Best Restaurants in San Diego: a Locals Guide
Looking for the best restaurants in San Diego to try for 2023? I’ve got you covered! San Diego is renowned for its pristine beaches, year-round sunshine, and incredible food scene! With a diverse range of culinary options and a thriving food culture, San Diego boasts some of the best restaurants in the country, offering everything from fresh seafood and innovative California cuisine to authentic Mexican and Asian dishes. Because of that, it can be hard to choose the San Diego Restaurants worth visiting.
Whether you’re a foodie seeking out the latest hotspots or simply looking for a delicious meal, you’ll find no shortage of amazing restaurants to choose from in this post. So, sit back, relax, and let’s explore some of the best restaurants in San Diego broken down by neighborhood.
Little Italy San Diego
Nolita Hall ($$)
Inspired by modern drinking emporiums in Europe’s legendary beer cities. This spot has an indoor/outdoor ambiance. And the newly improved outdoor seating area is the most Instagram-friendly. Furthermore, it’s perfect for a Sunday football game (they have two huge TVs) or to grab drinks with friends. Some popular menu items include bulgogi meatballs, hot honey pizza, and roasted bone marrow. I had the Basic B**tch Pizza – it was delicious! Finally, they have a lot of seafood options as well.
Craft & Commerce ($$)
This spot has been on the hotspot list since 2009 and it’s come to be a Little Italy staple. Craft & Commerce is a chic eatery known for its unique decor (a taxidermy lion greets you as you walk in) and delicious cocktails and food. Furthermore, there is a tiki-inspired speakeasy located in the back called False Idol that you most definitely need prior reservations for.
Popular menu items include confit duck leg tacos, short rib gnocchi, and wagyu beef tartare. Finally, they have incredible craft cocktails with quirky names such as “All Things Must Pass”.
Born & Raised ($$$$)
This iconic steakhouse takes you back into the Gatsby era with its chic design and high-class meat selection. It’s the perfect place for an indulgent and celebratory meal. Furthermore, the interior alone will have you coming back for more. The best part has. tobe the rooftop with iconic San Diego city views. Finally, popular menu items include French onion soup, the 8 oz filet, and dirty hashbrowns.
Davanti Enoteca ($$)
A family-owned Italian restaurant that is known for its incredible Foccacia bread (trust me it’s divine). The restaurant is small but inviting with tons of outdoor space. I would recommend sitting in the front because the amount of people watching in Little Italy is endless. They also serve shareable pizzas and classic Italian meals. Don’t forget to get an Aperol spritz to round out the meal!
Herb and Wood ($$$)
Celebrity chef Brian Malarkey is behind the deliciousness at Herb and Wood. They’re known for their rustic wood-fired dishes, Mediterranean cuisine, and craft cocktails. The interior offers an industrial vibe. Furthermore, they offer a private room adjacent to the main dining room that can be reserved for larger parties. Popular menu items are roasted branzino, pork belly, and a selection of pasta and pizzas. Dinner entrees are served a la carte making it ideal for a family-style dinner.
Finally, on Sunday they serve a killer brunch menu from 10 am -3 pm (the Dutch pancake is delicious).
La Jolla Restaurants
The Marine Room ($$$$)
This La Jolla legend has been in business for 80 years and offers the prettiest San Diego restaurant views. It’s been rated the best restaurants in La Jolla time and time again for good reason. The food is mouth-watering and the service is unmatched. It’s situated right on the water at La Jolla Shores Beach. During high tide, they offer a high tide dinner in which the waves crash into the windows. Such a cool experience!
Furthermore, the steak and salmon were equally tasty. Do not skip the dessert because they have an in-house pastry chef that is incredible. Finally, most definitely a splurge given the ambiance and delicious culinary expertise, but it’s well worth it.
The Med at La Valencia ($$$)
Major Amalfi Coast vibes in the heart of La Jolla. The Med inside the iconic La Valencia Hotel is the perfect spot for California coastal cuisine. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The views truly feel as though you’ve been transported to Italy. And with the setting of the grand pink hotel, I would rate this as one of the top ambiances in terms of restaurants. However, the food is a bit lacking. Nevertheless, it’s a great spot to start off your evening with cocktails overlooking La Jolla.
Birdseye View Rooftop ($$)
This new and noteworthy restaurant is located at the boutique hotel The Cormorant. You can expect a stunning view of La Jolla Cove, modern California cuisine, shareable plates, and fun cocktails. We had the empanadas and thoroughly enjoyed them. Finally, it’s best to visit during sunset on a sunny San Diego day.
