Callie Restaurant
Photograph: Courtesy Callie/Lucianna McIntosh

The best restaurants in San Diego right now

San Diego's best restaurants serve up freshly-caught seafood, authentic Mexican tacos and tender carnitas on the daily

Contributor: Garrick Ramirez

Visitors usually come to San Diego expecting top-notch Mexican food, the best fish tacos they've ever tasted, and craft breweries & coffee shops on every corner. And while those things are all accurate reflections of San Diego's dining scene, the city offers so much more. In recent years (especially during the pandemic) a new wave of chefs with James Beard nominations and Michelin Star restaurant experience made their way to San Diego for a change of pace. Of course, locals are thrilled to have these chefs here and love the elevation of San Diego's culinary scene, but they remain faithful to the hole-in-the-wall taco stands, no-frills mom-and-pop shops, and underrated strip mall eateries they've been visiting for years.

But it's not all super casual eats. There are also plenty of fine dining options with ocean views, upscale tasting menus, suggested wine pairings, and truly unique experiences. San Diego no longer lives in the shadow of Los Angeles' dining landscape.

Dinner reservations are typically recommended in the more popular areas like Little Italy and La Jolla. You can eat outside here most of the year thanks to the perfect weather, so San Diegans have become to expect patio seating, rooftop dining, and indoor-outdoor dining rooms. If you're headed to this coastal utopia, be sure to bring a big appetite and follow our list of the best restaurants in San Diego.

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Best restaurants in San Diego

Named after the birds of paradise, this new restaurant in Bird Rock serves up contemporary California cuisine in a tropical, Instagram-worthy dining room. Paradisaea is helmed by former pastry chef turned executive chef Mark Welker whose career includes time working in Michelin-starred restaurants in New York. What this means for guests is that dessert absolutely must be ordered here. The halibut tempura appetizer (served as lettuce wraps) and jalapeño caesar salad (served under a pile of parmesan cheese) are crowd favorites, and entrees like the lobster spaghetti and dry-aged rib eye steak deliver on flavor. End the meal on a high note with the Straus milk and honey sundae that Chef Welker has been making for more than a decade. 

San Diego’s newest Michelin-starred restaurant (and the only one serving Mexican cuisine), Valle is an upscale eatery located within Oceanside’s swanky Mission Pacific Hotel. Chef Roberto Alcocer serves a stunning eight-course tasting menu that represents his love for Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe region (where he also runs a restaurant), paired with wine sourced from vineyards of Northern Mexico and unforgettable cocktails. His familial ties to Oaxaca come through in plates with mole sauce and woodfire char cooking techniques, though Chef Alcocer has also spent time working in kitchens across France and Spain. Diners can opt for either a surf & turf or vegetarian menu here (these change seasonally), with two current standout dishes being a corn masa chancla and tamal de quelites. Not only will you finish the meal with a full belly, but you’ll leave knowing you just experienced something really special.


This modern, Mediterranean-inspired restaurant lives up to its Greek name, which translates to 'the most beautiful.' Chef Travis Swikard has serious street cred having cooked under French chef Daniel Boulud in New York City for years before returning to his SoCal hometown. At Callie, he sends out beautiful and thoughtfully-plated dishes like spot prawns al ajillo, aleppo chicken, and pappardelle with a spicy Korobuta sausage ragu. Starters like the hummus and avocado labneh pair well with any of their innovative cocktails. 

This lively, upscale restaurant is a standout among San Diego’s food and drink-obsessed Little Italy neighborhood. The airy dining room continues to be packed out by locals, thanks to Chef Anthony Wells (a James Beard nominee) and his continually shifting, inventive menu. We're talking delicious small plates and culinary-inspired cocktails. Recent standouts include a hand-cut fettucini, whole roasted duck and the fuyu sour cocktail. 


Based solely on the in-house pastificio (pasta factory) on display in their dining room, Cesarina knows its dough. Create your own pasta dish, or choose from one of their favorites such as pappardelle al brasata di manzo or paccheri vodka and scampi at this charming neighborhood Italian spot. Don't skip on the antipasti options like beef carpaccio or calamari, and save room for sweet treats including tiramisu or cannoli that's prepared tableside. 

Step inside this charming Spanish bistro named for the owner’s daughter and grab a table in their intimate dining room awash in natural light. While it’s a great date night spot replete with twinkle lights, Valentina also has a not-to-miss brunch service Friday through Sunday. The flavorful menu delivers traditional Spanish and Mediterranean-style tapas. Settle in for some gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), anchovy toast, omelets, Dutch baby pancakes, and steak frites. Their extensive wine list won’t disappoint and neither will dessert like the Basque cake or buñuelos.


