Three local food bloggers share their favorite San Diego restaurants, cafés and bars, plus tips about these spots that only the locals know.
We love travel. And when we travel, our first item on the agenda is figuring out where to eat. So we couldn’t be more thrilled to share with you our new City Guide series, sharing local food bloggers’ favorite recommendations of our featured city’s food fare.
We believe one of the best ways to soak up a city is to eat your way through it, so we decided to zero in on the real pulse of this city — its culinary scene. And who better to get recommendations from than the locals? So, we turned to three San Diego bloggers to get the lowdown on the best places to guzzle and grub in America’s finest city!
We’re kicking off this traveling eating series with this university town known for its sunshine and beaches, near perfect temperatures and some of the best Mexican food outside of Mexico.
Situated along California’s southern coast, San Diego is the birthplace of California, and is known for its picturesque views of the Pacific, diverse culture and friendly residents. We have a feeling it’s all due to the sun and sushi.
So grab the GPS and punch these destinations into Google maps. Because this is how to eat your way through our beloved San Diego.
Kellen McAvoy | A Cup of Kellen
Kellen’s joie de vivre inspires us and we can’t get enough of her lifestyle blog, because it covers everything we love — food and restaurant reviews, fitness and travel.
Originally from San Jose, she moved to San Diego for school, almost six years ago and became enamored with the sunny weather and gorgeous beaches so stuck around after graduating. An avid exerciser, Kellen makes fitness a regular part of her day, and shares some of her workout routines on her blog. When she’s not breaking a sweat, she can be found in the kitchen, whipping up a healthy (sometimes sweet) dish, or out exploring San Diego’s many offerings.
While there are some amazing breakfast spots in San Diego, the Great Maple in North Park truly stands out among the rest. Their breakfast menu is known for its unique offerings including “Lolliwaffles” (aka waffles on sticks), Fruity Pebble Pancakes, and an assortment of Scramble Melts. The Chorizo Scramble Melt is my favorite, but their freshly baked maple bacon doughnuts are a must! And, let’s not forget about their morning libations consisting of Watermelon Lemon Presse Mimosas, the Great Maple Honey Mule, and a variety of Bloody Marys to appease anyone’s palette.
Tip: The restaurant can get a bit crowded so I suggest making a reservation or arriving early in the morning between 8AM-9AM.
If you are looking to grub on a beautifully handcrafted sub made with fresh bread, an assortment of toppings, and sauces galore, then Rubicon Deli is the place for you! Seriously, their sandwiches are no joke. They are bold not only in size but also in flavor. My personal favorite is The Spicy Tuna. It incorporates a unique twist on a traditional sandwich with its’ Habanero Mustard, Pepper Jack Cheese, and Pepperoncinis. Top it off with the Jalapeno Cheddar Bread and you’ve got yourself one spicy sub!
Tips: If you are really hungry, I highly recommend the half & half (half sandwich and soup, salad, or an acai bowl). The portions are large so I recommend ordering the half or splitting the large. Don’t fret if you don’t have the appetite though, a mini cookie comes with every sandwich
Caffe Calabria is a quaint, Italian-style coffee shop located in North Park, and it’s the perfect way to java-jump-start your day. The line out the door every morning is a sign that this place is truly a neighborhood favorite. They roast their own beans, and every latte has a beautiful design that is definitely Instagram worthy. The Italian pastries and finger foods pair perfectly with a their silky espressos.
Tip: I highly recommend the Chocolate Biscotti with the Caffe Viennese (espresso with steamed milk, honey, and cinnamon).
Watch the sun set over San Diego’s coastline while sipping on your favorite brew and snacking on a variety of handcrafted American eats at Draft. This “locals” spot is conveniently situated on the Mission Beach Boardwalk and serves over 69 brews on tap. Come on in during Happy Hour (M-F 4PM-6PM and 9PM-Close) and enjoy $4 Local Beers, $4 Wines, $5 Wells, and $3 Off Select Shares. Some of my favorite “shares” are their Mustard Dusted Pretzel Bites, the Shredded Beef Nachos (they are HUGE), and the Spinach & Artichoke Dip. To satisfy your entertainment, there are pool tables, foosball tables and dozens of big screen TVs featuring live sporting events.
Tip: If you don’t want to wait for a table, there is open seating in the bar area as well. Cheers!
Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar is best known for its seafood fare, craft cocktails and quirky nautical designs. There’s an entire wall made out of piranha heads! The cocktail menu can be a bit difficult to navigate but once you pick your poison, you won’t be disappointed. For starters, you can’t go wrong with the crab cake or anything from the raw bar.
Tips: For their dinner selection, the Lobster Roll is a MUST HAVE! It’s a decadent combination of rich, flavorful lobster situated perfectly inside a buttery toasted bun. Though the dinner menu changes, if you happen to be there on a night when brussels sprouts are on the menu, I highly suggest this as a side (they’re glazed in a sweet and tangy balsamic vinaigrette and will be devoured in an instant). This is the perfect spot for a special occasion or date night, so make a reservation!
Brandon Matzek | Kitchen Konfidence
New Jersey native Brandon Matzek comes from a family that loves to cook and eat. He grew up eating comfort food dishes inspired by his Italian-Eastern European roots, and he took up cooking himself, as a means of learning the recipes he grew up with.
When Brandon moved to San Diego in 2004, he quickly fell in love with San Diego’s diverse, cultural food scene and having such fresh, seasonal produce at his fingertips. We love Brandon’s seasonally-focused blog and stunning photography, and we continually find ourselves swooning over his recipes. Here are a few of his favorite SD haunts.
Donut Bar – Known for the donuts as big as your face and the celebrated Big Poppa Donut (that literally has an entire strawberry, blueberry or S’mores Pop Tart in it) this spot is so popular that lines are always down the street and pre-orders are encouraged. Daily flavors are announced on Instagram and are always selfie-ready.
