La Jolla sits atop one of San Diego’s most scenic coastlines, a beacon of beauty, cuisine and culture. Given its proximity to the ocean, you know you’ll find stellar seafood here—but dig a bit deeper and you’ll find some of the area’s best tacos, not to mention world-class Indian food and gorgeous spots to enjoy it. Take a break from the boutique shopping scene, come up for air from that snorkeling in the sea cave, and sit down to the best restaurants in La Jolla.
Best restaurants in La Jolla
For a white-tablecloth affair that’s anything but stuffy, Jason Knibb’s modern-American destination keeps diners guessing with a menu inspired by San Diego’s ethnic diversity, local produce and the chef’s hometown of Montego Bay, Jamaica. But there’s much more than the bold and beautifully arranged entreés—and Knibb’s lauded tasting menu—which this spot is known for: Head straight to the bar for one of the best happy hours in the city, stop by earlier for the prix-fixe lunch that rotates monthly, or enjoy fresh pastries and house-smoked salmon at breakfast and brunch. Cap it all off with a stroll around the corner and you’ll find yourself at the ocean—then wave hi to the barking seals at the Children’s Pool.
With all the elegance of a fine-dining concept adjacent a golf course—and all the rustic charm of a California Craftsman—the Lodge Torrey Pines’s signature restaurant is one of La Jolla’s classiest establishments in one of the most beguiling settings. It’s hard to tell where to cast your attention: the French-leaning cuisine, with dishes like caramelized sea scallops or wine-braised veal cheeks, or the exposed wood beams and stained-glass touches. If you can’t decide, you can always take in the scenery while enjoying executive chef Jeff Jackson’s seasonal prix fixe to have a bit of it all.
There’s hardly a bone to pick with Herringbone: Everything in this seafood-friendly restaurant seems to achieve the perfect balance of refined and casual, whether it’s the bulb-lit, tree-speckled hangar-style dining room or the exciting but comfortable menu of “fish meets field.” But when your founding chef happens to be wildly successful restaurateur Brian Malarkey, well, that might explain some things. The food here is inventive as ever, with hits like buffalo octopus, tempura squash blossoms and daily champagne-and-oysters specials keeping tables packed.
Sure, La Jolla’s beachside location lends itself to upscale dining, cliffside restaurants and seafood-centric menus, but that doesn’t mean it’s not home to great tacos, too. At Puesto, the three Adler brothers pack hand-pressed blue-corn tortillas with crispy melted cheese, garlic-braised seasonal veggies, al pastor, cactus and even lobster and filet mignon. It’s one of the area’s most colorful settings—decorated with neon murals and Mexican tiles—and sports a handful of vibrant and fun margaritas to match.
This Italian number perches atop the La Plaza center, complete with rooftop seating and a view of the ocean. Situated over one of La Jolla’s busiest shopping corridors, it’s an ideal place to people-watch, catch a breeze or simply enjoy some of the city’s best pastas and wood-fired pizzas. The focus here is Italian coastal, which means a refreshing daily fish crudo, Sicilian pistachio pizza with burrata, a lick-the-bowl-good local-shrimp risotto, roasted whole branzino and more. Hungry? Just save room for those classic Italian desserts.
It can almost feel overwhelming. Not only is George's at the Cove one of La Jolla's most prestigious restaurants—there are also three options to choose from. The ground-floor California Modern is an oceanfront restaurant serving an inspired take on coastal cuisine—we're talking stone crab congee, local crudité, Maine lobster with fava bean gnocchi and the like—as well as a six-course tasting menu. Above it, you'll find Level 2, a sleek bar offering upscale bar bites and limited entrées, plus seasonal cocktails over hand-cut ice. Atop it all is Ocean Terrace, with one of the best views in La Jolla and a modern-American menu, to boot. Decisions, decisions.
Forget “oceanfront”—this restaurant provides a dining room built directly over the sea, where waves crash against the windows for one of the city’s most dynamic and dramatic settings. Though the Marine Room opened in 1941, the food’s certainly remained current, largely thanks to French chef Bernard Guillas and his rotating menu of surf and turf spiced up with Rooibos tea leaves, tarragon sake and other creative touches. Looking for even more Marine room? Guillas offers tasting menus, cooking classes and even high-tide dinners to make sure you get the most excitement from your meal.
You might not be Indian royalty, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat like you are. Former Taj Mahal Palace executive chef Hemant Oberoi has cooked for kings, queens and Bollywood stars, and now, he’s cooking for San Diegans. His first U.S. restaurant blends Californian, Indian, gastropub and street-food flavors for dishes like quinoa chaat, tacosas (those are samosa tacos, naturally), and Koliwada fish and chips served with pickled aioli.
When the craving for comfort food strikes, there’s almost nothing better than a trip to Whisknladel. This decade-old stalwart elevates classics like buttermilk fried chicken with gourmet mac and cheese and a side of pancetta braised green beans, and a menu that sources almost entirely from local farms. Charred bone marrow gets cozy with lemon and capers, while local market fish takes a swim in lemon butter sauce and the pork chop basks in a peach vinaigrette. (And don’t even think about skipping the biscuits with gravy at brunch.)
First a Del Mar staple, then a mainstay in La Jolla, this casual, well-rounded, locally sourced seafood market is so much more than a fish counter. Look to the chalkboard menu for daily sandwich specials, and to the case for sashimi platters, ceviches, salads and more—or go for the house-made fish soups, tacos or char-grilled entrées—you can't go wrong. Grab it to-go and have a picnic overlooking the ocean, or eat it there at the market's few high-top tables or on the cozy patio.