Global Guide: 10 Must-Try Restaurants in San DiegoBy Angelica Malin
Looking for the best restaurants in San Diego? The search ends here. San Diego is a beautiful, big city, with the charm of a much smaller one. It is known for its weather and beaches, and, sure, great food has not always been on the city’s allure, but all that is changing. San Diego is home to some fantastic must-try eats, and a SD local for years, I spend my life exploring the city’s food offerings, tasting everything from sushi to Mexican along the way. Organized from South to North, here’s my top picks for delicious food in San Diego:
Oceanaire is my favourite fish restaurant in San Diego. Seafood fine dining at its best. Immaculate service and quality and they have awesome oysters that are $2 on happy hour all week and $1 happy hour on Sunday. The oyster bar is perfect for a bite and drink with friends and the dining room is melt in your mouth fresh fish for dinner. It is a little on the pricier side, but worth it for a great meal.
Expect Spanish tapas with culinary fusion – this is one of my regular spots. Bracero has my favourite cocktail menu in town. If you often look at the drinks menu and think everything on here is boring or too sweet, you will love this place. It has the most creative, tasty, not overly sweet drinks, running the gamut of spirits; Mescal to Vodka. Please try the Javier Wallbanger. What’s more, Bracero has wonderful share plates; my favourites are Albacore two ways and the house guacamole is so good. The crispy niman ranch pork belly and the “esquites” street style corn are awesome. Great spot to meet up with friends. Ask for a table upstairs on the balcony.
This is not a restaurant. This is a progressive food experience. Juniper & Ivy do a great job of providing amazing, unique food with a focus on deconstruction and reconstruction. This is a fun sharing-style restaurant – visiting with a group of 3 or more friends is fun, so you can try more plates. The deviled eggs (recreated), the oysters with dry-iced horseradish, and the toast are the beginning of a great meal. This is the kind of place you could go multiple times and never eat the same meal. Don’t forget the great drinks – The Gibson is my favourite.
Herb & Wood is an amazing new restaurant in San Diego. Not sure how it took me months to try this place for the first time, but I will be going back soon. Herb & Wood menu is organized by type of food rather than courses, which encourages sharing. They cook all their dishes over wood fire rather than oven and the flavours are wonderful. The cauliflower is awesome, you must try it.
Oh Blue Bohème… Just happens to be my top French restaurant in San Diego. From the moment you walk in, it feels old world. Their menu changes with the freshest ingredients and keeps it true to the traditional preparations. Currently the escargots and New York steak tartare are a great way to start a dinner. The Foie Gras is also delicious, and you can’t go wrong with duck confit at a true French restaurant. What’s more, their wine list is enjoyably authentic. If you love French food this restaurant hasn’t disappointed yet.
When you visit San Diego, you have to get down with the local fare. Fish tacos are the best San Diego food experience. There are many place that have good ones and some claim to be the best, but after 15 years in SD, I still think South Beach is the place. The wahoo and swordfish tacos are my favourite. The drinks at South Beach could not be stronger and cheaper at the same time. If the food and drink is not enough, you can sit and watch the ocean.
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood is known for the fish tacos. Unlike South Beach, Oscar’s is not a restaurant bar. It is a walk up order, and get fantastic seafood spot. The ceviche are tacos are worth the trip. If you are looking for a good beach day, head to Pacific beach and stop into Oscar’s for lunch.
There is no San Diego top restaurant list that can skip Sushi Ota. It has been a staple of San Diego cuisine for a long time. Chef Ota has built a reputation for highest quality fish, impeccable sushi art, and amazing consistency. Sushi Ota is hidden behind a 7-11 and a planned parenthood, but it is worth finding. Highly recommend a reservation every day of the week. It books out at least 5-10 days before. You might be the only non-Japanese patron as this restaurant because it has an amazing reputation and customer following. If you have the time and are open mind, just order omakase and you cant go wrong. They also seasonally have great amaebi.
Beautiful Italian with a La Jolla view of the ocean. One block back from prospect street on the third floor, Catania is a diamond in the rough. What it lacks in a traditional looking Italian restaurant it makes up for in quality and flavours. All pastas are made in house and are fantastic. These chefs are always working on new dishes. If you happen to be there in the afternoon, sometimes you are lucky enough to taste the latest creations. The two dishes that I order every time are the Beef Carpaccio and the smoked duck liver moose. The carpaccio is only on the lunch menu but they will make it at night. The duck liver moose in insane, just try it. They also have a wonderful mixologist for barters. My suggestion would be to let the bartenders know what you like and they will create you something wonderful.
Just like the San Diego fish tacos, who comes to San Diego and doesn’t want some Mexican food. Despite the fact it is not fine dining, Fidel’s is my pick for traditional Mexican meal. It offers great chips and salsa along with great traditional enchiladas and fajitas. Must have at least one Cadillac margarita.
San Diego has always been America’s finest city, but now has the cuisine to back up the weather, beaches, and friendly people. On the tour of the States, it will stand out in your memory.
See our vegan San Diego food guide here. All photo credits belong to the restaurants. Words by Matthew Goldstone.