San Diego has evolved beyond its fish-taco-flip-flop SoCal surfer culture into a dynamic cultural city with culinary flare, artistic design and adventure abound. There’s Michelin-starred chefs, authentic farm-to-table dining as the region boasts 5,500 small farms (the most in any U.S. county); 150 craft breweries, family-owned wineries Broadway-bound theater, world-class art, and the best collection of adventure parks for kids big and small. Oh, and, of course, tacos. That said, here’s our list of the best restaurants in San Diego.
Featured Photo: Jeune + Jolie
Once home to San Diego’s tuna industry and Italian immigrant community, Little Italy is one of San Diego’s most dynamic culinary neighborhoods with its influx of high-design restaurants, Top Chef alums, cool cafes, food halls, wineries and breweries. For a boozy breakfast in an eye-candy Instagrammable setting try Morning Glory for soufflé pancakes and a Glitter Spritz with Aperol and bedazzled peach cordial. Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais does fried chicken right at his walk-up The Crack Shack, while celeb chef Brian Malarkey has mastered rustic, wood-fired dishes, pizzas and fresh pasta at Herb + Wood. Nautical-themed Ironside calls for oysters and champagne, while newcomer Camino Riviera favors Yucatan cuisine and DJ vibes. Savor bistro fare and sip a New Orleans-inspired cocktail while taking a revolving ride at Wolfie’s Carousel Bar inspired by Nola-famed eatery The Carousel. Steak fans should head to Born + Raised where tuxedo-and-converse-clad waiters serve up tableside Caesar salads and perfectly cooked dry aged meats in this design-forward eatery. Vegan fans will appreciate the pasta menu at Civico 1845 and the plant based fare Café Gratitude whose dishes are named for affirmations like “I Am Whole,” a macrobiotic bowl of adzuki beans, veggies and brown rice. All things tiki from Hurricanes to pupus are waiting in the hidden speakeasy False Idol, while Underbelly serves up serious ramen. A strong Sculpin IPA and pretzel bites with mustard and beer cheese at Ballast Point is a good introduction to the San Diego craft brew culture.
San Diego has finally earned coveted praise from the Michelin Guide with four restaurants receiving stars. Chef William Bradley helms Addison, San Diego’s only two-starred restaurant at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar. His nine-course tasting menu, a sublime experience, showcases California seasonal cuisine at its finest, progressive wine pairings and stellar service. Lovely velvet booths, a terrazzo marble bar, pretty in pink décor with art deco details complement the exceptional French cuisine at Carlsbad’s single-starred Jeune + Jolie. Fear not the strip mall setting as Sushi Tadokoro, granted one-star, has long been the local favorite for omakase. Chef Soichi Kadoya, who spent five years honing skills at Sushi Takadoro, also received a single star for his intimate 26-seat Soichi Sushi, notable for its deeply rooted Japanese hospitality and creative dishes. Michelin also deemed Animae, Callie, Fort Oak, Little Frenchie, and Menya Ultra as “new culinary discoveries,” and Bib Gourmand honors went to Callie, Cesarina, Cicca Osteria, Dija Mara, and Morning Glory.
Northern San Diego
San Diego’s most northern neighborhood has been undergoing a culinary renaissance, as the food community knows no bounds when it comes to creativity. Chef Davin Waite put O-side on the culinary map with his edgy sushi bar Wrench + Rodent. Dija Mara dazzles with its Balinese-inspired menu, delish low ABV cocktails, natural wines and Japanese cooking techniques. Set in a historic building, once a WWII communications center, The Switchboard features Hawaiian/Korean inspired fare like Kahula Pork fries and Tiki Fried Rice. Next door is KNVS, a pop eatery where rotating artist exhibits inspire the food and drink. On the same block you’ll find casual surfer’s grind like tacos and poke at pro surfer Cheyne Magnussen’s Shootz Fish + Beer and refined Japanese dining in a minimalist setting at Matsu where Chef Eck’s eight-course tasting menu features complex delectable dishes like coal-grilled sablefish entrée with smoky teriyaki and avant-garde sake and wine pairings. Finally, Mexican chef Robert Alcocer brings the best of Baja’s wine country, Valle de Guadalupe, to Oceanside at his intriguing and sophisticated Valle inside the Mission Pacific Hotel. His exceptional tasting-only menu is paired with Mexican wines. Art meets culinary innovation in his choro plate: plump deshelled mussels on a bed of potato saffron puree are hidden under a handmade “mussel shell” created from potato starch and darkened with squid ink. Diners are encourages to scoop up the nuggets with the edible shell in this clever and tasteful dish.