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A dish of Filipino kare kare made with short ribs, eggplant, and green beans.
Kare kare at Animae
Jim Sullivan

38 Essential Restaurants in San Diego, Fall 2021

San Diego’s essential eateries across an array of cuisines, neighborhoods, and price points — even during the pandemic

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Kare kare at Animae
| Jim Sullivan

Presenting San Diego’s updated Eater 38, your answer to any question that begins, “Can you recommend a restaurant?”

This standout group of 38 must-try restaurants reflects the best of our diverse dining culture and is meant to cover the city of San Diego and beyond while spanning a range of price points and neighborhoods.

With every update, Eater San Diego adds a few restaurants that have newly become eligible or have stepped up their game. As such, a few restaurants are retired from the map each quarter — not necessarily forever — to make room.

Restaurants on this list must be open for six months to be qualify for consideration. For buzz on newer restaurants, check out our monthly Eater heatmap.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

If your favorite restaurant isn’t on list, send us a note nominating it for inclusion; we’ll be posting updated versions of the Eater 38 map throughout the year.

For all the latest San Diego dining intel, subscribe to Eater San Diego’s newsletter.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Dija Mara

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232 S Coast Hwy
Oceanside, CA 92054
(760) 231-5376
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Helping to kickstart the culinary evolution of Oceanside, the restaurant has attracted the attention of the Michelin Guide, which honored it as a 2020 “new discovery” along with four other San Diego restaurants. The restaurant conveys the complex flavors of Southeast Asian cuisine through its interpretation of some of the area’s signature dishes.

2. Wrench and Rodent

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1815 S Coast Hwy
Oceanside, CA 92054
(760) 271-0531
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Another standout in Oceanside, sushi spot Wrench and Rodent showcases chef/owner Davin Waite’s unique skills with foraging and far-out flavor innovations. Though his path veers from traditional sushi to include unconventional rolls and creative sauces, Waite is uncompromising in his care for ingredients.

The sushi bar at Wrench and Rodent Wrench and Rodent/Facebook

3. Jeune et Jolie

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2659 State St Suite 102
Carlsbad, CA 92008
(760) 637-5266
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Chic to the max, the second Carlsbad restaurant from the team behind Campfire is a modern French restaurant seen through a SoCal lens. An enviable open kitchen is the sparkling stage, turning out a sophisticated but not at all stuffy menu that’s quickly become an industry favorite. Under executive chef Eric Bost, Jeune et Jolie was recently awarded a Michelin star.

Kylle Sebree

4. Campfire

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2725 State St
Carlsbad, CA 92008
(760) 637-5121
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Jeune et Jolie’s casual sibling is now overseen by chef Eric Bost. At this sincere charmer, wood-fired cookery permeates every aspect of the menu, including the creative cocktails. Smoked and grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables are showcased in an atmosphere that’s equally suited for date night or family dinners.

Carlsbad's New Campfire Sets Off Sparks in North County's Food Scene

5. Market Restaurant & Bar

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3702 Via De La Valle
Del Mar, CA 92014
(858) 523-0007
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Chef/owner Carl Schroeder, whose extensive culinary experience includes working with famed chef Michael Mina and Bradley Ogden, has kept the longstanding restaurant open while remaining faithful to a hyper-seasonal cooking style inspired by local farms including the nearby Alice Waters-endorsed Chino Farm. The restaurant is now offering a reservation-only, three-course tasting menu in the dining room while the bar and lounge are open for walk-ins.

6. Addison Restaurant

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5200 Grand Del Mar Way
San Diego, CA 92130
(858) 314-1900
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At San Diego’s only two Michelin star restaurant, longtime executive chef/director William Bradley and his team guide diners through elaborate five or ten course chef’s tasting dinners.

Front entryway of Addison Restaurant with a sunset sky in the background. Addison [Official photo]

7. A.R. Valentien

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11480 N Torrey Pines Rd
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 777-6635
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The signature restaurant of The Lodge at Torrey Pines transcends hotel dining by a mile. Here, executive chef Jeff Jackson and chef de cuisine Kelli Crosson collaborate on impeccably sourced farm-to-table cooking, featuring dishes like housemade terrines, Liberty Duck breast and leg confit, and beets with pistachio butter, in a warm and welcoming Craftsman-style dining room.

8. Galaxy Taco

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2259 Avenida De La Playa
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 228-5655
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With a culinary program led by executive chef Christine Rivera that hinges on its labor-intensive masa production, Galaxy continues to be a leader among modern Mexican restaurants and is known for its regular guest chef collaborations.

