You work hard for your money and we know how disappointing it is to feel let down at a restaurant. That moment when you glance at the check shouldn't always cause heart palpitations, though a splurge is nice every once in a while. We've scoured the restaurant choices in San Diego to bring you the best value choices. Chain restaurants are noticeably absent, but we figure their offerings are familiar enough to most people.
For those who crave a nice, sit-down meal in a trendy restaurant CUCINA Urbana is considered good value (unless you're ordering expensive wine--then we can't help you). The food is on par with other high-end restaurants in town, but without stuffiness and expense. We also love the contemporary decor and festive atmosphere.
You can't visit San Diego without trying our signature fish taco. Though Oscar's Mexican Seafood is new, the heaving fish tacos burst with flavor in this pretty much standing-room-only joint. Fish tacos are a mere $2.00 ($.99 during happy hour). Bring cash (no credit cards are accepted) and your appetite.
Whether it's finger-licking barbecue, Mexican food, burgers seen on TV, pizza or gigantic breakfast burritos, it can be found at a price that will keep you and your banker happy.
Phil's BBQ is an institution with mouth-watering barbecued meats worth waiting for. Meat falls off the bones and even onion rings carry the perfect ratio of crunch to flavor. It's Sports Arena location is void of views and character, barbecue devotees could care less about that or the potentially long lines. Try the pulled pork sandwich, tri tip sandwich or the beef ribs which reviewers say trump the baby back ribs any day. The barbecue sauce is on the sweeter side (just an FYI for those who prefer a more savory sauce). You'll order food at the register and then seat yourself. ((619) 226-6333)
This Hawaiian-themed, no-frills eatery is revered for its hearty portions, low prices and amiable atmosphere. Late-risers appreciate that breakfast is served from open to close, and burgers get raves as well. If you're lucky, you'll snag a table outside, where you can enjoy a gorgeous view of the beach. Don't let long lines deter you as they move quickly. Some claim that Kono's Cafe has the best breakfast burritos and breakfast sandwiches that they've ever had and at usually under $5, they are worth a try. If you're avoiding eggs, egg-beaters are on offer as an alternative. Kids are welcome. (858-483-1669)
Filippi's Pizza Grotto
Family-owned and operated since 1950, Filippi's Pizza Grotto is a go-to spot for Italian food in Little Italy. This casual restaurant is famous for mouth-watering pizzas (locals rave about the cheese) and monumental meatball subs. There can be a wait, but it's one locals are willing to endure. Walk through the deli (they sell sauces, cookies and more)and into the restaurant and feel immediately transported into Italy. Beer and wine are on offer. Parking can be tricky so plan time to find a spot and definitely come with an appetite. Filippi's accepts to go orders for those who are headed out to sightsee. ((619) 232-5094)
Las Cuatro Milpas
Barrio Logan isn't really one of San Diego's tourist hot spots but some locals argue that Las Cuatro Milpas is the one place to take out of town guests for Mexican food. There is almost always a line--that can take up to an hour at lunch. The menu is small as it's a you-get-what-they-serve type of place. That's just fine with locals who have been eating here for over 20 years with some driving miles and miles for a Las Milpas fix. Menu items usually include tamales, tacos, burritos rice and beans with delicious homemade tortillas. The only meats are pork, chicken and chorizo. ((619) 234-4460)
El Pescador Fish Market
Small and unassuming, El Pescador Fish Market in La Jolla has been a local favorite for over 30 years. Place an order to-go, pick up some fresh fish from the market or dine in. El Pescador is known for it's fish sandwiches, with swordfish and calamari being the most popular. Or, pick a fish, decide if you want it char-grilled or sauteed, and then put it on a salad (all salad dressings are homemade) or order a full plate, which includes a small salad and steamed rice. Prices are reasonable, service is friendly and the quality superb. Leave your fancy clothes at home as the ambiance is beach-casual. ((858) 456-2526)
This is one place where waiting for a table proves worthwhile - The Mission is the local favorite for hearty, unusual breakfasts and lunches. Fill up on Chino-Latino and American dishes like the Zen Breakfast (scrambled egg whites, braised tofu, brown rice, and lightly grilled veggies), the Desayuno Burrito (tortilla filled with potatoes, eggs, cheese, beans, and chipotle cream), strawberry-granola pancakes, and roast beef hash and eggs. Great coffee; wonderful quesadillas, wraps and tacos for lunch. Prices are reasonable and portions are huge with some saying a stack of pancakes can feed multiple people. The Mission is also very kid-friendly. (619-220-8992)
Oscar's Mexican Seafood
It hasn't been around that long but some are already claiming that Oscar's Mexican Seafood is the best Mexican in San Diego. A hole in the wall near a smoke shop and a dive bar, this gem is casual with a to-go atmosphere and very little seating. The tacos, which can be upgraded to a burrito for just $1 more, are worth the wait--and there is often a wait. Portions are huge with the tacos heaving with meat, cheese and avocados. Double the avocados if you like for just 50 cents and grab an agua fresca with free refills. Parking is usually OK on the street. It's cash only with no real place to sit, however. ((858) 488-6392)
Hash House A Go Go
Modern diner Hash House A Go Go specializes in BIG "Twisted Farm Food" so bring your appetite. For breakfast or brunch (served a la carte), indulge in a plate of hash with meatloaf, salmon, or corned beef. Try flapjacks such as the traditional buttermilk variety, or something different like blackberry-granola or butterscotch-almond. Nursing a hangover? Order the "O'Hare of the Dog," a 24-oz Budweiser in a brown bag and a side of bacon. Lunch and dinner choices are just as mammoth including a one-pound burger stuffed with mashed potatoes and bacon, or go for the stellar sage fried chicken, a show-stopping dish. (619-298-4646)
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. There is now a Del Mar location. (6192392222)
Recently featured on Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" Hodad's serves up huge, juicy, gourmet burgers without attitude. The atmosphere is dive-like with license plates and memorabilia lining the walls and blaring music to set the mood. They don't care if you're shoeless or shirtless (men only!) at this Ocean Beach location as it's THAT casual. If you're lucky enough to grab a table, make sure not to linger as a line snaking out the door is anxiously awaiting their burger heaven. Don't forget to pair a beer or an awesome shake with your burger. This is definitely one of San Diego's most famous restaurants. ((619) 224-4623)
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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