon, to Kumamoto oysters with pickled green strawberry. The 10,000-bottle wine list is filled with treasures from rare Champagnes to cult Cabernets. The opulent setting of this Relais & Chateau restaurant further adds to the wonder and magic of each bite. Reservations book out way in advance for this exceptional culinary experience so plan ahead. Dinner Tuesday through Saturday, 5pm to 10pm. addisondelmar.com
Born + Raised
This polished over-the-top steakhouse bustles with its open-air kitchen and pageantry of tableside service. Tuxedo-clad servers glissade through the dining room sporting Converse sneakers, pushcarts parade about for tableside Caesars, tartare or martinis; aged meats hang in the glass cases of the butcher shop. Start with a classic cocktail like a Rob Roy or gin fizz, then find the steak of your dreams. A gold scripted menu also reveals caviar and crudo, lobster bisque, Beef Wellington, Tomahawks and Wagyu. A sexy dessert cart wheels by making it impossible to skip the calories when confronted with their 8-layer carrot cake. The design — mid-century modern meets Art Deco — elevates the experience with the giant wooden “blooms,” a brass-and-marble bar and faux fur gracing the backs of chairs. The swanky rooftop bar affords twinkling views of Little Italy. Hours: Monday through Thursday 3pm to 12am; Friday 3pm to 1am; Saturday and Sunday 4pm to 12am. Happy Hour Monday through Friday 3pm to 4:30pm. bornandraisedsteak.com
Herb & Wood
Top Chef alum Brian Malarkey and his partner Chris Puffer believe dining should be an immersive experience and sensory escape. The stunning setting of Herb & Wood melds Paris ’20s chic with Cape Cod flair with its flickering lanterns, crushed blue velvet booths and vintage wooden canoes bursting with greenery. A wood-fired oven delivers rustic coastal California with Mediterranean touches with sumptuous dishes like oxtail gnocchi, grilled Iberico pork, roasted branzino and artichoke and arugula flatbreads. The giant marble bar anchors the room where you’ll find patrons sipping inventive cocktails like chai-infused tequila with allspice and bitters. Dinner Sunday through Thursday 5pm to 9pm; Friday and Saturday 5pm to 9:30pm. herbandwood.com
Chef Brad Wise pays homage to gilded-age steakhouses of Las Vegas in Rare Society. A black-and-gold scheme with its smoky mirrors and polished walnut tables give off a Rat Pack glitzy vibe, but plenty of modern touches fill the scene. A progressive cocktail program, exhibition kitchen, sustainable seafood and shared dining style speak to the present. Gorgeous meats are grilled on open flame and served on boards based on the chef’s whim, so you can try a variety of cuts like tri-tip, NY strip, Wagyu or ribeye with a medley of tasty sauces such as Santa Maria-style salsa, horseradish cream, Béarnaise and veggie butter. Delicious starters and sides abound like thick strips of bacon in gochujang glaze, grilled whole Maine lobster, potatoes au gratin with black truffles, decadent mac’n’ cheese, and buttery, melt-in-your-mouth whipped potatoes, to name a few. An impressive seafood tower showcases the best of the raw bar with shrimp, Hamachi poke, clams, lobster and oysters. If you find yourself in University Heights, the original Rare Society can be found there. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 5pm to 9pm. Friday and Saturday 5pm to 10pm. raresociety.com
James Beard Smart Catch Leader JoJo Ruiz brings the art of temaki to Encinitas at his high-energy sushi bar. Temaki, made-to-order sushi hand rolls, feature cone-shaped, crisp nori seaweed stuffed with fresh fish like yellowtail, striped sea bass or salmon, and warm rice. Palate-pleasing starters range from melt-in-your-mouth beef tataki dressed in ponzu and brown butter aioli, crispy bang bang shrimp or ruby red tuna poke bowls. Sushi fans can order up eight-piece cut rolls like lobsta queen with the tender crustacean and crispy onions or the buddha with tempura sweet potato, organic tofu and hon-shimeji shrooms. Delicious nigiri and sashimi color the menu too. And, of course, mango or green tea mochi ice cream caps the meal as a sweet finish. Chilled beers like Harland Japanese lager or Sapporo make for perfect pairings as does the impressive sake menu. Hours 11am to 9pm. temakibarsushi.com
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