California is my favorite state. If at any time you catch me daydreaming, my mind has likely wandered to the Southern-most region of the West Coast. I had the pleasure to visit and explore Los Angeles last October and fell in love with the comfortable mix of an upbeat, modern city and the relaxed, carefree beach scene.
Then, this past April, Max and I were able to spend a week in San Diego to celebrate our second wedding anniversary.* We loved every aspect of this location, from the perfectly seasonable weather to the indescribably beautiful ocean regions and the gorgeous city architecture; I just could not get enough of the wonderful San Diego.
Something else that Max and I really appreciated on this trip was the abundance of unique restaurants and cafes. No matter which meal we needed to eat, there was no lack of delicious options to try! So, if you are planning a trip to San Diego, pondering a visit to the West Coast, or you just like to look at photos of delicious food, here are our recommendations for great places to eat in San Diego!
(See map at the bottom of this post with corresponding numbers for the general location of each restaurant. For more information on any of the restaurants, click on the underlined name for a link to the website.)
1. Hash House A Go Go
I’ll just let this beautiful iced mocha speak for itself! (Ha ha!)
Hash House A Go Go was originally established in San Diego, has since expanded into 10+ locations, and claims countless, prestigious awards. Located on Fifth Avenue downtown, this cute cafe has a warm, rustic feel; though, once you taste the food, you will be sent into a bliss so strong you may temporarily lose awareness of your surroundings.
For my breakfast (pictured above), I chose the Roasted Chicken House Hash. The poultry was perfectly seasoned and shredded, and the potatoes’ crispy skin housed fluffy, deliciously warm insides. Each Hash on the menu also comes with a huge biscuit (Editor’s Note: do NOT pass on the house-made jam offered at each table- I could’ve eaten that stuff with a spoon. So. Delicious.) I liked the watermelon on the side, too, just in case you were feeling a little gluttonous after consuming so much food. 😉
Max ordered the same dish as I did, a House Hash, but with ham instead of chicken, and instead of scrambled, he ordered his eggs over-easy.
Hash House A Go Go makes me dream that I could order delivery from a restaurant that is 2,400 miles away!
Gustatory- of or relating to taste or tasting; an appropriate name for this fresh cafe, centered around timeless breakfast staples with a modern twist, sure to please all taste buds! Located on the tied island of Coronado, Gustatory occupies a charming storefront area on Orange Avenue- even the street name is cute!
The menu, though concise, is diverse with options; whether you are craving a traditional brunch dish, a lighter, healthy meal, or a unique West Coast specialty, you definitely will have a difficult time choosing just one!
After much deliberation, I picked the Brioche French Toast. Usually a pancake girl, I went a little out of normality with this choice. Thick and moist, but not soggy, the Toast did not disappoint! It was the perfect amount of sweet without tasting too much like a dessert; I enjoy to actually taste the dough in French Toast, not just the syrupy, gooey outsides.
Looking back at the menu again, though, I wish I would have chosen a dish more unique to this restaurant, such as the Benedict Arnold Palmer (a toasted English muffin with house baked ham, poached eggs and lemon hollandaise sauce infused with tea- yes, tea!) Oh, well; I suppose we will just have to come back to Coronado again to try it! Ha!
3. Davanti Enoteca
Located in Little Italy, the rustic-chic restaurant by the name of Davanti Enoteca was one of my favorites on our San Diego trip. This Italian eatery features a broad, authentic menu with something to satisfy any craving you may have. Even better, Happy Hour runs from three to six every evening of the week! Score!
Max ordered this Davanti Burger from the Happy Hour menu; a special beef blend patty with bacon jam, roasted tomato, cheese curd, arugula, and roasted garlic mayo, served aside parmesan garlic french fries- all for eight dollars! In my hubby’s own words, “It was fantastic. And memorable.”
I ordered a pasta dish, which was to die for! Deliciously flavorful sauce, pasta cooked ‘al dente’, and it was all served quickly and with great service!
