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A plate of sliced roast duck with garnishes.
Kingfisher’s dry-aged duck.
Kimberly Motos

The 38 Essential Restaurants in San Diego

San Diego’s essential eateries across an array of cuisines, neighborhoods, and price points 

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Kingfisher’s dry-aged duck.
| Kimberly Motos

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

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

If your favorite restaurant isn’t on the 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.

Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

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Dija Mara

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Helping to kickstart the culinary evolution of Oceanside, Dija Mara has attracted the attention of the Michelin Guide, which honored it as a 2020 “new discovery”. The modern Indonesian restaurant conveys the complex flavors of Southeast Asian cuisine through its interpretation of some of the region’s signature dishes like beef short rib rendang and nasi goreng with chicken confit.

Wrench and Rodent

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Another standout in Oceanside, this sushi spot showcases chef/owner Davin Waite’s unique skills with foraging and far-out flavor innovations. Though his approach is broad enough to include both traditional sushi and unconventional rolls paired with creative sauces, Waite is uncompromising in his care for ingredients.

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

Jeune et Jolie

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Chic to the max, the second Carlsbad restaurant from the team behind Campfire applies a SoCal twist to modern French fare. An enviable open kitchen is its sparkling stage, turning out a sophisticated but not-at-all stuffy four-course menu from executive chef Eric Bost and chef de cuisine Jacob Ruck, Jeune et Jolie is one of a handful of local establishments to have received a 2021 Michelin star.

Kylle Sebree

Campfire

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Chef Eric Bost is now at the helm of Jeune et Jolie’s casual sibling At this Carlsbad charmer, wood-fired cookery permeates every aspect of the menu, including the creative cocktails. Smoked and grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables are showcased in a stylishly rustic dining room that’s equally suited for date night or family dinners.

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

Market Restaurant & Bar

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Chef/owner Carl Schroeder, whose extensive culinary experience includes working with famed chefs Michael Mina and Bradley Ogden, has kept his well-established 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 offers a three-course tasting menu in the dining room while a la carte service is available in the bar and lounge.

Addison Restaurant

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San Diego’s only two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Addison is guided by longtime executive chef/director William Bradley, whose team leads diners through elaborate nine-course chef’s tasting dinners of contemporary California cuisine that revolves around the seasons.

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

A.R. Valentien

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The Lodge at Torrey Pines’s signature restaurant transcends hotel dining by a mile. Longtime guiding light Jeff Jackson recently took on a new position as corporate culinary advisor, passing on the executive chef role to former chef de cuisine Kelli Crosson, who oversees the restaurant’s impeccably-sourced farm-to-table cooking. Housemade terrines, Liberty Duck breast and leg confit, and beets with pistachio butter are all on the menu, served in a warm and welcoming Craftsman-style dining room.

George's At The Cove

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This three-floor stunner offers choose-your-own-adventure dining. Though its lower- level fine dining restaurant closed during the pandemic, George’s still offers top-notch views and dishes like local tuna crudo and roasted Jidori chicken at its rooftop terrace and craft cocktail-focused gastrobar. As San Diego’s top supporter of Chino Farm, its ingredients are impeccable, while 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]

Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar

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San Diego has several stellar hotel restaurants and this is one of them. The La Jolla spot, located in the Grande Colonial Hotel, is run by longtime executive chef, Jason Knibb, who is 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.

Yakitori Hino

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Japanese food is one of San Diego’s strong suits and this modest and unassuming Kearny Mesa spot is an under-the-radar industry favorite. Expertly-grilled yakitori is on the menu, along with a compelling selection of izakaya dishes, from takowasa (raw octopus with wasabi) to fried smelt. The restaurant recently added an option for omakase, or a chef’s tasting menu, featuring its skewers.

Sign saying “Hino” in front of restaurant. Candice Woo

Menya Ultra

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This Japanese transplant with multiple locations has garnered national attention and Michelin Plate recognition thanks to its masterful bowls of ramen. Its signature tonkotsu broth is rich but not overly heavy, and its noodles, made in-house, have near-perfect pull and chew.

Menya Ultra Ramen

Wayfarer Bread & Pastry

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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, the takeout-only spot has become a destination for its flaky pastries sweetened with local produce and sturdy-crusted loaves made from heirloom grains.

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

The Fishery

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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. With chef Mike Reidy running this kitchen of this restaurant that’s also a seafood distributor and retail market, this family-run Pacific Beach institution does more than its share to balance the scales.  .

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

Soichi Sushi

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This gracious family-run Adams Avenue sushi bar, which has been awarded a Michelin star, offers an eight-course omakase experience from master sushi chef Sochi Kadoya that includes delicately-prepared appetizers, nigiri, and sashimi offered alongside a well-curated sake selection.

Platter of nigiri from Soichi Sushi Soichi Sushi/Facebook

Et Voilà!

