Top 15 Places to Eat and Drink in San Diego

Where to Eat in San Diego

Where to eat in San Diego
Where to eat in San Diego

Looking for where to eat in San Diego? Well you’re in luck, I love food, and I love San Diego, so I’m in a great position to help.

I moved to San Diego back in 2004 right after I graduated from college in upstate New York. After spending 4 years in Albany, New York – which really is a beautiful city…when the weather is nice, but is not as lovely when the weather isn’t as nice (which is most of the year) – I decided it was time to move West.

I grew up in New York City, and “the city” is obviously a place known for their food. When I first got to San Diego, the food here was a disappointing compared to what I was used to. However, over the years the hipsters have done well to turn things around with their craft beer, and with the craft beer came more exciting appetites. There are still some things that you can’t quite get in San Diego (like Knishes!), but in general…they’ve done well to catch up.

For those new to town, or planning to come on vacation, who are looking for where to eat in San Diego – here are some of my favorites (in no particular order)! Now, it’s important to note that some of these have been my long-time favorites, but are losing momentum with me for specific reasons which I’ll call out below, but I feel they still deserve credit because they haven’t been marked off my list just yet! I don’t have photos for all places – I guess some I’ve been too busy enjoying to take photos – but I’ll work on getting that updated as I go back!

1. South Beach Bar & Grille | Fish Tacos

If you’re looking for where to eat in San Diego, this place is #1.

I was first introduced to South Beach Bar & Grille back in 2005 by an old roommate who swore by it. Back then, South Beach was only one floor and ALWAYS packed. No matter when you went, you would have to stalk out tables to see who was leaving soon and then stake your claim on their table. My first time there, I spent time looking through the menu and was told rather directly that I would be eating tacos and not to bother with the rest of the menu (except for appetizers…we do appetizers). I have known people who have eaten other food there and enjoyed it, but when we go…it’s for their fish tacos.

I will say that over the years, their tacos have sometimes been hit or miss. Sometimes their fish can be a bit too fishy for my liking, but most of the time, it’s tender, and juicy, and delicious. Their tacos are quite large, and well-priced for what you get – and you can always add rice and beans…but I never bother with that. I’d rather get another taco.

Their Mahi taco is tops (although sometimes they run out due to seasonal issues, but they have great alternatives). It’s marinated in a teriyaki sauce, and it comes with pico, cabbage, and a white sauce. Add some of their hot sauce from the gigantic bottle on the table and you will not be disappointed. My next favorite is their Baja taco in all of its fried deliciousness. It’s gigantic. And amazing.

Over the years, South Beach expanded upstairs which helped a lot for the wait – we haven’t had to stalk tables in years – and they even expanded out onto the patio which is great considering they are the last restaurant on the street and have a wonderful view of the Ocean Beach pier. They have a great beer selection, as well as a full bar. Their Bloody Marys are pretty tasty, too!

2. Buona Forchetta | Authentic Italian

So, this is a tough one for me. I was introduced to Buona Forchetta (South park location) by a friend back in 2013 and instantly fell in love. It was moderately priced, and incredibly delicious. They were good at offering up not-on-the-menu options for the picky eaters, and their calamari is one of the best I’ve ever had. Their red sauce is tasty – not too sweet, but just about right, and they have a house wine that you can get by the carafe. They have a lovely patio outside (with heaters) and pretty much all of the wait staff are authentic Italians. It didn’t take much for this to become a favorite of mine.

For a few years, I took everyone I knew, and went as often as possible. It was such a gem!

Then…everyone else in San Diego heard about them. The wait slowly got longer, the food slowly took longer to come out, and the quality of food slowly diminished. And now they’ve expanded to a new location in Liberty Station. Sadly, my last 4 experiences (at both locations) were greatly disappointing. The food is not what it once was – although it’s still tasty. And the service is not what it once was. If you’re looking to go on a weekday, I’d say give it a try, but dinnertime on the weekends – I might say pass.

3. Splash Wine Lounge | Wine and Appetizers

This place is a great little spot is you’re not sure where to eat in San Diego. If you like wine, this place is great. The food…awesome. If you are looking to meet a nice lady, this place is perfect. Fellas (or ladies, whichever!), let me tell you – women love wine bars. Every time I’ve gone here, it’s been packed with women at happy hour. No men = no competition.

Anyway…Splash Wine Lounge is right in the middle of North Park. It’s a fairly small bar, but not too small that you feel smushed and crowded. Parking is typical North Park parking which means you may circle a few times but it’s not terrible.

The main attraction for this place is that they have stations set up where you can do your own wine tastings. You put money on a card, and you insert the card every time you want to do a tasting. It’s great for people looking to get a sense of what they like.

However, if you already know what you like – they also do wine by the glass!! And they have great happy hour deals – it’s like $5 per glass for happy hour which is lovely, and the wine is tasty.

Speaking of happy hour deals – they also have a great happy hour food menu!! Their flat breads are delicious, and their spinach artichoke dip is one of the best I’ve ever had (it’s very salty, which I love!). They have bread and cheese platters, salads, and a great variety of options – as well as a full non-happy-hour menu.

