10 San Diego Restaurants for the Foodie in You

Since I’ve been living in San Diego, some restaurants that have become my go-to places over and over again as I bring family and friends from out of town to these same places when they come to visit. I don’t typically patronize a restaurant more than once, but I’ve been to all of these more than once which means they fit the bill when it comes to flavor, ambiance and hospitality. Here are my top picks.

View of La Jolla Cove from La Valencia Hotel Terrace
  1. Amardeen Lebanese & Mediterranean Cuisine is one of my most frequent spots for many reasons. Not only is the food delicious and varied, it’s also got a charming outdoor dining area. With the warm sun on your back or on a cooler day surrounded by outdoor heaters, it’s great to sit and slowly enjoy your food, but there is also indoor seating, too. The staff have always been nice and helpful and very proud of their family-run restaurant serving family recipes with their mom in the kitchen preparing dishes herself. My absolute favorites are the Chicken Shwarma Wrap and Mediterranean Chicken Salad (I always ask for extra lemon olive oil dressing). Also delicious are the hummus, baba ganouj, and tzatziki. I always order a mint tea to go with my food as it’s served in nice tall glasses. I’ve never had the dessert, but I’ve seen it and it looks great. I’m super curious to try the Ashtalieh next time. If you’re dining with friends try the mezze platter so you get a tasting of everything. [Dietary info: their chicken is Halal]. Amardeen is located in Renaissance Town Center at 8915 Towne Centre Dr, San Diego, CA 92122. Tel. 858-404-1395.
Combo Plate at Amardeen
Lovely Mint Tea at Amardeen

2. The Taco Stand has seven locations across the U.S., most of which are in California but there is also one in Miami and Las Vegas. I’ve only been to the ones in and around San Diego: 621 Pearl St, La Jolla, CA 92037 and 642 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA 92024. I’ve been coming to the Taco Stand since before moving to San Diego, both at the Encinitas and La Jolla (much smaller than the other) locations. Both locations usually have lines out the door! Their tortillas are handmade as well as the chips and the salsas are all homemade and available as you like when you order. I always get the nopal (cactus) tacos that come with melted cheese, cilantro sauce, tomato and avocado; and the grilled pescado (mahi-mahi) that comes with cabbage, cilantro, onions, tomato, avocado, and chipotle sauce. Sometimes I order guacamole and chips with it, but that ends up being a bit more than I can eat, though I never let it go to waste! There’s another Taco Stand coming to Convoy Street in San Diego soon. Check their website for details.

3. El Pescador Fish Market This place has some of the freshest fish in San Diego, brought in daily from local sources around Southern California and Mexico, but also up north in British Columbia. I don’t usually have grilled halibut (or any fish) over salad but theirs was the most fantastic and fresh that I would definitely do it again (see below). You can also basically build your own sandwich, wrap or plate when you order by choosing whatever fresh fish is on display that day. When I don’t feel like eating in, I buy the fresh calimari and take it home to make a calamari salad. I also buy the seaweed and eat it whenever I’m craving it, so that goes to show it’s just as good of an indoor dining place as it is to get your fresh fish and seafood and take it home to make your own creations. El Pescador is located at 634 Pearl Street, La Jolla, CA 92037. Tel. (858) 456-2526

Grilled Halibut over Fresh Greens Salad at El Pescador, La Jolla.
Grilled Octopus (Pulpo) Sandwich at El Pescador
A glimpse of the fresh seafood at El Pescador
El Pescador fresh seafood counter

4. La Valencia Hotel at the Med serves California coastal cuisine by Executive Chef Timothy Ralphs, which seems to change seasonally. It’s a find I didn’t expect to be this good because in reality I was drawn in to the views, but I went back again because the food and the service were both so exceptional, too. The quality and taste of the food and the hospitality of the staff have been remarkable so I’ve gone back over and over again to bring guests from out of town since it really does check all the boxes for me. I’ve gone for lunch with my mom when I wanted a place to show her the views of La Jolla Cove. I ordered the lobster roll for lunch, which was filling and didn’t disappoint in freshness and flavor; Months later the menu changed, but I also went for dinner with a friend who insisted I pick a favorite spot. We had another amazing meal, which is no longer on the menu as of now. Note: ask for a table at or near the end of the patio to take in the best views of La Jolla Cove…and to get some fabulous pictures, but if you go at night bring a wrap or coat as it can get a little chilly and windy there. La Valencia is located at 1132 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037. Tel. (888) 853-2199.

