San Diego Must Eats List

I am often getting queries for recommendations of where to eat when visiting San Diego. For more than a year, I’ve had a goal of putting together a San Diego Dining Guide for visitors, and now, with the help of Expedia Viewfinder, here it is.

Regional Specialties

There are two dishes that San Diego is especially well known for: fish tacos and California burritos. These dishes are widely available and easy to find, but here are some of the top places to eat them at.

Fish Tacos

Pacific Beach Fish Shop– With no freezers on-site, fresh fish is brought in daily. You can choose from a variety of seasonings and preparations, but definitely make sure to try their award winning TKO Fish Taco:a  grilled mahi mahi, flavored with their special Fish Shop seasoning and topped with a refreshing tropical salsa.

Website; 1775 Garnet Ave, San Diego CA 92109

Tip: They have a dedicated to-go orders phone line in case you don’t want to fight the crowds (858-483-4746).

South Beach Bar & Grille– Another local favorite, try their epic-sized grilled marinated mahi mahi or battered pollack fish tacos. As an added bonus, it offers an amazing view of Ocean Beach.

Website5059 Newport Ave San Diego, CA 92107

Oscar’s Mexican Seafood– There’s quite a few fish taco offerings here, including battered, grilled and smoked variations. My favorite is the surf and turf combination. Make sure to use the trio of sauces on your table, as it brings the experience to a whole new level.

Website; Three locations: 705 Turquoise St, San Diego, CA 92109; 746 Emerald St, San Diego, CA 92109; 646 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103

California Burrito

You may be wondering what exactly a California burrito is. It’s a local specialty that exists mainly in San Diego and a few other parts of Southern California. It consists of a flour tortilla stuffed with carne asada, cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream, and french fries. You’ll find it on the menu of nearly every Mexican taco shop in San Diego.

Lucha Libre– The oversized California burrito is kicked up a notch with their secret chipotle sauce. They are most famous for their Surfin’ California burrito which adds plump shrimp to the classic. It’s their most popular item, even earning a feature on Man v. Food. While you’re there, make sure to check out the complimentary salsa bar which has 9 varieties of dipping sauces to go with your burrito or the tortilla chips that come with your order.

Website; Two locations: 1810 W. Washington Street, San DiegoCA 92110; Petco Park San DiegoCA 92101

Tip: If you have a party of 4 or less, try to reserve a seat at their Champion’s Booth. Decked out in gold, sit here and be treated like a champion. The restaurant is self-serve but if you sit here, food is brought out and chips are refilled for you.

Super Sergio’s Mexican Food– What makes the burritos here so special is the use of thin-cut fries, which are still crisp when you bite into your burrito. All the ingredients are well portioned and the carne asada has just the right amount of seasoning. As an added bonus, this taco shop is open 24 hours.

Multiple locations but the most consistent quality is the Kearny Mesa one: 4125 Convoy St; San Diego, CA 92111

Brunch

With its nearly year-round sunny weather, close proximity to the ocean, and laid-back atmosphere, San Diegans love a relaxing brunch on the weekends. You’ll find that nearly every restaurant offers a special brunch menu, often complete with unlimited mimosas and other cocktail specials.

Cafe21– Their popular brunch has an extensive menu, including everything from crepes to cast iron skillet omelets. For drinks, they offer half a dozen different house-made sangrias daily, multiple champagne cocktails and other drink specialties.

Website; Two locations: 802 Fifth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101; 2736 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116

Tip: Visit the downtown location. It has more ample seating and it’s also a great spot for people viewing.

Snooze, an A.M. Eatery– Whether you want a pancake flight with flavors like red velvet or pineapple upside down cake, or you prefer a savory eggs benedict, Snooze has them all. The vibrant colored restaurant will immediately wake you up with the energy of the staff and tasty offerings.

Website; Two locations: 3940 Fifth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103; 3435 Del Mar Heights Road, San Diego, CA 92130

Tip: Neither location takes reservations and wait times can be 1+ hours. Your best bet is the newer Del Mar location, which tends to be less crowded than the original San Diego spot.

