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Updating The 38 Essential San Diego Restaurants, Jan '14

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Hello there, it's time to update the Eater 38, your answer and ours to any question that begins with, "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 few 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 an instant classic, North Park's Carnitas' Snack Shack. There's a good number of Japanese entries (a cuisine that San Diego does pretty well), some neighborhood stalwarts (Urban Solace, Alchemy, Cafe Chloe), and a few gems that you may not have tried (Aqui es Texcoco, Wine Vault & Bistro).

In this installment, we add in two San Diego eateries that deserve inclusion: Buona Forchetta is killing it in South Park, many of its regulars touted its merits via the tipline. North County's Veladora get a nod too, for being our current favorite place to celebrate special occasions with food.

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

07/09/13: Added: MARKET Restaurant + Bar, Tapenade, Alchemy

10/08/13: Added: Prepkitchen Little Italy, Fathom Bistro Bait & Tackle, Tiger!Tiger!

01/07/14: Added: Buona Forchetta, Veladora

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Eater maps are curated by editors and aim to reflect a diversity of neighborhoods, cuisines, and prices. Learn more about our editorial process. If you buy something or book a reservation from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

Cafe Chloe

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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.

Blind Lady Ale House

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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.

Yakyudori Yakitori & Ramen

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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.

Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizza

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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.

Kaito Sushi

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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.

Carnitas' Snack Shack

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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.

The Original Sab-E-Lee

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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.

Farm House Cafe

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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.

Sushi Ota

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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.

George's At The Cove

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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.

Tender Greens

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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.

Wine Vault And Bistro

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

Cucina Urbana

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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.


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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.

Cowboy Star Restaurant & Butcher Shop

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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.

Urban Solace

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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.

Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant

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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.

El Pescador Fish Market

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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.

Wa Dining OKAN

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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.


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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.

Aqui Es Texcoco

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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.

A.R. Valentien

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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.

Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar

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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.

Bencotto Italian Kitchen

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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.


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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.

The Fishery

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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.

Jayne's Gastropub

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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.


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From-scratch cooking combined with a casual approach to fine dining. This group also runs the popular Prepkitchen locations.

Addison at The Grand Del Mar

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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.

Romesco Baja Med Bistro

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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.

Market Restaurant & Bar

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Chef/owner Carl Schroeder has an enviable culinary resume and a solid reputation for his seasonal cuisine and thoughtful cooking style.


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This La Jolla institution, first opened in 1998, offers reliable service and traditional French Provencal food from chef Jean Michel Diot; their Bistro bar menu's one of the best values in town.


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This community-minded restaurant has garnered affection in the neighborhood and beyond, thanks to chef Ricardo Heredia's eclectic farm-to-table food and their warm service.

PrepKitchen Little Italy

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Though there are multiple Prepkitchen locations, the Little Italy space has been steadily stepping up its culinary game. The cocktails are commendable too, as are the bar bites and brunch.