Best restaurants in San Diego
What is it: All hail seitan at this singular cocktail bar with exceptional vegan dishes, Victorian elegance and delightfully sinister heavy metal flourishes.
Why go: Mixing equal parts heaven and hell—pink toile wallpaper, devilish wolf sculpture—Kindred serves divine vegan dishes such as char-grilled seitan skewers and battered hearts of palm tacos alongside exquisite cocktails blackened with activated charcoal and served on pentagram coasters. A trip to the bathroom yields an virtual art gallery of malevolent dudes and their cats.
What is it: This lively upscale restaurant from a Top Chef regular is the centerpiece of San Diego’s food and drink-obsessed Little Italy.
Why go: Though just four years old—and one of the first spots to reinvigorate formerly industrial Little Italy—the airy dining room continues to pack in locals with chef Richard Blais’ continually shifting menu of inventive small plates and culinary-inspired cocktails. Recent standouts include a spicy tuna hand roll wrapped in shiso, carne cruda asada—a clever Mexican take on steak tartare—and Filthy Rich cocktail with foie-gras fat-washed Japanese whiskey, Sauternes and sea salt.
What is it: Spirited, eye-candy space bustles with cocktails and bold, wood-fired dishes.
Why go: A former rubber band factory, this cavernous space bounced back as a striking open-air dining room with vaulted ceiling, flickering gas lamps and enough potted plants to fill a greenhouse. Seasonal dishes are informed by wood-fired oven such as clams with rich adobo sauce and gnocchi with oxtail, roasted garlic and Parm. During the day, hit the casual adjacent cafe Herb & Eatery for grab-and-go bites.
What is it: Pocket-sized eatery dishes creative baos via take-out window in bustling Mission Beach.
Why go: Spongy steamed buns folded and stuffed with savory fillings might be the greatest beach food ever. Grab a variety—Chinese BBQ pork with jalapeno, crispy fried shrimp with pickled cabbage, Korean bulgogi with Sriracha ketchup—and head to Mission Beach’s sandy expanse one block away.
What is it: Fetching, all-day American brasserie features dramatic interiors and spot-on contemporary fare.
Why go: With soaring ceilings and modern furnishings, The Pendry hotel restaurant feels like a vintage bank outfitted by Design Within Reach. Contemporary dishes—wood-fired pizzas, grilled yellowtail sandwiches, quinoa salads—are served photo-ready in earthy ceramic bowls or upon thick wooden slabs. Don’t miss the champagne vending machine that dispenses bubbly with $25 coins.
What is it: A stylishly casual restaurant that has a loyal following given its beautifully plated, rustic dishes.
Why go: The fragrant wood stacked in front of the open kitchen is the first hint of the meal to come. Chef-owner Brad Wise melds a farm-to-table ethos with wood-fired hearth for deeply flavorful dishes such as smoky cauliflower, lamb meatballs and braised oxtail raviolini. Grab a pre-dinner drink at a sister whiskey-forward cocktail bar, Hundred Proof, a few blocks up the street.
What is it: Hip seafood house buzzes with blingy, Vegas-worthy interiors and expert cocktails.
Why go: Boisterous Little Italy spot might not be the seafood restaurant your grandparents had in mind—shellfish platters range from Big, Bigger to Holy Shit—but groups of stylish youngins keep things humming with Mai Tais and plates of local uni, grilled octopus and buttery lobster rolls. Swing by the marquee bulb-lined bar during the weekday happy hour for $1 oysters and $7 Paloma cocktails.
What is it: Mid-century mod fave features poolside dining and movie nights.
Why go: Set within the bamboo-shrouded poolside courtyard of the retro-mod Pearl Hotel, this effortlessly cool restaurant has atmosphere for days. Sip bright cocktails and share platters of oysters, chorizo pasta and must-order kushiyaki skewers. On summer Wednesday evenings, the restaurant throws “dive-in movie” parties with classic flicks such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off screened above the pool.
What is it: Stylized outdoor coop slings fried chicken and good times.
Why go: The adorable setting features picnic tables and red farm chairs set under strung Edison bulbs, a lively al fresco bar and kitchen housed in a modern barn structure. Yet, there’s some serious brawn behind all the playfulness. Owned by chef Blais of Juniper & Ivy next door, the Crack Shack serves guests fried Jidori chicken—tucked into sandwiches or splayed on paper-lined metal trays—along with sides such as a mango-and-papaya Border Slaw, and house condiments including Sriracha Thousand Island and kimchi BBQ sauce.
What is it: Cheery Ocean Beach spot perks up mornings with friendly service and killer breakfast grub.
