San Diego is a city that has —over the years—been influenced by different cultures and turned into a melting pot in the true sense of the term. As such, when I talk about the food scene in San Diego I am not exaggerating when I say one is spoiled for choice! The food scene San Diego is a coming together of Mexican, Italian, American, French, Japanese and Chinese cuisines, just to name a few. Curating a list of the best restaurants in San Diego for you to choose from on your visit is no easy task!
You might find this list of restaurants in San Diego leaning a little more towards Mexican food – there are a lot of Mexican eateries in San Diego. And they are more than just good. In fact, San Diego is said to have some of the best Mexican restaurants and for good reason! Mexico is right next door. And the country on the southern border once owned present-day San Diego.
1. Las Cuatro Milpas
Las Cuatro Milpas is a local favorite that is often recommended to tourists who are looking for authentic Mexican food. The menu is not a very lengthy one but the portions and the taste make up for it. The lines are long, but orders of rolled tacos served with cheese and sour cream, pork tacos, tamales and chorizo with rice and beans are going to make you think the wait was worth it. This eatery is also known for its fresh handmade tortillas made on-site. Make sure you carry cash to Las Cuatro Milpas. (They close at 3pm and are closed Sundays.)
2. La Puerta
If you are in Gaslamp Quarter, you might want to get your Mexican food fix here. La Puerta is known for its Street Food style dishes, its tacos and margaritas, its energy & happy hours. Some drinks you might want to try: Bark at the Moon, Lotta Love Margarita, Mango Margarita & Purple Haze!
3. Lucha Libre Taco Shop
You can find much more than a taco at the Lucha Libre Taco Shop! There are more than a couple of these restaurants in and around the city, but the Mexican-wrestling theme decor of this restaurant makes them stand out. The thing to try at this ‘taco shop’ is the TJ Dog, which is a beef dog with bacon, onions and peppers.
4. Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
Fresh seafood is readily available in San Diego. When you are in this southern Californian city and want to have some seafood Mexican-style, remember the name ‘Oscar’s Seafood.’ Oscar’s Seafood is another of those small Mexican food chains in these parts and the chain’s Pacific Beach branch might be the most preferred location. Octopus, fish tacos and the ceviche served here are some the reasons people make repeat visits to this restaurant.
5. El Indio Mexican Restaurant
This Mexican restaurant is liked by locals and visitors for the spread it offers, the size of the portions, the prices, parking facilities and its location. El Indio is family owned and seems to date back to the World War days when it started operations as a tortilla factory. This eatery on India Street also claims to have conceived the idea of taquitos, making it a fun addition to the best restaurants in San Diego.
6. Great Maple
Moving on to American Food in San Diego, one of the local favorites is Great Maple. Their extensive brunch menu is very popular. So is their house special — maple bacon donuts. Great Maple specializes in taking classic American dishes and adding a fun twist to them!
The place to go for a juicy burger, onion rings and some beer is definitely Hodad’s. Hodad’s is a local chain known to have been in the food business since the late 1960s.
8. Kettner Exchange
Kettner Exchange is another fine place to dine at. Dine at the rooftop cabanas and you will be treated to bay and harbor views. Or you can chose to eat at the Chef’s table, which is a monthly opportunity. The Chef’s table — which requires prior bookings — is in the kitchen and comes with a 5-course meal and wine pairing.
As for the food in general, Kettner Exchange is modern American in the sense that the items on the menu bear global influences giving diners a very interesting choice of food. And they come in small and large plates, giving diners more to choose from.
9. Bona Porchetta
For decent and authentic Italian food, a great option is Buona Forchetta. From the pizzas to pastas and everything in between, each dish comes with a Naples signature on it. The service here is also much-liked.
10. Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa in San Diego’s Little Italy is a pleasant family owned restaurant with a fairly good spread of dishes and a deli on the side. It carries a great old-world charm. Mona Lisa’s list of sandwiches is also much liked.
11. Civico 1845
If you are vegan and would like some Italian food, Civico 1845 has a menu that caters to your needs. This eatery is situated in Little Italy.
12. Au Revoir French Bistro
Au Revoir French Bistro on Robinson Avenue has been seeing happy customers for a while now with it’s delicious French food and drinks. Plus, this bistro has such warm and welcoming vibes!
For a quintessential French fine-dining experience in San Diego, Addison just might be the restaurant. This Michelin star restaurant has won accolades for its meals and service. It is also praised for its wine-pairings, presentation of food and service.
14. Sushi Otta
For fresh, authentic sushi and sake, head to Sushi Otta on Mission Bay Drive. Situated in a strip mall, Sushi Otta might have limited parking but the food more than makes up for it. Their Sashimi and Uni are highly recommended and their service is well appreciated.
15. Spicy City Chinese Restaurant
If you want some heat on your tongue and are into Chinese cuisine, give Spicy City a try. They have not-so-spicy dishes too on their menu. Their specialty: authentic Sichuan cooking. It is a fairly popular place and can be crowded, so go prepared for a bit of a wait to eat here. You can order online and do take out if you want to avoid the wait!
16. Tasty Pot
Interested in Hot Pot restaurants? If yes, Tasty Pot on Convoy Street is a great option. They offer small bowls, as well as a couple of larger sized ones, & unlimited broth. The line-up of ingredients you can pick for your pot is also pretty extensive. Be warned that it might take you some time to find some parking at the plaza or around it.