San Diego may be know for sunshine and surf, but it actually has a pretty robust food scene. When you have the nation’s best weather and perfect beaches, why not top that off with world class food?
With such a variety of cuisines from Mexican to Japanese, we tried to narrow it down to 31 must-tries for you to start with. Honestly, this is just a starting point, but you don’t want to miss a single one or you’ll regret it.
1. Açai Bowl from Swami’s Cafe
After eating the rest of the things on this list you might need a bit of a cleanse. Nourish yourself with an açai bowl before heading to the beach for a swim so you feel justified eating more food porn tomorrow.
2. Surf ‘n Turf Burrito from Lucha Libre
There are hundreds of Mexican restaurants that serve a San Diego favorite, the California burrito, but Lucha Libre sets itself apart for two reasons. First, it has a wrestling theme, complete with a gold champions booth for 24-hour advance reservations, which creates an unique atmosphere. But this version of a “cali b” also has shrimp, making it a surf n’ turf burrito, AKA the best of both worlds.
3. Mini Desserts at Extraordinary Desserts
You can’t go wrong at Extraordinary Desserts, because not only is every single thing they make insta-worthy, but also because it’s 100% dessert perfection. From whole cakes for your next birthday bash to small tarts to sample and even breakfast pastries, everything at Extraordinary Desserts is, well, extraordinary. Try the mini desserts so you can get a taste of it all.
4. Breakfast Pot Pie from Snooze AM Eatery
What’s better than a fresh pot pie? A pot pie with an egg on top. Obviously a little yolk porn never hurt anybody, especially during breakfast or brunch at this San Diego favorite.
5. Korean BBQ from Dae Jang Keum
Usually people pay for other people to cook food for them, but at Korean BBQ restaurants, you pay to cook your own food. The interactive experience is fun, because you can play with the different types of grills and learn what cuts of meat and seafood you like. It’s great for groups so you can try everything (and eat all the meats).
6. The Big O’ Sage Fried Chicken & Waffle Tower from Hash House A Go Go
The line wrapping around the block at Hash House A Go Go is for good reason — they serve perfectly prepared breakfast classics with a twist, and portions so big that sharing is a necessity. This twist on chicken and waffles is not only gigantic, but also complex, with the sage chicken complimenting the smoked bacon waffles, fried leeks, maple reduction and runny yolks. Bring an empty stomach, your patience and a few friends, and your life will be forever changed.
7. Sushi Combination from Sushi Ota
Though from the outside this Pacific Beach sushi restaurant looks like just another strip mall restaurant, it is almost undisputedly recognized as San Diego’s best sushi place. This sushi combination is just the beginning — if you’re adventurous you can try local live uni, beef sashimi and more. If you can, try and sit at the sushi bar to meet Chef Ota himself and so you can watch the masters at work and learn what’s fresh.
#SpoonTip: Make reservations far in advance, around a month in most cases.
8. Brick Toast from Up2You
Visit this Clairemont Mesa hang out to sip milk tea from a mason jar and munch on brick toast. It’s a buttery and sweet block of toast served with various toppings like ice cream and fruits. Frequented by local college students, Up2You has funky lounge seating and games to play.
9. Duck Fat Fries from Searsucker
Think all fries are the same? You thought wrong — the duck fat fries at Searsuckers, one of the restaurants of Top Chef alum Brian Malarkey, are fried in rendered duck fat, giving them a rich flavor.
10. Burger from Urge Gastro Pub
Come to Urge on a Friday night for a variety of brews and any of the rotating selection unique of burgers, ranging from rabbit and wild boar to BBQ and Green Goddess. Boasting breezy outdoor seating with overhead string lights, an indoor dining section and a large bar area, there’s a place and a scene for any group.
11. Pork Belly App from Carnitas’ Snack Shack
Ever heard of a porkhouse? We hadn’t either until we went to Carnitas Snack Shack, home of all things pork related, from the carnitas they’re named for to bacon and pulled pork. Carnitas’ unique takes on pork, like the decadent pork belly appetizer, are worth treating yourself to if you’re headed to North Park or Del Mar.
12. Udon Hot Pot from Robataya Oton
A traditional Japanese Robataya complete with tatami seating (a lowered table where you sit on the ground), Oton serves Robata (skewers) sushi, small plates and special hot pots, like the udon and pork belly hot pot, which is cooked at your table. The environment and the food are like a taste of Japan without the 12-hour flight.
13. Brussels Sprouts from Bo Beau Kitchen and Bar
Gone are the days of bitter, boiled Brussels sprouts that you had to feed to your dog under the table. Bo Beau Kitchen and Bar roasts your former least favorite vegetable with pancetta and Balsamic to make Brussels sprouts your new favorite food. Check out this beginner’s version to try at home.
14. Cheeseburger from Hodad’s
Apparently a hodad is a noun for a nonsurfer who spends their time at beaches pretending to be a surfer, but what really matters is that Hodad’s serves some of the best and biggest burgers in town. Nothing fancy or different about them, but Hodad’s burgers are juicy and sinful, just as a burger should be.