4. New York on Rye | Sandwiches

Jewish people and Italian people know how to make sandwiches. They know what’s up. A Reuben sandwich done right is probably one of my most favorite foods in the entire world.

I discovered the NYOR food truck at a festival in Solana Beach a few years ago and I was hooked. Their Reubens are so incredibly juicy and delicious my mouth is salivating as I’m writing this just thinking about it. I always get mine with pastrami, and man, do I love sauerkraut. For a long time, I would follow their food truck and try to get to them whenever they were nearby. It was a treat every time!

Accessibility can be an issue since they’re a food truck, but check their calendar online and hopefully when you’re looking for where to eat in San Diego, you can catch them around town!

5. Zen 5 Sushi | Duh, sushi

In terms of local sushi, there are 3 places I’d recommend, but Zen 5 is my Goldilocks choice. Sushi Deli is great for the cheap stuff, but they pretty much fill everything with a lot of fake crab, so it looks like they have a huge menu but it’s mostly fillers. And for quality, Sushi Ota is easily the way to go, but that’s like special occasion kinda spending, not so much “It’s Friday and I want sushi”, which is where Zen 5 comes in.

It’s in PB, which turns off a lot of people who try to avoid PB, but if you go earlier before the drunk youngins hit the bars, it’s a great option. They have a small parking lot in front with 3 spots and a handicap spot, and I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than 5 minutes looking for parking (mostly becauseI go before the crowds).

Their specials are pretty sweet – they have 50% off select appetizers every day from 4-7pm, and on Wed and Thurs they have 30% off all rolls, all day! They also have beer/sake specials, but I tend to stick with just the sake and sushi cause they’re so delicious together.

6. Crown Point Coffee | Breakfast sandwiches

This is a great super local spot in Crown Point and is a nice weekend tradition for me. It’s great to get up on the weekend and walk over for some coffee and a bagel sandwich. The place…gets…packed, and it’s totally hit or miss on whether or not you’ll beat the crowds in the morning. The staff is great though – they keep things moving along nicely, and they have a fair amount of tables that finding an open one is rarely a problem.

They have a great selection of breakfast sandwiches and pastries, and as a NY’er, their bagels suffice. They don’t put salt on their everything bagels, although most places in California don’t, and it blows my mind. They’re supposed to have EVERYTHING! They also have a great coffee selection – last weekend I had a Milky Way flavored iced coffee and it was YUM!

Their prices are great, very reasonable – and they have those puncher cards where if you order x number of coffees, you get the 10th free or something like that (don’t quote me on the number, I don’t have my card handy).

Oh, and of course you often get the day-after-hot-messes that make for GREAT people watching! (In full disclosure, I’ve been a day-after-hot-mess many a day in my life so it’s completely fair for me to make fun of those going through it now).

7. Rocky’s | Burgers

Like everyone in California, I love In&Out. Their double-double animal style burgers with raw onions instead of grilled is…just…amazing. But, it’s still fast food. So, when I’m deciding where to eat in San Diego, I like to balance this with a good local burger, and Rocky’s is exactly that.

Rocky’s is a very small bar, also in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego, but further south in Crown Point, and you’ll often have to wait to grab a table. But the burgers are worth it. Simple, no fancy fixings, just really good patties, and really good beer. The bartenders are great, the bar is cozy with plenty of TVs for watching your favorite games, and the crowds are usually well behaved and friendly.

There are plenty of other burger joints around town that will give you all sorts of poshy-toppings and special fixings, but much like pizza, I believe a burger should be simple, juicy, and delicious. Rocky’s never disappoints.

8. Bronx Pizza | Pizza

If you’re looking for where to eat in San Diego, pizza may or may not be on your list since it’s not something San Diego is particularly known for, but that’s irrelevant because who doesn’t crave pizza, regularly?

I’m a typical New Yorker who is very picky about her pizza. I don’t consider Domino’s to be “pizza”. I am also biased and don’t consider Chicago style pizza to be pizza – it’s great for what it is, but it’s more of a casserole than a pizza!

There’s authentic style Italian pizza – like what you’ll find at Buona Forchetta, and in Italy. Then there’s New York style pizza – thin crust and crispy and delicious. In San Diego, I’ve found 2 places that wouldn’t quite stand up against a true New York slice, but are the best options I’ve had in San Diego. Bronx pizza is one of those.

They have a good variety if you like to load it with toppings, but their plain cheese slices are very tasty – and my favorite. It’s usually better to order a whole pie because it comes out piping hot and greasy and so delicious, otherwise they’ll throw some slices from already-made pies into the oven which isn’t bad, it’s just not quite as fresh.

There is plenty of seating, prices are very reasonable, and parking isn’t too terrible depending on when you go. So, while deciding where to eat in San Diego, if pizza is on your list…Bronx Pizza should be as well.

9. Bongiorno’s Pizza | Also pizza

Above I said that when deciding where to eat in San Diego, there are two places that I’ve found that do a good job for pizza, and Bongiorno’s is the second – and not as well known as Bronx. I came across Bongiorno’s while working in Sorrento Valley – my company had ordered us some pizza from a random place nearby and I was very pleasantly surprised when it showed up. Sadly, that location shut down but there are two others in Poway and Solana Beach.

