San Diego is probably my favorite city in California that I’ve visited thus far because it has a grounded and humble attitude that is harder to find in other parts of the state. But, it also has an incredible restaurant and culinary scene that won’t break the bank while also giving you amazing quality and variety.
I have visited San Diego a couple of times in recent years, since a close friend of mine now lives there. Each time I visit, I eat better and better! This city really does have an excellent food scene, ranging from delicious coffee and excellent tacos to the full fine dining experience at celebrity chef eateries!
Here are 11 of my favorite San Diego restaurants, sorted by meal, that all foodies should try while traveling in California!
Breakfast and Coffee
Breakfast Republic — 2730 University Ave
As the name implies, Breakfast Republic is a breakfast only restaurant that serves up a seriously delicious plate of California brunch cuisine. They have a beautiful patio in their Normal Heights location to match their delectable menu, which is divided up into breakfast classic sections like benedicts, scrambles, omelets, pancakes and French toasts. I opted for a benedict (as I almost always do) and it was perfectly cooked!
Looking to get some caffeine in San Diego? Check out my Instagrammable coffee shop guide for San Diego!
Nomad Donuts — 3102 University Ave
Whenever something has nomad in the name, consider me interested, but that is especially true when paired with doughnuts! Nomad Donuts is a minimalist shop and a local favorite thanks to their high-quality and creative doughnuts. With intriguing and ever changing flavors, Nomad offers a mix of cake, yeast and stuffed donuts, as well as seasonal varieties. I really, really enjoyed my chai spice cruller when I was there, and I would happily return to this doughnut spot when I revisit San Diego!
The Donut Bar — 631 B St
Where Nomad Donuts is quiet, no-nonsense affair, the Donut Bar is the complete opposite. Their oversized, over-the-top donuts and flashy design attract a lot of attention. They’ve won lots of accolades, which draws big crowds to their Gaslamp location. Their donuts are ideal for Instagram with crazy shapes like unicorns or with elaborate toppings. Almost all of their donuts are classic yeast doughnuts, which personally isn’t my favorite, but they have some pretty delicious flavors. The serving size is large, so you probably don’t need to get more than 2.
Crack Shack — 2266 Kettner Blvd
Just across the street from Richard Blais’s fine dining location is the Crack Shack, his foray into casual comfort food. This is a fun spot to hang out, thanks to their bouche court and massive patio, as well as close proximity to the San Diego Airport. Planes fly in every 15 minutes or so directly over the patio, which is super loud but very fun to watch! The Crack Shack menu is pretty straightforward — chicken and eggs. There is the option for chicken sandwiches, plain fried chicken, and sides, all of which are messy and delightful. You order at the counter, where there is often a line, and then sit down to wait for your food.
It’s Raw Poke Shop — 4991 Newport Ave A
This no-frills poke shop is just off the main drag in Ocean Beach and feels more like a market counter or butcher shop than a restaurant. I think there is one table. You’ll want to take your poke to go and eat at the beach! What is great about this place is that it is the real deal. It is all fresh fish and good sauce, with none of the extravagant toppings that drive up the price of poke. It is simple and perfect.
Werewolf — 627 Fourth Ave
Located in the heart of the Gaslamp district, this is one of the few non-chain restaurants in the area that offers a great lunch (or brunch!) along with a killer tap list. Their classic American fare comes in big portions so come hungry! Lunch features favorites like burgers, sandwiches while their brunch, which is served until 3pm, has more local hits like chilaquiles and a breakfast burrito. Their tasty breakfast balls (hush puppies) are a rich addition that is worth the extra calories!
Wondering where all the tacos are? I wrote a separate food guide all about the quintessential taco joints to try in San Diego!
Searsucker — 611 Fifth Ave
This breezy, corner restaurant in the heart of the Gaslamp district takes California farm-to-table cuisine and bumps it up to a 10. Their limited menu changes regularly, featuring whatever is fresh and in-season. They have a great happy hour drink and food list, as well as a classy dinner in a perfect environment. I had their kale Caesar salad and tuna sashimi, both of which were delightful!
Ironside Fish & Oyster — 1654 India St
The Art Deco styling of this Little Italy restaurant are top-notch. It is a stunning restaurant that is worth popping into for a look, even if you aren’t planning to eat there. Seafood is their best seller and they prepare it to perfection. As an oyster lover myself, I couldn’t turn down their great happy hour special on oysters and cocktails.
Juniper & Ivy — 2228 Kettner Blvd
As a big fan of “Top Chef” I have been wanting to try Chef Richard Blais’s food for a long time. He is one of my favorite contestants from the show and Juniper & Ivy is his most famous restaurant. This upscale New American eatery offers inventive and experimental dishes featuring a variety of unique ingredients. Their menu is largely small plates, so it’s fun to come with 4 or more people so you can try a lot of things. A few highlights from my visit were the tuna tartare, arrancini and fresh pasta, but the menu changes frequently. Their knowledgeable and approachable staff gave us great tips of what to order, so don’t hesitate to ask!
Born and Raised — 1909 India St
The beautiful interior of Born & Raised is opulent and extravagant. It feels like you walked onto the set of the Great Gatsby with mirrored walls, Art Deco decor and black satin interiors. When you look at the vintage inspired menu, it all comes together in one pricey but delicious package. I love the cohesive and stylish design of this place and the food backs it up. Their menu reads like a traditional steakhouse but done to perfection with a delicious assortment of sides.
Kettner Exchange — 2001 Kettner Blvd
This stylish nightlife spot in Little Italy just feels cool. The decor is dark and warm, with interesting artistic elements such as a poem staircase and central “tree.” I came here for cocktails after a light dinner, and wound up staying for late-night food! Their cocktail menu is top-notch and I loved my mezcal margarita which was on special at the time. I also sampled the crunchy tacos, featuring a fried wonton shell with marinated raw tuna and salmon topped with a spicy aioli and sprout salad.
Need help planning your trip to San Diego? Check out my 3 day travel itinerary for San Diego for all of my favorite spots in this perfect California city!