San Diego. America’s finest city. Known for SeaWorld, Coronado, the San Diego Zoo, a huge Military Base, and beaches, beaches, and more beaches. San Diego is all of those things, and it is so much more than that. Culture. History. Beauty beyond belief. Most importantly, though, it is serious foodie heaven. If you’re headed to America’s Finest City in the future, you’ll want to check out a few (or all) of the best restaurants in San Diego.
It’s no secret that San Diego is my favourite city in all of North America. The first time I visited, it was on a whim, and I was alone. With 4 days to kill after a work trip to Santa Monica, I took the Pacific Surfliner from Los Angeles as far South as it could go. What awaited me was the most vibrant, interesting, cultural, breathtakingly beautiful city I have ever been to in my life. Within 5 minutes, I knew I had found my place. That one place that you will visit again and again for the rest of your life, and it will never get old.
If you know me, you know I love food. I love to eat, obviously, but I also love to cook, learn, and explore and experience new food. San Diego provides me with the perfect environment to do all of those things, and every time I return, I discover something new. These 10 spots are my personal favourites from many sunny days spent in San Diego.
1. Napizza 3 Locations: Little Italy, Hillcrest, Commons Town Centre
Napizza is always my first stop when I get to San Diego. From the classics to the ultra-creative, their pizza by the slice is the main attraction, but don’t forget their salads, too! Napizza prides itself on the freshest of ingredients, and their quality shows in the food. My favourite thing to do is grab a “Happy Wine Belly” combo in the late afternoon and enjoy a slice of pizza, a salad, and a glass of house red on their Little Italy patio and watch the world pass by.
2. Bencotto Little Italy
Well-known as one of the most romantic and best Italian restaurants in Little Italy, Bencotto can’t be missed. Their pasta is made fresh daily in-house, and there is a build-your-own-pasta option on the menu, along with plenty of specials and share plates. And the wine – oh, the wine. Bencotto boasts an unbelievable wine list, but if you’d prefer, they also have an extensive list of authentic Italian cocktails, house specials, and beer. You can also visit their sister restaurant, Monello, next door, for a more relaxed vibe and more daily specials.
3. Tin Fish Gaslamp
If you love seafood like me, Tin Fish will be your new best friend. A very casual atmosphere right in the centre of the buzzing Gaslamp Quarter makes Tin Fish the perfect place to grab a bite at the beginning of a pub crawl, or before a Padres game at Petco Park. Their fish tacos are to die for, and, with prices coming in around $10 a plate, you’ll want to come back.
4. Underbelly 2 Locations: North Park, Little Italy
I am a self-diagnosed Ramen addict. There’s something about that rich, salty pork broth, those oh-so-slurpable noodles, that perfect, soft-boiled egg, and all of the fun toppings you could ever dream of all coming together in a big, hot bowl of dreamy perfection. Add some ghost chile paste and togarashi spice, and you’re on a one-way train to salty, spicy, warm-belly heaven. Underbelly has – straight up – the best Ramen I’ve ever had in my entire life. And, as if that isn’t enough reason to visit, their Little Italy location is just plain cool. It’s an open-air, industrial two-storey joint centred around the bar and spiral staircase. Every time i go, it’s packed with people and playing loud hip-hop music, so you don’t have to pretend to want to talk to anyone when you should be slurping noodles. Sometimes, when Sean and I are laying in bed in silence, one of us will say, “remember Underbelly?” – and we will both just smile sleepily and drift off into sweet dreams of noodley happiness. True story.
5. Buon Appetito Little Italy
One word: Ravioli. Another meal that I dream about is the Ravioli al Formaggio e Spinaci from Buon Appetito – perfectly tender little pockets of homemade pasta filled with cheese, spinach and Italian spices smothered in a house creamy tomato sauce. Save that bread – you’ll be cleaning your plate with it. I have been known to visit this place multiple times during a visit to San Diego.
6. Shorehouse Kitchen La Jolla
Located in trendy and beautiful La Jolla, Shorehouse Kitchen is the cutest little eatery I’ve seen in California. A very beachy theme and a beautiful patio makes this place a must-visit when you’re in La Jolla. The menu is mostly centred around California Cuisine – think lots of fresh veggies, funky combinations, and clean, healthy ingredients.
7. Little Italy Mercato Little Italy
Not a restaurant, but rather an outdoor Farmer’s Market that takes over multiple streets in Little Italy every Saturday morning, the Little Italy Mercato is the place to sample tons of delicious local food. With everything from craft cheese from Carlsbad, Californian cold-pressed juices, jams, jellies and preserves, fresh local produce and sweet treats, to food trucks and portable Mexican snacks (I’m looking at you, Walk-And-Guac), there is something for everyone at the Mercato. If you’re in town on a Saturday, don’t miss this.
8. OB Noodle House Ocean Beach
From San Diego to Santa Monica, everybody knows about OB Noodle House. Recently featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, this place has become a local legend. Its specialty? Pho. Cheap, huge, delicious, steaming bowls of pho. Oh, and $1 draught specials. I’m not kidding. Sean and I each had a beer, an order of salad rolls, and two bowls of pho (his was XL) for under $25. I actually took a picture of the bill. They’ve got a pretty extensive menu if Pho is not your thing, but if it is, and you’re feeling especially hungry, you could always attempt the “Pho 20 Challenge”. 2 pounds of noodles, 2 pounds of meat, and if you finish it in 42 minutes, it’s free. We didn’t try it, but if you do, I’ll pray for your intestines.
9. Pappalecco 5 Locations: Kensington, Cardiff, Little Italy, Del Mar, Hillcrest
Do you love Nutella? Of course you do. You know who else loves Nutella? Italians. So much so, that Pappalecco will actually smear the inside of a coffee cup with it, and then proceed to make you the most incredible latte you’ve ever had, and top it with frothed milk and cocoa powder. They serve this thing with a spoon. You can’t make this stuff up. If I haven’t convinced you yet, maybe the 20+ flavours of hand-crafted Tuscan gelato will. Or the Cannoli. Or the Paninis. Or the…you know what? Go. Just go.
10. Extraordinary Desserts 2 Locations: Balboa Park, Little Italy
Half bakery, half art gallery. The first time Sean and I walked into Extraordinary Desserts, our mouths gaped open in awe until we had to close them to control the drooling. (There’s some sexy imagery for you.) We truly could not believe our eyes. Think colourful, layered cakes, flaky, buttery pastries, fresh-baked squares, berry-topped chocolate mousse, and house-made cookies. Then, picture them all adorned with fresh flowers and sprinkled with delicate gold flakes. These pieces of art are almost too pretty to eat, but only almost. They are incredible. There were nights we skipped dinner altogether and just went straight to Extraordinary Desserts. I apologize in advance to your arteries.
You’ll notice most of my food adventures take place in Little Italy. That’s normally where I stay, and I can’t often find a reason to leave. However, if you like bars, check out the Gaslamp district. If you like Mexican, don’t miss Old Town San Diego.
*I was not perked or paid to write about any of these places. All of my experiences and opinions are authentic and my own.*
Have you been to San Diego? Do you have a favourite spot to eat?
Have you found “your place” that you will return to again and again? Where is it and why?