Tip: Get there early. There’s usually a big line mid-morning, and they close up shop as soon as they run out of donuts (around 11am – 1pm on weekends).
Hash House a Go Go – This San Diego native has taken up residence in cities across the country, but still hold true to its local roots and was garnered the Gold Medallion for Best Breakfast/Brunch by California Restaurant Association. It’s massive portions, incredible Bloody Marys and overall great eats haven’t been lost on the locals. The portions are so giant you’ll wonder why you didn’t share, so come ready and come hungry. Regardless of shiny awards, it’s just damn good.
Tip: Leave your cell phone number with this host (there will be a line), then grab a drink across the street at Tractor Room (see Kelsey’s rec below.) They’ll text you once a spot opens.
Coop’s West Texas BBQ – A hidden gem in Lemon Grove, with only a few tables to dine in.
Tip: Don’t forget to order a slice of seasonal pie. It’s what the locals do.
Las Cuatro Milpas – This is a locals hole-in-the-wall with truly authentic San Diego Mexican fare. It’s food has created generations of fans regardless of what it looks like from the outside because it’s what’s cooking on the inside that counts. The air conditioning is nill, table seating might be shared, but once you take your first bite, all ideas of snooty falooty eating goes out the window.
Tips: Only open until 3 pm and bring cash for payment. Plan on buying extra flour tortillas to go. They’re some of the best in San Diego.
Tajima – Cold or hot, tonkotsu or curry, this is San Diego’s authentic ramen. Choose thin or fat noodles and be sure to try the German Potatoes. Whhhhaaat?
Tip: The Hillcrest location isn’t as crowded as the Kearny Mesa location; however, the menu is limited (but still tasty.)
Extraordinary Desserts – One of the most amazing selections of over-the-top delicious desserts. Tip: Go with friends/family, and share!
Babycakes – This eclectic bakery is know for it’s massive cupcakes and situated in San Diego’s famed and fabulous gayborhood. But don’t think they only do sweet take-aways, breakfast and lunch are popular with dishes like the Skinny Bitch Omelette and Cha Cha Chiliaquiles. Bonus: they’re open until midnight for late night sweet tooths.
Tip: This is one of the sweetest spots to enjoy happy hour on the back deck thanks to the bar, but keep your eagle eye out as on-street parking can be a challenge.
Lucha Libre Taco Shop – Gourmet burritos, is there such a thing? At Lucha Libre the answer is yes. And if that doesn’t sell you, they have the best salsa bar in town. Go the celeb route, this spot was featured on Man vs. Food.
Tip: Go early or do carry out – the lines can be long and slow moving.
URBN Pizza – Damn good coal fired pizza in a modern setting.
Tip: Try the Mashed Potato Pizza, you won’t be sorry.
Kelsey Prince | Kelsey Prince San Diego Food + Travel Blog
We love that Kelsey’s approach to everything she blogs about is humor. She enthusiastically shares her dining experiences around San Diego, and her travel tales, around the globe. You can also check out Kelsey’s lifestyle blog, Blonde + Butter, for more of her unabashed wit, life musings and escapades.
I view brunch as an experience and Tractor Room is definitely an experience to remember. Located in the San Diego neighborhood of Hillcrest, Tractor Room serves up massive portions of delicious food. When I say massive, I mean a family of four could split one Fried Chicken Benedict. Pair the Benedict with a famous Tractor Room Bloody Mary and you’ll need to be rolled out after your meal.
Tip: Just a heads up, there can sometimes be a wait on weekends, but it’s always worth it!
My absolute favorite lunch spot is Napizza. This casual pizza-by-the-slice joint has a lot of competition, as its located in Little Italy, but its innovative pizza flavors make it rise above the rest. One fan favorite, “Bapo,” is topped with potatoes, crispy bacon, fresh mozzarella and fresh rosemary. My favorite, “Pollo E Pesto,” is made with organic chicken, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and homemade basil pesto.Tip: Make sure to mix and match a few slices and, if you have time, grab a bottle of wine and stay a while.
The Smoking Goat in North Park is one of San Diego’s best foodie happy hours. A selection of craft beers are available for $4, and their $6 small plates are to die for.
Tip: I recommend the Duckfat Truffle Fries, Macaroni & Cheese and Escargot au Gratin.
Another amazing happy hour can be found at the gorgeous Bertrand at Mister A’s. This restaurant would normally break the bank, but with easily the best view of Downtown San Diego, $4 beers and some $7 appetizers, this is one happy hour you don’t want to pass up.
One of the most talked about dinner spots and sushi locations is Sushi Ota, and it definitely lives up to the hype. It’s located next to a 7-eleven in Pacific Beach, but don’t let the outside fool you. They serve up the freshest fish in San Diego, and there are few other sushi joints that can compete with the quality you’ll find at Sushi Ota.
Tip: Be sure to plan ahead for your visit, reservations can sometimes be difficult to get!
Pappalecco is an authentic Italian coffee shop, of course located in Little Italy. All employees are Italian (and incredibly friendly), and the coffee itself is amazing.
Tip: Grab a Latte (yes, they have almond milk) and a Nutella Croissant before the Little Italy Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, and you have yourself a perfect morning. Bonus: Pappalecco also has amazing gelato!
Kirby lives in Brooklyn, by way of Chicago. When she’s not drawing, she can be found doing other’s makeup, watching movies, cooking meals with five ingredients or less, and dancing! Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
As always, thank you for reading and for supporting companies I partner with, which allows me to create more unique content and recipes for you. All opinions are always my own.
Thanks for reading and subscribe to FoodieCrush to have each post delivered straight to your e-mail box.