The Best San Diego Restaurants
San Diego is a wonderful city. It has the amenities of a great city without feeling completely cluttered like neighboring LA, with gorgeous beach for miles and an incredible laid back culture. The culinary scene here is interesting- while a select handful of San Diego restaurants are truly noteworthy, there are several mediocre spots (especially in tourist-saturated areas like La Jolla, Old Town, and the Gaslamp District). Never fear, in this post we share the 20 Best San Diego Restaurants featuring cuisines from sushi to breakfast to pizza to burgers. Be prepared for a delicious food overload and tacos- lots of tacos.
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20. Burger: Hodad’s
If you’re looking for a killer burger from one of the best San Diego restaurants, look no further than Hodad’s. There are two locations in San Diego but the original spot is in Ocean Beach. This is a down to earth, low key spot with license plates hanging everywhere and walls graffitied with stickers. Order the bacon cheeseburger (or the double if you dare) to satisfy your juicy burger cravings and make sure and grab a seat at the bar for some of the best people watching in town.
19. Pork: Carnitas’ Snack Shack
The Carnitas’ Snack Shack is one of the best restaurants in San Diego- an establishment dedicated to all things pork. The menu here has a variety of different items from tacos to burgers to salads. Get the triple threat sandwich if you want something hearty (it has pulled pork, bacon, AND pork loin schnitzel) or the pork tacos if you want something simple. The Embarcadero location is one of the best places in town for lunch with a view.
18. Healthy: Nectarine Grove
You’ve been in San Diego for a week eating nothing but tacos and burgers nonstop, and all you want is something green, healthy, and delicious all at the same time. Cue: Nectarine Grove. Just a couple blocks away from I-5 in Encinitas, Nectarine Grove serves great sandwiches, salads, bowls, and even burgers that will satisfy all of your healthy cravings. Fav menu item here is the chimichurri steak bowl, a gluten-free, paleo, AND egg-free diet friendly meal with seasoned steak, zucchini, spinach, crusted plantain chips, seasoned sweet potatoes, sauteed onions, goat cheese, and chimichurri sauce.
17. Thai: The Original Sab-E-Lee
Although Asian cuisine isn’t the main focal point for most San Diego restaurants, there are some choice options in town and The Original Sab-E-Lee is our top pick for great Thai cuisine. This down to earth restaurant serves authentic Thai dishes from fresh spring rolls to garlic chicken wings to noodle dishes to curries. There are so many fantastic menu options but the pa-nang curry is our favorite authentic Thai dish with incredible flavor.
16. Seafood Tacos: Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
There are a gazillion taco options in San Diego, but Oscar’s Mexican Seafood is one of the best, in particular for seafood. Start with a cup of ceviche while you’re waiting for tacos- you can’t go wrong with the shrimp, mixed, or yellowfin tuna. And although there are several great taco options, the Taco Especial is the shining star, with smoked fish, shrimp, and scallops, served with cabbage, onion, tomato, cilantro, avocado, and cheese.
15. Ramen: Menya Ultra
There are surprisingly several options when it comes to ramen in San Diego but our number one pick for our list of the best San Diego restaurants is Menya Ultra. Hailing from Japan itself, Menya Ultra serves delicious Tonkotsu ramen that will warm your soul. Menya Ultra has 9 stores in Japan, 2 in Tawain, and their only location elsewhere is in San Diego, California. There are several ramen options here ranging from mainstream concoctions to ramen that is more of an acquired taste (like the#9 Paiko Tantan Men). On your first go try the #1 Tonkotsu Ramen. It comes with housemade pork broth, pork chashu, bean sprouts, green onion, wood ear mushroom, and roasted sesame seeds. Don’t forget to add an egg!
14. Authentic Tijuana Style Tacos: Tacos el Gordo
The further and further you dig into this post on the best San Diego restaurants, the more apparent it will become that it’s
filled flooded with tacos- and we aren’t complaining. Tacos el Gordo is our top recommendation for authentic, Tijuana style tacos, which traditionally have two corn tortillas crisped on a hot griddle, meat, and toppings. If you decide to try out Tacos el Gordo, first and foremost order the tacos de adobada “with everything”- two hot and crisp tortillas filled with flavorful marinated and spit fired pork, topped with pineapple, cilantro, chopped onion, and avocado salsa. The Chula Vista location is our favorite and take advantage of their late night hours, open until 2 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends.
