Food of San Diego: A Quintessential Guide to San Diego’s Gastronomic Scene

San Diego, America's Finest City, provides vast access to some of the country’s best fruits, fresh vegetables, oysters and seafood. Alongside idyllic climate, dazzling world-class attractions and pristine beaches, San Diego has a titillating culinary scene. Being located in the border state of California, the food of San Diego is heavily influenced by burgeoning American and Mexican fusion cuisines. The city’s long Hispanic history has endowed it with authentic Mexican restaurants, seafood and steak places.

Cuisines in San Diego

Mexican Cuisine - Food of San Diego


San Diego is home to more than 50 indigenous and international cuisines. You can find Californian cuisines famous for farm-to-table roots, Mexican Cali-Baja cuisine, as well as French, Spanish, Italian, Vietnamese, Filipino, German, Greek, Latin, Indian, central and east Asian food in San Diego. Pacific Islander and Middle Eastern cuisines are also abundant in the city, as are regional homemade specialties, haute cuisine and border culture food.

Top 15 Food Items in San Diego

Carne Asada Fries in San Diego


Here is a comprehensive list of the most celebrated food of San Diego, the best restaurants and average pocket pinch: -

1. Go on a Mexican Taco Crawl

Rolled Tacos with Avocado Spread in San Diego


Even though nobody really knows where San Diego’s most popular food, tacos came from, the origin is thought to be the Valley of Mexico where 16th-century people ate tortillas and fish. Some of San Diego’s best tacos include regular slinging rolled tacos, Baja-fried fish tacos with birria and nose-to-tail lamb barbacoa. At most restaurants, tacos come with a selection of stuffings like shredded lamb meat, ribs, sesos, pancita or cabeza. There’s not a single corner of San Diego where you won’t find a taco stand.

Restaurants: Las Cuatro Milpas, Aquí es Texcoco, Corazón de Torta, Tony Tee 's Taco Truck, Seafood LA 57, Puesto, Salud.
Average Cost: USD 5 - USD 25

2. Oysters: A Local Favorite

Oyster Preparations of San Diego


Slurp your weight in San Diego’s local fresh oyster bars with an amazing assortment from either side of the country. Briny Kusshis, creamy and sweet oysters, nutty Kumamoto oysters cocktail sauce oysters, fat poached shrimp and oyster, citrus and jalapeno mignonette are some of the most popular gourmet choices the city offers. If you’re squeamish about seafood, opt for toppings of spinach, shrimp, breadcrumbs, crunchy horseradishes and chipotle jack cheese. University Heights, Chula Vista and Bonita are the top 3 locations in San Diego for authentic oyster bars.

Restaurants: TJ Oyster Bar, Ironside Fish and Oyster, The Fish Shop, Duck Dive, Beerfish, Charles + Dinorah, Oyster Rockefeller.
Average Cost: USD 3 - USD 30

3. DIY Toppings For Authentic Carne Asada Fries

Carne Asada Fries with DIY Toppings, San Diego


Resembling Canadian poutines, Carne asada fries is a dish that first started in San Diego and a must-try delicacy when you’re in the city. Lolita’s Mexican Food is the original restaurant that created it. Today, most Mexican and classic vegan restaurants in San Diego serve the legacy. Juicy, crispy fries with flavorsome toppings and barbecued carne asada are the main ingredients. Spreads come in choice of guacamole, tofu, cotija or shredded cheese or sour cream. You can sometimes add sumptuous sides such as grilled shrimp and pico de gallo!

Restaurants: La Puerta, Pokez Restaurant, Colima’s Mexican Food, The Taco Stand, Cali’s and Fries.
Average Cost: USD 20

4. Share California Burritos With A Foodie Friend

California Burritos at Lolita's, San Diego


Different cities in California have their own burrito versions. California burritos are the ones which were created and crowned in San Diego and you can find these almost anywhere. There’s a plethora of bars, high-end restaurants and 24 hour taco shops serving this classic native dish. California burritos at most places start with a weight of 1 lb, so you might have to split them with a friend. Carne asada, guacamole and meat burritos are locals’ handpicked choices. Vegetarian options are also available.

Restaurants: Taco Surf PB, Lucha Libre, Ranchos Cocina, El Azteca Taco Shop, Don Bravo, Rigoberto’s, Saguaro, Lolitas Mexican Food.
Average Cost: USD 15

5.  Survive A Brainfreeze With Gaslamp’s Ice Creams

Ghirardelli Ice Cream Parlor, Gaslamp District, San Diego


Gaslamp District, Convoy Street in particular, is an abode for ice cream lovers in San Diego. Creative flavors, jumbo scoops, inventive cones and waffles will make you want to skip lunch and head straight for dessert. Waffles and cones stuffed with Taiwanese shaved snow, nutella, red beans, custard and Thai-style rolled ice cream are San Diego’s delectable specialties. Seasonal ice cream flavors are also a huge hit at these trendy ice cream stores.

