What are the best restaurants in San Diego?

Answers from Our Experts (2)

For the best restaurants in San Diego, head outside of the city center. Set inside The Grand Del Mar, Forbes Travel guide Five-Star Addison delivers one of the most outstanding dining experiences in the region. Chef William Bradley’s French-tinged dishes feature local, seasonal ingredients. Though the prixe-fixe dinner menus change regularly, you’ll find a mix of favorites like Kobe beef short rib and unexpected plates like coffee-roasted duck with koshihikari rice and candied peanuts. Desserts also toe that classic-contemporary line: Traditionalists will go for the familiar banana split with glazed cherries and Chantilly cream, while those with a taste for the untraditional will opt for the peanut butter terrine with cocoa nib tuiles and port wine ice cream. For the ultimate foodie experience, order Le Menu Gourmand, a 10-course tasting menu, and peruse the 3,600-item wine list.

You’ll also find a great dining spot hidden away in The Lodge at Torrey Pines. At the Four-Star A.R. Valentien, chef Jeff Jackson also takes advantage of the fresh California produce for his modern American cuisine. Unlike Addison, though, A.R. Valentien is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It gives you the chance to enjoy the signature lemon-ricotta pancakes with raspberry syrup in the morning and the indulgent butter-poached Maine lobster with savoy cabbage, roasted mushrooms, preserved Meyer lemon, caviar and crème fraîche at night.

Julia Weiler

San Diego boasts a robust microbrewery scene and nothing goes better with those artisan suds than gourmet comfort food.  One of the best places to sip and nibble them both is at Sublime Ale House in San Marcos. 

The restaurant features 56 glittering taps that pour a wide and ever-changing range of San Diego craft drafts such as Alesmith Old Numbskull Barley Wine or Green Flash Grand Cru.  Available by pint, tulip or flight, there’s a brew on tap to please just about any palate.

Partner you pilsner or IPA with foodie favorites like pizzas and truffle fries, or choose from 9 types of mind-blowing mac-n-cheese varieties such as Ecstasy made with gorgonzola béchamel, bacon, mushrooms, red pepper, garlic and thyme.  Sublime has 7 different grilled cheese sandwiches on offer as well.  From the old fashioned Original to the fiery Jalepeño Popper, each one is made with thick cut of house-made bread and is grilled to golden perfection.

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Situated within the penthouse level of The Centre at Lexus Escondido, Vintana Wine + Dine blends an unusual location and amazing panoramic mountain views with mouthwatering California cuisine from one of San Diego’s most celebrated Chefs, Executive Chef Deborah Scott.  The venue features 20,000 square feet of glamorous space, which includes a retail wine shop, an expansive dining room with windows that soar from ceiling to floor, and an enormous lanai complete with its own bar, dining tables and fire pits flanked by plush sofas and club chairs.

Guests of the lux lounge can experience a wide array of top-shelf vodka martinis paired with small plates such as Chef Deborah’s nut crusted Brie, bacon wrapped dates, and shrimp-filled sweet corn fritters.  During social hour, which takes place from 2:30pm to 6:30pm daily, guests can enjoy high-end martinis for a mere $7 each and choose from a selection of seven appetizers offered at only $7 per.  They can then proceed to the glitzy dining room and savor signature surf and turf offerings such as pan seared mahi mahi or Vintana’s filet trio with bone marrow butter and a mélange of seasonal mushrooms.

If you go, be sure to save room for Chef Deborah’s tempting desserts such as sweet tater pie with bourbon pecan ice cream and chili caramel sauce.  Vintana Wine + Dine is located at 1205 Auto Park Way in Escondido.   Lunch takes place from 11:30 am to 2:30pm.  Dinner is served nightly from 5pm.  If you plan to dine on the weekend be sure to book your table in advance by calling 760 745 7777.

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Celebrity chef and restaurateur Brian Malarkey of ABC’s The Taste and Bravo’s Top Chef fame boasts a collection of eclectic yet undeniably popular eateries in San Diego County.  While they share the commonality of fabric-themed names and the concept of providing a social dining experience, each restaurant is unique when it comes to atmosphere and menu. 

Malarkey’s Searsucker, located in the hip and historic Gaslamp Quarter, is a favorite among San Diegans.  The bustling eatery dishes out contemporary American comfort food in a laid-back environment featuring rustic furnishings, open beams and architectural salvage pieces. 

Also in the family, Burlap brings Malarkey’s penchant for unique ambiance and delicious eats to the seaside town of Del Mar.  Described by Brian himself as “Asian cowboy” the cuisine consists of surf and turf items presented with bold Asian twists.  The East meets West theme is also reflected in the restaurant’s quirky décor.

The cowboy premise continues at Malarkey’s Gingham in La Mesa.  The neighborhood eatery touts itself as an “urban cowboy diner” and piles its plates with BBQ meats partnered with local craft drafts.  Decked out with a duo of bulky bars and a spacious patio built around a fire pit, it is a popular place to dine both indoors and out.

Gabardine is the fourth fabric-themed eatery and is located in Point Loma where Malarkey also resides.  The concept for this venue is based on creating the atmosphere of a “neighborhood kitchen” where diners can “gab, bar and dine” in a relaxed and cozy environment.  The menu is made up of small and large plates featuring local produce and seafood along with side dishes meant for sharing.

Last but not least, Herringbone in ocean-close La Jolla is Malarkey’s most recent venture.  The venue pays homage to its seaside location with an eclectic mix of décor that makes guests feel as if they are eating dinner in someone’s private bohemian beach house.  Mature olive trees, cozy sofas and fireplaces add to the homey charm while creative menu items from land and sea delight palates.

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If you are looking for fine dining, the best restaurants in San Diego are Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Addison, which is tucked into The Grand Del Mar, and Four-Star A.R. Valentien in The Lodge at Torrey Pines. At Addison, chef William Bradley crafts a prix-fixe seasonal menu with dishes featuring local ingredients and contemporary French influences. At A.R. Valentien, chef Jeff Jackson also focuses on fresh, local ingredients, but he turns out contemporary American fare. Both of them are great fine-dining spots.

Located in the heart of downtown San Diego’s ultra-hip Gaslamp Quarter, Gaijin Noodle + Sake House takes the trend of Asian fusion and raises it to the level of culinary artwork.  Chef Antonio Friscia, while gaijin indeed, has a firm grip on preparing authentic Japanese cuisine.  It is this knowledge which allows him to bend the rules and mingle traditional dishes with other Asian elements for some seriously savory synthesis.

Only the best and freshest local ingredients go into chef Friscia’s dishes and he takes the time to get his recipes just right.  His lobster and veggie infused dashis, for example, take him upwards of three days to craft which is evidenced in the exquisite broths of his ramen bowls and uni green tea soba noodles.   Another treat for taste buds is his “tongue & cheek” bao bao which offers a lot of bang for the bun with a spicy filling of braised beef tongue and cheek with peanuts, tamarind, jalepeño, cilantro and red rock sugar.

Guests can wash it all down with sake or cool cocktails made with house-infused vodkas and kakigori, a type of Japanese shaved ice.  Be sure to save room for a sweet finish of mocha or green tea tiramisu.  Gaijin is located at 672 Fourth Avenue in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter.

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