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Updating The 38 Essential San Diego Restaurants

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Hey there, it's time to update the Eater 38, your answer and ours to any question that begins, "Can you recommend a restaurant...?" This specially selected group covers much of the city, spans myriad cuisines, and aims to collectively satisfy all of your restaurant needs. Every couple of months, we'll be adding worthy restaurants that were omitted, have newly become eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months), or have stepped up their game.

This curated survey of the San Diego food landscape runs the gamut from the farm-to-table icon, A. R. Valentien in La Jolla to a delicious homestyle Mexican restaurant, Super Cocina, in City Heights. There's a good number of Japanese entries (a cuisine that San Diego does pretty well), some standby's (Tender Greens, Cafe Chloe), a new instant classic (Carnitas' Snack Shack) and a few gems that you may not have tried yet (Wine Vault & Bistro, Aqui es Texcoco).

In this installment, we switch out the Mariscos Pescador food truck with The Marine Room. The truck's fish tacos are still the best in the city, but seafood's also the focus at the La Jolla icon, and watching the waves crash from your beachfront table is a quintessential local dining experience. We're also swapping Tacos el Paisa with its neighbor La Fachada; carnitas is our measure of a good taco shop, and La Fachada's are tasting great right now.

Restaurants are listed in no particular order.

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.


04/09/13: Added: The Marine Room, La Fachada

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Cafe Chloe

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721 9th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 232-3242
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A small, cozy spot in the East Village with a menu of updated bistro classics and a beloved brunch that manages to be untrendy yet totally stylish.

2. Blind Lady Ale House

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3416 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 255-2491
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At this beacon of the Normal Heights neighborhood is a quality lineup of beer, house-brewed and otherwise, and a local farm driven-menu of tasty pizzas and salads.

3. Yakyudori Yakitori & Ramen

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4898 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 268-2888
Impeccably grilled meat on sticks, bowls of steaming ramen, plus the beer and sake make this Hillcrest transplant many a chefs' favorite late-night hangout.

4. Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizza

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897 S Coast Highway 101
Encinitas, CA
(760) 634-7671
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Chef-owner Wade Hageman left the fine dining kitchen, but applies the same culinary sensibilities to Blue Ribbon's wood-fired pizza and small plates.

5. Kaito Sushi

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130 N El Camino Real
Encinitas, CA 92024
(760) 634-2746
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Kaito Sushi inspires devotion and reverence from sushi purists who delight in owner Kazuo Morita's dedication to the freshest seafood and time-honored technique.

6. Carnitas' Snack Shack

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2632 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 294-7675
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2012's biggest success story, this pork-centric spot from Chef Hanis Cavin is bound to multiply this year, and inspire other chefs to venture out on their own.

7. The Original Sab-E-Lee

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2405 Ulric St
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 650-6868
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Flavor and heat co-mingle deliciously at this no-frills Thai joint. The curries and noodles are above par but the catfish or duck larb and raw beef salad are really something special.

8. Farm House Cafe

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2121 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 269-9662
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Chef-owner Olivier Bioteau turns out thoughtful, classic French food out of an impossibly small kitchen. Their Sunday brunch is among the best in town.

9. Sushi Ota

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4529 Mission Bay Dr.
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 270-5670
Helmed by a venerable sushi master (request a seat in owner Ota-san's section of the sushi bar), the restaurant is unassuming, low-key and unquestionably authentic.

10. Super Cocina

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3627 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 584-6244
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Steam tables laden with authentic, home-style Mexican stews that taste like someone's grandma made them. About a dozen are offered daily.

11. George's At The Cove

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1250 Prospect St
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 454-4244
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Chef Trey Foshee at George's California Modern is cited as a guiding force in the San Diego food culture and one of the first champions of local seafood.

12. Tender Greens

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2400 Historic Decatur Rd
San Diego, CA 92106
(619) 226-6254
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The first San Diego location for Tender Greens - affordable, fresh salads, soups, sandwiches and specials. This is also where P. Balistreri salumi got its start.