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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]

Tuetano Taqueria

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Chef Priscilla Curiel’s Michelin-recognized taqueria has now settled in as the Old Town Urban Market’s anchor tenant. Though the move from San Ysidro has resulted in higher prices, the slow-simmered birria and roasted bone marrow still make for an unparalleled combo.

A birria taco topped with bone marrow with consome and salsa on the side. Candice Woo

Fort Oak

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Honored with Michelin Plate status, the sophomore entry from the chefs behind Trust Restaurant, is a staple in Mission Hills. With a relaxed cocktail bar, upscale dining room, and chef’s counter perch it offers a range of dining experiences.

A modern dining room with glass walls.
The main dining room.
James Tran

Sushi Tadokoro

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Well-crafted nigiri sushi is one of the attractions at this Michelin-starred Old Town restaurant, which tops many sushi aficionados’ lists for its adherence to traditional Japanese style and technique. The setting is spare; all of the fireworks are reserved for what’s on the plate.

Front entrance of Sushi Tadokoro Sushi Tadokoro [Official photo]

Tribute Pizza

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Though it was initially built to honor some of the world’s great pizzerias, this North Park restaurant has earned respect for its own menu creations, from homemade bread and farmer’s market-sourced vegetable plates to its “Neo-Neapolitan” pies that ranges from creatively-topped weekly specials and classic pies.

Trust Restaurant

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Overseen by chef/co-owner Brad Wise, this stylish independent restaurant, an Eater Award -winner, has both sustained its success over the years and spawned a growing hospitality group. With a dinner menu highlighted by pasta and wood-grilled proteins, it also offers a can’t-miss brunch. fort

A modern dining room with glass walls.
The dining room.
Trust

Cori Pastificio Trattoria

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The first solo restaurant from Accursio Lota celebrates the popular chef’s Sicilian heritage and has been well-received by locals as well as the international culinary community. Located in North Park, the cozy spot serves handmade pasta, including some made with ancient grains, and entrees like pistachio-crusted lamb chops and eggplant parmigiana.

Pasta dish from Cori Pastificio Trattoria Sam Wells

Starlite

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Still cool 15 years in, Starlite helped propel the local bar scene with its then-novel concept of great cocktails matched with great food and the sleek, stylish space is still one of San Diego’s best in the category. Recently purchased by CH Projects (Ironside, Born & Raised), the restaurant will be updating its design and menu.

The bar at Starlite Starlite [Official photo]

CUCINA Urbana

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This recently-refreshed Bankers Hill restaurant and wine shop has enjoyed enduring popularity due to its consistently-good contemporary Italian cuisine that includes pasta, pizzas, and starters like fried squash blossoms and seasonal starters.

Dining room at Cucina Urbana Cucina Urbana [Official photos]

The Rose Wine Bar

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The neighborhood favorite enhanced its offerings during the pandemic, adding lunch service, expanding its seasonal dinner menu, tacking on a full cocktail list, and opening an adjacent bakery. A longtime champion of the natural wine scene, it’s also the one of the best places 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

Juniper & Ivy

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Continuing to serve as one of the anchors of Little Italy’s ever-growing restaurant scene, the admired restaurant is still in the hands of longstanding executive chef Anthony Wells, a recent James Beard Awards semifinalist, whose menu of “left coast cookery” is informed by his commitment to support local farmers and fishermen..

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

Herb & Wood

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Herb & Wood is still a stunning spot to see -and -be -seen in, with its California-meets-Mediterranean menu of grilled meats, pastas, and wood-fired pizza, as well as a standout brunch, keeps diners coming back. Six years in, the restaurant is now being headed up by executive chef Carlos Anthony under the mentorship of its celebrity chef owner, Brian Malarkey.

Dining room at Herb & Wood Bailey Films

Kettner Exchange

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An expansive rooftop patio is part of the draw at this bi-level restaurant that’s a fixture on the nightlife scene but was also recognized with Michelin Bib Gourmand status in 2021 for executive chef Brian Redzikowski’s consistently tasty and thoughtful food that inflected with Asian ingredients and techniques.

The bar at Kettner Exchange Kettner Exchange [Official photo]

Born and Raised

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This Little Italy steakhouse has firmly established its classic status. 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 rooftop patio at night with columns made to look like trees with twinkling lights and a black and white striped floor. Born & Raised [Official photo]

Civico 1845

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This warmly-welcoming restaurant, one of the anchors of Little Italy’s main thoroughfare, offers a 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]

Morning Glory

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Awarded Bib Gourmand status by the Michelin Guide, this popular brunch spot stands out by serving an internationally-inspired breakfast menu (think egg fried rice and breakfast carbonara) 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]

KINDRED

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This South Park rebel makes its mark with the rarely-seen pairing of top-notch craft cocktails with a creative and comforting vegan menu. Add a dose of seriously eye-catching design and you’ve got a winner.

Dining room at Kindred Kindred [Official photo]

Buona Forchetta

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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]