Come to Marisi for the handmade pasta, and stay to soak in the gorgeous interiors and sexy ambiance. Grab a seat on the sunlit patio or head back to "The Lemon Room" to feel like you're on the Amalfi coast. While you could be perfectly content to just enjoy apps like the zucchini blossoms, focaccia, crudo, and carpaccio, you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not continuing on to the agnolotti made with king crab, pappardelle with duck ragu, or cappelletti with black truffle. If you decide to keep going, you'll find dry-aged beef, line-caught fish, and more. Just don't skip the Meyer lemon dessert or smooth sippers from Marisi's classic cocktail or Italian-leaning wine lists. 

A former rubber band factory, this cavernous space bounced back as a striking open-air dining room with vaulted ceilings, flickering gas lamps and enough potted plants to fill a greenhouse. Seasonal Mediterranean-inspired dishes are roasted in a wood-fired oven such as oysters and bone marrow, Baja shrimp, and baby carrots served with a cashew sesame dukkah sauce. 


All hail seitan at this singular cocktail bar with exceptional vegan dishes, Victorian elegance and ravishingly sinister heavy metal flourishes. Mixing equal parts heaven and hell—pink toile wallpaper is the background for a devilish wolf sculpture—Kindred serves divine vegan dishes such as char-grilled seitan skewers and battered hearts of palm flatbread alongside exquisite cocktails blackened with activated charcoal and served on pentagram coasters. A trip to the bathroom yields a virtual art gallery of malevolent dudes and their cats.

This stylishly casual restaurant has a loyal following for its beautifully plated, rustic dishes. When you walk in, 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, steamed clams and braised oxtail raviolini. Grab a pre-dinner drink at their sister restaurant, Rare Society, a few blocks up the street.


Set within the sleek Tower 23 boutique hotel, JRDN Restaurant is a go-to spot for sushi and weekend brunch while overlooking Pacific Beach. The recently refreshed dining room features cool concrete interiors and an enviable beachfront patio alongside the bustling boardwalk. Weekend brunch is a lively scene, while a raw seafood and sushi bar lures casual daytime and evening diners with creative rolls like spicy lobster with avocado, yamagobo, jalapeño, spicy mayo, ponzu and tempura.

A boisterous Little Italy spot might not be the seafood restaurant your grandparents had in mind—shellfish platters range from big to 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 raw bar for weekday happy hour to score $1 oysters and $7 paloma cocktails.


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 calamari, baby back ribs, and grilled or raw oysters. On summer Wednesday evenings, the restaurant throws 'dive-in movie' parties with classic flicks such as Back to the Future screened above the oyster-shaped pool.

The adorable outdoor setting at this stylized coop features picnic tables and red farm chairs set under strung Edison bulbs, a lively al fresco bar and a kitchen housed in a modern barn structure. Yet, there’s some serious brawn behind all the playfulness. Owned by Chef Richard 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 Mexican poutine with schmaltz fries and house condiments including Sriracha Thousand Island and kimchi BBQ sauce.


This scene-y Little Italy restaurant draws a fashionable young crowd with daybeds, cocktails and shareable plates. 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 get settled, you’ll find an upbeat crowd mingling over tables strewn with spicy shrimp, pork belly buns and duck meatballs.

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A taqueria in historic Barrio Logan, Salud offers so much more than the humble taco. You can get homemade tortillas from morning till night at this beloved shop. And look out for their daily specials like free chips during happy hour (weekdays from 2-5pm). On Tuesdays, you can get three tacos for $6, and on weekends you can bag the Taco Shop Burger with fries for just $11.


This funky burger joint is a San Diego institution and a welcome throwback to vintage SoCal beach towns. Named after what surfers used to call landlubbing posers, the 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. A visit to their downtown location tends to yield a shorter wait time. 

Wes Anderson would feel at home inside this clubby, atmospheric cocktail bar with fanciful taxidermy and oil paintings of animals. The dimly-lit den attracts a cocktail crowd with the serious talent behind the bar, but a menu that showcases exotic meats—ergo, the wild animal decor—more than measures up. Highlights include surf & turf crudo, boar sliders and elk flank rubbed with sumac.


This cheery breakfast spot perks up mornings with friendly service and over-the-top grub. 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 the kitchen serves breakfast burgers and vibrant veggie scrambles. The dessert-for-breakfast crowd can indulge in shrimp & grits, 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 its kitchen housed in a vintage Airstream–is a fave.

Not simply a bar and restaurant, Carnitas’ Snack Shack is a great hang-out along the waterfront with three very convincing reasons to visit: 1) chunky pork sandwiches 2) craft beer and 3) carnitas tacos. Grab your choice of snacks to-go from the shack window, or pull up a chair outside this laidback venue.

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