7 Top Chefs in San Diego and Award-Winning Eateries
San Diego has arrived as a foodie destination, with the top chefs in San Diego turning out plates of beautiful, delicious food. The city now has one Michelin star and a number of celebrity chefs calling San Diego their home base.
Whether you’re seeking eateries with some renown across the country or just want to see what all the fuss is about with the well-known names in the restaurant industry, San Diego’s got it. Explore these 7 impressive eateries, some led by the best San Diego celebrity chefs.
Juniper and Ivy
Juniper and Ivy in Little Italy was opened by local celebrity Richard Blais, a familiar face on Bravo as a commentator and judge on Top Chef and a winner himself on the spinoff show, Top Chef All-Stars.
The menu here is seasonal, with a focus on locally-sourced ingredients. No matter when you visit, though, try the not-so-secret In-N-Haute Burger, a gourmet version of the fast food classic. The kitchen only makes a certain number every day, so if you’re interested, order it as soon as you’re seated.
Since opening Juniper and Ivy, Blais has gone on to begin building a San Diego empire of eateries that all offer something unique, but are just as delicious as his original pursuit.
For more casual dining, try his ode to all things chicken with The Crack Shack, also in Little Italy. You’ll know you’re there when you see the giant rooster out front, along with a spacious outdoor seating area that’s perfect for large groups.
Southern California fried chicken is on the menu here, both in platters, sandwich form, and as chicken oysters, the juicy pieces of dark meat along a chicken’s backbone. There are no reservations at this one, so you’ll need to stand in line with everyone else.
The celebrity chef’s most recent San Diego offering is Ember & Rye, an opulent steakhouse operating out of the Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad. Make reservations, as there’s a lot of buzz around this one. Save some room for dessert and the strawberry jello.Photo Credit: Juniper and Ivy / Facebook.com
The first and only San Diego Michelin star belongs to Addison in Carmel Valley. Chef William Bradley, a San Diego native and four-time James Beard Award nominee, is at the helm here, serving up French contemporary food and impeccable service.
This is peak special occasion dining. Diners should dress appropriately for a formal dinner of up to 10 courses. There is a five course option, as well, if you’re not interested in sitting through about four hours of service.
Addison is also known for their wine vault, where 12,000 different vintages from California and around the world wait to be corked. If you just want a peak at the place, you can come by for a drink in their salon.
If you’re interested in the full experience—and it’s certainly an experience rather than simply going out to dinner—make reservations well in advance. While it had always been a popular special occasion restaurant for San Diego locals, it’s now a spot for visitors, too, as everyone is wanting a taste of what the city’s only Michelin starred restaurant is serving.Photo Credit: Addison / Facebook.com
Herb & Wood
Chef Brian Malarkey is a household name in San Diego. His face is perhaps the most recognizable in the food world here. He’s been on several iterations of Top Chef, panels for the country’s top food festivals, and appearances on local and network TV as a food commentator.
Including Little Italy’s Herb & Wood, he’s opened 15 different restaurants across the country. He’s then as much a chef as a businessman, and San Diego is host to several of his unique eateries.
Animae just south of Little Italy is his luxe, Asian-inspired restaurant that adds a bit of theater to your meal in the way the food is presented. Herb & Sea in downtown Encinitas is seafood-focused, with pizza and pasta rounding out a menu of local catch.
While he’s no longer a partner at Herringbone, Malarkey was also there at the start of that La Jolla eatery, a fixture on best-of lists in San Diego.
Herb & Wood is likely his most well-known eatery in San Diego, though. The theme is wood-fired, and the flavors are Mediterranean with a California twist. Except roasted vegetables, proteins right off the grill, and a small menu of wood-fired pizzas.
No matter which Malarkey eatery you choose, reservations are recommended, as his restaurants remain a hot ticket in town.
MARKET Restaurant + Bar
MARKET Restaurant + Bar in Del Mar has numerous Zagat and food magazine shoutouts to show for its impressive cuisine. Chef Carl Schroeder is a three-time James Beard nominee at the helm of MARKET’s three-course tasting menu.
Choose a starter, entree and dessert and experience one of the best meals in San Diego. Favorite plates include their BLT salad, topped with braised bacon and avocado, and the chile relleno and corn ravioli, finished with fresh veggies. A seasonal pie is usually on the menu for dessert.
For something more casual yet still quite refined, test out their bar menu, a sushi and cocktail-focused experience that’s still a fantastic evening out.
Try rooftop sushi in the Gaslamp Quarter at Lumi, a relatively new San Diego restaurant that comes with a view and a team with an impressive resume. The team here has a deep pedigree in sushi and global cuisine, starting with restaurateur Akira Back, a partner in dozens of restaurants around the world. The executive chef is James Jung, a former sous chef at James Beard-nominated Nobu Malibu.
The menu is light and inventive. Start with their cool shared plates of seaweed salads and ceviches, sample some of the freshest nigiri in the city, and try the chef’s creative side on their menu of specialty rolls.
Their signature Lumi roll is reminiscent of a traditional rainbow roll with the addition of their house miso sauce and a daikon wrap.
Lumi is a see-and-be-seen kind of eatery. That means you should make reservations and dress to impress to have an experience that best fits the setting you’ll be in.
Jeune et Jolie
This Carlsbad eatery from acclaimed chef Eric Bost came as the result of some unfortunate circumstances. Bost, one of the most famous California chefs with national recognition, was working at Auburn, a Los Angeles restaurant that had been gathering quite a bit of buzz after a feature in GQ Magazine.
Then the pandemic hit, and despite attempts to reimagine the fine dining concept he had going there, Bost decided to switch gears.
Since Jeune et Jolie opened on the San Diego restaurant scene in 2018, the eatery has appeared in the biggest food magazines. It was also named Restaurant of the Year in 2019 by the San Diego Union-Tribune, an accolade that hopefully means Bost is here to stay for the near future.
San Diego has a wealth of options when it comes to casual eateries churning out delicious eats. Lola 55 in the East Village from executive chef Andrew Bent, a competitor on the Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay, is one of those eateries.
While it’s not a Michelin star, it was recognized with Bib Gourmand status from the Michelin guide. That means you can get impressive food here on a budget.
Choose from a taco menu that includes all of the classics and inventive spins on what you’d expect at a San Diego taco shop: charred cauliflower, fried chicken tacos and Baja style fish are fan favorites.
If you’re dining in, the experience is casual, too. Eat your tacos and sip on any one of their festive cocktails in an industrial counter-service space that will help you understand why this place has been called the Shake Shack of Mexican food.
If you’re planning a special occasion out or just want a delicious meal, there’s a reason why these top chefs in San Diego are at the top. The food they’re serving is delicious, creative and meant to impress. So make a reservation at one of San Diego’s best eateries and taste what everyone is talking about.
Written by Agnes Groonwald for Knockaround.