Where to eat in San Diego

By Jackie Bryant

San Diego-based food and drink writer

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January 2018

Thanks to its ethnic and cultural diversity, San Diego has long been a culinary melting pot. Whether you’re after a succulent fish taco or a healthy acai berry smoothie, you’ll find it here, says local food writer Jackie Bryant.


The lowdown: Downtown San Diego is just a 20-minute drive from Tijuana, a city that lies on the Mexican border and which is famous for its street tacos – palm-sized corn tortillas laden with grilled meat, chopped onions and coriander. Not surprisingly, these are in healthy supply throughout San Diego, too.

Where to try it: Check out the real deal at Tacos El Gordo, a Mexican mini-chain that makes some of the best pork adobada tacos on either side of the border. The Taco Stand in La Jolla mimics the classic Tijuana street food experience, but with a more comfortable sit-down atmosphere and options beyond meat.

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The city has become known for its Hawaiian-influenced dishes, the most famous of which is poke. Think of it as chopped, marinated fresh fish served with rice and other bells and whistles

Fish taco

The lowdown: Though also originating in Mexico, this time in Ensenada, the fish taco’s American home is undoubtedly San Diego. The classic version comes with a corn tortilla, tempura-battered and fried white fish, purple cabbage, crema, chipotle salsa, salsa bandera and a squeeze of lime, and can be found at many a food truck, street stand and bricks-and-mortar eatery around town.

Where to try it: One of the best places is Oscars Mexican Seafood, which has multiple locations. Head to the one in Pacific Beach, right next to the ocean.

  • Enjoy fresh fish tacos at Oscars Mexican Seafood.

    Taco time

    Why not head to Oscars for breakfast? Try the smoked fish torta, served with eggs, cheese, potatoes, and avocado.

    Fly to San Diego
  • Grab a seat and a bite to eat at The Taco Stand.

    Let’s taco

    All of The Taco Stand’s corn tortillas are handmade daily, as well as their salsa and guacamole.

    Stay in San Diego
  • Taste urban rustic food at community restaurant, Trust © Kim Marcelo.

    Brunch spot

    As well as opening for dinner every evening from 17.00, Trust also serves up a menu of locally sourced dishes for brunch on weekends, from 09.00 until 14.00.

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The lowdown: Hawaii has also had its influence on San Diego and the city has become known for its Hawaiian-style dishes, the most famous of which is poke. Think of it as chopped, marinated fresh fish, like ahi tuna, octopus, yellowtail or salmon, served with rice and other bells and whistles. There’s the traditional ‘island style’ which is sold by the pound and comes with ice cream-scoops of rice, and the ‘mainland style’, which comes in a bowl and includes anything from fried onions and seaweed to avocado and watermelon radishes.

Where to try it: Find ‘island style’ in the hippie enclave of Ocean Beach at It’s Raw Poke Shop, a small shop run by Hawaiians. Try Good Time Poke for ‘mainland style’ and make sure to check out speakeasy tiki bar The Grass Skirt, the entrance of which lies just beyond Good Time’s prep kitchen.

Acai bowl

The lowdown: With year-round sunshine, San Diegans are constantly looking for ways to cool down. An acai bowl is a healthy, refreshing way to start the day or fuel up after a hike, bike ride or surf session. It’s basically a really thick smoothie made from the exotic acai berry, which is then topped with fresh fruit, granola, shredded coconut, honey or peanut butter.

Where to try it: Order the bowl at Captain Kirk’s in the quaint neighbourhood of South Park or at the Lazy Hummingbird in Ocean Beach, where it comes with creative toppings like matcha powder or bee pollen.

  • Indulge in succulent Porterhouse steak at Born and Raised © Anne Watson.

    Table service

    Try one of Born and Raised’s signature martinis with your choice of gin, made and served directly at your tableside.

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Porterhouse steak

The lowdown: If there’s one thing Americans do right, it’s steak. And while San Diego might be better known for its Mexican influences, you’ll also find some excellent steakhouses across town, serving everything from prime rib to melt-in-the-mouth Porterhouse.

Where to try it: Born and Raised is where carnivores can live out their most stylish, meat-laden dreams. The gilded interior is a tribute to the excess of the 1920s, making it the perfect setting in which to indulge in the dry-aged Porterhouse for two, Robuchon potatoes and one of the whiskey cocktails.

Campfire food

The lowdown: Southern California is all about fresh and local ingredients, thanks to its temperate climate and proximity to the ocean; nowhere more so than at the new wave of restaurants, where the emphasis is on getting back to nature by cooking good, honest, rustic dishes over a campfire.

Where to try it: Campfire and Trust are keen advocates of wood-fired cooking. Their strengths lie in taking simple ingredients, such as vegetables, a whole fish, pork chops or clams and adding creative touches like vinegar-whipped cream, curry vinaigrette, serrano aioli or smoked shallot oil to create culinary alchemy.

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