We’ve curated our list of the best dinner spots in San Diego. The food in California is notorious for its uniquely global cuisine and culinary talent, each restaurant and chef upholding their own style and expertise, making it one of the most food-forward places in the world. The restaurants in San Diego live up to these renowned standards and give way to some of the best foods we’ve ever had.
Food is not the only focus in this modest city, but interior design, architecture and attention to detail are unlike anywhere else. We’ve created this list from the best tastes we’ve had but also accounted for atmosphere and style.
The gastronomic neighborhood of San Diego
JUNIPER & IVY
Constantly evolving menu from celebrity chef Richard Blais. The food here is delicate and unique, with flavors meant to be slowly enjoyed just like your experience there. Fish and other high-end meats are the top selections here for one of the best dinner spots in San Diego.
MENU: New American
ATMOSPHERE: Loud, fancy, woodsy
ORDER THIS: Short Rib & Cheddar Arancini
Quaint, cozy and a replica of a pasta shop off the streets of Italy. You can feel the Italian roots seeping from the walls here. With a contemporary approach to classic Italian dishes, your options range from scratch-made pasta to Vegan entreés. This one is ranked among the top Vegan restaurants in San Diego.
ATMOSPHERE: Cozy, intimate, perfect date night spot
ORDER THIS: Any of their scratch-made pastas
Mainly an Asian fare, a la carte style with craft cocktails. Kettner Exchange offers an eclectic atmosphere with modern cabanas, buzzy vibes, a superior rooftop, and a cozy interior.
ATMOSPHERE: Vibrant, youthful, good for group night out or boozy brunch
ORDER THESE SMALL PLATES: Spicy Shrimp, Spicy Tuna Crisp Rice, Duck Meatball and the Pig Mac Bao
CLOAK AND PETAL
Japanese tapas and craft cocktails are the specialties here. Cloak & Petal transports you to the world of Tokyo, eluding to the streets and style of its roots.
ATMOSPHERE: Lively, sophisticated, alluring
ORDER THIS ROLL: Face It, You’re Basic
HERB & WOOD
Rustic meets upscale, Herb & Wood emphasizes wood-fired dishes from executive chefs providing decades of culinary expertise. The meals provoke conversation and enjoyment, a dining experience with the total package.
MENU: New American
ATMOSPHERE: Lively, formal, fancy, buzzy for breakfast, lunch and dinner
ORDER THIS: the menu changes often, but their Gnocchi is on a continuous rotation of unique flavors and can’t be recommended enough
Lively and modern, Barbusa is the upbeat version of the quaint and charming Civico 1845. The pasta options here are handmade and delicate, with flavors unique to Sicily bringing you to one of our top Italian spots for dinner in San Diego.
ATMOSPHERE: Lively, loud, great for groups
ORDER THIS: Carbonara Con Piselli
BORN & RAISED
Straight out of the Gatsby era, the luxurious, timeless interior of this steakhouse primes you for the level of detail you’ll see in the cuisine. From fur covered seats to a spacious, airy rooftop you will be enjoying the scenes just as much as your high-end steak and cocktail.
HOW TO ORDER: Pick your flank, from Classic Filets to Dry-Aged T-Bones, then pick your add-on or cooking preference – options include Oscar-Style, Butter Poached Lobster, Truffles or Blue Cheese Crusted, to name a few. Choose your sauce and choose your extra, at just $10 pick from Dirty Hashbrowns, Onion Rings, Roasted Cauliflower, Mac + Cheese and many more.
OTHER SIDE OF THE PASTURE RECO: If a steak isn’t your route, there are some options from “The Other Side of the Pasture”. This menu changes frequently but the sample menu item I recommend is the Cook Pigs Dry-Aged Pork with pumpkin and brussels sprouts.
This dinner spot in San Diego tops the charts for a vibrant atmosphere made for a group night out. A high-class version of a sports bar. Grab your crowd and settle in for a night of craft cocktails, wood-fired pizzas, shuffleboard and more.
MENU: New American
ATMOSPHERE: Vibrant, youthful, late night or daytime sips
ORDER THIS: Shrimp Scampi Pizza
Young and vibrant with attention to the newest food trends
New for 2019, Siamo Napoli comes from Italian restaurant extraordinaire Flavio Piromallo, a well-known executive in the Italian restaurant community, helping out with multiple shops like Civico 1845 in Little Italy. The restaurant pays tribute to his home in Italy, bringing authentic flavors from Naples right to your plate.
