10 San Diego Meals Worth Dining Out For
As restrictions ease around San Diego, locals and visitors alike are finding themselves craving a dining out scene that has been on a relative pause over the last year.
Check out 10 meals around the city that are special for being iconic, representative of the city’s diversity or just plain delicious. This is the best food in San Diego, and the meals worth dining out for.
1. Hidden Fish: Omakase
Omakase requires you to be a more adventurous eater, as it translates from Japanese to “I’ll leave it up to you.” You are essentially trusting your sushi chef to choose your progression of bites, much like you would at a tasting menu. At Hidden Fish on Convoy Street, the experience is timed over 90 minutes. Over the course of those 90 minutes, you will be treated to 18 of the best bites of sushi you’ll likely ever taste.
If you have room for more or don’t want to spring for the omakase—it is expensive, but certainly worth the cost—Hidden Fish also has an a la carte sushi menu where you have more control over what you order.
Don’t show up at Hidden Fish without a reservation, as bookings are made two hours apart to account for some buffer time in between experiences.
2. Farmer’s Table: Grilled Octopus
Farmer’s Table is all about the freshest, local ingredients, as their tagline is “farm-to-fork.” The background of this eatery is Sicilian, but you’ll find the focus is more on seasonality here, making it one of the best places to eat in San Diego. A standby on the menu no matter the time of year is their octopus dish, an acquired taste only for those who haven’t had it prepared like this.
The vegetable and sauce toppings vary by the season, but the octopus here is always grilled to make sure every bite is a tender one. If you’re not feeling quite so adventurous, Farmer’s Table serves dishes to suit all tastes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their flatbreads will likely be a hit at your table to matter the time of day.
There are a few locations around the city, including La Mesa, Bay Park, Chula Vista and Little Italy. The Little Italy location offers access to some great people-watching while you’re dining outside on their patio.
3. Lolita’s: The California Burrito
Move over, avocado toast. San Diegans like to indulge, and it doesn’t get more indulgent than the California burrito. One of the best-known versions of the burrito, stuffed with carne asada and french fries, is at Lolita’s Mexican Food. It’s a spot that’s popular among surfers after a long morning out catching waves.
The menu here is extensive, so if you don’t think you can handle that burrito, you have lots to choose from. Locals love their rolled tacos, local corn tortillas fried and stuffed with your choice of filling, and their traditional taco menu. You can try their carne asada in a single taco if you’d like, or go a bit more unique with their mashed potato and cotija cheese version.
4. Animae: All Fusion Everything
The San Diego dining scene has become known for playful takes on traditional genres. Animae, from celebrity chef and restaurateur Brian Malarkey, is a little bit of California cuisine with a lot of Asian influence. Think bao buns with a beet glaze, beef carpaccio drizzled in a ginger sauce and pork chop katsu in a Japanese apple curry.
The menu at Animae includes cold and hot appetizers, large entree plates that you’ll want to share and the eatery’s steak program. Wagyu beef, the renowned Japanese beef brand found in fine steakhouses, is the star there.
The restaurant is known for its inventive cocktails, as well, many of which feature those Asian ingredients found elsewhere. Thai basil, ginger and Sichuan pepper can all be found on the cocktail menu.
5. La Puerta: Street Tacos
San Diego’s proximity to the Mexican border offers one very obvious perk. The city boasts some of the best Mexican food you’ll find in not only Southern California, but anywhere in the state. La Puerta in the city’s Gaslamp Quarter is a staple for Mexican favorites in a modern setting, making it the best place to eat in San Diego for many.
Mix and match with a plate of the classics; the carne asada, pastor or carnitas are never a bad call. If you’re looking for something a bit more unique, La Puerta has a handful of gourmet tacos with upgraded ingredients that you’d expect from an eatery downtown. The surf ‘n turf taco on that menu is a local favorite.
The eatery is also well-known for its tequila program, with over 100 varieties at their bar served in everything from their house margaritas to specialty cocktails that mix the liquor with fresh fruit, sodas, even their homemade banana syrup. La Puerta knows how to serve up a well-rounded meal.