Located in the Gaslamp District, Florent’s elegant, yet comfortable interior is reminiscent of a rich history. Built in 1874, this gorgeously architectured building once housed the Old City Hall. It was originally only two stories tall, and the style 0f building, Florentine-Italianate, apparently lent itself to the name of this fine restaurant and lounge. (The structure’s history is depicted in the photos above; beautiful, reflective plaques give a nice overview of the past occupants.) Occupying two stories of this historic building, Florent offers a wide range of meals, including “eccentric brunch”, “modern American” dinner, and an elaborate night-life scene on the second story (though Max and I ate an early dinner and did not explore this part of the establishment).
We ordered a delectable charcuterie board to whet our appetites, pictured above. It included artisan meats, global cheeses, pickled veggies and more; it was perfectly sized to share between the two of us!
The cocktail and craft beer menus were also quite extensive, featuring whimsical, creative drinks and specialty craft beers from local and historical San Diego breweries. I would definitely recommend the drink menu to anyone with a refined pallet, who loves to try unique, regional tastes.
My dinner entree- featured above. I have a weakness for short ribs; if it is on the menu, there is a high chance that I will order the dish, and so I did here at Florent. More specifically, the entree’s full name was “Stout Braised Short Ribs” and was served with Yukon mashed, baby carrots, natural jus, and crispy onions. I would rate it 4.5 stars out of 5. Very tender, the meat was cooked perfectly, to the point it almost felt as if it was melting in my mouth. The jus was extremely flavorful and the sides, cooked perfectly, paired the beef well. It was a little fatty in some parts (hence, minus a half-star), which I personally am not a huge fan of, but I know that some people do enjoy that, so, “to each their own”.
Also noteworthy in this photo (if you can manage to see past the enticing mound of food) is the opportunity for another look at the interior I referenced earlier. The decor is chic and moody, while remaining respectful of the age of the building; all seemed to flow cohesively, creating an alluring ambiance for a delightful dinner.
5. Flour & Barley
A more casual eaterie, Flour & Barley is located in Seaport Village. This area of San Diego is comprised of a beautiful waterfront shopping and dining complex, surrounded by the scenic San Diego Bay. Max and I spent a few hours wandering through unique boutiques, admiring everything from souvenirs and accessories to paintings and even live entertainment!
When it came time to dine, we picked out a bright, energetic restaurant, known best for brick-oven style pizzas. With such a substantial amount of options to choose from, I was tempted to order one of each pizza!
Max had a taste for something a bit Western, so he chose the Farm House pizza (pictured left) from the Pizza Rossa menu (tomato sauce). It came fully loaded with mozzarella cheese, pork belly, cotto ham, fennel sausage, roasted onion, and, of course, a farm egg. I wanted to try a lighter pie, so from the Pizza Bianca menu (garlic cream sauce), I ordered mushroom and prosciutto on a regular pizza.
The waiter recommended each getting our own pie, as many guests apparently can finish or mostly finish off a whole one individually. Plus, we both wanted to try some different options. Suffice to say, neither of us came close to finishing and we were able to enjoy the leftovers later as a midnight snack!
6. La Jolla Brewing Company
As the name may impart, this welcoming brewery is located in the beautiful city of La Jolla, approximately 15 miles North of downtown San Diego. We stumbled across this dinner destination after spending a few hours walking the shore of the Atlantic, and, coming from a home where there are quite a few “so-and-so brewing” companies, felt a need to ‘check’ La Jolla off of our proverbial ‘checklist’.
Max and I aren’t huge beer enthusiasts, though a cold one every once in a while doesn’t hurt; but for those who are, checking out this spot might be worthwhile. LJBC not only offers their own hand-crafted beers but also features a 24-tap rotating selection of local San Diego County crafts, in addition to seasonal specialty offerings to “keep the selection fresh and exciting”, as we were told. For a sans-hops option, I’d recommend trying one of the specialty cocktails; each bartender has their own unique creation, named after themselves (Caroline’s Lavender Martini, Vanessa’s Afternoon Delight, Kevin’s Dark ‘n Stormy, and Lorna’s VIP) – yum!
