Our Guide to the Best Dinner Spots in San Diego, California

dinner in san diego

We’ve curated our list of the best dinner spots in San Diego. The food in California is notorious for its uniquely global cuisine and culinary talent, each restaurant and chef upholding their own style and expertise, making it one of the most food-forward places in the world. The restaurants in San Diego live up to these renowned standards and give way to some of the best foods we’ve ever had.

Not only is food a focus in this modest city, but interior design, architecture and attention to detail are unlike anywhere else. We’ve created this list from the best tastes we’ve had but also accounted for atmosphere and style.

 


LITTLE ITALY

The gastronomic neighborhood of San Diego

JUNIPER & IVY

Constantly evolving menu from celebrity chef Richard Blais. The food here is delicate and unique, with flavors meant to be slowly enjoyed just like your experience there. Fish and other high-end meats are the top selections here for one of the best dinner spots in San Diego.

PRICE: $$$

MENU: New American

ATMOSPHERE: Loud, fancy, woodsy

ORDER THIS: Short Rib & Cheddar Arancini

 

CIVICO 1845

Quaint, cozy and a replica of a pasta shop off the streets of Italy. You can feel the Italian roots seeping from the walls here. With a contemporary approach to classic Italian dishes, your options range from scratch-made pasta to Vegan entreés. This one is ranked among the top Vegan restaurants in San Diego.

PRICE: $$

MENU: Italian

ATMOSPHERE: Cozy, intimate, perfect date night spot

ORDER THIS: Any of their scratch-made pastas

 

KETTNER EXCHANGE

dinner in san diego

Mainly an Asian fare, a la carte style with craft cocktails. Kettner Exchange offers an eclectic atmosphere with modern cabanas, buzzy vibes, a superior rooftop, and a cozy interior.

PRICE: $$$

MENU: Global

ATMOSPHERE: Vibrant, youthful, good for group night out or boozy brunch

ORDER THESE SMALL PLATES: Spicy Shrimp, Spicy Tuna Crisp Rice, Duck Meatball and the Pig Mac Bao

 

CLOAK AND PETAL

dinner in san diego

Japanese tapas and craft cocktails are the specialties here. Cloak & Petal transports you to the world of Tokyo, eluding to the streets and style of its roots.

PRICE: $$$

MENU: Japanese

ATMOSPHERE: Lively, sophisticated, alluring

ORDER THIS ROLL: Face It, You’re Basic

 

HERB & WOOD

Rustic meets upscale, Herb & Wood emphasizes wood-fired dishes from executive chefs providing decades of culinary expertise. The meals provoke conversation and enjoyment, a dining experience with the total package.

PRICE: $$$

MENU: New American

ATMOSPHERE: Lively, formal, fancy, buzzy for breakfast, lunch and dinner

ORDER THIS: the menu changes often, but their Gnocchi is on a continuous rotation of unique flavors and can’t be recommended enough

 

BARBUSA

Lively and modern, Barbusa is the upbeat version of the quaint and charming Civico 1845. The pasta options here are handmade and delicate, with flavors unique to Sicily bringing you to one of our top Italian spots for dinner in San Diego.

PRICE: $$

MENU: Sicilian

ATMOSPHERE: Lively, loud, great for groups

ORDER THIS: Carbonara Con Piselli

 

BORN & RAISED

dinner in san diego

Straight out of the Gatsby era, the luxurious, timeless interior of this steakhouse primes you for the level of detail you’ll see in the cuisine. From fur covered seats to a spacious, airy rooftop you will be enjoying the scenes just as much as your high-end steak and cocktail.

PRICE: $$$$

MENU: Steakhouse

HOW TO ORDER: Pick your flank, from Classic Filets to Dry-Aged T-Bones, then pick your add-on or cooking preference – options include Oscar-Style, Butter Poached Lobster, Truffles or Blue Cheese Crusted, to name a few. Choose your sauce and choose your extra, at just $10 pick from Dirty Hashbrowns, Onion Rings, Roasted Cauliflower, Mac + Cheese and many more.