6. Breakfast Republic: Brunch
San Diegans love their brunch, and Breakfast Republic is one of the city’s most beloved spots for a mid-morning meal whether you’re after sweet or savory. If you’re looking for something sweet, their french toast is of the decadent variety. Can’t decide? Try the sampler and choose three from their menu, including the Mr. Presley, a peanut butter-stuffed toast that is obviously topped with bacon.
Savory brunch fans will have their curiosity piqued by the mashed potato omelette. It doesn't sound like it should work, fluffy eggs stuffed with cheesy potatoes and bacon, but it truly does. Keep in mind that portions are generous, so you’ll likely be taking some brunch home with you even if you’re sharing, and that french toast sampler described above is for two people to start.
The brunch chain continues to expand with several locations in and around the city, including North Park, Liberty Station, Encinitas, East Village, Ocean Beach, Carmel Valley, Pacific Beach and Mission Valley. You’ve got options. Expect a wait if you’re there on the weekend.
7. Bonchon: Bao Buns
Bonchon arrived onto the San Diego dining scene to much anticipation. The global fried chicken chain was founded in South Korea, topping foodie lists of the best chicken wings the world over. Since then, Bonchon fans have discovered that there is more to this place than their signature fried chicken.
That’s not saying you visit here without sampling the chicken, though. It’s delicious. Make your order half-and-half, by the way, so that you can try both of their in-house sauce styles.
The appetizer menu is stellar, too, though. Try the pork buns if you’d like to taste their unique take on Korean food for yourself. They come drizzled in a katsu sauce that is sweet and salty at the same time, making each bite of your bao bun a perfect one.
Photo Credit: Agnes Groonwald
8. Extraordinary Desserts: The Fanciest Dessert in the Case
Visiting Extraordinary Desserts is an experience, and it’ll make you regret every time you didn’t save room for dessert after dinner. As the desserts here are rotating and can change by the season, the key here is to take a look into that dessert case and pick the fanciest, prettiest dessert available.
You’ll typically find coconut creams, chocolate tortes and their signature carrot cake, but you’ll also find desserts that match the season. In the springtime, expect lemon ricotta cakes and treats layered with fresh fruit and light mousses.
Extraordinary Desserts isn’t only a must eat in San Diego. It’s a great place to pick up gifts for special occasions, too, as they sell packaged chocolates, cookie dough and candies on top of treats best served on site. There are two locations, one in Little Italy and another in Bankers Hill.
9. The Original 40 Brewing Company: Upgraded Beer Snacks
It wouldn’t be a list of the best food in San Diego without a nod to the city’s craft beer scene. There are so many breweries to choose from, but if you’re looking for a meal worth dining out for alongside your pint, The Original 40 Brewing Company offers some of the best charcuterie boards the city has to offer.
If you’re looking for something more substantial, their flatbreads feature the freshest ingredients—think roasted beets, braised short ribs and buffalo mozzarella—and their flat iron steak entree comes drizzled with a chimichurri sauce.
Really, try anything off the menu but do so with one of their flagship beers. Their Honey Blonde featuring notes of orange blossom is perfect for patio dining in the warmer months.
10. Little Italy Mercato: The Best Farmers Market
You’re not dining out in the traditional sense when you visit the Little Italy Mercato, but you’ll find yourself quite full after a visit there regardless. It isn’t only about taking home the best that San Diego’s local vendors have to offer, but sampling the prepared items and food trucks that make their way to the market every weekend. Find anything from fresh sea urchin served straight out of its spiny shell to breakfast burritos for the less adventurous to fresh fruit smoothies to wash it all down with.
The Little Italy Mercato is held every Saturday from 8am-2pm. As an essential service over the course of the last year, the market is well-versed in following social distancing and mask requirements to keep visitors safe to taste and support local vendors.
Is your mouth watering? Try one of these delicious San Diego eateries for your next meal out to see why these meals are worth dining out for.
Written by Agnes Groonwald for Knockaround.