Jake’s Del Mar– For a more elegant brunch, complete with an ocean view, check out Jake’s Del Mar. Brunch is only served Sundays and afterwards you can take a stroll on the beach to burn off those calories.

Website1660 Coast Boulevard, Del Mar, CA 92014

Ocean View Dining

Surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, you should definitely experience at least one ocean view meal during your stay in San Diego.

Jake’s Del Mar– Situated right on the sand, the restaurant’s floor to ceiling windows offers an unobstructed view of the beach and waves. Afterwards, you can walk around back to take a stroll on the beach.

Website1660 Coast Boulevard, Del Mar, CA 92014

George’s at the Cove – Perched directly across from La Jolla Cove, this is a prime spot for ocean viewing. The tri-level spot actually offers several dining experiences. For a more casual experience, dine at Ocean Terrance which is located on the rooftop with an unobstructed view of the water. For an elegant, fine dining experience, make a reservation at California Modern and request for a table next to the windows.

Website; 1250 Prospect Street, La Jolla, CA 92037

The Marine Room– Near La Jolla Shores beach, the restaurant offers a beautiful view of the ocean from any table in the house. The restaurant rests so precariously close to the water than during high tide season, waves will literally crash onto the windows.

Website; 2000 Spindrift Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037 

Local Favorites

If you want to eat like a San Diegan, here are some of the most popular local hangouts that you should add to your dining itinerary.

Hodad’s– Featured on a number of television shows including Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, their signature burger features a crispy bacon patty that sits on top of their juicy burger patty, and is loaded with tomatoes, onions, pickles and lettuce. Come in with a hearty appetite.

Website; Three locations: 5010 Newport Ave, Ocean Beach CA 92107; 945 Broadway, San Diego CA 92101; Petco Park San Diego CA 92101

Tip: The downtown Broadway location tends to be less crowded. 

Carnitas’ Snack Shack– Named after the owners’ pet pig, this restaurant offers an ever-rotating menu with a big emphasis on pork. A must-try is the Pork Belly App, a generous slab of tender braised pork belly cooked in a sweet chili sauce.

Website; Two locations: 2632 University Avenue San Diego, CA 92104; 12873 El Camino Real, Suite M4, San Diego, CA 92130

Tip: The newer Carmel Valley location (El Camino Real) has a much bigger space and better parking too.

Phil’s BBQ– While there is debate as to whether this is authentic BBQ, there is no denying the restaurant’s overwhelming popularity. In 2013, it was the second most reviewed business on Yelp in the country. Its tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs are brushed with their top secret BBQ sauce. Also make sure to check out their mammoth-sized onion rings.

Website; Locations: 3750 Sports Arena Blvd, San Diego, CA 92110; 579 Grand Avenue, San Marcos, CA 92078; 9816 Mission Gorge Rd., Santee, CA 92071; San Diego Airport Terminal 2

Tip: Visit the newer San Marcos or Santee locations for much shorter wait times.

To further research your trip to San Diego, be sure to check out Expedia Viewfinder San Diego, which shares highlights of the best attractions in San Diego.

Disclaimer: This guide is presented in partnership with Expedia. However, all content and opinions expressed are my own.

8 comments on “San Diego Must Eats List”

  1. Thank you! Now I know where to eat when I visit San Diego.

  2. Love this round-up! I actually haven’t been to any of the “Ocean-View Dining” ones yet, definitely going to try hitting those up for 2015 =)

  3. I’m always wary of “Best of San Diego” lists, but this is a pretty solid list. Good job!

    • whew thanks! I was really worried about how people would feel about this list. But I just tried to stick with where I feel my friends need to go when they visit, where I take them, what people hear about before they come to SD, etc. I know it’s not everything, but I was trying my best to include the highlights

  4. perfect timing! my friend is visiting soon and asked me for recs. I sent her the link to this post. I actually had already suggested some of the places on here based on your posts.

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