Don’t be fooled by San Diego’s casual vibe. The culinary scene is hot and easily rivals that of any major metropolitan city. San Diego is not just about fish tacos (though eat as many as you can while visiting) and you don’t always need to check your flip flops at the door to enjoy a meal of a lifetime.
Locally-sourced, farm-to-table, organic and sustainable are buzz words you see on menus, but it’s not just hype. San Diego chefs are active in social media, show genuine concern for the environment as well as customers, and often work together to promote charitable causes. A few have been featured on TV shows such as NINE-TEN’s Jason Knibb on Iron Chef and Herringbone’s Brian Malarkey on Top Chef. Our chefs are a force to be reckoned with.
Ambiance varies by place. Traditional Craftsman-style architecture gives A.R. Valentien a cozy Southern California feel while the eclectic, but rustic flair of Brian Malarkey’s Herringbone may overload your senses (in a good way). Ocean views are common as are spectacular values at happy hour. Speaking of getting happy, craft beers, specialty cocktails and award-winning wine lists are the norm. Can’t find a sitter? Not to worry as kids are welcome, too.
Whatever you happen to be craving, you can find it in San Diego.
NINE-TEN offers an "Evolving California Cuisine" menu dictated by fresh products discovered during daily excursions to local artisan providers. Go for breakfast, lunch or dinner and sit inside the casually elegant interior or people watch from pet-friendly tables outside on Prospect Street. NINE-TEN has a kids menu for young diners featuring PB&Js, mac and cheese as well as other favorites. Enjoy bottles from their enormous Wine Spectator-rated wine list at half price on Wednesdays. And, if you'd like a bottle to-go, you can receive 35% off via their retail wine sales option. For larger parties, NINE-TEN offers specially prepared menues in their newly renovated dining room. Located inside The Grande Colonial Hotel in La Jolla, guests of the hotel are lucky to enjoy NINE-TEN all day long via in-room dining. (858-964-5400)
Truluck's Seafood Steak and Crab - La Jolla
Truluck's La Jolla has been recognized by many of San Diego's local publications for a good reason. Come hungry, because you'll want it all from crab claws to Lobster Bisque to perfectly cooked prime cuts of steak with sauce choices such as Chimichurri. Truly "a getaway for the senses," pull your car up to the valet at the Aventine, right in front of the restaurant, and stay for a leisurely meal. The crab is fresh from Truluck's own fisheries. They are a champion of the sustainable seafood movement and do not serve seafood out of season. Hormone-free and all natural meats are sourced from U.S. family farms. The wine list is updated weekly and enjoy bottles at 50% off on Wednesdays. If you're feeling like something a bit stiffer, the cocktail list is lengthy with about 15 different specialty martinis on offer. (8584532583)
CUCINA Urbana, located in Banker's Hill, is a California inspired Italian Kitchen and Wine Shop. Enjoy favorites such as pizza, Stuffed Fried Squash Blossoms, and Veal Piccata while dining traditionally or family-style. Locally sourced and organic ingredients are used whenever possible while keeping most menu items at under $20.
The decor mixes a modern kitchen and an old rustic farmhouse together with splashes of bohemian accents. Have a look around. Due to popular demand, some of the items in the restaurant are for sale, but act quickly as they can be one-of-a-kind.