9. George's At The Cove

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1250 Prospect St
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 454-4244
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This three-floor stunner offers choose-your-own-adventure dining. Though its fine dining lower- level restaurant is temporarily closed, George’s still offers top-notch views and food at its rooftop terrace and craft cocktail-focused gastrobar. As San Diego’s top supporter of Chino Farms, the ingredients are impeccable, and executive chef/partner Trey Foshee is one of the city’s most admired chefs.

The dining room at George’s at the Cove George’s at the Cove [Official photo]

10. Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar

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910 Prospect St
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 964-5400
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San Diego has several stellar hotel restaurants and this is one of them. The La Jolla restaurant, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is helmed by longtime executive Jason Knibb who admired by the food-obsessed and other local chefs for his precise and never pretentious California cuisine. Check out his signature dish, the Jamaican jerk pork belly.

11. Menya Ultra

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8199 Clairemont Mesa Blvd m
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 571-2010
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This Japanese transplant with multiple locations has garnered national attention and Michelin Plate recognition thanks to masterful bowls of ramen, set apart by a signature tonkotsu broth that rich but not overly heavy and noodles made in-house that have near-perfect pull and chew.

Menya Ultra Ramen

12. Wayfarer Bread & Pastry

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5525 La Jolla Blvd
La Jolla, CA 92037

When it set up shop in the quiet coastal community of Bird Rock in 2018, Wayfarer brought the beach its first real-deal bakery. Established by owner and master baker Crystal White, it’s become a destination worth trekking to for its flaky pastries sweetened with local produce and sturdy-crusted loaves made of heirloom grains.

The bread counter at Wayfarer Bread & Pastry Wayfarer Bread & Pastry [Official photo]

13. The Fishery

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5040 Cass St
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 272-9985
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For a city of its size, San Diego has too few restaurants dedicated to showcasing local seafood and the bounty of the West Coast. This Pacific Beach stalwart, which recently got a makeover, is a seafood distributor, retail market, restaurant, and cocktail bar in one.

The front entrance of The Fishery The Fishery [Official photo]

14. Sushi Ota

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4529 Mission Bay Dr
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 270-5670
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Venerable sushi master/owner Yukito Ota has trained many of the city’s top sushi chefs and still presides over a sushi bar that serves one of the top omakase experiences in town from an unassuming space in a Pacific Beach strip mall.

Tea cup on the sushi bar at Sushi Ota Sushi Ota [Official photo]

15. SOICHI

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2121 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 677-2220
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This intimate, family-run Adams Avenue sushi bar, which has been awarded a Michelin star, offers a multi-course omakase experience from master sushi chef Sochi Kadoya and a well-curated sake selection.

Platter of nigiri from Soichi Sushi Soichi Sushi/Facebook

16. Et Voilà!

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3015 Adams Ave #103
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 209-7759
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This neighborhood bistro, run by a veteran of the city’s best French restaurants, has charm for days. Its relaxed bar and comfortable dining room are a fine setting for French classics that include made-to-order sky-high souffles.

Dining room at Et Voila Et Voila [Official photo]

17. Fort Oak

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1011 Fort Stockton Dr
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 722-3398
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The sophomore entry from Trust Restaurant, recently honored with Michelin Plate status, is already a staple in Mission Hills where it offers up a range of experiences via its relaxed cocktail bar or upscale dining room.

Haley Hill Photography

18. Sushi Tadokoro

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2244 San Diego Ave
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 297-0298
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The winner of a coveted Michelin star, this Old Town restaurant tops many sushi aficionados’ lists for its adherence to traditional Japanese style and technique featuring well-crated nigiri sushi. The setting is spare but there’s fireworks on the plate.

Front entrance of Sushi Tadokoro Sushi Tadokoro [Official photo]

19. Tribute Pizza

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3077 North Park Way
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 450-4505
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Though it was initially built to honor some of the world’s great pizzerias, the North Park eatery has carved out a highly-respected identity that may inspire tributes of its own. Its accomplished “Neo-Neapolitan” pies are often topped with farmer’s market produce.

20. Trust Restaurant

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3752 Park Blvd
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 795-6901
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This stylish independent restaurant, an Eater Award-winner, has handily sustained its success over the years and spawned a growing hospitality empire, is overseen by hard-working chef/co-owner Brad Wise.

Dining room at Trust Lyudmila Zotova

21. Wine Vault & Bistro

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3731 India St
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 295-3939
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The unique format of this atypical restaurant allows the kitchen to change its menu daily and offer seasonal, creative plates at accessible prices. Operating regularly Thursday through Saturday, the wine bar and shop serve three and five-course set menus and features winemaker dinners on other nights of the week.