ATMOSPHERE: Lively, eclectic, fun
ORDER THIS: Sorrento Style Gnocchi or any of their wood-fired pizzas
Bringing the flavors of New Orleans to the streets of California, this popular spot is conveniently situated on Louisiana Street. A modern interpretation of a classic French Quarter restaurant, bringing you a contemporary old-time-y atmosphere. The food options here are heavy in seafood, just what you’d expect at the classic place its inspired by.
MENU: New Orleans
ATMOSPHERE: Cozy, lively, all-day spot
ORDER THIS: Dragos
SODA & SWINE
Casual dining with an order at the counter approach, this humble and cozy joint offers incredible build-your-own sliders. If you are looking for a casual night with really good food and a craft cocktail after (Polite Provisions), this is your place.
MENU: Old School Italian
ATMOSPHERE: Youthful, casual, late night scene
LOCATIONS: North Park, UCSD, Liberty Station
ORDER THIS: A la Carte Ball – three sliders of your choice. Be sure to include the Bahn Mi.
Known as the ONLY 5-star sushi restaurant in San Diego, Soichi is a spot you shouldn’t miss out on if you admire mastered sushi. Reservations are strongly advised, this is an intimate spot with just a 12-seat bar. The menu is a la carte with some of the freshest fish options around. Soichi is one of the only dinner spots in San Diego for an experience as unique as this.
ATMOSPHERE: Intimate, formal
ORDER THIS: Chilean Sea Bass
California coastal cuisine and inventive seafood dishes brought to you by a top chef across California (hint, hint: Herb & Wood). Remodeled from an old warehouse, Herringbone is an upscale experience focusing on foods that are locally sourced and freshly caught.
ATMOSPHERE: Lively, formal, breakfast lunch and dinner
ORDER THIS: Stone Crab Cake
Italian, yet again. Are you grasping that we are huge Italian food fans? This airy, modern space offers expansive ocean views and a relaxed interior. Catania offers Italian cuisine that is fused with a coastal Californian emphasis. Classic coal-fired pizzas round out the menu at this relaxed delight.
MENU: Coastal Italian
ATMOSPHERE: Family friendly, charming, modest, sunset spot
ORDER THIS: Bucatini Alla’ Amatriciana
ENCINITAS / CARDIFF / DEL MAR
HERB & SEA
Herb & Sea is the sister counterpart to the well-established, highly acclaimed Herb & Wood Restaurant in Little Italy. The food here is locally sourced from farms in the North County of San Diego, with an ingredient-centric menu.
MENU: Coastal California
ATMOSPHERE: Relaxed, casual, good for breakfast, lunch and dinner
ORDER THIS: Seared Scallops
The Waverly is Matt Spencer’s, the genius behind Kettner Exchange, newest establishment emphasizing Progressive American cuisine at this all-day cafe. With European influence, the aesthetic here is as good as the food and its oceanside location.
MENU: Progressive American with European Influence
ATMOSPHERE: Lively, modern
ORDER THIS: Lunch: The Waverly Sandwich; Dinner: The Belgian Endive Salad and the Spring Vegetable Agnolotti
JEUNE ET JOLIE
Named as one of Esquire’s Best Restaurants in America in 2019. Jeune et Jolie is describes itself as “an intimate 80-seat restaurant inspired by the unpretentious sophistication characteristic of French nouvelle cuisine, Jeune et Jolie embraces an approach to cooking where quality is revered, lighter ingredients are manipulated to produce rich and bold flavors, and keen attention is paid to presentation. With delicious, responsibly sourced products, we aim to reimagine French food through the vibrant lens of our Southern Californian landscape.” – Jeune et Jolie
MENU: French with Californian nods
ATMOSPHERE: Intimate, cozy, upscale, patio
ORDER THIS: Un – Madeleine, Deux – Betterave, Trois – Coquille
Campfire is a community locale with living passion in its name; the idea of gathering together around a fire, sharing stories, sipping spirits and celebrating honest food. All food here is wood-fire, offering some of the most unique flavors you could imagine.
MENU: New American
ATMOSPHERE: Buzzy, lively, fun, family-oriented, emphasis on togetherness, indoor/outdoor seating
ORDER THIS: Scallops. OR, if your group is interested in a surprise, do the Camp Feast where the kitchen will do the cooking and decision making for you
MUST HAVE: Yes, We Have S’mores
Casero Taqueria is a Baja-inspired, community focused restaurant located in North County San Diego. The contemporary spot was created with dedication to Mexican heritage, bringing the roots of Baja California Sur to Carlsbad. With a chef-inspired menu, the modern style mixed with traditional Mexican cuisine makes this place a zesty experience for your taste buds. The aesthetic here is trendy and hip with nods to classic Mexican textiles and decor.