Restaurants: Ghirardelli, Bing Haus, SomiSomi, Iceskimo, Trustee Creamery, Gelati and Peccati, Metl Cocktail Creamery.
Average Cost: USD 20

6. Drop Some Bills on Seafood

Seafood in San Diego


Being a port city, seafood is a huge hit in San Diego. Though you can trace their origins to south of the border, fish tacos and ceviche have been made into iconic dishes loved across America that started in San Diego. Fish tacos featuring cured cuts or sausages of fish, cabbage and lime are comfort food for San Diegans while Ceviche, a citrus dish is the king of fresh seafood. Ceviche comes with a variety of ingredients like shrimps, scallops, oysters, octopus, cilantro, red serrano chilli sauce, lime, avocado, cucumber, chipotle and a crisp tortilla shell to hold it all together. Sushi combination platter from Sushi Ota in Pacific Beach is undoubtedly the best place for sushi and seafood in San Diego, where uni nigiri is served a la carte.

Sushi Platter - Food of San Diego

San Diego also has a fine array of unconventional seafood, once called the “best seafood in the world” by chef Anthony Bourdain. Don’t take his word for it when you can taste San Diego’s locally caught sea urchins, king crabs, sashimi and carbonara with squid ink for yourself!

Restaurants: Rubio’s, PB Fish Shop, Karina’s Ceviches and More, Tostadas North Park, Oscar’s Mexican Seafood, The Fish Shop, Catalina Offshore Products, Davanti Enoteca.
Average Cost: USD 25 - USD 60

7. Try True American Flavors With Bacon Cheeseburger

Bacon Cheeseburger - Food of San Diego


Flanked by locals, foodies and tourists, San Diego’s Hodad is a hyper local fast burger chain. Featured in top magazines like Insider and Men’s Journal, their signature bacon cheeseburger is stuffed with satisfying amounts of double bacon. For people with smaller appetites, a mini size is available. Burger Lounge is a vegan’s alternative where they serve San Diego’s best rated Southern Californian burger made with quinoa, an assortment of spreads and vegetables. Opt for hand-pattied options with American cheese if you want a light snack.

Restaurants: Hodad, Rocky’s Crown Pub, Burger Lounge, San Diego Burger Company, Boomerang’s Gourmet Burger Joint, Central Meat and Provision, Urge Gastropub.
Average Cost: USD 10 - USD 30

8. Treat Hangovers With Acai Bowls

Acai Bowl with Berries and Nuts in San Diego


Acai bowls are the perfect snack among food in San Diego for cooling down the beach. This dish was popularized first in San Diego, making them much more cheap yet authentic than other cities. The recipe of this refreshing dish consists of smoothie made with fruity acai berries and topped off with delicious nuts, peanut butter, chocolate and fruits. You can find them almost everywhere at the beach in generous portions. For Instagrammable acai bowls, nobody beats Rum Jungle Cafe’s Acai bowl inside a pineapple.

Restaurants: Little Italy, Vitality Bowls, Northside Shack, San Diego Blenders, Paradise Yogurt San Diego, Root Bowls, Everbowl, Swami’s Cafe.
Average Cost: USD 20 - USD 35

9.  Double-Down with Wood-Fired Californian Pizza

Californian Wood-Fired Cheese Pizza in San Diego


Often made with loads of fresh vegetables, margherita and pepperoni, California-style wood-fired pizza is the pride of food in San Diego. They cook quickly at temperatures between 570 to 660 Farenhetits. The process prevents the sauces like cilantro white and tropical salsa, ground or chunky meat, cheese and crust from becoming soggy, which is why the pizzas are oh-so-delicious. You can also order fresh gourmet salads and tapas with your dish. San Diego has plenty of mobile wood-fired pizza trucks and joints around Los Gatos and Placentia.

Restaurants: Sammy’s Wood Fired Pizza and Grill, Willow Street Wood Fired Pizza, Craftsman Wood Fired Pizza, Daniel’s Wood Fired Pizza, Pizzaiolo.
Average Cost: USD 23

10. Donuts: Comfort Food of San Diego

Butter Beer Donuts in San Diego


Donut Bar is a national award-winning downtown bakery that popularized donuts as every San Diegan’s top grab-on-the-go choice. Giant, artisan donuts available in mesmerizing collections of maple syrup, bacon, chocolate, nuts, butterscotch glaze, sesame, honey and tasty Californian tropical fruits. They have authentic local taps with rotating platters of freshly baked donuts. Big Poppa Tarts is another donut place where donuts get creative with juicy pop tarts in them.

