Best Casual Restaurants in San Diego
For quality food at a reasonable price point, fast-casual really seems to hit the sweet spot. A winning combination of organic ingredients and speedy turnaround times have cemented the concept as the new rockstar in food service. And so, here are a dozen places to load up on this freshly prepared, feel-good fare around San Diego.
1 Tender Greens
This casual cafeteria-style chain serves up a wide selection of globally influenced sandwiches and salads using locally sourced ingredients. Your choice of chicken, steak, fish or falafel can be made into a sandwich, hot plate or simple salad ($11.50), and served up with plant-based sides like roasted autumn squash, plus soups including rustic chicken and roasted tomato ($5+).
2400 Historic Decatur Rd
San Diego, CA 92106
2 Artisan Bentō
For Japanese-inspired, health-focused cuisine the customizable bentōs here are hard to beat. The miso salmon ($11.50) comes with miso and mirin-cured salmon, two onigiri rice balls, small salad, and miso soup with an optional extra side of lotus root or seaweed glazed with sesame seeds. Other protein options include chicken skewers, ginger pork, sashimi, and mushroom tofu.
2505 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92103
3 Carnitas' Snack Shack -Del Mar
Hanis Cavin and Sarah Stroud’s wildly popular counter-service spot is revered for its pork sandwiches and craft beer. While the menu changes daily their signature triple threat pork sandwich, shack fries and carnitas tacos usually always feature. Those seeking slightly lighter fare should look no further than the Snack Shack Cobb salad and/or the veggie burger.
12873 El Camino Real Ste M4
San Diego, CA 92130
4 True Food Kitchen
With a menu based on the principals of Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet, this relaxed eco-chic concept caters to a variety of diets, including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free. Lunch and dinner menu standouts include the bison burger, sweet potato hash and kale crunch salad with avocado and grapefruit. Libations, including handcrafted cocktails like the ginger margarita and vegan Thai piña colada, plus organic wines are also not to be missed.
7007 Friars Rd Ste 394
San Diego, CA 92108
5 Lemonade UTC
With its cafeteria-style set up and multiple food stations, you can mix and match endless combinations of seasonal, gourmet fare including sandwiches, salads, soups, braised meats and fresh veggies at this colorful fast-casual chain. Prices range from $6.50 for a sandwich to around $12.50 for up to six portions from the marketplace menu. Popular picks include the truffle mac and cheese, red miso beef short rib and housemade guava limeade.
4245 La Jolla Village Drive
San Diego, CA 92122
6 Farmer & The Seahorse
Selected as Open Table’s Local Diners Choice 'local pick' of 2015, Brian Malarkey caters to the breakfast, lunch and happy hour crowd at his fast-casual spot near Torrey Pines. Breakfast bites include scrambled eggs and avocado toast, while lunchtime diners can add steak, chicken or shrimp to any of the seven ‘field greens’ salads on the menu - or enjoy heartier ‘blue plate’ dishes such as local cod n’ garden chips or the New England lobster roll.
10996 Torreyana Rd
San Diego, CA 92121
7 Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill
This casual seafood spot, which featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, is famed for its authentic Mexican-style fish tacos. The 1-2-3 grilled fish ordering system is foolproof: make a selection from the day’s menu pick your marinade and how you’d like it served - plated, sandwiched, topping a salad or a la carte. The homemade New England clam chowder has a loyal local fan base, as do the shrimp cocktails and fresh oysters, which regularly sell out.
3667 India St
San Diego, CA 92103
Made using fresh local ingredients and served by the square, this local mini-chain currently boasts three locations across the city. Standout slices include: the truffle porcini and bapo, which comprises potato, crispy bacon, mozzarella and fresh rosemary. Napizza also runs specials where you can mix and match any six slices for $4.25 a piece, or get two slices and a draft beer for $15 during happy hour. Vegan/gluten-free options are also available.
1702 India St
San Diego, CA 92101
9 Luna Grill
This homegrown chain serves up authentic Greek kebabs and other Mediterranean eats in a relaxed, counter-service setting. For wraps there are gyros and falafel, while the flat cut chicken kabob (which comes with rice, pita, and salad) is one of the most popular signature plates. Dolmas, spicy feta and handcrafted spinach pie make up just a handful of appetizers on offer.
350 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92103
10 Barrio Starr
Bridging the gap between brunch, lunch and dinner, Barrio Star debuted a new easy ordering and quick counter service set up last fall. With its Latin American-influenced signature rice bowls, tacos and tortas made using local and organic ingredients, look out for the combined lunch and dinner menu, plus "Tacos a La Carte" for mix and match orders.
2706 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92103
11 Urban Plates
Creative and healthy food options abound at this chef-driven enterprise, which currently boasts three outposts in San Diego County. Hand-tossed salads include a grilled wild albacore niçoise and kale, coconut and tofu creation; while hot plates cover everything from oven-baked salmon to grilled steak. The menu includes a gluten free section, kid-friendly meals and ‘pizettes’ too, plus family-style meals (take-out only) for up to four people.
1923 Calle Barcelona #148
Carlsbad, CA 92009
12 Native Foods
This vegan restaurant concept centers its dishes round plant-based proteins such as tempeh, seitan and soy-based chicken, cashew cheese and tofu bacon. The globally inspired menu comprises starters such as Japanese sesame crusted chicken bites, alongside other fare like soups, salads and burgers. 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