For a smaller city, San Diego does not disappoint when it comes to delicious food. It is known for its fish tacos, along with fresh seafood in all forms, and the best Mexican food north of the border. There’s also a thriving microbrewery scene, authentic Italian food, and a decent array of Asian restaurants (check out Convoy Street for a great selection). Here are a few places to eat in San Diego that are worth checking out.
The Taco Stand
For a quintessential San Diego moment head to the La Jolla outpost, where you can eat tacos on the worn wooden tables out front, watching locals drop-by with their surfboards hanging out the back of their trucks to pick up a post-surf snack. Fresh fish tacos are solid here, but don’t overlook the carne asada or cactus if you want to go veggie. Make sure to pick up some freshly-made churros for dessert. Be prepared for a line, especially if you get there around lunchtime or later. There are other branches around the city in Downtown, North Park, and one further up the coast in Encinitas.
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
This is an equally good taco spot that focuses mostly on seafood fillings, including battered fish and shrimp, grilled octopus, and surf and turf (skirt steak and shrimp) tacos. Best of all the fish tacos are light and not overly battered. The branch in Pacific Beach on Turquoise Street is my favorite location, since it always seems less crowded and has outdoor seating (with a pretty mural to boot). One taco is pretty filling and makes for the perfect in-between lunch and dinner snack. There are other locations around the city including another one in Pacific Beach, Hillcrest, and East Village.
If you are craving something sweet and decedent, head over to this dessert emporium, where each treat is a work of art. There is usually a long line and it’s pricey, but believe me it’s worth it. Their cakes are the highlight, but they also have plenty of other desserts like lemon squares, mango custard, and raspberry strawberry bread pudding if you’re not a cake fan. There’s also an array of beverages including hot chocolate to warm up with, and savory offerings in the form of sandwiches, soups, and salads. Two branches are located in the city: one in Banker’s Hill (with slightly better parking) and one in Little Italy.
Bread and Cie
Confession: I’m not a fan of going out to brunch. I hate the long lines, and paying for food I can easily make at home, but this casual brunch spot is an exception. The cafe is order at the counter-style and usually doesn’t have a long line even on weekends. My go-to order is the salmon plate with plenty of veggies and freshly baked bread. There is also an excellent selection of sandwiches, like the mozzarella sandwich that makes for a great mid-day meal. If you’re crave something sweet, there are plenty of mouthwatering baked goods that you can choose from on your way to the cashier. Free parking in the back for one hour.
Mona Lisa Italian Foods
This old-school Italian restaurant/deli located in Little Italy is a great place to go for a solid sub. I cannot speak to the actual restaurant itself (though I’ve heard good things about their pizza). The deli has everything you could ever want from homemade pastas, fresh cheeses, imported dried goods, and an assortment of made-to-order sandwiches (that you can easily split between two people) at a great price. For parking, there’s a small lot in front of the restaurant/deli and if you come during the weekday/slow times you can easily snag a spot in this notoriously hard-to-park neighborhood.
Get transported to Italy in this Little Italy cafe where the signs are mostly in Italian, and there is a wide variety of paninis, including a smoked salmon sandwich that I order over and over again. For dessert, there are lots of delicious options, but the creamy gelato is a must with flavors like nutella, pistachio, and chocolate orange spice. Don’t forget to grab a few cookies for the road. There are numerous branches around the city, including a cozy branch in Hillcrest, as well as one in Kensington, and further north in Carmel Valley.
A few years ago I was looking for a sushi spot for my birthday dinner while I was in town, and this restaurant was exactly what I had in mind: a lively, stylish interior, fresh ingredients and a reasonable price range. There is a wide selection of inventive (try the r u kidding me? roll with snow crab, scallops, and tempura asparagus) and classic rolls, as well as a chef’s 7-course omakase if you want to get fancy. If you’re lucky, you can snag a seat in their cozy outdoor patio. Reservations are highly recommended, since they can get quite busy during dinnertime.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company
San Diego is famous for its microbreweries and this one in Little Italy has excellent brews and food. Stop by for the happy hour (Monday-Friday 3-6pm) which offers $5 beer, bites, and flights. Order the flight of beer samplers if you want to try four different beers. It’s the perfect spot to bring large groups, though the service can get a bit scattered later in the night when it gets busy. There are various branches around the city and greater San Diego area, including one in La Jolla, and a tasting room/beer garden in Bay Ho.