San Diego is probably my favorite city in California that I’ve visited thus far because it has a grounded and humble attitude that is harder to find in other parts of the state. The incredible sunshine and perfect weather doesn’t hurt either. The best part in my opinion (you’re shocked I know) is the local restaurant scene. San Diego’s culinary scene is POPPING and it won’t break the bank to eat at high-quality restaurants.
Do you love tacos, fresh seafood and brunch? Then San Diego is the perfect weekend destination for you!
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!
Of course tacos deserve their own category on this food guide to San Diego! Being only a few miles from the Mexico border, it should come as no surprise that San Diego, California has an excellent Mexican food scene. Tacos are in the lifeblood of San Diegans and you can find taquerias, mezcalerias and all sorts of other Mexican restaurants all around the city. Nearly every menu has a taco on it, including what may be some of the most interesting tacos I’ve ever eaten.
Breakfast & 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.
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!
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.
Of all the taco shops people recommended to me, SALUD appeared to be the most popular as lots of people had mentioned it. Located in the traditionally hispanic Barrio Logan, SALUD is a rowdy and busy restaurant that feels perfectly California with it’s tattoo inspired interior decor and dog friendly vibes. You will probably wait in line for the tacos, so come prepared. The tacos are fairly traditional, like carne asado, lengua or carnitas, with a few eccentric flairs like the breakfast taco. Although I really enjoyed what I ate at SALUD, I thought the hype was a little overblown. Definitely worth a visit and definitely delicious, but not the “best taco I’ve ever had” as people had raved.
As you could have guessed from the name, Carnitas offers several pork-centric dishes besides just tacos; but their carnitas taco is definitely a solid choice. The North Park location has a walk up window with a beautiful side patio to eat in. What I appreciated most about these tacos was their simplicity. The meat is prepared perfectly, aka super juicy, flavorful and well shredded, and the Snack Shack lets the meat speak for itself. There are minimal toppings and no fancy flairs, allowing you to eat a street style taco just as you would on the streets of Mexico.
While not technically in San Diego, Galaxy Taco in La Jolla is absolutely worth the drive to enjoy some of my favorite tacos that I tried in SoCal. The airy, relaxed hangout has papel picado flags decorating the colorful space. They are also well known for an impressive tequila selection. I loved this place, and if I had to choose only one taqueria to go back to, it would probably be this one. The flavor combinations were interesting and the menu was diverse, but what stood out to me most about Galaxy’s tacos were the blue corn tortillas. They were perfectly balanced, absolutely fresh, and the exact right texture. Overall, just a damn good taco at Galaxy!
With several locations in San Diego, La Jolla, and other California cities, Puesto is a great option for creative ala-carte style tacos. Their menu features beef, chicken, pork, fish and vegetarian taco options, as well as a taco of the month which rotates throughout the year. Personally, I love their bright and friendly branding as well as their beautiful interior design, and the tacos are good too! I think where Puesto really excels is the sauces and seasonings they put on their toppings.
Definitely the most colorful and fun taco shop on this list, Lucha Libre Tacos is located in the North Park neighborhood in a brightly painted and appropriately themed restaurant. The walls are decked out in Lucha masks and there is even a small lucha ring in the back of the shop. It’s a fun spot to grab a bite! These tacos are more of the late-night variety with crave worthy combinations like the Tap Me Out or Queso Taco, whose shell is literally a fried cheese “tortilla”. The flavors aren’t flashy and can get muddled with all the rich toppings, but for late-night, I couldn’t think of anything better. The salsa bar near the counter offers a bunch of varieties and it is serve yourself so you can choose as may toppings as you like.
Recommended to me by a local taco expert as the “best tacos in San Diego”, City Taco is just a few shops down from Lucha Libre (listed below) making it easy to try both spots at once. Much less showy than its neighbor, City Taco offers traditional and unique taco options, priding itself on being the “craft taqueria” of San Diego. I loved that the menu was sorted by category, including meat, fish and vegetarian and they even offer a dessert taco. The tacos here are excellent, mostly thanks to the flavorful meat and unique combinations. A welcomed addition to the dining here is the salsa bar which is filled with excellent salsa options, including spicy tomatillo, avocado cilantro and a hot habanero.
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.
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