13. Sushi: Sushi Ota
Our favorite sushi spot among other San Diego restaurants is Sushi Ota- located in Pacific Beach and one that is easy to miss with a location in a strip mall nestled between a 7 Eleven and Planned Parenthood. Sushi Ota isn’t the swankiest sushi spot in town but it’s our favorite for quality cuts of fish prepared in both traditional and innovative ways. The Tokusen Sushi entree is our favorite way to enjoy Sushi Ota- with 10 different pieces of nigiri sushi and an accompanying tuna roll.
12. Tortillas: Las Cuatro Milpas
If you’re looking for tortillas that will change your life, skip old town and check out Las Cuatro Milpas, one of our favorite San Diego restaurants that you simply can’t find anywhere else. Join several others in line (it moves fast- we promise!) to partake in the goodness. Order both the crunchy rolled pork tacos and the rice, bean, and tamale combo to get the best of both worlds at Las Cuatro Milpas. The tamales come with the homemade tortillas and for less than $10 you’ll have enough food for the day. Cash only!
11. Hidden Gem: Little Lion
There are a lot of places on our collection of the best San Diego restaurants that you may have heard of or are somewhat familiar with. But unless you have frequented Ocean Beach or the Sunset Cliffs, you probably have never heard of Little Lion Cafe before. We love this quaint neighborhood Cafe for the serene and bright ambiance, but more importantly the food. Everything here is so fantastically executed. Come for breakfast before or after a walk near Sunset Cliffs for one of their delicious homemade smoothies and a classic eggs benedict made with Fra’mani ham, hollandaise, La Brea Bakery Sourdough Batard, and a side of Belgian potatoes.
10. Food Truck: Mariscos Nine Seas Seafood
While there aren’t as many food trucks in San Diego like there are in spots like Portland, Los Angeles, or Austin, San Diego does have a decent food truck base and our favorite of them all is Mariscos Nine Seas Seafood. Situated in a Target parking lot, it only takes one visit to see why locals are crazy about Mariscos and why it makes our list of the best restaurants in San Diego, despite being a food truck. The menu items here are delicious, fresh, and inexpensive all at the same time. The fish tacos are superb and will cure any hankering for the beautiful medley that none other than corn tortillas, deep fried fish, slaw, and pico can bring. If you can only try one thing here, however, make sure it’s one of the ceviche tostadas. It’s the biggest tostada you’ll ever have in your life and whether you fill it with fish, shrimp, or the “crazy” combination, you’re going to be in seafood heaven.
9. Upscale: Herb & Wood
If you’re looking for one of the best restaurants in San Diego perfect for an anniversary, a special date night out, or simply an elevated, rustic dining experience Herb & Wood is the restaurant for you. Herb & Wood is in Little Italy next to several other favorite San Diego restaurants just off of Kettner & Ivy. You’re going to be smitten by this stunner of a restaurant but the wood-fired menu items will steal your heart even more. Menus here change daily but we recommend dividing and conquering with different sections on the menu including greens, sea, toast, vegetables, entrees, pasta, and pizza.
8. Pizza: Buona Forchetta
Buona Forchetta easily gets one of the top spots on our list of the best restaurants in San Diego because they make the best pizza in all of town. Period. We sampled different genres and styles from all of the worthwhile spots in town and Buona Forchetta consistently makes some of the best pizza we have ever had. The style here is Neapolitan, so come expecting light and delicate crust with a slight char on the bottom, topped with crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and other artisan toppings to your liking. The most popular pizza here is our favorite, Sergio, with mozzarella di bufala, prosciutto di parma, arugula, and parmesan. It’s the perfect combination of flavors and textures and your odds of anything left on your plate are slim to none.
