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Where to Eat in National City

Get to know this South Bay city’s food scene

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National City doesn’t get enough love from the food world. The often overlooked municipality sandwiched between San Diego and Chula Vista is one of the county’s most diverse communities, boasting a major FIlipino and Mexican presence among its large immigrant population. At the same time, National City has been fertile ground for new, incoming businesses riding the wave of development in town.

This interplay between old and new, occurring in one of the most diverse communities in the county, has yielded a great mix of novel eateries looking to create their legacy next to old standards gone unappreciated for too long.

Get to know some outstanding National City restaurants, both old and new, with our guide.

NOTE: Entries are listed geographically

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Esquina Vintage and Coffee

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National City’s first independent coffee shop pays homage to National City’s rich history of lowriding while pouring delicious coffee drinks. Sip your cafe de olla, spiced with cinnamon, piloncillo, and orange peel, among memorabilia of car cruises long past, but still alive in local memory. 

Napoleone's Pizza House

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An urban legend says rock icon Tom Waits once worked at this historic eatery, which has been owned and managed by three generations of the same family. The walls of this pizza parlor are lined with local history and the pies coming out of the oven are baked the Neapolitan way, with the toppings underneath a gratuitous layer of cheese. 

Niederfrank's Ice Cream

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National City might be seeing a wave of developments and new businesses spouting up, but Niederfrank’s remains a familiar sight for residents young and old. In business for more than seven decades now, each batch of ice cream and sorbet made here is done the old-fashioned way and with no artificial ingredients. 

Naturale Deli

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Chef Priscilla Curiel’s side project in National City is a perfect morning or midday stop for lighter and healthier fare. House sandwiches, wraps, and salads are all made with quality, fresh ingredients as an alternative to the nearby fast food options. Smoothies range from sweet berry blends to high-nutrient, deep-green power mixes. 

Zarlitos Family Restaurant

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As the main center of of the South Bay’s FIlipino population, National City is full of great stops for FIlipino food. A local food landmark, Zarlito’s has been a local favorite for decades with its traditional dishes in a homey environment. Arrozcaldo, pork belly chicharron, kare kare, and lumpia are a few of the many dishes which keep regulars coming back for more. 

664 Tj Birrieria

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Tijuana-style birria is the house specialty at this Highland Avenue outpost. The straightforward menu offers birria in bowl servings or stuffed into crispy, red-coated tacos and quesadillas. Dip your tacos into the consome which cooked the birria for an extra splash of beefy, spicy flavor. 

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Royal Mandarin

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This old-school Chinese restaurant delivers on traditional Chinese-American dishes served family style, however its famous black pepper wings stand out above the rest. Perfectly crispy with just the right amount of salt and pepper and chopped green onion, it is no surprise these wings are considered the best in town by many. 

Royal Mandarin

Tacos El G

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Once a Tacos El Gordo location, the locale was taken over by new management. Much like the world since, the adobada-stacked trompos have kept on spinning at this Highland Avenue taqueria. Like its predecessor, this is the spot in National City to get Tijuana-style tacos stuffed with carne asada, chicken, lengua, tripa, and the aforementioned adobada, always spinning by the fire.

Tacos El G

Gorditas Don Andres

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The taco might be the most famous Mexican corn vessel, but the marquee gordita — a nixtamal disk sliced and stuffed with stews — gets the spotlight all to herself at Gorditas Don Andres. Fillings range from modest beans and cheese all the way to dark moles and fatty chicharron with nopales. 

Mi Pana Latín American Cuisine

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Dive into San Diego’s only Venezuelan restaurant, which serves corn flour arepas, fried plantain sandwiches, and refreshing papelon lemonade. Mexican, Colombian, and Central American plates also appear on the menu, along with dishes fusing ingredients from across all latitudes of the Americas. 

Machete Beer House

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Grab a pint of local suds at National City’s first craft-only tasting room. While the exterior is very low key, inside you’ll find a wood-furnished space and 30 taps pouring everything from funky sours to deep stouts. Machete’s micheladas can be made with your beer of choice and always hit the spot. Close the door on the way in, the AC is running.

Porky's Lechon Barbecue

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Lechon reigns supreme at this restaurant specializing in the art of oven roasting soft sucking pig. Better known for catering huge Filipino parties and boodle fight banquets, you can also stop into Porky’s for a quick combo meal from their hot bar full of FIlipino favorites from Tuesday through Sunday. 

Tita's Kitchenette

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This beloved restaurant east of the 805 plates homestyle Filipino favorites cafeteria style every day. The hot cafeteria bar is both a feast for the eyes, with its hot stews and piles of crispy meats, and a classic FIlipino feast, with its generous portions. Love kare kare and chicken adobo? Come early, their most popular dishes regularly sell out. 