Again, I recommend buying a pie so that it comes out fresh, but their individual slices are great too. They even have garlic knots, which are amazing!

10. Cass Street Bar & Grille | Oriental Salad with Grilled Fish

Cass Street Bar & Grill is another Pacific Beach locale, and fun for enjoying a few beers. But what I love most about Cass Street is their oriental salad with grilled fish. I think it’s the dressing, really…it’s just the perfect mix of sweet and spicy, and they change up their choice of grilled fish, but it’s generally a nice mild white fish.

The rest of their food I can’t really speak to as you’re deciding where to eat in San Diego – I’ve ventured away from the oriental salad once before and it wasn’t anything spectacular, but they do have a nice variety of beers!

Cass Street is right down the street from Garnet, and it’s close to the beach, so sometimes parking can be a pain, but if you’re heading to the beach for the day, this is a great lunch option!

11.  Everywhere in Miramar | Beer

Along with where to eat in San Diego, we have a huge beer culture here, and it’s pretty wonderful. There are tasting rooms all around Little Italy and North Park, which are great – Hess, Ballast Point, etc. But Miramar is really the spot to go for beer tasting. But, don’t only go to the big breweries – there are a bunch of smaller gem’s, and those are usually the ones where you’ll get a bit more personalized service and they often have some very tasty beer options!

12. Aero Club – Whiskey and Scotch

This place is fantastic. Pricey, but so worth it. If you enjoy whiskey and scotch for what they are without mixers, this is the place for you. The bar staff are so knowledgeable and great at pairing you up with exactly what you’re looking for. They offer tasting flights which area really nice if you have a group and are looking to try some variety.

It’s right off the 5 (Interstate 5), technically I think it’s in Little Italy but it’s right outside of it and sits pretty much by itself. Driving by, one wouldn’t think much of the place, but inside is classy and filllllled with whatever kind of liquor you want to try. Again, it’s not for the happy hour crowd looking for discounts, but really for those who want to appreciate what they’re drinking.

13. El Dorado | Craft Cocktails

This place doesn’t look like much from the outside…okay, it doesn’t look like much on the inside either. But don’t let that fool you. These folks know what they’re doing when it comes to drinks.Their drink menu isn’t gigantic, and they change it up every so often, but if you don’t see what you want – just tell the bartender what you’re looking for, and they’ll fix you up something nice. It’s similar to Noble Experiment in downtown San Diego, but without having to secure reservations by text the week before. And for you Moscow Mule lovers – theirs are delicious! My favorite is pretty much anything with jalapeno infused tequila…yummmmmm.

If you go early, there are usually places to sit, but later on the weekends they take the chairs away from the bar, and the booths are sometimes reserved. It’s just on the outskirts of downtown, so typical downtown parking logic applies.

14. The Cravory | Dessert

If you’re looking for where to eat in San Diego, that doesn’t only have to be dinner, right?

Ever have those days where you’re like “I want a damn cookie, and I want it now”? Well I did. It was a Sunday afternoon. And all I wanted was a cookie. Thanks to Yelp, I found this lovely cookie shop nearby and it hit the spot. Not only do they have cookies, but they have LEGIT cookies. They have such a creative variety, it’s amazing. I think we paid about $12 for 6 cookies, but the cookies are pretty large and made very well. We got a lemon something, a birthday cake something, a chocolate something…really, it doesn’t even matter what I got because they give samples as you buy so that you know what you’re buying!

I didn’t even try any samples – I just jumped in head first – but there wasn’t anything that I didn’t like. Of course, there were some I liked more than the others, but there definitely wasn’t anything that I didn’t enjoy.

I took my cookies home, heated them up slightly and added some ice cream…and it was Heaven. Everyone in San Diego is always talking about Extraordinary Desserts but I’ve never really been impressed – my vote is definitely for The Cravory. However, if you’re looking for a late night snack, you may want to plan ahead because they’re not open very late – there are multiple locations, so be sure to check their site for store hours. And if you sign up for their email list, they bait you in with coupons…and who doesn’t like coupons?

15. Taste of the Himalayas | Himalayan/Indian

I was introduced to this place by a friend of mine from Egypt. There are a few locations around, so if you’re deciding where to eat in San Diego, you should be able to find one near you!  It’s great to go with a few people because then you can try a few dishes and split them all! I’ve had their Saag Aloo, their Tikka Masala, and their Vindaloo with some garlic naan and left fat and happy. Prices are very reasonable.

The Point Loma location is in a small strip-mall, but don’t let that fool you. It has a parking lot, so parking isn’t tough but the La Jolla one is a bit trickier since it’s right in the center of the village. The Hillcrest one also has a parking lot, but it’s also in a strip mall right in the center of everything, so parking can be tough. But, so well worth it – the food is just as delicious at each location!


“The only thing I like better than talking about food is eating.” – John Walters

(Disclaimer: I have NO idea who he is, but I like the way he thinks!)

 

 

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