Dining room at Wine Vault & Bistro Wine Vault [Official photo]

22. Cori Pastificio Trattoria

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2977 Upas St
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 573-6159
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The first solo restaurant from popular chef Accursio Lota has been well-received by locals as well as the international culinary community. The cozy North Park eatery, where the chef celebrates his Sicilian heritage, has been honored by Gambero Rosso, an Italian food and wine magazine.

Pasta dish from Cori Pastificio Trattoria Sam Wells

23. Starlite

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3175 India St
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 358-9766
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Nearly 15 years ago, Starlite helped locally kickstart the concept of a craft cocktail bar that also serves great food and it’s still one of San Diego’s best practitioners of the combo.

The bar at Starlite Starlite [Official photo]

24. CUCINA Urbana

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505 Laurel St
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 239-2222
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Tables at this well-established Bankers Hill spot are still some of the most sought-after in town thanks to a shareable Italian-inspired menu that’s both modern and familiar.

Dining room at Cucina Urbana Cucina Urbana [Official photos]

25. The Rose Wine Bar

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2219 30th St
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 281-0718
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The neighborhood favorite spent 2020 enhancing its offerings, from adding lunch service to expanding its seasonal dinner menu, tacking on a full cocktail list, and even opening an adjacent bakery. A longtime champion of the natural wine scene, it’s also the best place in town to taste and buy local wine.

Two dining tables in front of the bar inside the Rose Wine Bar in South Park Arlene Ibarra

26. Juniper & Ivy

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2228 Kettner Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 269-9036
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The acclaimed Little Italy restaurant enters its next chapter under Jason Franey, a veteran of Campton Place and Eleven Madison Park and former recipient of the Food & Wine’s “Best New Chef” award during his tenure at Canlis in Seattle.

Dining room at Juniper & Ivy Juniper & Ivy [Official photo]

27. Herb & Wood

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2210 Kettner Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 955-8495
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With local celeb chef Brian Malarkey at the helm, Herb & Wood is a stunning spot to see-and-be-seen, but it has also managed to become one of the city’s top destinations for thoughtful yet accessible dining.

Dining room at Herb & Wood Bailey Films

28. Kettner Exchange

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2001 Kettner Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 255-2001
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Executive chef Brian Redzikowski shines brightest at his Chef’s Table experience, when he can fully tap into his culinary depths, but the well-trained chef’s Asian-inflected a la carte menu is also consistently tasty and thoughtful.

The bar at Kettner Exchange Kettner Exchange [Official photo]

29. Born and Raised

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1909 India St
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 202-4577
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This Little Italy steakhouse is firmly on its way to becoming a classic. Thrill to Caesar salads, omelets, and steak tartare made tableside followed by luxurious cuts of dry aged beef cut to order, prized Wagyu beef grilled on Japanese charcoal, and retro hits like Tournedos Rossini and Steak Diane. 

The roooftop patio at Born & Raised is shown at nigh with columns made to look like trees with twinkling lights and a black and white striped floor. Chairs around circular tables have pink upholstery with brass legs. Born & Raised [Official photo]

30. Civico 1845

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1845 India St
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 431-5990
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This warmly-welcoming restaurant, on of the anchors of Little Italy offers menu of Southern Italian seafood dishes made with local ingredients as well as modern innovations on Italian classics using vegan and gluten-free ingredients.

Dining room at Civico 1845 Civico 1845 [Official photo]

31. Morning Glory

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550 W Date St
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 629-0302
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Recently given Bib Gourmand status by the Michelin Guide, this crowd-drawing brunch spot stands out by serving an internationally-inspired breakfast menu and commendable cocktails in a pink-hued, fantastical setting.

Pink velvet booths at Morning Glory sit under a large chandelier shaped like a pink flower. Morning Glory [Official photo]

32. KINDRED

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1503 30th St
San Diego, CA 92102
(619) 546-9653
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This South Park rebel makes its mark with the rarely-seen pairing of top-notch craft cocktails with a chef-powered, vegan menu. Add a dose of seriously eye-catching design and you’ve got a winner.

Dining room at Kindred Kindred [Official photo]

33. Buona Forchetta

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3001 Beech St
San Diego, CA 92102
(619) 381-4844
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With outposts throughout San Diego, the flagship location of this friendly, family-owned Italian restaurant remains the most beloved. Regulars rave about the pizzas that emerge from its signature gold-tiled ovens as well as the pastas, both are also available gluten-free.

