Top Restaurants San Diego

1. Juniper & Ivy

2228 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy

Photo by Luis Garcia

Full disclosure: Chef Richard Blais and I work on a Food Network TV show together. Fuller disclosure: There is no way this is not one of the top restaurants in the city. Blais is known for molecular trickery, and though sci-fi food is included in the price of admission, at J&I his staff is doing simple things well—like a Baja yellowtail tostada in shark sauce, or that buttermilk biscuit in smoked butter. With up-and-coming sommelier Tami Wong and some of the best service in town, it fires on every important cylinder.
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1A. Ironside Fish & Oyster

1654 India Street, Little Italy

Photo by Sam Wells

This building—the old Ironside Metal Supply—is a gem of Little Italy, which now ranks as San Diego’s culinary epicenter. In the wrong hands, a piece of local history could’ve been buried in beige stucco and beiger ideas. But Consortium Holdings micro-managed the design and turned it into a grand statement of 1920s décor. Two-star Michelin chef Jason McLeod is overseeing the seafood joint that’s worthy of the once-thriving waterside community, with possibly the best lobster roll around and an oyster bar that’s slinging them almost as fast as customers demand.
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3. Fairweather

793 J Street, East Village

Photo by Jen & Bec

Another Consortium project (between your starting and finishing this sentence, they’ve opened two more joints), Fairweather was a concept that was so, so ripe. With the craft cocktail scene awash in brown liquors and antiquated, Model-T drink recipes, one of the leaders in the city’s craft scene decided to tackle… boat drinks. Piña coladas, Mai Tais, Zombies, mezcals, rums, tequilas. It’s easy for the creative class to hate on San Diego’s vacation climate; it’s another thing to embrace it with panache.

4. The Patio

4020 Goldfinch Street, Mission Hills

I would live in their patio. It’s less a “patio” than a room without a roof—and a few massive holes where the walls should be. Gorgeous. Two plant walls are like cross-sections of the rainforest. There’s a fireplace for your cockle-warming. This is the second installment from owner Gina Champion-Cain and chef John Medall (the first Patio is in PB). It’s one of the most brunch-begging hangouts under San Diego’s perfect sun. They’ve got a custom-built cheese cave, one of the best octopus dishes (in nut-butter ragout) in the city, and 60-plus tequilas.
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5. Bottega Americano

1195 Island Avenue, East Village

East Village is finally shaking off its economic hangover, and Bottega Americano is the beacon. The Thomas Schoos-designed eat-drink-shop concept has been overdue in San Diego. And while this is no Eataly (which is a city, six times as large), the general idea is the same. You eat Italian fare (crudo, fresh pasta, pizza, etc.) from chefs Giuseppe Ciuffa and David Warner (ex-JRDN), you drink cocktails by Snake Oil Cocktail Co., then you shop for gourmet foodstuffs after basking your gullet in inspiration. This all-in-one food experience will be replicated many times over this year.

6. Croce’s Park West

2760 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill

It was time for Croce’s to leave downtown. When Ingrid and her husband, the late legendary folk singer Jim Croce, opened the restaurant 30 years ago, the Gaslamp was a seedy place in need of constructionists. The Croces helped build more safety, more interest, more scene. But come 2014, very few of Croce’s local crowd wanted to venture into The Gaslamp. It’s for the beautiful and the well-breasted now. So Croce’s moved to Bankers Hill, and it’s never been more alive.
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7. Land & Water Company

2978 Carlsbad Boulevard, Carlsbad

As the former chef of Harney Sushi in Oceanside, Rob Ruiz became known as one of the most ardent promoters of sustainable seafood. Though the doom-and-gloom predictions vary, most experts agree: Our seafood supply is in various degrees of serious peril. And unsustainable sushi is not helping. Located in Carlsbad’s iconic Queen Anne home from the 1880s (formerly the Ocean House), L&W Co. is Ruiz’ riff on sushi, French food, and traditional Japanese yakitori fare (grilled meat on sticks). Good eating for mouth and mind.

8. Bijou

1205 Prospect Street, La Jolla

William Bradley deserves all acclaim. As the executive chef of Addison at the Grand Del Mar, he’s been nominated for a James Beard Award and praised over and over by Thomas Keller. As the culinary director for Bijou, Bradley mined his collection of classic French cookbooks to create a French bistro in homage to some of his favorites, including pâté de campagne (rustic pâté), oeufs mayonnaise (a boiled eggs-and-mayo bistro classic), steak tartare, and the comfort legend coq au vin. Chef de cuisine Shaun Gethin (ex of Gary Danko in San Francisco and Wynn Las Vegas) knows how to execute.

9. Tidal

Paradise Point Resort, 1404 Vacation Road, Mission Bay

A multimillion-dollar renovation marked a return for both a classic San Diego property and chef Amy DiBiase. Paradise Point is a quintessential San Diegan resort—a bit funky, a bit old, a bit touristy, and all kinds of laid-back awesome. The restaurant (formerly the residence of the Hollywood producer who built the island resort) has been recast in a more modern, white décor and that phenomenal bay-view patio is a perfect place to have DiBiase’s bruleed chicken liver mousse or her Venus clams, a sort of California riff on chowder.
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10. City Tacos

3028 University Avenue, North Park

The taco is to San Diego what the cheesesteak is to Philly. And the humble hand-food is undergoing a massive overhaul in San Diego. Finally. There are Puesto’s designer tacos, or Haggo’s organic, and now North Park has City Tacos. This isn’t the simple braised-meat grease stain. Their pollo asado is served with arugula, diced tomatoes, golden raisins, and toasted almonds in a tamarind aioli on a house-made flour tortilla. Their veggie taco is portobellos, black beans, corn, and arugula. Good things happen when farmers market people make tacos.

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