OTHER SIDE OF THE PASTURE RECO: If a steak isn’t your route, there are some options from “The Other Side of the Pasture”. This menu changes frequently but the sample menu item I recommend is the Cook Pigs Dry-Aged Pork with pumpkin and brussels sprouts.

 

NOLITA HALL

This dinner spot in San Diego tops the charts for a vibrant atmosphere made for a group night out. A high-class version of a sports bar. Grab your crowd and settle in for a night of craft cocktails, wood-fired pizzas, shuffleboard and more.

PRICE: $$

MENU: New American

ATMOSPHERE: Vibrant, youthful, late night or daytime sips

ORDER THIS: Shrimp Scampi Pizza

 


NORTH PARK

Young and vibrant with attention to the newest food trends

 

SIAMO NAPOLI

dinner in san diego
Photo from Eater

New for 2019, Siamo Napoli comes from Italian restaurant extraordinaire Flavio Piromallo, a well-known executive in the Italian restaurant community, helping out with multiple shops like Civico 1845 in Little Italy. The restaurant pays tribute to his home in Italy, bringing authentic flavors from Naples right to your plate.

PRICE: $$

MENU: Italian

ATMOSPHERE: Lively, eclectic, fun

ORDER THIS: Sorrento Style Gnocchi or any of their wood-fired pizzas

 

LOUISIANA PURCHASE

dinner in san diego

Bringing the flavors of New Orleans to the streets of California, this popular spot is conveniently situated on Louisiana Street. A modern interpretation of a classic French Quarter restaurant, bringing you a contemporary old-time-y atmosphere. The food options here are heavy in seafood, just what you’d expect at the classic place its inspired by.

PRICE: $$$

MENU: New Orleans

ATMOSPHERE: Cozy, lively, all-day spot

ORDER THIS: Dragos

 

SODA & SWINE

dinner in san diego
Photo from Eater

Casual dining with an order at the counter approach, this humble and cozy joint offers incredible build-your-own sliders. If you are looking for a casual night with really good food and a craft cocktail after (Polite Provisions), this is your place.

PRICE: $

MENU: Old School Italian

ATMOSPHERE: Youthful, casual, late night scene

LOCATIONS: North Park, UCSD, Liberty Station

ORDER THIS: A la Carte Ball  – three sliders of your choice. Be sure to include the Bahn Mi.

 

SOICHI 

dinner in san diego
Photo from Eater

Known as the ONLY 5-star sushi restaurant in San Diego, Soichi is a spot you shouldn’t miss out on if you admire mastered sushi. Reservations are strongly advised, this is an intimate spot with just a 12-seat bar. The menu is a la carte with some of the freshest fish options around. Soichi is one of the only dinner spots in San Diego for an experience as unique as this.

PRICE: $$

MENU: Sushi

ATMOSPHERE: Intimate, formal

ORDER THIS: Chilean Sea Bass

 

RARE SOCIETY

dinner in san diego
Photo from Eater

New in 2019, Rare Society brings a contemporary steakhouse to North Park. The vibe is from the Mad Men era with food following a similar suit. Menu items are heavy in meat, with beef entreés topping the charts.

PRICE: $$

MENU: Steakhouse

ATMOSPHERE: Lively, modestly upscale, great for celebrations

ORDER THIS: 8oz Denver Australian Wagyu

 


LA JOLLA

HERRINGBONE

dinner in san diego
Photo by Eater

California coastal cuisine and inventive seafood dishes brought to you by a top chef across California (hint, hint: Herb & Wood). Remodeled from an old warehouse, Herringbone is an upscale experience focusing on foods that are locally sourced and freshly caught.

PRICE: $$$

MENU: Californian

ATMOSPHERE: Lively, formal, breakfast lunch and dinner

ORDER THIS: Stone Crab Cake

 

CATANIA

Italian, yet again. Are you grasping that we are huge Italian food fans? This airy, modern space offers expansive ocean views and a relaxed interior. Catania offers Italian cuisine that is fused with a coastal Californian emphasis. Classic coal-fired pizzas round out the menu at this relaxed delight.