Why go: The inclusive menu has something for everyone, from the healthy to the hungover. A full bar sends out bacon Bloody Marys and draft kombuchas, while kitchen serves breakfast hot dogs and vibrant veggie bowls. The dessert-for-breakfast crowd can indulge in banana split French toast, churro pancakes and the Mr. Presley—French toast with peanut butter, bananas foster and bacon. You’ll find locations throughout town, but the Ocean Beach locale—with kitchen housed in a vintage Airstream—is a fave.
What is it: Hip taco joint is the heart of Barrio Logan’s modern Mexican cultural scene.
Why go: Lowrider bikes, Impala rims and a velvet Elvis deck this teeming eatery serving soulful tacos—from breakfast to birria—on homemade tortillas. Pair the Califas—a French fry-filled taco rendition of the famous San Diego burrito—with buttery street corn and local beers on tap. Just save room for churros dipped in ice cream and sprinkled with Tajín.
What is it: Sleek hotel restaurant overlooking Pacific Beach that's a go-to spot for sushi and weekend brunch.
Why go: Set within the sleek Tower 23 boutique hotel, the recently refreshed dining room features cool grey, concrete interiors and enviable beachfront patio alongside the bustling Pacific Beach boardwalk. Weekend brunch hosts a lively scene, while a new raw and sushi bar lures daytime and evening diners with fusion rolls such as the Surf + Turf with wagyu beef carpaccio, spicy scallop, yuzo-miso and a sesame-kale crumble.
What is it: Bright, tile-lined space dishes fish with Baja vibes.
Why go: Set amidst Old Town’s many touristy Mexican restaurants, this modern eatery is a breath of fresh air—and seafood. Chef-owner Juan Carlos Récamier crafts not just exceptional ceviche such as big eye tuna with soy sauce, lime and blistered serrano peppers, but also Mexican-inspired seafood including blue crab al pastor and coconut porter-battered fish tacos. Wash it down with homemade agua de jamaica and spicy Micheladas.
What is it: Smartly-dressed Gaslamp restaurant flaunts big dramatic interiors, New American fare and a flirty bar scene.
Why go: An airy dining room with tufted leather banquettes and massive pendants sets the stage for proper sit-down dinners of tomahawk ribeyes and whole grilled branzino. A spirited after-work and weekend crowd clusters around plush couches in the expansive lounge for cocktails and noshable bites including duck fat fries and Philly meatballs.
What is it: Wes Anderson would feel at home inside this clubby, atmospheric cocktail bar with fanciful taxidermy and oil paintings of animals.
Why go: Dimly-lit den attracts a cocktail crowd with serious talent behind the bar, but a menu that showcases exotic meats—ergo, the wild animal decor—more than measures up. Highlights include quail-topped deviled eggs, antelope sliders with smoked gouda and braised rabbit hand pies with duck fat crusts.
What is it: With all the feels of sunny backyard BBQ, North Park fave is a paean to pork.
Why go: Place your orders at a walk-up window, nab a seat on a sunny backyard patio and wait for your beer, sandwiches and tacos to be brought out. Spa cuisine this is not. The signature Triple Threat sandwich piles high a breaded pork loin, pulled pork and bacon on a pepperoncini relish-slathered bun.
What is it: Modern North Park beer hall is the perfect intro to San Diego’s thriving craft beer scene.
Why go: While many places feature umpteen beers on tap, Tiger! Tiger! flexes serious beer geekery with a stainless steel draft system that’s cleaned every keg change. Thankfully, they’re not pretentious in attitude or on the menu. Crowd-pleasing dishes such as homemade sausages and house-ground burgers are exactly what you want with your tulip-shaped glass of a creamy, hazy IPA.
What is it: Delicious tacos for a worthy cause. What’s not to love?
Why go: The nation's first non-profit taco joint donates 100% of their profits to local charities. Libertad takes liberty with range of ingredients—pork belly, tempura avocado, octopus—that are char-grilled over embers and stuffed into homemade tortillas. Push through the stainless steel freezer door and discover a hidden cocktail lounge decked with chandeliers and olive trees.
What is it: This is a sceney Little Italy restaurant that draws a fashionable young crowd with daybeds, cocktails and shareable plates.
Why go: The handsome bi-level space features a ground floor dining room and an upstairs lounge linked by a towering indoor tree, but the best seats in the house are the semi-private cabanas on the rooftop terrace. Wherever you settle into, you’ll find an upbeat crowd mingling over tables strewn with roasted cauliflower, kale salads and duck meatballs.
What is it: This funky Ocean Beach burger joint is a San Diego institution and a welcome throwback to vintage SoCal beach towns.
Why go: Named after what surfers used to call landlubbing poseurs, this neighborhood beach shack on Ocean Beach’s main drag is plastered in surf stickers and weathered license plates. The cheap, sloppy, delicious burgers—served from a sidewalk window or at tables dotted with hot sauce and ketchup bottles—have made it a mainstay since 1969.