I could kick myself for neglecting to take any photos of our dinner (not ONE food photo, but, like, ten of the colorful signs lining the walls). Perhaps the meal was just so delicious (or perhaps the lighting was completely terrible at our table).
Max ordered the Beer Battered Fish and Chips. Remember my comment earlier (at Florent) about always ordering Short Ribs if it is offered? One could say that Fish and Chips is Max’s Short Ribs. He thought that it was a delicious dish, and I thought that it was perfectly inspired after a day of admiring the beautiful sea. I ordered from the sandwich menu: a sausage, peppers, and onions hoagie; it was cooked perfectly! The veggies were hot and crisp, not at all soggy like they occasionally have the tendency, and the sausage was the perfect amount of sweet and spicy.
7. Frost Me (Gourmet Cupcakes)
Look at how adorable this little bakery is- just look at it! From the teal farm doors, to the quaint sting-lights, and cute bistro-style chairs (not pictured above), I just cannot get enough. Located along the San Diego Harbor in Seaport Village, Frost Me boasts more than a great locale; in fact, it was recently announced as the newest Food Network’s Cupcake Wars Champions! If you enjoy the show (or cupcakes), you can check out some of the clips from Season 9 on their website!
Frost Me’s owners and bakers take pride in their one-of-a-kind cakes and cupcakes, using only the freshest of ingredients. They offer gluten-free cake as well, and plenty of flavor options at that.
After what seemed like months of deliberation, I finally decided upon a seasonal cupcake flavor, Caramel Apple (above). Complete with a toasted apple slice on top, this cupcake was AMAZING; the smoothest of frosting and softest of cake created a one of a kind, delectable dessert.
My hubby could not wait to take a huge bite of his cupcake; he couldn’t even wait for “the paparazzi” (cute pet name, huh? Ha ha!) to snap a quick picture of his Chocolate Nutella Hazelnut cupcake.
I would’ve bought a dozen of these delicious, hand-crafted cakes, but my self-control kicked in just enough to see the hazard in consuming so much sugar. Nevertheless, if cupcakes are your go-to-dessert, grab a seat on the adorable patio here and enjoy!
8. The Baked Bear
“Life is short; eat cookies.” Or ice cream… brownies… doughnuts… pretty much any dessert you may be craving? You’ll find it here at The Baked Bear.
Situated on Mission Boulevard near Pacific Beach, the original location was opened in 2012 by two childhood friends. Within the next few years, this dynamic duo expanded into what is now 20+ locations, and was featured on Forbes “30 Under 30” list in 2016, under the category of Food & Drink.
So why exactly is The Baked Bear worthy of such recognition? What has made it such a beloved SoCal treat spot? Well, as Max and I entered the shop, we quickly gained the perspective of the locals; just glancing at the menu was enough to send my salivary glands into overdrive!
The premise behind The Baked Bear is simple: full customization of an ice-cream sandwich from top to bottom.
Choose from a variety of original-recipe cookies and original-recipe ice cream flavors to create “your own piece of heaven” (another quote from my hubby). You also have the option to use a doughnut or brownie as the top or bottom of the sandwich, or mix-and-match both! For the final touch, ask for your sandwich to be rolled in a tasty topping, whether that be anything from chocolate candy pieces to nuts or even fruity pebbles!
My sandwich creation (left) consisted of delicious peanut butter ice cream sandwiched between one chocolate chip cookie and one brownie, finished off with a nice, warm drizzle of hot fudge. Max chose “funfetti” cookies with the Bear Batter ice cream (he said it tasted like cookies and cream), but decided against any additional toppings.