PRICE: $$$

MENU: Coastal Italian

ATMOSPHERE: Family friendly, charming, modest, sunset spot

ORDER THIS: Shrimp Risotto

 

WHISKNLADLE

Brought to you by Chef Ryan Johnston, this restaurant is awarded for its creative take on California coastal cuisine and its partnerships with local farms. Elevated comfort food with respected ingredients for a uniquely coastal style dinner in San Diego.

PRICE: $$$

MENU: New American Bistro

ATMOSPHERE: Relaxed, casual, good for breakfast, lunch and dinner

ORDER THIS: Seared Scallops

ENCINITAS

HERB & SEA 

Herb & Sea is the sister counterpart to the well-established, highly acclaimed Herb & Wood Restaurant in Little Italy. The food here is locally sourced from farms in the North County of San Diego, with an ingredient-centric menu.

PRICE: $$$

MENU: Coastal California

ATMOSPHERE: Relaxed, casual, good for breakfast, lunch and dinner

ORDER THIS: Seared Scallops


CARLSBAD

JEUNE ET JOLIE

Named as one of Esquire’s Best Restaurants in America in 2019. Jeune et Jolie is describes itself as “an intimate 80-seat restaurant inspired by the unpretentious sophistication characteristic of French nouvelle cuisine, Jeune et Jolie embraces an approach to cooking where quality is revered, lighter ingredients are manipulated to produce rich and bold flavors, and keen attention is paid to presentation. With delicious, responsibly sourced products, we aim to reimagine French food through the vibrant lens of our Southern Californian landscape.” – Jeune et Jolie

PRICE: $$$

MENU: French with Californian nods

ATMOSPHERE: Intimate, cozy, upscale, patio

ORDER THIS: Un – Madeleine, Deux – Betterave, Trois – Coquille

CAMPFIRE 

Campfire is a community locale with living passion in its name; the idea of gathering together around a fire, sharing stories, sipping spirits and celebrating honest food. All food here is wood-fire, offering some of the most unique flavors you could imagine.

 

PRICE: $$$

MENU: New American

ATMOSPHERE: Buzzy, lively, fun, family-oriented, emphasis on togetherness, indoor/outdoor seating

ORDER THIS: Scallops. OR, if your group is interested in a surprise, do the Camp Feast where the kitchen will do the cooking and decision making for you

MUST HAVE: Yes, We Have S’mores

 

CASERO TAQUERIA

Casero Taqueria is a Baja-inspired, community focused restaurant located in North County San Diego. The contemporary spot was created with dedication to Mexican heritage, bringing the roots of Baja California Sur to Carlsbad. With a chef-inspired menu, the modern style mixed with traditional Mexican cuisine makes this place a zesty experience for your taste buds. The aesthetic here is trendy and hip with nods to classic Mexican textiles and decor.

PRICE: $$

MENU: Mexican

ATMOSPHERE: Lively, modern, rooftop and patio seating

SPIRIT RECO: Mezcal Flight or the Casero Margarita

ORDER THIS: Your go-to taco trio


CORONADO

THE HENRY

The Henry is a new, charming add to the food scene on the quaint island of Coronado. Located just a few blocks from the water, the lively eatery brings in the crowds for some of the best drinks, dinner, café eats and coffee on the island. The menu focuses on a variety of global fares, with the most modern approach to food we see in restaurants today.

PRICE: $$$

MENU: New American

ATMOSPHERE: Lively, sophisticated, relaxed, great for breakfast and dinner

LOCATIONS: Coronado, LA, Dallas, Phoenix

ORDER THIS: Korean Skirt Steak


EAST VILLAGE

LIONFISH AT THE PENDRY

dinner in san diego

Located within the 5-star Pendry Hotel, Lionfish focuses modern coastal cuisine with fresh-catch flavor and delicacy. Although there is a variety of fresh options, Executive Chef Jojo Ruiz continues to make each item innovative and focused. We also selected this one for its cozy, inviting interior, one that makes you want to settle in for the night.