Pizza coming out of the oven at Buona Forchetta Buona Forchetta [Official photo]

34. Animae

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969 Pacific Hwy
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 432-1225
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Filipino food has never had such an opulent stage than at Animae, where its newest executive chef Tara Monsod is cooking an exciting Pan-Asian menu highlighted by her take on Filipino classics like lumpia and kare kare. Already bustling with the chef’s supporters, the restaurant recently received Michelin Plate honors from the Michelin Guide.

A wedge of charred cabbage in brown butter miso with a charred lime.
Coal-fired cabbage at Animae.
Jim Sullivan

35. Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop

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640 Tenth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 450-5880
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This enduring East Village steakhouse, still gleaming from a recent expansion and remodel, serves contemporary American cuisine from longtime chef Victor H. Jimenez. The best seat might be at the chef’s counter, where you can watch the kitchen while enjoying a multi-course meal.

36. Serea Coastal Cuisine

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1500 Orange Ave
Coronado, CA 92118
(619) 435-6611
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The anchor restaurant at the iconic Hotel del Coronado is also a showcase for the region’s best seafood. Chef JoJo Ruiz (Lionfish, Ironside) has a long history of supporting local fisherman, whose fresh catch is cooked whole and served tableside just steps from the beach.

37. Aqui Es Texcoco

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520 Broadway
Chula Vista, CA 91910
(619) 427-4045
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This Chula Vista fixture is a frequent stop for locals and a temple to traditional lamb borrego, cooked slowly until succulent and served in simple, tasty preparations, from tacos to flautas. Adventurous diners might try the whole roasted lamb head.

38. Tuetano Taqueria

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143 W San Ysidro Blvd
San Ysidro, CA 92173
(619) 856-7013

Attracting fans from both side of the border, this modest eatery has earned Michelin acclaim for its celebrated specialty, Mexican birria, showcased in mind-blowing tacos gilded with unctuous bone marrow. Grab a taco now before the restaurant moves to a new location in Old Town.

Bone marrow taco at Tuetano Taqueria in a brown paper boat on a yellow stool. Mario Cortez

1. Dija Mara

232 S Coast Hwy, Oceanside, CA 92054

Helping to kickstart the culinary evolution of Oceanside, the restaurant has attracted the attention of the Michelin Guide, which honored it as a 2020 “new discovery” along with four other San Diego restaurants. The restaurant conveys the complex flavors of Southeast Asian cuisine through its interpretation of some of the area’s signature dishes.

232 S Coast Hwy
Oceanside, CA 92054

2. Wrench and Rodent

1815 S Coast Hwy, Oceanside, CA 92054
The sushi bar at Wrench and Rodent Wrench and Rodent/Facebook

Another standout in Oceanside, sushi spot Wrench and Rodent showcases chef/owner Davin Waite’s unique skills with foraging and far-out flavor innovations. Though his path veers from traditional sushi to include unconventional rolls and creative sauces, Waite is uncompromising in his care for ingredients.

1815 S Coast Hwy
Oceanside, CA 92054

3. Jeune et Jolie

2659 State St Suite 102, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Kylle Sebree

Chic to the max, the second Carlsbad restaurant from the team behind Campfire is a modern French restaurant seen through a SoCal lens. An enviable open kitchen is the sparkling stage, turning out a sophisticated but not at all stuffy menu that’s quickly become an industry favorite. Under executive chef Eric Bost, Jeune et Jolie was recently awarded a Michelin star.

2659 State St Suite 102
Carlsbad, CA 92008

4. Campfire

2725 State St, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Carlsbad's New Campfire Sets Off Sparks in North County's Food Scene

Jeune et Jolie’s casual sibling is now overseen by chef Eric Bost. At this sincere charmer, wood-fired cookery permeates every aspect of the menu, including the creative cocktails. Smoked and grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables are showcased in an atmosphere that’s equally suited for date night or family dinners.

2725 State St
Carlsbad, CA 92008

5. Market Restaurant & Bar

3702 Via De La Valle, Del Mar, CA 92014

Chef/owner Carl Schroeder, whose extensive culinary experience includes working with famed chef Michael Mina and Bradley Ogden, has kept the longstanding restaurant open while remaining faithful to a hyper-seasonal cooking style inspired by local farms including the nearby Alice Waters-endorsed Chino Farm. The restaurant is now offering a reservation-only, three-course tasting menu in the dining room while the bar and lounge are open for walk-ins.

3702 Via De La Valle
Del Mar, CA 92014

6. Addison Restaurant

5200 Grand Del Mar Way, San Diego,