13. Wine Vault And Bistro

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3731 India St
San Diego, CA 92103
Winemaker events, an ever-changing seasonal menu and prix fixe dinners that feel like a steal. Friday: $20, 3-courses; Saturday $30, 5-courses.

14. Cucina Urbana

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505 Laurel St
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 239-2222
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Three years after opening, this is still one of the toughest tables to get in town. The shareable, Italian-inspired menu is modern and accessible.

15. The Linkery

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3794 30th St
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 255-8778
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A forerunner of the craft food boom on North Park's 30th Street known for their housemade sausages, nationally-recognized cured meat and careful attention to sourcing.

16. Searsucker

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611 Fifth Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 233-7327
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The first of Brian Malarkey's restaurant empire to open and its flagship concept; Searsucker adds a needed food-worthy dining destination to the Gaslamp.

17. Cowboy Star Restaurant & Butcher Shop

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640 10th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 450-5880
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An in-house butcher shop, skilled mixologists and a non-stuffy vibe set this steakhouse apart from its expense account counterparts. Try for a seat at Victor Jimenez's chef table.

18. Urban Solace

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3823 30th St
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 295-6464
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Chef and owner Matt Gordon has established a loyal following for his unpretentious new American comfort food and popular Bluegrass Brunch.

19. Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant

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2202 4th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 231-0222
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San Diegans were glad to see Market's Carl Schroeder move down from North County for this more casual second spot.

20. El Pescador Fish Market

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627 Pearl St
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 456-2526
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Just-plucked seafood and unfussy, simple preparations make El Pescador a winner. Hopefully, none of that will change with the market and cafe's move and expansion.

21. Pizzeria Bruno Napoletano

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4207 Park Blvd
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 260-1311
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A wood-fired oven straight from Naples combined with equal care given to the dough, sauce and (minimal) toppings make for nearly spot-on traditional Neapolitan-style pizza.

22. Wa Dining OKAN

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3860 Convoy St. Ste 110
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 279-0941
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Cozy, homestyle Japanese cuisine sourced with seasonal ingredients from adjacent Nijiya Market. Their set menu at lunch (served 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday) is a must.

23. Starlite

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3175 India St
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 358-9766
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Responsible for kicking off the local craft cocktail scene. It's also a haven for late night eaters who still want good food - the kitchen's open until midnight every night.

24. Aqui Es Texcoco

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1043 Broadway Ste. 108
Chula Vista, CA 91911
(619) 427-4045
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Traditional Barbacoa-style lamb, stuffed into tacos and enchiladas or on top of sopes or tostadas. In any form, it's delicious - the Travel Channel's Andrew Zimmern agrees.

25. A.R. Valentien

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11480 North Torrey Pines Road
La Jolla, CA 92137
(858) 777-6635
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Chef Jeff Jackson heads up a highly-trained kitchen of farm-to-table devotees. Their Thursday night artisan table dinners are some of San Diego's most special dining experiences.

26. Que Huong

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4134 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92105
(619) 281-6008
Don't order the pho at this City Heights Vietnamese joint. Instead, explore the vast menu of more exotic eats: snails in curry sauce, wild boar lettuce wraps and fish sauce or tamarind chicken wings.

27. Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar

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910 Prospect St
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 964-5400
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Chef Jason Knibb's cuisine is innovative yet accessible; he combines modern cooking techniques with a good understanding of ingredients. In other words, he doesn't mess around.

28. Bencotto Italian Kitchen

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750 W Fir St
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 450-4786
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Handmade pastas and quality Italy-sourced products, plus a sleek, contemporary setting, help distinguish this Little Italy eatery from the rest of the neighborhood.

29. Neighborhood

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777 G St.
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 446-0002
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The burgers at this East Village spot are as good as the craft beer that's served with it (yes, even without ketchup). It's bar food done better: steak tartar and deviled eggs with artichoke mousse.