PRICE: $$$

MENU: Coastal / Seafood

ATMOSPHERE: Formal, lively, dinner only

LOCATION: East Village / Gas Lamp

ORDER THIS: Too many options, go with your go-to sushi or fish preference

 

PROVISIONAL KITCHEN AT THE PENDRY 

Also located at the Pendry, Provisional Kitchen is a restaurant-marketplace hybrid specializing in New American cuisine in a loungey, rustic setting. Set within a greenhouse, the open space bistro welcomes an exquisite dining experience. The food is classic, with modern twists and homegrown ingredients. This is a perfect dinner spot in San Diego but is also great for brunch, coffee or just hanging out.

PRICE: $$

MENU: New American

ATMOSPHERE: Relaxed, buzzy

ORDER THIS: Pizza ala Benno, if you go on a Sunday try the Cacio E Pepe prepared table-side.

 

LOLA 55

We like to throw in casual, order at the counter style restaurants too, and this is one of the top spots for that kind of dining in the East Village. Lola 55 has a loungey interior offering a cozy space to enjoy craft cocktails and gourmet tacos.

PRICE: $

MENU: Mexican

ATMOSPHERE: Vibrant, casual

ORDER THIS: Mesquite Chicken Taco

 

MONZÚ

Serving scratch made Italian cuisine with contemporary flavors and locally grown ingredients in the heart of San Diego’s East Village. Monzú focuses on fresh pasta and keeps its fare as close to its roots as possible. Transport yourself to the Neapolitan past for the night and excite the tastebuds with Southern Italy’s heritage.

PRICE: $$

MENU: Neapolitan

ATMOSPHERE: Relaxed, cozy, chill

ORDER THIS: Gnocchetti Sardi + Scallops


GASLAMP DISTRICT

RUSTIC ROOT

Modern rooftop restaurant in the hear of Gaslamp, the Rustic Root features local, seasonal cuisine and craft cocktails in contemporary, rustic surrounds. The rooftop is a stylish place to sip cocktails for a relaxed evening out.

PRICE: $$

MENU: New American

ATMOSPHERE: Lively, youthful, rooftop

ORDER THIS: Lobster Pappardelle

 


OLD TOWN

The heritage of Mexico

TAHONA 

Bringing modern design and style to the historic Mexican roots of San Diego. Old Town has focused on timeless Mexican specialties for more than 50 years. Tahona is where contemporary restaurant style meets authentic Mexican cuisine. The Mezcal focused Mexican cantina showcases Mexico’s culinary capital of Oaxaca.

PRICE: $$

;MENU: Mexican

ATMOSPHERE: Cozy, zestful, lively

ORDER THIS: Mix + match tacos, Soft Shell Crab is highly recommended


POINT LOMA / LIBERTY STATION

CESARINA

With a menu that is constantly evolving, executive chef Patrick Money focuses on handmade fresh pasta, combining heritage Italian-style cooking with regional produce and other thoughtfully sourced ingredients.

PRICE: $$$

MENU: Italian

ATMOSPHERE: Quaint, modest, relaxed

LOCATION: Liberty Station

ORDER THIS: Customizable pasta – pick your noodle, sauce, ingredients, you name it and it’s yours.

 

BALI HAI

Photo from Eater

Bali Hai is a classic to San Diegoans, my dad recommended this place from his days in San Diego back in the 70’s. Specializing in a classic Polynesian experience, Bali Hai is iconic and famous for its Mai Tai’s, with an added bonus of bay views and phenomenal, relaxed seafood entreés.

PRICE: $$

MENU: Polynesian

ATMOSPHERE: Timeless, classic, lively

ORDER THIS: Orange Lobster


MISSION BEACH / PACIFIC BEACH

TIDAL

Perched on the shores of Mission Bay, Tidal is cozy and relaxed with superior surrounds. The food is aligned on that relaxed approach, with a menu emphasizing California-style seafood entreés and craft cocktails.

PRICE: $$$

MENU: Seafood

ATMOSPHERE: Formal, relaxed, intimate

ORDER THIS: Lava Salt Crust Diver Scallops

 

Also check out San Diego’s Convoy Street. Considered Asian Row, this street has some of the top Asian culinary scenes in the US.