This restaurant is a favorite of local San Diegans because it's reasonably priced, family-friendly, chic and delicious, all wrapped into one. (6192392222)
Perhaps best known for its setting right on the beach, so close to the water that at particularly high tides the waves crash on the windows, the Marine Room also happens to serve fine, globally-influenced cuisine. Start with the signature lobster bisque, accented with enoki mushrooms, pancetta and yuzu cream. Main course highlights have included a trio of game (elk, ostrich and venison), fleur de sel-rubbed veal, and abalone-mushroom crusted barramundi. Impeccable service, attention to detail, and an award-winning wine list round out the experience. (866-644-2351)
With a farm-to-table approach, Whisknladle succeeds in making simple food taste extraordinary. The menu changes with the season and is void of fuss. Everything is made from scratch, including the tonics and purees for the artisanal cocktails. Favorite dished include pan-seared scallops, mussels frites, house made sorbets and gelatos, and more. Happy hour is 7 days per week from 3:00-7:00pm with discounts on tapas, sangria, wine and cocktails. Make a reservation in order to avoid disappointment and leave the fancy dress behind (if you like). They also have a private dining room that seats up to 16 people and a supper club social where people make new friends and eat incredible food. (8585517575)
Bertrand at Mr. A's
Bertrand at Mr. A's just might be one of the best places to enjoy a skyline view of Downtown San Diego, Coronado, Balboa Park and Point Loma, with the occasional plane landing or taking off from the airport. Imagine the sunset at dinner time: This is why this restaurant is perpetually voted one of the most romantic places to eat in the city. However, its casual elegance is also welcoming to families (there is no kids menu, however) and you may leave your jacket and tie at home. American cuisine is on the menu though dishes change based on seasonality of locally-sourced ingredients. Chef Stéphane Voitzwinkler also infuses his Alsatian German upbringing into dishes such as spaetzel and house-made sausage, which is balanced out by more healthful California cuisine. Shawn Barker, the in-house mixologist can whip you up a specialty cocktail to compliment the view and menu, too. (619-239-1377)
As the signature restaurant in The Lodge at Torrey Pines, A.R. Valentien is a tribute to Southern California heritage. Executive Chef Jeff Jackson features dishes with basic ingredients, minimal handling and simple combinations in order to highlight texture and flavor. The innovative California cuisine changes regularly depending on what is in season and available at local markets and from small growers, ranchers and fishermen. Sample dishes include Nieman Ranch Eye of Ribeye Steak, Alaskan Halibut, Roasted Beets with Pistacio Butter, as well as Carrot and Coriander Soup with Lobster and Blood Orange Reduction. Pair these with an elegant California boutique wine from their extensive menu.
Gazing at the spectacular view overlooking the 18th hole of the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course and Pacific coastline adds to the dining experience. (858-777-6635)
Herringbone, the fifth of Brian Malarkey's San Diego empire, has become a popular spot in La Jolla for lunch, happy hour, dinner and late night fun. The farm-to-sea concept menu is divided up into sections hot, cold, greens, crusts (pizza), plates and 'ands' (side dishes). Go on Thursday for dollar oysters all day long. During happy hour, expect discounted wine, beer and cocktails to pair with them. The spacious indoor/outdoor patio with a high ceiling, Snake Oil cocktails and positive vibe make Herringbone a happening place well into the evening. The plated Sunday brunch has a $12 bottomless mimosa option. (858-459-0221)
George's at the Cove
Dramatically situated on Prospect Street in La Jolla overlooking the blue Pacific, George's at the Cove combines exceptional cuisine and service with spectacular views from every level of the multi-tiered restaurant. Dine in the contemporary restaurant and bar indoors, dubbed California Modern; choose the Ocean Terrace, a great rooftop dining spot; or settle in at George's Bar, a casual dining and bar destination. The menu, which specializes in California cuisine, reflects the use of fresh local ingredients and unique combinations of flavors to create a memorable dining experience. The restaurant also offers a creative, delectable dessert menu as well as TBL3, a unique opportunity to put your meal into the capable hands of Executive Chef and Owner, Trey Foshee, throughout 12-14 amazing courses. (858-454-4244)
Exquisite seasonal dining awaits at Addison, Southern California's only five star/five diamond restaurant. Appropriately located in the opulent The Grand Del Mar, Addison makes the top of our list. Be prepared for artistically prepared, modern French cuisine paired with a bottle from their extensive fine wine collection. Executive Chef William Bradley has wowed local and national critics with his elegant "farm to table" artisanal approach to cooking. The decor is glamorously European in design with dark woods and large arched windows offering up views of the resort's golf course. Larger groups can consider the private dining area full of richly upholstered chairs, carved wood detailing and vaulted ceilings. Addison is only open for dinner and the menu changes daily. Get dressed up and be prepared to enjoy a dining experience of a lifetime. (858-314-1900)
About Katie Dillon
Katie Dillon originally moved to the seaside community of La Jolla to attend UC San Diego. When the opportunity presented itself, she and her husband set off for a 7 year stint overseas as expats in London and Hong Kong. After traveling the world, they returned to the La Jolla sunshine, with a young daughter in tow.
Katie now writes a lifestyle site called La Jolla Mom and is the author of a book called, “Flying With Kids.” Her work can be seen on NBC San Diego, Red Tricycle, Yahoo! Shine and Have Family Will Travel, a Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts blog.
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