Serving Mexican cuisine Javiers was put on the map by their infamous waterfront location in Newport Beach. They now have a few locations with one in La Jolla. This spot is known for its Maine lobster enchiladas, ceviche, and fajitas de pollo. The ambiance is very chic and ritzy and they offer delicious cocktails (get the Paloma). It’s the perfect spot for date night!
Catania La Jolla ($$$)
California coastal fares with stunning ocean views are the best way to describe Catania. They are well known for their local seafood and arancini. They make a mean espresso martini as well. Lastly, the restaurant is set on a rooftop overlooking Girard Avenue and it makes for a perfect ambiance.
George’s at the Cove ($$$)
For a special occasion dinner, George’s at the Cove is the way to go. This restaurant overlooks the cove (which is hard to come by) and serves up exquisite American cuisine. They offer a course-tasting menu as well. Finally, the best time to experience George’s is at sunset.
Downtown San Diego, Bankers Hill, + Hillcrest
Seneca is the newest hot spot in Downtown San Diego. Serving authentic Italian dishes with retro decor and the best part is? It’s located on a rooftop overlooking the San Diego waterfront. They serve table-side mozzarella and the “cacio e pepe” is life-changing. For the best experience choose to sit out on the rooftop as opposed to inside. However, if you sit inside you can peek into the kitchen and watch the chefs do their thing. The choice is yours!
Mister A’s Restaurant ($$$)
A San Diego institution with hands down the best restaurant views in San Diego. Mister A’s is situated atop the 12th floor in Bankers Hill and you are able to watch all the planes coming in as you dine. Popular menu items are steak tartare, maple leaf duck breast, and their famous truffle fries. Furthermore, they now offer a Jazz Brunch that happens on Saturdays. Offering a New Orleans-inspired menu and a live jazz band.
If I had to choose my favorite San Diego restaurant it would easily be insideOUT. This Hillcrest staple is so unique because you enter and there is an inside part of the restaurant and a beautiful courtyard and all is combined. Hence the name. They go all out on their decor throughout the year. Including a winter wonderland, spring oasis experience, and more. I have yet to visit during all the installations but am making it a goal for 2023. Pictured is the spring oasis experience ending April 30th.
Popular menu items include arancini and bolognese, and they offer a couple of vegan and vegetarian options as well. They have amazing craft cocktails as well. Finally, when the experiences are going on you absolutely need a reservation as they book up months in advance.
Step back into time with this retro-inspired small restaurant and cocktail lounge. The decor gives off major rat-pack vibes and they are well known for their famous Moscow Mule. Other popular menu items are their buffalo cauliflower wings, Starlite burger, and flatbread. My husband and I have been coming here for over 10 years and it never gets old.
Cowboy Star ($$$$)
If you’re a big fan of steak, then Cowboy Star is where it’s at for you. They are known for having the best quality meats in an intimate setting near the East Village. Some popular menu items include steak tartare, braised beef cheek, and raw oysters. Finally, have quite a few gluten-free options.
La Puerta ($$)
This local jaunt downtown Mexican restaurant serves the best flautas you will ever have. They have a great night scene as well including DJs on the weekends. Furthermore, they recently opened up a Mission Hills location that serves the same great food! Our picks are the carne asada fries and potato flautitas. Finally, my favorite part of the restaurant is that all the employees wear their favorite band tees. It’s a cute touch!
Portside Pier ($-$$$)
Portside Pier is located downtown on the harbor in San Diego. There are multiple eateries that range from casual to fine dining to choose from. The pier is a domed structure that overlooks the San Diego Bay. It’s quite stunning. I highly suggest Miguel’s and make sure to order the white queso!
- Brigantine: fine seafood
- Miguel’s: upscale Mexican restaurant
- Ketch Grill + Taps: casual lunch spot with a brewery up top
- Topsail: cocktails and small seafood plates
- Portside Coffee
Cucina Urbana ($$)
An oldie but a goodie! Cucina Urbana serves contemporary Italian dishes in a romantic setting. Popular menu items include the giant meatball, short rib pappardelle, and cacio e pepe pizza. It’s perfect for date night and is located a block away from Balboa Park. Which is the perfect way to walk off all the carbs you’re going to eat.
The Neighborhood was completely re-designed in 2021 and Consortium Holdings never disappoints! This chic retro gastropub is known for its diverse beer selection and comfort food. We had the pierogies, burger, and blooming onion and would recommend it all! Try to get here for an early dinner because this spot is happening at night. Finally, they have two speakeasies in the back, Noble Experiment, and Youngblood. It’s best to make reservations for both bars as they are tiny and book up weeks in advance.