The Baked Bear has succeeded so well not only because of the concept of combining favorite desserts, but because of the quality and freshness of those offered; the ice cream is thick and creamy, and the cookies are baked to a sweet, chewy perfection. No matter where you visit in San Diego, I would definitely recommend locating and trying The Baked Bear.
9. Donut Bar
In March of 2013, the Donut Bar was unveiled in downtown San Diego; second and third locations were subsequently opened. This modern cafe offers classic and innovative doughnuts so exceptional that they have drawn the attention of high-profile clients such as Brad Pitt, Ryan Seacrest, Ellen Degeneres, and Steve Harvey.
If those names aren’t enough to persuade you, here are some more: USA Today, MSN, Thrillist.com, San Diego Magazine, and more have given acclaim to the Donut Bar, making it known as the most awarded doughnut shop in America!
The menu is HUGE, but, as with most popular items, the doughnuts go quickly! For your best option on sampling a variety of flavors, try to get over to the Donut Bar as early as you can. Some of the creative flavors I enjoyed were the “S’Mores on Fire” and “Big Poppa Tart” doughnuts, shown below. (There is a whole Pop-Tart inside the Big Poppa Tart doughnut!)
Another one of my favorite doughnuts was the Strawberry Frosted (shown below); I usually always gravitate towards the pink frosting, so when I spotted this doughnut here, I knew I needed to give it a try.
If the expression doesn’t convey my excitement, look at the photo again. This doughnut was HUGE; the size depicted in the photo was not a camera trick or illusion from perspective, but it is very accurate. I almost couldn’t finish the whole thing… almost; but, it was too delicious to quit.
Donut Bar doughnuts are worthy of all the accolades- and more. Many times (probably even in this blog) it has been quoted that “this or that was the best of it’s kind that I’ve ever had”. It is not an exaggeration when I agree with the media and confirm the statement that these doughnuts are the best you will ever eat. They are soft and warm, with just the right amount of substance while still remaining light and fluffy. The dough itself has a wonderful taste, even without any added flavors, so the frosting on these doughnuts is really – guess the cliche I want to use -icing on the cake. Not to discredit the frosting, by any means; these doughnuts are topped with a recipe worthy of the highest regard: smooth and creamy, flavorful but not tooth-stinging-ly sweet, and freshness that never feels oily or prepackaged.
I also wanted to mention the atmosphere in the Donut Bar, as I have with the previous restaurants. Occupying two stories, the main floor is essentially all doughnuts- literally, the display case is huge! However, taking the staircase located at the back of the store will lead to a contemporary, cafe-style sitting area. There is even a cute, cozy couch facing a large window that overlooks the city streets below. Just imagine: sipping a warm coffee, taking sweet bites out of a massive doughnut, and watching all the people below scurry by (I’m a people watcher, what can I say?!)
Creative flavors and master culinary skills constitute the Donut Bar a MUST try in San Diego; if you have only one meal to eat in this city, eat doughnuts. (Hey, I think that will be my new life-motto, ha ha!)
And with that, we have eaten our way through San Diego! Brunch to dinner and, of course, dessert, all over the region! If you don’t believe me, take a look at this comprehensive map to sum it all up:
(each number on the map corresponds to the numbered restaurants above)
(Use this link for an interactive view of the above map in order to zoom in, out, etc. to see more detailed views and information.)
I hope you enjoyed your vicarious culinary travels throughout San Diego! Please let me know what you thought! Have you dined at any of the restaurants that we did? If so, I want to know what you agreed or disagreed with! Or, maybe you are on the fence about visiting the West Coast? If so, ask me anything! I’ll try to answer to the best of my knowledge.
Hey, look- everyone is getting in on the grub!
(Photo from our visit to the San Diego zoo… blog post on that coming soon. Stay tuned!)
As always, thank you for reading!!
*Yikes to the fact that we are now closer to our third anniversary; I am embarrassed for how long it has taken to edit the photos and write this post!
Sorry it’s taken me so long to read and post…as always nice writing!