The Best Places To Eat And Drink In San Diego Right Now

Food & Drink

The San Diego restaurant and bar scene has grown by leaps and bounds over a relatively short period of time. For years, this sprawling metropolis by the sea was denied inclusion in the California culinary conversation. You came here for sand and sunshine, it was assumed, but never fine dining.

It’s time to put that notion to rest, once and for all. A sustained streak of openings throughout the past few years is highlighting an abundance of resident talent. Eclectic influences and innovative preparations are on full display, making it clear that this is a flavor-filled city with its own distinct personality. If you haven’t been to San Diego in a while, you might not recognize what’ll be waiting for you when you arrive. Here are a few notable places to help you catch up.

Marisi (1044 Wall St, La Jolla)

Although it’s been open for barely a month, this Italian-accented bistro has been in the works since pre-Covid. It wasted no time in becoming a local hotspot. The handmade pastas are winners one and all, but the delicate agnolotti with king crab and corn is a can’t miss. You’ll also want to make room for the sturdy proteins rolling off the hearth. Then there’s the drinks. An expansive wine list is a given in a place like this, but beverage director Beau du Bois—with his three-star Michelin pedigree—ups the ante with a sensational batched aperitif program. Then he veers into unexpected territory by housing a world class bourbon selection…Just because. In fact, you can draw a dram of his private barrel WL Weller whiskey straight from the cask. The unique liquid is robust and cinnamon-forward and will continue to evolve in the oak as it soaks in the Southern California sunshine.

Animae (969 Pacific Hwy, Downtown)

Chef Tara Monsod is absolutely crushing it at this Pan-Asian kitchen housed in chic downtown digs. Her playful dishes pop off the table, pulling influence from the Philippines all the way to India. Standouts include Taiwanese chicken dressed in hot honey and Szechuan peppercorn; crunchy shrimp toast smothered in trout roe; inasal plated alongside turmeric butter rice, with atchara and spicy toyomansi. The menu delivers from strength to strength before you even reach its supposed speciality: A5 Miyazaki Wagyu. For pairing there you can sip from the city’s widest selections of Japanese whisky. But you’ll want to kick the evening off with any of the bar’s inventive cocktail creations. The Devil Fruit, built atop coconut-infused mezcal, is a sensible—and refreshing—way to start.

Young Blood (777 G St, San Diego, East Village)

Neighborhood might not offer the most straightforward SEO, but it certainly comes correct with its food and beverage concepts. The hip gastropub/nightclub hybrid holds not one, but two separate speakeasies. And the newest, Young Blood, exists as one the city’s premiere destinations for high-minded mixology. You’ll have to book well in-advance to secure one of only nine stools at the bar. A $65 ticket purchase is inclusive of three cocktails: appetizer, main course and desert. Each are made bespoke based upon a brief conversation with the bartender. Whatever they end up pouring into the elegant stemware, expect it to be balanced, beautifully-rendered and unlike anything else you’ve sipped before. Vintage whiskies and amari are also available at an upcharge.

Valentina (810 N Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas)

North County residents are thankful for this warm bistro and wine bar which also serves as an anchor of the local weekend brunch scene. There is a casually Spanish theme to the menu, with iberico croquets, paella and gambas al ajillo all stepping out as stars. But you can also enjoy a fantastic schnitzel here. Or savor French inspirations such as steak frites…And moules frites. So it’s hard to pin down a uniform identity on the place. Expect nothing more than crowd-pleasing small plates paired alongside a bevy of fun wines by the glass—packaged all with easy-going beach-ey vibes. Bonus points for being enthusiastically dog-friendly.

Seneca (901 Bayfront Ct Level 19, Marina)

Located on the 19th floor rooftop of the InterContinental Hotel, Seneca is a whimsical trattoria with an enviable view. Typically this sort of destination dining diminishes expectations for what’s happening within the kitchen. Not here. Soft and salty mozzarella is hand-stretched tableside, daily fish selections are roasted over a wood-fired grill, and Neapolitan pizzas arrive fresh from the oven, clothed with burrata, guanciale and aromatic basil. All of it sensational. The cocktail program follows suit, lifting rooftop libations to lofty heights with its devotion to spritzes as well as inventive offerings based around gin, whiskey and agave spirit. The Montanaista is an appropriate aperitif for the setting: mezcal, amaro, and white vermouth, forming a bittersweet refresher to pair with panorama of the Point Loma Peninsula sloping into the Pacific.

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