7. Crowd Pleaser Tacos: The Taco Stand
The Taco Stand is one of the several very hyped San Diego restaurants, but the difference here is that the food here is fantastic (in particular the tacos) and you need to get yourself there ASAP. Three reasons why we love it: 1) First and foremost the flavors. Everything from the taste of the delicious homemade tortillas to the meat to the cheese to the divine salsas. Kind of like hanging out with all of your best friends in one place. 2) So low key. There’s a time and a place for fancy food (and even fancy tacos) but this is the prefect no frills restaurant. 3) Inexpensive! We are the first to make an excuse to splurge on a meal but sometimes it’s nice to spend less than an arm and a leg on a meal for two. At a mere $3/taco this will definitely be one of the most affordable San Diego restaurants. All of the tacos are delicious but we bow down to the Sonora taco, sans the beans! Al pastor and the baja (fish taco) are a close second.
6. Fried Chicken: The Crack Shack
Every great food city is required to have a drool-worthy fried chicken spot and The Crack Shack in San Diego is just that. One of the best restaurants in San Diego no doubt, this fast casual gem has a diverse and creative menu with chicken or eggs in nearly every dish. The Firebird is imperative on your first visit, complete with spicy fried thigh (but not too spicy), cool ranch, crispy onions, and pickles on a potato roll. The Senor Croque is the perfect fried chicken breakfast sandwich, and whether you’re here for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, get an order of the mini biscuits and slather them with as much of the miso-maple butter as you can handle.
5. Seafood: Ironside Fish & Oyster
Yes- another restaurant in Little Italy. But this time we’re eating seafood. And Donuts. The restaurant here is truly gorgeous and to our delight the food is memorable, too. Ironside Fish & Oyster has anything and everything that your seafood loving heart desires from oysters to crab cakes to an entire lobster. Get the lobster roll- the combination of the fresh, supple lobster with brown butter mayo, crispy shallots, and chives is truly to die for. Bonus points for great hand-cut fries and mystery aioli sauce that is quite delicious. If you have enough room throw a few different oysters in there and whatever you do, do not pass on the homemade donuts.
4. Breakfast & Brunch: Great Maple
There are a lot of options for breakfast and brunch in San Diego that are terribly mediocre, but there is one place that we recommend with zero hesitation, and that’s Great Maple. Great Maple is a combination of everything you love in a classic breakfast establishment combined with a sleek, effortless cool that makes everything look, feel, and taste amazing. It’s family friendly but also nice enough for a breakfast or brunch date. The Chilaquiles are our favorite savory breakfast item, and the enormous made to order maple bacon doughnuts are non-negotiable. Come here on an empty stomach- you’re going to need it!
3. Restaurant & Bakery: Wayfarer Bread & Pastry
One of the absolute best restaurants in San Diego is Wayfarer Bread & Pastry, a bakery and restaurant in Bird Rock that serves some of the best pastries and sandwiches you will consume in your life. The smell of these naturally fermented breads is intoxicating alone but make sure to indulge in one (or six) or their many delicious baked goods that are all prepared fresh in house every day. The croissants are flaky, buttery perfection, and sandwiches and salads are simple but truly extraordinary. Check out their website and social media for updates on pizza nights on Wednesday.
2. Fancy Tacos: Puesto
We have a lot to say about tacos in this post on the best San Diego Restaurants, but our favorite restaurant for fancy tacos is Puesto. The dining experience here is always so delicious from the chips and salsa to the ceviche to every last taco. the tacos at Puesto are a great crossroads of an old school and new school taco, with homemade blue corn tortillas, meat cooked to perfection, and a healthy dose of their addicting crispy melted cheese throughout the menu. Start with the chicken al pastor and the filet mignon tacos on your first visit. The chicken al pastor is a fun spin on the classic al pastor and the juiciness and tangy flavors are undeniable. The crispy melted cheese and beef and avocado in the filet mignon taco is the taco of your San Diego dreams.
1. American: Campfire
It’s hard to pick a favorite or #1 on a list of the best restaurants in San Diego (kind of like picking a favorite child), but we cannot say enough great things about the dining experience at Campfire. Campfire is a restaurant in Carlsbad, and they have nailed every single component of their operation from their mission to the ambiance to every single incredible dish that leaves the kitchen. The menu rotates regularly and is built around market-driven ingredients. The service here is exceptional and they’ll walk you through the best options while selecting out your small plates, vegetables, entrees, and dessert- yes, they have s’mores! As they say in their slogan, “The wild is calling, let us go.”