15. California Benedict from The Cottage
When #eggporn meets avocado and Hollandaise four blocks away from the ocean, that’s just a little piece of California heaven. With a cute cottage vibe and sunny outdoor seating, The Cottage offers a fresh take on California brunch, as well as great smoothies.
16. Ice Cream Sandwich from The Baked Bear
Not that the classic thin brownie and vanilla ice cream sandwich isn’t great, but sometimes you just need to mix it up. Check out The Baked Bear, an ice cream sandwich shop where you can customize your base (cookies, brownies or donuts), your ice cream flavor and your toppings.
17. Carne Asada Tater Tots from Bull Taco
Based on carne asada fries, a San Diego interpretation of Mexican food, these carne asada tater tots are perfect for munching after a trip to the beach at Bull Taco’s Encintas beachfront location.
18. Fried pizza from Buona Forchetta
What’s better than pizza? Fried pizza of course. The dough for these specialty pizzas is first fried then finished in the oven for a fluffy yet crisp texture that’s hard to beat. Besides their usual variety of pizzas, Buona Forchetta boasts pizza, appetizer, pasta, risotto, and main dish specials that actually change daily.
19. Creme Brûlée Donut from Donut Bar
Hands down the best donuts in San Diego. Even though there’s almost always a line, it’s worth the wait. They offer unique flavors like candied pineapple and peach fritter, but the creme brûlée donut is easily the best, with an oozing custard filling and a perfectly brûléed top.
20. Bloody Mary Bar from Davanti Enoteca
Davanti’s two San Diego locations bring modern, fresh Italian food to the scene, but set themselves apart from the pack with a Sunday attraction: a build-your-own bloody mary bar. With the widest array of toppings we’ve seen, this bar is perfect for a lazy (or slightly hungover) Sunday brunch.
21. Baby Back Ribs from Phil’s BBQ
I know what you’re thinking — BBQ ribs in San Diego? But the barbecue from Phil’s made from scratch BBQ sauce and house smoked meats are the talk of the town — having served more than 100 million gallons of BBQ sauce already and was featured in Thrillist’s Best BBQ in America.
22. Duck Confit Mac n’ Cheese from Urban Solace
Sure you could have mac n cheese from the box, but here’s a grown up version brought to you by Urban Solace. Also stop by for creative and decadent takes on brunch classics, like the hanger steak benedict.
23. Pasta from Cucina Urbana
Cucina Urbana features seasonal ingredients, which means the menu’s always changing. So not only do you get to eat food that’s in season, but you’ll also never be bored. Our favorite is any of the pasta dishes, especially this bucatini with pecorino and a hen egg. Because the only thing that makes carbs better is a perfectly cooked egg.
24. Any pizza from Pizza Port
Head over to this Solana Beach stop for “Grub and Grog,” aka beer and pizza. Featuring their own brews, fresh from the oven pizzas and arcade games, this is the perfect place to kick back on a Friday evening.
25. Dole Whip from Lappert’s
Great news — you don’t have to brave the long lines and pricey tickets of Disneyland to get dole whip anymore. Head over to Lappert’s for your favorite pineapple treat and other creative frozen treats.
26. Tacos from George’s Ocean Terrace
Have a lunch with the view at George’s Ocean Terrace and enjoy the outdoor seating with beachfront views. It’s also perfect for a special occasion dinner at Geroge’s by the Cove, a famed fancy dinner spot attached to the terrace.
27. Japanese BBQ from Tsuruhashi
Much like its Korean counterpart, Japanese BBQ is a DIY kind of affair. As compared to KBBQ, JBBQ is a lot more subtle and focuses on fine meats with simple seasonings. Try the kobe beef, a special marbeled variety of beef, if you’re feeling fancy.
28. Belgian Waffle from Cafe Hue
Belgian waffles in a Vietnamese cafe in San Diego might seem like a stretch, but if you go to Cafe Hue not only can you try these sweet eats, but you can also take a photo with their giraffe wall. Trust us, totally worth it.
29. Daily Special at Green Acre
Another restaurant by Brian Malarkey, Green Acres is a farm-to-table concept restaurant. Focused on local and fresh cuisine, it has two locations and serves up breakfast and lunch menus inspired by what’s best in the markets. Though there are some menu staples, daily specials like this cajun salmon are the freshest and most creative items on the menu.
30. Short Rib Hash from Nine-Ten
#yolkporn alert — head over to this ritzy restaurant for brunch to get a taste of their famous short ribs with the bonus of poached eggs. If you like what you taste, Nine Ten has a great prix fixe menu to splurge on.
31. Tacos Al Pastor from Tacos el Gordo de Tijuana B.C.
Head south towards the border for these authentic tacos al pastor — pork roasted on a spit and carved fresh to order. Other protein choices range from carne asada to tripe, all with unique toppings and sauces to match with.