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8 Dive Bars With Unexpectedly Great Food

Where to find bar food that you don’t have to be inebriated to enjoy.

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There exists a certain stigma or rather stereotype surrounding dive bars that people come to expect--seedy interior, colorful clientele, grumpy bartenders, cheap drinks, and questionable food, if any. For many, this is what people love about them (or hate, depending on which side of the argument you fall), and it’s usually a very accurate portrayal. As far as the questionable food goes though, this isn’t necessarily a rule, and as Eater has discovered through extensive research conducted over stiff drinks at the bar, San Diego actually has a surprisingly good selection of dive bars with menus that you’ll actually want to order from.

While we assume that most of you will frequent these bars for the cheap cocktails, these 8 spots will give you another reason to visit, and you won’t need to be inebriated to enjoy the pub fare.


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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. High Dive Bar & Grill

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1801 Morena Blvd
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 275-0460
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The High Dive is a little more upscale than most dive bars, but a dive bar nonetheless. They offer breakfast through dinner options, and an impressive salad collection for those who prefer something on the lighter side (to pass on the grease). The breakfast burger seems to be a fan favorite, as is the the Ortega Turkey Melt. And you won’t want to pass up the indulgent gorgonzola fries. Different food specials are offered every day of the week, starting at 5pm.

2. Rocky's Crown Pub

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3786 Ingraham St
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 273-9140
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With this pub it’s not about the quantity of the menu, but rather the quality. Physical menus don’t actually exist here; instead your “choices” are written on a chalkboard behind the bar. Your only option is a burger and fries, and beyond that you can customize it only by size (½ lb. patty or ⅓ lb. patty) and whether or not you want cheese. The simplicity is refreshing, and the burger itself is nothing short of phenomenal. Locals hold this place in high regard and it’s heralded as the best burger in San Diego.

3. Latitude 32

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5019 Cass St
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 273-0501
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They only serve beer and wine here, so if you’re looking for options and variety you will want to consult the food menu. You can place your order at the kitchen window in the back of the bar and you will be rewarded with a hot and fresh hoagie or an overloaded cheese steak sandwich (there offer about six different types). Both are immensely filling and satisfying, but since the place advertises itself as ‘San Diego’s King of the Philly Cheese Steak’ we recommend the latter, if only for the experience. The kitchen closes at 9pm so make sure to plan accordingly.

4. Tin Can Alehouse

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1863 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 955-8525
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The concept behind the food here is a little unorthodox, but it seems to be working and the customers are eating it up, literally. In order to maintain their liquor license, The Tin Can needed to offer food, so it opened its kitchen to a third party business, Doods Food, to operate out of and serve their customers. The food is simple, with a twist: made-from-scratch burgers and sandwiches meant to appeal to the strapped-for-cash clientele. At lunch, (11am to 4pm), you can get a burger and fries for $5, and at happy hour (4pm to 8pm), a side of fries comes free with each sandwich. What you really want to try, though, is their original California burgito, a hybrid of a Southern California burrito and a cheeseburger. Use your imagination to figure out how that works or visit The Tin Can and try it yourself. Kitchen is open until 10 at night; later on weekends.

5. Effins Pub & Grill

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6164 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92115
(619) 229-9800
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It could be that the standards for quality food are just a little lower with Effin’s customers--located right next to SDSU’s campus, most patrons are college students--but the general consensus among those who frequent here is that the food is pretty darn good. One even makes the bold claim that this place has the best wings in town. From the outside, it doesn’t look necessarily look like somewhere you would want to dine, but what dive bar does? If you’re brave enough to order, try a unique house original like the corned beef tacos, or satisfy your sweet tooth with the Cake Ballz, served in three on a skewer with spicy jam--flavors include Red Velvet, Salted Caramel, and S’mores. Daily food specials are offered Monday through Sunday.

