San Diego is one U.S. city in particular where diverse cultures collide and create an extremely interesting culinary scene. Forward-thinking tacos, Asian fusion, hometown American classics, farm-to-table buffets, and humble, sun-bleached seaside shops where everyone is on a first-name basis — you can find it all in San Diego. This certainly isn’t the most exhaustive list, but if you’re looking for some quick insight into some of the best restaurants “America’s Finest City” has to offer, check out our list below.
Menya Ultra, Kearny Mesa
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, you’ve probably noticed the massive wave of specialty ramen restaurants in cities all around the country. A steaming bowl of meat, vegetables, noodles and spices allows for endless interpretation and enjoyment. Menya Ultra is consistently rated as one of the best restaurants — let alone ramen restaurants — in the entire city. All of the ingredients here are made fresh in-house. They don’t take reservations and there’s really no “good” time to go, so just be prepared for the well-deserved line.
Campfire is perhaps San Diego’s frontrunner in the category of progressive cuisine. As the name suggests, this restaurant has incorporated a uniquely outdoorsy vibe and stands as an example of what backpacking food could look like in 200 years. Some standouts of the menu include roasted broccoli, whole-grilled fish, and the pretty sizeable list of cocktails. It’s an ambiance that can fit a family outing or date night.
The Crack Shack, Little Italy & Encinitas
This chicken and egg-focused spot specialize in casual eats with a huge patio that’s perfect for a day or a night out with friends. Although the branding is a bit confusing — the name and massive rooster statue may have you believe it’s a breakfast joint — they specialize in sandwiches, fresh fare, and desserts. Our most prudent advice would be to order the fried chicken and slather it with a generous amount of one of the house-made sauces.
Herb and Wood, Downtown
The high hangar ceilings, low lighting, worn wood aesthetic and well-thought dishes all combine to make this one of San Diego’s best spots for a night out. It has a kind of artisan market vibe with counter service and a special night-time menu. The cocktail game is strong, and as the name suggests, the wood-fired pizzas are to die for.
Board & Brew, Del Mar
Down at the low end of the pretension spectrum lies this humble beachside sandwich joint that’s been a staple of North County San Diego surf culture for decades. Board & Brew sticks to what it does best: turkey sandwiches with bacon and avocado, chicken clubs with jack cheese on a French baguette, a signature sauce and craft beers. Here you’ll find rowdy high schoolers on their lunch breaks, shoeless customers and the tile sprinkled with sand. This is how San Diego does sandwiches.
Sushi Ota, Pacific Beach
With the dizzying number of delicious sushi places in San Diego, selecting a #1 is only asking for trouble. That being said, sushi only seems divisive when the rolls are modern, ambitious, and doused in eyebrow-raising sauces. Nobody can really complain about fresh fish and rice. Sushi Ota is for the purist, no-frills patron seeking good quality fish at a reasonable price. Don’t write this place off because it’s located in a strip mall, and make sure you book well in advance.
City Tacos, North Park
Much like the sushi situation, it could genuinely take years to get an accurate and honest report on the best tacos in San Diego. And even then it would be up for interpretation. City Tacos in North Park has a well-rounded menu, manageable prices, and some stand-out gems. The puerco agridulce, for example, involves pork, a sour demi-glace, avocado pulp, fresh serrano peppers, cilantro, and crispy rice noodles. Tortillas are made in-house which makes things taste that bit better.