San Diego dining guide.

I’ve never lived in San Diego – I’d certainly love to try – so this isn’t a formal, comprehensive guide like the one I put together each year for Phoenix. Instead, here’s a list of my favorite spots around the city, several of which are on my to-do list for this weekend’s trip there for the Futures Game.

Juniper & Ivy, Little Italy. Top Chef winner Richard Blais opened this spot dedicated to the best ingredients California has to offer, a little over two years ago, and it repeatedly comes out on top of polls of the best restaurants in San Diego. It’s one of my favorite places to eat in the country, and while the menu keeps changing by the season, two perennials on the menu I always recommend are the yellowtail crudo and the Yodel dessert. There’s also currently a BBQ carrot dish on the menu that is one of the best vegetable dishes I’ve ever eaten – smoky grilled carrots served over a jalapeño chimichurri with peanuts and pickled apricot puree. They also have a great craft cocktail menu. Full review.

The Crack Shack, Little Italy. Right next door is Blais & company’s new spot, dedicated to all things fried chicken, three meals a day. J&I exec chef Jon Sloan often wanders over here as well. They have the usuals, like a bucket of fried chicken and various fried chicken sandwiches, but also fried chicken oysters, chicken lollipops, fries cooked in chicken fat, and more. It also has a full bar. Full review.

Bird Rock Coffee, Little Italy. Across the street is the best coffee roaster in San Diego, in a great location to hang out for a little while and enjoy the San Diego weather. Excellent espresso as well as pour-overs via V60 and Chemex.

Searsucker, Gaslamp. Top Chef contestant Brian Malarkey’s flagship has a similar mission to Juniper & Ivy’s, with a rotating menu that includes a lot of smaller plates. He has a brand new place, Herb & Wood, that appears to have just opened in Little Italy.

Cucina Urbana, Bankers Hill. Rustic, earthy Italian food, starring pastas and breads made from scratch. The polenta board is a highlight if you go with a group. Review in this post.

The Mission, multiple locations. Breakfast and lunch with a hipster vibe; I love their egg dishes, not so much their pancake options. Whatever you get, make sure you try their breakfast potatoes.

Prep Kitchen, Little Italy. Seasonally driven cuisine, much of it locally sourced, offering brunch as well as lunch and dinner. I’d put it behind J&I and Searsucker, but Prep Kitchen is a bit less haute-cuisine and more accessible if that’s your jam. Review in this post.

Bottega Americano, near Petco. An Italian market, a sandwich shop, a sit-down place for a casual lunch. Review in this post.

I don’t know how much I’ll explore this trip, since I have a few work commitments and a few favorites I want to visit again, but I’m intrigued by Herb & Wood, Carnitas Snack Shack (on Harbor Drive at the west end of downtown), and Solunto Bakery & Deli (Little Italy, the place to be).


  1. A very solid list.

    A few more suggestions: Bankers Hill Bar and Restaurant (just north of downtown), Bracero (Javier Placencia’s Little Italy restaurant), and Kettner Exchange (Little Italy).

    If you can make the trek to La Jolla, I’d check out Galaxy Taco – Baja food through the lens of a fine dining chef.

    Our real claim to fame is the over 120 breweries in the county. Look for beers by Modern Times and Societe.

  2. Going to Chicago for 5 days. Any dining recommendations?