6. McGregor's Grill & Ale House

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10475 San Diego Mission Road
San Diego, CA 92108
(619) 282-9797
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It’s been voted #1 Sports Bar in San Diego by the Union-Tribune so that’s proof that there is something redeeming about this dive. While the food menu itself doesn’t appear much different than what you’d find on any other dive bar menu, it’s the taste that sets it apart from the rest. Fans insist that you’re making a mistake if you don’t try the pastrami sandwich, and the hand cut potato skins come highly recommended. The portions are plentiful and everything on the menu is under $11, so you’ll be full and your wallet will too--unless you get carried away with the cocktails. They do monthly food specials and currently they are running an Oktoberfest-themed special, which includes Bavarian penne pasta and beer braised brats. Bonus is that the kitchen stays open really late here.

7. Bub's Dive Bar & Grill

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1030 Garnet Ave
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 270-7269
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People usually hit this place up mid-week for the ridiculously good Wing Wednesday special--.25 cent wings from 11am-6pm--but the menu has so much more to offer besides that. The food isn’t cheap, per say, but it isn’t expensive either and you’re basically paying for a meal that is a few notches above the standard of quality in your average dive bar. If you’re here, people insist that you can’t miss with the steakums (marinated steak served on a skillet, can be prepared two different ways) and they have an entire menu dedicated to different types of tater tots. Daily food specials are available all week, and it’s $3 off appetizers at happy hour from 4-7, Monday through Friday. Also, you get a free basket of peanuts at your table, the shells of which you are encouraged to toss on the floor so the entire place is covered in them; translation: watch your step as you cross the bar.

8. Red Fox Room

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2223 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 297-1313
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This iconic piece of San Diego history is revered just as much for its dive bar status as it is for its steakhouse status. The dim lights, vinyl booths, and old-school ambience make this a perfect place to sink back a cocktail in comfort, but oftentimes what people really come here for is the food--specifically the beef. Tender, aged, and flavored to perfection, every cut on the menu is a good call; not to mention that each entree includes a relish dish, a salad, garlic cheese bread, and your choice of baked potato, french fries or rice. The seafood specialties are just as varied and just as delicious. Before you go, know that the food isn’t exactly cheap, but you’re paying for a fabulous culinary experience, and as far as food in dive bars go it is worth every penny. Fun fact: Esquire Magazine voted this place Best Bar in America.

1. High Dive Bar & Grill

1801 Morena Blvd, San Diego, CA 92110
The High Dive is a little more upscale than most dive bars, but a dive bar nonetheless. They offer breakfast through dinner options, and an impressive salad collection for those who prefer something on the lighter side (to pass on the grease). The breakfast burger seems to be a fan favorite, as is the the Ortega Turkey Melt. And you won’t want to pass up the indulgent gorgonzola fries. Different food specials are offered every day of the week, starting at 5pm.
1801 Morena Blvd
San Diego, CA 92110

2. Rocky's Crown Pub

3786 Ingraham St, San Diego, CA 92109
With this pub it’s not about the quantity of the menu, but rather the quality. Physical menus don’t actually exist here; instead your “choices” are written on a chalkboard behind the bar. Your only option is a burger and fries, and beyond that you can customize it only by size (½ lb. patty or ⅓ lb. patty) and whether or not you want cheese. The simplicity is refreshing, and the burger itself is nothing short of phenomenal. Locals hold this place in high regard and it’s heralded as the best burger in San Diego.
3786 Ingraham St
San Diego, CA 92109

3. Latitude 32

5019 Cass St, San Diego, CA 92109
They only serve beer and wine here, so if you’re looking for options and variety you will want to consult the food menu. You can place your order at the kitchen window in the back of the bar and you will be rewarded with a hot and fresh hoagie or an overloaded cheese steak sandwich (there offer about six different types). Both are immensely filling and satisfying, but since the place advertises itself as ‘San Diego’s King of the Philly Cheese Steak’ we recommend the latter, if only for the experience. The kitchen closes at 9pm so make sure to plan accordingly.
5019 Cass St
San Diego, CA 92109