North Park + South Park San Diego
Kindred ($$) (VEGAN PICK)
This vegan local spot is great for date night or a catch-up meal with friends. Serving a full vegan menu, craft beers, and delicious cocktails set in a whimsical bar and restaurant. Popular menu items include the egg roll burger and the fried and pickled dill slices. Finally, they have special late-night menus on the weekends as well as brunch on Sundays.
Underbelly is a staple in San Diego! Their North Park location was the pioneer however since then have opened a few locations in San Diego County. Known for its delicious ramen and Japanese comfort dishes. Each of their restaurants has a casual albeit futuristic feel. Their Little Italy location is Tokyo themed. Popular items include the Underbelly ramen bowl, beef gyoza, and bao buns.
Fortunate Son ($$)
Being from New York I have a hard time finding good Chinese food restaurants. Well, Fortunate Son is my go-to now! Their menu is simple and you can dine in or take out but whatever you do, get the crab rangoon. Other popular dishes are honey walnut shrimp, fried chicken wings, and general tso chicken. Finally, this place is smaller and tends to get packed on the weekends so book a reservation in advance.
Buona Forchetta ($$)
Most notably the most popular Italian restaurant in San Diego. Buona Forchetta has three locations but the original is located in South Park. It’s family-owned and they have strived to keep the Italian experience when dining authentic. Popular menu items are le bianche pizza (no sauce), focaccia, and tons of pasta options. Furthermore, they have some of the best gluten-free pizzas in San Diego. Lastly, the south park location only serves wine and beer as they don’t have a license to sell liquor.
Cesarina is a hidden gem located in Point Loma. This Italian restaurant has the nicest owners and delicious authentic Italian food. We highly recommend the fried zucchini, tiramisu, and lasagna. You can’t go wrong with either of those! Finally, because of its size and popularity, it’s best to make reservations here.
Go Go Amigo ($$)
This brand new restaurant is located in Liberty Station and not only is colorful and vibrant but is delicious too. Serving delicious cocktails (get the prickly pear margarita) and classic Mexican food with a fusion twist. The egg rolls and crispy chicken tacos were our favorites! Finally, it’s the perfect spot for a girl’s night out.
North County San Diego
The Waverly ($$)
The prettiest interior in all of North County goes to The Waverly. It is best known for its daytime-inspired meals (rice bowls, salads). The decor is so chic some would say the vibes are immaculate! It’s set in a strip mall but the ocean is right across the street. Finally, they have a great brunch menu.
Campfire chic is what I like to call the theme of this restaurant. Serving wood-fired American dishes that will make your mouth water. This entire restaurant has a “camp” theme and it’s such a cute concept. Popular items include grilled Maine lobster, smoked brisket, and koji-aged ribeye. Make sure to splurge on the smores for dessert. They bring you your own mini campfire to roast them and they’re so delicious!
Jeune et Jolie ($$$$)
This French imaginative restaurant is the only michelin star restaurants san diego in this guide. Serving French cuisine coupled with aesthetic decor this place is nothing but elegance. They do only offer a tasting menu of four courses starting at $105 so it’s definitely a special occasion type of restaurant. Furthermore, make sure to reserve a reservation!
Herb & Sea ($$$)
Herb + Wood’s seafood counterpart is located in Encinitas. Serving delicious seafood and shareable plates. Popular menu items include ceviche, raw oysters, and fired whole branzino. They also offer pizzas and pasta. as well. It’s the perfect spot for a date night. Do not skip out on the dessert, the lava cake was incredible.
Don’t miss my “A Local’s Guide to Coronado” for the best restaurants on Coronado Island.
New + Noteworthy San Diego Restaurants
Callie gets its name from the Greek term “the most beautiful”. This hot new restaurant is located in the East Village and opened in 2021. Chef Travis Swikard is originally from San Diego and fell in love with the flavors from Greece, Italy, etc. So all of the dishes are inspired by Mediterranean cuisine. You need a reservation for this place!
Swagyu Chop Shop & Burger ($$)
Located in Pacific Beach this Wagyu beef butcher shop and burger spot is the hottest kid on the block!
Rare Society ($$$)
This Trust Restaurant Group new restaurant is styled after the signature Rat Pack so expect all the vintage vibes. Owner Brad Wise has really made a name for himself in the San Diego restaurant scene. They’re known for their wood fire boiler, sustainable seafood, and classic cocktails. It opened in October 2021 so make a reservation!
That’s all she wrote folks! Thank you for reading my “My Ultimate San Diego Restaurants Guide for 2023” and I hope you enjoy all this city has to offer. Do you have a favorite restaurant that should be added to this list? Let me know below!
If you’re new to San Diego you can’t miss my Ultimate Guide to San Diego blog post. Finally, if you’re looking for cute coffee shops check out the Best Coffee Shops in San Diego. Enjoy America’s Finest City friends!
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