I have visited San Diego a couple of times in recent years, since a close friend of mine lives there. Each time I visit, I eat better and better! This city really does have an excellent food scene, ranging from delicious coffee and excellent tacos to the full fine dining experience at celebrity chef eateries!
Here are 17 of my favorite San Diego restaurants for foodie travelers!
Breakfast and Coffee
Any menu that has a benedicts section is good in my book! As the name implies, Breakfast Republic is a breakfast only restaurant that serves up a seriously delicious plate of California brunch cuisine. They have a beautiful patio in their Normal Heights location to match their delectable menu, which is divided up into classic breakfast dish sections like scrambles, omelets, pancakes and French toasts. I opted for a benedict (as I almost always do) and it was perfectly cooked with a very flavorful hollandaise.
Whenever something has nomad in the name, consider me interested, but that is especially true when paired with doughnuts! Nomad Donuts is a minimalist shop and a local favorite thanks to their high-quality and creative doughnuts. With intriguing and ever changing flavors, Nomad offers a mix of cake, yeast and stuffed donuts, as well as seasonal varieties. I really, really enjoyed my chai spice cruller when I was there, and I would happily return to this doughnut spot when I revisit San Diego!
Where Nomad Donuts is quiet, no-nonsense affair, the Donut Bar is the complete opposite. Their oversized, over-the-top donuts and flashy design attract a lot of attention. They’ve won lots of accolades, which draws big crowds to their Gaslamp location. Their donuts are ideal for Instagram with crazy shapes like unicorns or with elaborate toppings. Almost all of their donuts are classic yeast doughnuts, which personally are not my favorite, but they have some pretty interesting flavors. The serving size is large, so you probably don’t need to get more than 2.
This no-frills poke shop is just off the main drag in Ocean Beach and feels more like a market counter or butcher shop than a restaurant. I think there is one table. You’ll want to take your poke to go and eat at the beach! What is great about this place is that it is the real deal. It is all fresh fish and good sauce, with none of the extravagant toppings that drive up the price of poke. It is simple and perfect.
Located in the heart of the Gaslamp district, this is one of the few non-chain restaurants in the area that offers a great lunch (or brunch!) along with a killer tap list. Their classic American fare comes in big portions so come hungry! Lunch features favorites like burgers, sandwiches while their brunch, which is served until 3pm, has more local hits like chilaquiles and a breakfast burrito. Their tasty breakfast balls (hush puppies) are a rich addition that are worth the extra calories!
Just across the street from Richard Blais’s fine dining location is the Crack Shack, his foray into casual comfort food. This is a fun spot to hang out, thanks to their bouche court and massive patio, as well as close proximity to the San Diego Airport. Planes fly in every 15 minutes or so directly over the patio, which is super loud but very fun to watch! The Crack Shack menu is pretty straightforward — chicken and eggs. There is the option for chicken sandwiches, plain fried chicken, and sides, all of which are messy and delightful. You order at the counter, where there is often a line, and then sit down to wait for your food.
This breezy, corner restaurant in the heart of the Gaslamp district takes California farm-to-table cuisine and bumps it up to a 10. Their limited menu changes regularly, featuring whatever is fresh and in-season. They have a great happy hour drink and food list, as well as a classy dinner in a perfect environment. I had their kale Caesar salad and tuna sashimi, both of which were delightful!
The Art Deco styling of this Little Italy restaurant is top-notch — it is a stunning restaurant that is worth popping into for a look, even if you aren’t planning to eat there. Seafood is their best seller and they prepare it to perfection. As an oyster lover myself, I couldn’t turn down their great happy hour special on oysters and cocktails. This would be an ideal place for a fancy dinner or date night spot.
As a big fan of “Top Chef” I have been wanting to try Chef Richard Blais’s food for a long time. He is one of my favorite contestants from the show and Juniper & Ivy is his most famous restaurant. This upscale New American eatery offers inventive and experimental dishes featuring a variety of unique ingredients. Their menu is largely small plates, so it’s fun to come with 4 or more people so you can try a lot of things. A few highlights from my visit were the tuna tartare, arrancini and fresh pasta, but the menu changes frequently. Their knowledgeable and approachable staff gave us great tips of what to order, so don’t hesitate to ask!
The beautiful interior of Born & Raised is opulent and extravagant. It feels like you walked onto the set of the Great Gatsby with mirrored walls, Art Deco decor and black satin interiors. When you look at the vintage inspired menu, it all comes together in one pricey but delicious package. I love the cohesive and stylish design of this place and the food backs it up. Their menu reads like a traditional steakhouse but done to perfection with a delicious assortment of sides.
This stylish nightlife spot in Little Italy just feels cool. The decor is dark and warm, with interesting artistic elements such as a poem staircase and central “tree.” I came here for cocktails after a light dinner, and wound up staying for late-night food! Their cocktail menu is top-notch and I loved my mezcal margarita which was on special at the time. I also sampled the crunchy tacos, featuring a fried wonton shell with marinated raw tuna and salmon topped with a spicy aioli and sprout salad.