4. Tin Can Alehouse

1863 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
The concept behind the food here is a little unorthodox, but it seems to be working and the customers are eating it up, literally. In order to maintain their liquor license, The Tin Can needed to offer food, so it opened its kitchen to a third party business, Doods Food, to operate out of and serve their customers. The food is simple, with a twist: made-from-scratch burgers and sandwiches meant to appeal to the strapped-for-cash clientele. At lunch, (11am to 4pm), you can get a burger and fries for $5, and at happy hour (4pm to 8pm), a side of fries comes free with each sandwich. What you really want to try, though, is their original California burgito, a hybrid of a Southern California burrito and a cheeseburger. Use your imagination to figure out how that works or visit The Tin Can and try it yourself. Kitchen is open until 10 at night; later on weekends.
1863 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101

5. Effins Pub & Grill

6164 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115
It could be that the standards for quality food are just a little lower with Effin’s customers--located right next to SDSU’s campus, most patrons are college students--but the general consensus among those who frequent here is that the food is pretty darn good. One even makes the bold claim that this place has the best wings in town. From the outside, it doesn’t look necessarily look like somewhere you would want to dine, but what dive bar does? If you’re brave enough to order, try a unique house original like the corned beef tacos, or satisfy your sweet tooth with the Cake Ballz, served in three on a skewer with spicy jam--flavors include Red Velvet, Salted Caramel, and S’mores. Daily food specials are offered Monday through Sunday.
6164 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92115

6. McGregor's Grill & Ale House

10475 San Diego Mission Road, San Diego, CA 92108
It’s been voted #1 Sports Bar in San Diego by the Union-Tribune so that’s proof that there is something redeeming about this dive. While the food menu itself doesn’t appear much different than what you’d find on any other dive bar menu, it’s the taste that sets it apart from the rest. Fans insist that you’re making a mistake if you don’t try the pastrami sandwich, and the hand cut potato skins come highly recommended. The portions are plentiful and everything on the menu is under $11, so you’ll be full and your wallet will too--unless you get carried away with the cocktails. They do monthly food specials and currently they are running an Oktoberfest-themed special, which includes Bavarian penne pasta and beer braised brats. Bonus is that the kitchen stays open really late here.
10475 San Diego Mission Road
San Diego, CA 92108

7. Bub's Dive Bar & Grill

1030 Garnet Ave, San Diego, CA 92109
People usually hit this place up mid-week for the ridiculously good Wing Wednesday special--.25 cent wings from 11am-6pm--but the menu has so much more to offer besides that. The food isn’t cheap, per say, but it isn’t expensive either and you’re basically paying for a meal that is a few notches above the standard of quality in your average dive bar. If you’re here, people insist that you can’t miss with the steakums (marinated steak served on a skillet, can be prepared two different ways) and they have an entire menu dedicated to different types of tater tots. Daily food specials are available all week, and it’s $3 off appetizers at happy hour from 4-7, Monday through Friday. Also, you get a free basket of peanuts at your table, the shells of which you are encouraged to toss on the floor so the entire place is covered in them; translation: watch your step as you cross the bar.
1030 Garnet Ave
San Diego, CA 92109

8. Red Fox Room

2223 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92104
This iconic piece of San Diego history is revered just as much for its dive bar status as it is for its steakhouse status. The dim lights, vinyl booths, and old-school ambience make this a perfect place to sink back a cocktail in comfort, but oftentimes what people really come here for is the food--specifically the beef. Tender, aged, and flavored to perfection, every cut on the menu is a good call; not to mention that each entree includes a relish dish, a salad, garlic cheese bread, and your choice of baked potato, french fries or rice. The seafood specialties are just as varied and just as delicious. Before you go, know that the food isn’t exactly cheap, but you’re paying for a fabulous culinary experience, and as far as food in dive bars go it is worth every penny. Fun fact: Esquire Magazine voted this place Best Bar in America.
2223 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92104

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