Restaurants: Finest Donuts of San Diego, Rose Donuts, Sidecar Donuts and Coffee, Devil’s Dozen Donut Shop, Golden Donut.
Average Cost: USD 10 - USD 15

11. Start Mornings in Style With Californian Sandwiches

Californian Pulled Pork and Bacon Sandwich in San Diego


San Diegans are renowned and hearty sandwich lovers, owing to the city’s gourmet scene and eclectic choices. You might wonder if good pork is a Southwest thing but San Diego surprises foodies with bacon, pulled pork, pork belly, loin and ham sandwiches. More of a chicken person? The Crack Shack’s tall fried chicken sandwiches with chicken oysters are unbeatable. Fresno chilies, lime mayo, thyme, devilled eggs, pickles and Napa Valley cabbage are some of the gorgeous stuffings used often so no doubt Californian Sandwiches have been featured by worldwide magazines.

Restaurants: Carnitas Crack Shack, San Diego Sandwich Company, Hillcrest Sandwich Shop, Nautilus Tavern, Sandwich Stop Deli, Ike’s Place.
Average Cost: USD 7 - USD 25

12. In Pie We Crust

Food of San Diego - Chicken Pot Pie


Your experience of food in San Diego would not be complete without trying the city’s hot, old school and ultra munch-able pot pies. Breakfast pot pies at Snooze AM Eatery are staple breakfast or brunch for San Diegans. Roasted vegetable yellow pies from The Pop Pie are also a classic recipe for vegetarians.

Restaurants: Chicken Pie Shop, The Pop Pie Company, Azucar, RoVino the Foodery, Starry Lane Bakery, Perky’s, Jessie’s Bake Shop, Bear Buns Bakery, Frost Me Cafe.
Average Cost: USD 10 - USD 15

13. Relish San Diego’s Twist to Asian Food

A Grand Korean BBQ in San Diego


The percentage of Asians living in San Diego is 16.72%, making Asian cuisine sought after in every corner. Pacific Beach restaurants are the best at Asian cuisines, many of which are owned by Asians. Korean BBQ is a beloved food item in San Diego. At Korean BBQ restaurants, you can cook your own meat with assortments on an induction grill-top. A traditional Japanese sushi, hot pot, udon noodles and pork belly pot at San Diego’s authentic Japanese restaurants with tatami mat seating is all about ambient Japan vibes without having to travel across the world.

Restaurants: Dae Jeongwon’s BBQ, Menya Ultra, Woomiok, Phuong Trang, Hidden Fish, Manna’s Korean BBQ, Tasty Pot, Dumpling Inn, Mekong Thai and Lao.
Average Cost: USD 30 - USD 75

14. Uncork San Diego With Local Wine

Local Napa Valley Broadside Wine Tasting in San Diego


Nothing complements a sumptuous meal like delicious, authentic Californian wine. Preparing wine with grapes procured from a variety of areas like Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley, North County and Rancho Bernardo, San Diego’s wineries are mostly small and owned by local families. They also offer tastings and insightful tours of their authentic sustainable farms. You can find a select array of fine choices like Spanish, Bordeaux, Rhone, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Syrah and more.

Restaurants: Hungry Hawk Vineyards, Castelli Family Vineyards, La Finquita Winery and Vineyard, Pali Wine Company, Bernardo Winery, Carruth Cellars, Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards.
Average Cost: USD 30 - USD 50

15. Wash It All Down With Craft Beer

San Diego Beer From Stone Brewing Company


Listed as one of the “Top 5 Beer Towns in the US” by Men’s Journal, San Diego has a close-knit, thriving brewing community and boasts of over 160 local wineries, microbreweries, brewpubs and 55 wine tasting sites active today. Brewers have pioneered craft beers of several types, especially the American Double India Pale Ale and smooth saison. Beer is huge in San Diego and many local breweries incorporate unique items like strawberries, peanut butter, hibiscus and even banana. Tasting rooms, nightclubs, bar lounges and clubs stock on tap beers and ultra-large mugs.

Restaurants: West Coast IPA, Pure Project, Viewpoint Brewing, Stone Brewing Company, Bottlecraft North Park, Best Damn Beer Shop, BORDER X BREWING, Modern Times Beer, Little Italy, Coronado Brewing.
Average Cost: Beer prices start from USD 8.

Bring your curiosity and a hearty big appetite for food of San Diego, a cultural amalgam of America's finest cultures that has garnered respect worldwide. Drop your stories, suggestions and queries in the comments below.

This post was published by Koushiki Kundu

Share this post on social media
Google +

Comments on this post