In the food stakes, San Diego has the best of all worlds. With influences from all over the globe, coupled with its ridiculously reliable sunny weather, international al fresco dining is a year-round thing here. But to narrow it down, here are our top 7 unforgettable dining experiences in San Diego, CA.
Of all the places in the USA we’ve visited, it’s been San Diego that’s had most of our time. This means we’ve really been able to explore the ins and outs of what this sleepy yet vibrant California city puts on its plate.
From Chicago-style pizza to authentic Indian curry, we’ve sampled as much as we can here. But the following is a list of 7 great dining experiences in San Diego that you can’t miss.
7 unforgettable dining experiences in San Diego, CA
1. Mexican in Old Town
If you’re after a true taste of how Southern California does Mexican food, you have to go to Old Town. It’s a bit touristy, but there’s always a great vibe here. And you’ll find that plenty of locals come here for a feed too.
Anywhere down the main street – San Diego Avenue – will serve you classic US-Mex, but here are our recommendations:
Fred’s Mexican Café, Miguel’s Cocina, Café Coyote and Old Town Mexican Café. And for saloon dining, try Los Locos Bar & Grill.
Great for: groups or for a boisterous night out.
2. Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar, India St, Little Italy
Ironside has an amazing seafood menu, which is surprisingly hard to find considering this is a harbour city. This expansive industrial style restaurant does great cocktails and the deep fried oyster poboy is absolutely sensational.
Great lunch option though I bet dinner here is even better. Perfect for a night with your loved one.
3. Phil’s BBQ, Sports Arena Blvd, Midway District
If you’re looking for Texan style barbecue, Phil’s BBQ is the only way. Our friend Steph from LipstickAndCake.com raved about this place so much we just had to try it. It’s epically awesome and awesomely epic. Big big serves, so go there hungry.
Top tip: if you’re a newcomer to Phil’s, make sure you get a newbie sticker at the entrance. The counter staff will be kinder to you.
Ideal for fun with friends and an evening of elasticated waistbands. No matter how well you eat ribs, this is a messy meal.
4. Barefoot Bar and Grill, Paradise Point Resort, Mission Bay
With views out over the bay, this little eatery is a waterfront wonder. I wish I could come here for lunch and dinner all the time.
It’s so peaceful yet the food and drinks are excellent.
It’s part of a holiday resort but it doesn’t feel overly touristy or fake – even when you’re standing on the little footbridge over a manmade lagoon that’s teaming with fish.
This place is perfect for a long ‘wet’ lunch.
5. Cucina Urbana, Laurel St, Bankers Hill
As close to the city without heading into the Gaslamp Quarter, which can be a bit overwhelming, Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill is sophisticated, slick and very impressive.
Of all the meals we’ve eaten in San Diego, this has been the most refined.
Great for special occasions and amazing for a romantic night out.
6. Draft, Mission Beach giant nachos and wings
There are bars and restaurants all the way along the beachfront boulevard, which continues all the way up to Pacific Beach.
Go to Draft for the view, of course, but also for the delicious Buffalo wings and the mountainous shredded beef nachos. A plate of each will fill 4 people easily. When we ordered that nachos, 3 of us ate as much as we could and it didn’t look like we’d even started it. By the way, this was only $16!
Thank goodness for doggy bags!
Great for a hungry beachside lunch with friends.
Stone Brewery has grown from a small craft beer movement to international fame for a very good reason: their beer is excellent.
And if you want food, you’re also in the right place. Their Liberty Station location has indoor dining in the form of a table service beer hall restaurant. Outside is a huge oasis, replete with a central water feature, fire pit and 20-metre-long bar.
Get a tasting flight of beers and anything from the menu. The assorted sausage plate and the beef lettuce cups we tried were excellent.
Great for a casual date night or an awesome catch-up with friends.
Extra tip: El Camino, India Street, Little Italy
A food wrap of San Diego just isn’t right without mentioning El Camino. Hidden away on a corner in Little Italy, the vibe of this place is addictive.
It’s incredibly popular with the locals, so tables are always loaded – especially on Taco Tuesdays – but it’s worth it.
Just so you know, El Camino is right under the flight path of San Diego Airport, but it’s part of its charm that you can almost reach up and touch the planes as they go over.
If you want more information on SoCal, here’s our first-timer’s guide to San Diego, California and here are some of our other posts on San Diego, CA. Hope they’re useful.
Do you have any hot tips for food choices in San Diego or SoCal? Where do you go for your Mexican hit? Tell us in the comments!