ATMOSPHERE: Lively, modern, rooftop and patio seating
SPIRIT RECO: Mezcal Flight or the Casero Margarita
ORDER THIS: Your go-to taco trio
The Henry is a new, charming add to the food scene on the quaint island of Coronado. Located just a few blocks from the water, the lively eatery brings in the crowds for some of the best drinks, dinner, café eats and coffee on the island. The menu focuses on a variety of global fares, with the most modern approach to food.
MENU: New American
ATMOSPHERE: Lively, sophisticated, relaxed, great for breakfast and dinner
LOCATIONS: Coronado, LA, Dallas, Phoenix
ORDER THIS: Korean Skirt Steak
SEREA COASTAL CUISINE at Hotel Del
MENU: Coastal California
ATMOSPHERE: Modern, fancy, youthful
ORDER THIS: Freshly caught filet of the day
LIONFISH AT THE PENDRY
Located within the 5-star Pendry Hotel, Lionfish focuses modern coastal cuisine with fresh-catch flavor and delicacy. Although there is a variety of fresh options, Executive Chef Jojo Ruiz continues to make each item innovative and focused. We also selected this one for its cozy, inviting interior, one that makes you want to settle in for the night.
MENU: Coastal / Seafood
ATMOSPHERE: Formal, lively, dinner only
LOCATION: East Village / Gas Lamp
ORDER THIS: Too many options, go with your go-to sushi or fish preference
PROVISIONAL KITCHEN AT THE PENDRY
Also located at the Pendry, Provisional Kitchen is a restaurant-marketplace hybrid specializing in New American cuisine in a loungey, rustic setting. Set within a greenhouse, the open space bistro welcomes an exquisite dining experience. The food is classic, with modern twists and homegrown ingredients. This is a perfect dinner spot in San Diego but is also great for brunch, coffee or just hanging out.
MENU: New American
ATMOSPHERE: Relaxed, buzzy
ORDER THIS: Pizza ala Benno, if you go on a Sunday try the Cacio E Pepe prepared table-side.
We like to throw in casual, order at the counter style restaurants too, and this is one of the top spots for that kind of dining in the East Village. Lola 55 has a loungey interior offering a cozy space to enjoy craft cocktails and gourmet tacos.
ATMOSPHERE: Vibrant, casual
ORDER THIS: Mesquite Chicken Taco
Serving scratch made Italian cuisine with contemporary flavors and locally grown ingredients in the heart of San Diego’s East Village. Monzú focuses on fresh pasta and keeps its fare as close to its roots as possible. Transport yourself to the Neapolitan past for the night and excite the tastebuds with Southern Italy’s heritage.
ATMOSPHERE: Relaxed, cozy, chill
ORDER THIS: Gnocchetti Sardi + Scallops
Modern rooftop restaurant in the heart of Gaslamp, the Rustic Root features local, seasonal cuisine and craft cocktails in contemporary, rustic surrounds. The rooftop is a stylish place to sip cocktails for a relaxed evening out.
MENU: New American
ATMOSPHERE: Lively, youthful, rooftop
ORDER THIS: Lobster Pappardelle
The heritage of Mexico
Bringing modern design and style to the historic Mexican roots of San Diego. Old Town has focused on timeless Mexican specialties for more than 50 years. Tahona is where contemporary restaurant style meets authentic Mexican cuisine. The Mezcal focused Mexican cantina showcases Mexico’s culinary capital of Oaxaca.
ATMOSPHERE: Cozy, zestful, lively
ORDER THIS: Mix + match tacos, Soft Shell Crab is highly recommended
POINT LOMA / LIBERTY STATION
With a menu that is constantly evolving, executive chef Patrick Money focuses on handmade fresh pasta, combining heritage Italian-style cooking with regional produce and other thoughtfully sourced ingredients.
ATMOSPHERE: Quaint, modest, relaxed
LOCATION: Point Loma
ORDER THIS: Customizable pasta – pick your noodle, sauce, ingredients, you name it and it’s yours.
Bali Hai is a classic to San Diegoans, my dad recommended this place from his days in San Diego back in the 70’s. Specializing in a classic Polynesian experience, Bali Hai is iconic and famous for its Mai Tai’s, with an added bonus of bay views and phenomenal, relaxed seafood entreés.
ATMOSPHERE: Timeless, classic, lively
ORDER THIS: Orange Lobster