Tita’s Kitchenette

Project Reo Collective

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While technically within the limits of the City of San Diego, this community-oriented coffee shop and art space is a favorite of many a resident of National City. Stop in for your favorite drip or espresso-based drink with a pastry from supplier Bread and Cie. PRC’s signature El Rudo cold brew is as strong as the masked luchador on its logo. 

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Esquina Vintage and Coffee

National City’s first independent coffee shop pays homage to National City’s rich history of lowriding while pouring delicious coffee drinks. Sip your cafe de olla, spiced with cinnamon, piloncillo, and orange peel, among memorabilia of car cruises long past, but still alive in local memory. 

Napoleone's Pizza House

An urban legend says rock icon Tom Waits once worked at this historic eatery, which has been owned and managed by three generations of the same family. The walls of this pizza parlor are lined with local history and the pies coming out of the oven are baked the Neapolitan way, with the toppings underneath a gratuitous layer of cheese. 

Niederfrank's Ice Cream

National City might be seeing a wave of developments and new businesses spouting up, but Niederfrank’s remains a familiar sight for residents young and old. In business for more than seven decades now, each batch of ice cream and sorbet made here is done the old-fashioned way and with no artificial ingredients. 

Naturale Deli

Chef Priscilla Curiel’s side project in National City is a perfect morning or midday stop for lighter and healthier fare. House sandwiches, wraps, and salads are all made with quality, fresh ingredients as an alternative to the nearby fast food options. Smoothies range from sweet berry blends to high-nutrient, deep-green power mixes. 

Zarlitos Family Restaurant

As the main center of of the South Bay’s FIlipino population, National City is full of great stops for FIlipino food. A local food landmark, Zarlito’s has been a local favorite for decades with its traditional dishes in a homey environment. Arrozcaldo, pork belly chicharron, kare kare, and lumpia are a few of the many dishes which keep regulars coming back for more. 

664 Tj Birrieria

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Tijuana-style birria is the house specialty at this Highland Avenue outpost. The straightforward menu offers birria in bowl servings or stuffed into crispy, red-coated tacos and quesadillas. Dip your tacos into the consome which cooked the birria for an extra splash of beefy, spicy flavor. 

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Royal Mandarin

Royal Mandarin

This old-school Chinese restaurant delivers on traditional Chinese-American dishes served family style, however its famous black pepper wings stand out above the rest. Perfectly crispy with just the right amount of salt and pepper and chopped green onion, it is no surprise these wings are considered the best in town by many. 

Royal Mandarin

Tacos El G

Tacos El G

Once a Tacos El Gordo location, the locale was taken over by new management. Much like the world since, the adobada-stacked trompos have kept on spinning at this Highland Avenue taqueria. Like its predecessor, this is the spot in National City to get Tijuana-style tacos stuffed with carne asada, chicken, lengua, tripa, and the aforementioned adobada, always spinning by the fire.

Tacos El G

Gorditas Don Andres

The taco might be the most famous Mexican corn vessel, but the marquee gordita — a nixtamal disk sliced and stuffed with stews — gets the spotlight all to herself at Gorditas Don Andres. Fillings range from modest beans and cheese all the way to dark moles and fatty chicharron with nopales. 

Mi Pana Latín American Cuisine

Dive into San Diego’s only Venezuelan restaurant, which serves corn flour arepas, fried plantain sandwiches, and refreshing papelon lemonade. Mexican, Colombian, and Central American plates also appear on the menu, along with dishes fusing ingredients from across all latitudes of the Americas. 

Machete Beer House

Grab a pint of local suds at National City’s first craft-only tasting room. While the exterior is very low key, inside you’ll find a wood-furnished space and 30 taps pouring everything from funky sours to deep stouts. Machete’s micheladas can be made with your beer of choice and always hit the spot. Close the door on the way in, the AC is running.

Porky's Lechon Barbecue

Lechon reigns supreme at this restaurant specializing in the art of oven roasting soft sucking pig. Better known for catering huge Filipino parties and boodle fight banquets, you can also stop into Porky’s for a quick combo meal from their hot bar full of FIlipino favorites from Tuesday through Sunday. 

Tita's Kitchenette

Tita’s Kitchenette

This beloved restaurant east of the 805 plates homestyle Filipino favorites cafeteria style every day. The hot cafeteria bar is both a feast for the eyes, with its hot stews and piles of crispy meats, and a classic FIlipino feast, with its generous portions. Love kare kare and chicken adobo? Come early, their most popular dishes regularly sell out. 

Tita’s Kitchenette

Project Reo Collective

While technically within the limits of the City of San Diego, this community-oriented coffee shop and art space is a favorite of many a resident of National City. Stop in for your favorite drip or espresso-based drink with a pastry from supplier Bread and Cie. PRC’s signature El Rudo cold brew is as strong as the masked luchador on its logo. 

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