30. The Fishery

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5040 Cass St
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 272-9985
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A local seafood distributor, market and restaurant in one. Chef Paul Arias does right by his product; his Tuesday tasting menu ($28 for 4 courses) is a good time to taste how.

31. Jayne's Gastropub

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4677 30th St
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 563-1011
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There are many gastropub wannabes but Jayne's is the real deal, boasting a British owner and a well-executed modern pub menu. The wine list is more interesting than most, cocktails too.

32. Rocky's Crown Pub

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3786 Ingraham St
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 273-9140
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The underdog opponent in an ongoing bar burger battle against Hodad's in Ocean Beach, this local's favorite has at least one distinct advantage: less tourists.

33. Whisknladle

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1044 Wall Street
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 551-7575
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From-scratch cooking combined with a casual approach to fine dining. This group also runs the popular Prepkitchen locations.

34. Addison at The Grand Del Mar

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5200 Grand Del Mar Way
San Diego, CA 92130
(858) 314-1900
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One of the few splurge-worthy spots in town, Addison is the signature restaurant at the Grand Del Mar. Chef William Bradley's menu combines his French training with local ingredients and contemporary plating.

35. Romesco Baja Med Bistro

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4346 Bonita Rd.
Bonita, CA 91902
(619) 479-8627
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Javier Plascencia's only San Diego-based restaurant; worth a try for a taste of the Baja Med cuisine that the chef has helped to make world-famous.

36. Jsix Restaurant

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616 J Street
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 531-8744
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Jsix's Christian Graves, who manages to successfully juggle his exec chef duties and his GM role, also finds time to make charcuterie and champion sustainable seafood and whole animal cookery.

37. The Marine Room

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2000 Spindrift Drive
La Jolla, CA 92037
(866) 644-2351
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Executive Chef Bernard Guillas and Chef de Cuisine Ron Oliver helm this iconic La Jolla dining institution, which has been in the same waterfront spot for over 70 years. If seafood's how you celebrate special occasions, do it here.

38. La Fachada

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20 25th St
San Diego, CA 92102
(619) 236-8566
Authentic street tacos, plus other tasty meat-vehicles like mulitas and gorditas. The no-frills patio seating next to the permanently-parked kitchen trailer has the best access to their salsa bar and free grilled green onions.

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1. Cafe Chloe

721 9th Ave., San Diego, CA 92101
A small, cozy spot in the East Village with a menu of updated bistro classics and a beloved brunch that manages to be untrendy yet totally stylish.
721 9th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101

2. Blind Lady Ale House

3416 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116
At this beacon of the Normal Heights neighborhood is a quality lineup of beer, house-brewed and otherwise, and a local farm driven-menu of tasty pizzas and salads.
3416 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116

3. Yakyudori Yakitori & Ramen

4898 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111
Impeccably grilled meat on sticks, bowls of steaming ramen, plus the beer and sake make this Hillcrest transplant many a chefs' favorite late-night hangout.
4898 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111

4. Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizza

897 S Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA
Chef-owner Wade Hageman left the fine dining kitchen, but applies the same culinary sensibilities to Blue Ribbon's wood-fired pizza and small plates.
897 S Coast Highway 101
Encinitas, CA

5. Kaito Sushi

130 N El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024
Kaito Sushi inspires devotion and reverence from sushi purists who delight in owner Kazuo Morita's dedication to the freshest seafood and time-honored technique.
130 N El Camino Real
Encinitas, CA 92024

6. Carnitas' Snack Shack

2632 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104
2012's biggest success story, this pork-centric spot from Chef Hanis Cavin is bound to multiply this year, and inspire other chefs to venture out on their own.
2632 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92104

7. The Original Sab-E-Lee

2405 Ulric St, San Diego, CA 92111
Flavor and heat co-mingle deliciously at this no-frills Thai joint. The curries and noodles are above par but the catfish or duck larb and raw beef salad are really something special.
2405 Ulric St
San Diego, CA 92111

8. Farm House Cafe

2121 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116