12 Secret Eats That Only Local San Diegans Know
Planning a trip to San Diego? If your family is a bunch of foodies like ours, then some of the more common fare just won’t be on your ticket. Take it from a local – there are some amazing restaurant destinations in San Diego if you know where to find them. So here are a few favorites to get you started:
Breakfast – My mom always said this was the most important meal of the day!
Jimmy’s Famous – In a funky fresh warehouse building right on the docks in Point Loma, Jimmy’s makes the best Bloody Mary in town – spicy, rich and skewered with pickled veggies, blue cheese olives, pepperoni and cheese plus the obligatory celery stalk). Oh, the food is great too – parents and kids alike love their liberal use of tater tots. Plus the sailboats bobbing, the occasional sea lion visit, and the sprawling lawn allow for plenty of kid diversions.
Jimmy’s is Famous for its loaded Bloody Marys among other things. Photo Credit: knykkwynn
Breakfast Republic – We can never decide between many choices on this menu, which is a sure sign of a great restaurant. Their irreverent take of breakfast has become quickly legendary with locals, as has their Cinnamon Roll Pancakes, Asiago Fennel Sausage Omelet and S’Mores French Toast (our kids fav). Several locations around town.
Some of the good stuff from Breakfast Republic. Photo Credit: flodiet
Urban Solace – The Sunday Bluegrass Brunch features live bluegrass music and the best cinnamon roll in town (wins top honors every year, and it is much deserved). When we ordered the cinnamon roll the first time, I thought they had mistakenly made ours ala mode with vanilla ice cream, but nope – it was a gigantic scoop of cream cheese, gooey and delish. Or try the Braised Pork Belly Benedict, which also the bomb. (Serving brunch daily).
Urban Solace is located in hip and happening North Park.
Lunch – Sometimes known as “linner” in our family if we eat later than noon
Panama 66 – Double whammy, because you get to visit San Diego’s crown jewel, Balboa Park, and eat well at the same time. This café and local craft beer spot is beautifully nestled into the San Diego Art Museum’s sculpture garden. Let the kids run around the lawn art, while you tap the local craft brewery scene. Great sandwiches, salads and pastas and the added bonus of great live music to accompany your stay.
Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill – Locals will stand an hour in line for the fresh fish dishes at this hole-in-the-wall in the Four Points neighborhood on India Street (hint: get there when they open at 11:30 am or mid afternoon to avoid the crush). Crispy battered fish tacos with cabbage and cream sauce are a fav, along with fresh fish and chips, lemon-salmon salad and a host of other great dishes.
Dim Sum at Jasmine – Venture outside the tourist areas up to Kearny Mesa, which is a wealth of Asian cuisines of all kinds. Our family loves to run up there for dim sum at Jasmine, where we eyeball the pushcarts as they swivel by loaded with bite-sized delicacies. So many choices, and the real deal – dumplings, steamed buns, potstickers, won ton soup, bbq pork – all so delicious.
Carts full of delicious dim sum at Jasmine. Photo Credit: concreteair
Dinner – With so many great choices, there’s no reason to eat at a chain.
Buona Forchetta – With two locations, these guys pack in the locals and a two-hour wait is not uncommon (they don’t take reservations but will text you when your table is ready). At their cute neighborhood spot in the historic South Park neighborhood, we put our name in and then head across the street to Kindred for delicious cocktails while we wait. Buona Forchetta’s homemade pastas, sauces and wood-fired pizzas and a global wine list all taste like the Old Country. My Italian nana would approve.
The wood-fired pizzas at Buona Forchetta are the best in town. Photo Credit: Mary Vendetti
El Camino – We love the interior of this Mexican restaurant, because it is so overboard with kitschy color and design. Colorful murals on the ceiling, crazy Dia de los Muertos skeleton art, and paper mache flowers mix with brightly painted walls and crazy seating. And the food is legit. Brunch, lunch and dinner are all a great experience. Hint: sit outside on the patio if you like airplanes – the spot is directly under the flight approach to San Diego International Airport and the jets are shockingly low (and loud). It’s literally a blast.
But wait until you see the inside of El Camino… Photo Credit: Sunfox Creative
Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant – For a beautiful meal prepared with excellence and attention to detail, go here. Bankers Hill has been a favorite of our family’s for years, and we have celebrated many a birthday and other milestones here because it is consistently fantastic and always friendly. Whatever bruschetta is on the menu, just order it – they change it up constantly and it is always, always amazing. Hint: leave room for dessert. The butterscotch pot du crème is ridiculousness. And tell the owner Terryl we said hi.
The roasted beet and grapefruit salad at Banker’s Hill is soooooo good.
Drinks – If you are kidless (or have babysitter access), you have to try these haunts
Craft & Commerce – Recently renovated, this place has a quirky, speakeasy vibe from Prohibition days, including mounted antlers, copious taxidermy and other fun accents. In fact, they do not serve vodka because it was not available in the US at that time in history (yup, really). There is also a secret bar located on site, but I will not be the one to disclose the way in. After all, you visitors do need to leave something to the locals.
Brown drinks at Craft & Commerce are always the bomb
The Waterfront – The daddy of all dives, The Waterfront has been the site of many a cab ride home. Strong drinks, strong talk and great people watching. The historians in the crowd tell us this bar is called the Waterfront because that is where it used to be located when it opened in 1933. Now with development and growth, it sits about two blocks from the bay but still serves a great cocktail and perfect late-night cheeseburgers.
George’s at the Cove/Ocean Terrace – A little bit up the road in La Jolla, George’s Ocean Terrace roof top bar has gorgeous views of La Jolla Cove and the ocean beyond. All the beautiful people gather at the bar and spread across the tables, with easy laughter and a toss of their Benz keys to the valet. Don’t get me wrong – it’s toney but welcoming, and we enjoy going here often (but not in our flip flops and board shorts).
Photo Credit: Lauren Breden
Have a blast eating your way through San Diego, and if you need advice or ideas hit us up!