The terrace view that drew me to dine at La Valencia
Shrimp Roll Sandwich and Garlic Fries on the lunch menu at La Valencia
PricelessTerrace View at La Valencia Hotel Restaurant

5. Nonna Italian Comfort Food is nestled in the heart of San Diego’s Little Italy. I don’t actually like to go downtown for anything if I don’t have to, but I will go just for these two dishes at Nonna’s, again and again: the Polpo Grigliato (grilled octopus) and the Melanzane Parmigiano (fried eggplant, parmesan, marinara, mozzarella). Suggested by the waiter since I was indecisive at the time, and it was such a fantastic one. Nonna is located at 1735 India Street, San Diego, CA 92101.

6. Lanna Thai Comfort Food. My cousin, who is a mega-foodie, introduced this place to me and it’s been great every time we’ve dined there, which is usually when I’m craving Thai food because I really don’t make it at home. I love the fresh salad roll made with rice paper and full of delicious veggies with a tasty peanut sauce on the side. Don’t miss the Tom Yum soup for a spicy appetizer, but it can also be a meal all its own, which we’ve done and been very satisfied. Lanna Thai is located at 4501 Mission Bay Dr 1B, San Diego, CA 92109.  (858) 247-1386

Tom Kha Soup and Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce at Lanna Thai
Fresh Coconut and Jasmine Tea, served at Lanna Thai

7. Cafe Milano. This place was such a fun surprise. The first time I went was on a full stomach for dinner, so I only tried the dessert and coffee, which definitely did not disappoint. They have quite a large dessert menu, but the best part of it was that I couldn’t decide on the multitude of very authentic desserts like tiramisu, spumoni ice cream (haven’t had that in years), ricotta cake, and Sicilian cassata cake. For dinner try the eggplant parmesan that comes with a side of pasta in a sauce I know my own Nonna would appreciate. Cafe Milano is located at 711 Pearl Street, La Jolla, CA. Look out for the tiny red fiat in front of the restaurant

8. Costa Brava Spanish Restaurant Tapas Bar. If you’re looking for a taste of Spain, this is the place to go. If you’re into seafood, this is the place that will give you a spread, a true variety of Mediterranean fish and seafood dishes like anchovies, sardines, shrimp, and even snails. I like the fact that you can order these small dishes (tapas) and share with others to taste so many different things on the menu in one sitting. That was my favorite part of my experience. Costa Brava is located at 1653 Garnet Avenue, San Diego, CA 92109.

9. Ironside Fish & Oyster has to be one of my top spots for restaurant oysters because of how incredibly fresh they were, served on ice and I loved the presentation, including the addition of fresh lemon, cocktail sauce and freshly grated horseradish. You don’t always get that everywhere oysters are served. Additionally, the mussels in coconut sauce are an incredibly savory and light dish you don’t want to miss, either. Make reservations, especially on the weekends otherwise you might really have a hard time getting a table here. Ironside is located at 1654 India St. in downtown San Diego.

Fresh Oysters on Ice at Ironside
Fresh Mussels in Coconut with Fresh Coriander at Ironside
Ironside fries are hearty and crispy and go great with their seafood dishes

10. Waterbar San Diego. When I was craving fish tacos, I never expected the fish tacos at Waterbar to satisfy that craving in the way it did. These were absolutely incredible and so filling, as they came with a side of black beans (vegan). The fish was breaded and crispy and generously proportioned (I could have shared this with my friend, but she had her own dish to finish). It was dressed with a creamy yet mildly spicy sauce and topped with a tangy relish and fresh cilantro. I liked it so much that they’re really the fish tacos numero uno on my list whenever I’m craving them again, which is right about now as I look back at the photo. Head upstairs and grab a seat by the windows for the best view of the Pacific Ocean while you dine. Waterbar is located in the Pacific Beach area of SD at 4325 Ocean Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109.

Fish Tacos at Waterbar in Pacific Beach, CA
Views of Pacific Beach near Waterbar SD

These are my top picks and I know I’ll find more, but for now these are my go-to places that I hope you’ll give a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Enjoy your time in San Diego!

La Jolla Cove

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