It’s easy to assume San Diego would have a food scene as pristine as its stunning vistas. But what many tourists come to discover is that the majority of downtown San Diego restaurants fall short in either atmosphere or taste. To find a genuinely good meal here can take some digging. That’s why we’ve compiled a tried-and-true list of the (actual) best restaurants in downtown San Diego.
The 13 Best Places to Eat in Downtown San Diego
The bustling downtown area of San Diego comprises several charming neighborhoods like Little Italy, the Gaslamp Quarter, Central, and East Village. Each offers its unique charm and attractions. However, for those looking to savor the culinary delights of the city, Little Italy and the Gaslamp Quarter are the go-to destinations, boasting an unparalleled food scene within the city.
Once a fishing hub for Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, Little Italy has since evolved into a diverse culinary destination. What’s on the menu? Italian, of course, but I also recommend trying the other international cuisines from Japanese to Mexican. (Border food, here we come!)
A mere 20-minute stroll southward leads to the Gaslamp Quarter, renowned for its lively nightlife and plethora of bars. Looking for more family-friendly vibes? Trust me when I say that Gaslamp is also home to numerous treasures that suit any age group. So dive into this local’s places to eat around San Diego.
Puesto at the Headquarters (Gaslamp)
$$ | Mexican Food | Spacious Seating | Welcoming & Bright
Seaport Village is a popular destination for families staying in the Gaslamp area, but while the views are lovely, most of the restaurants here fail to impress. That’s why I always recommend people check out Puesto at the Headquarters. Located just outside of Seaport Village, this modern taco restaurant offers a vibrant outdoor patio—perfect for enjoying a warm summer day with friends or family.
The menu features a selection of classic tacos like carnitas and al pastor, as well as vegetarian options like mushroom and mixed veggie. Puesto also sports a great selection of margaritas and fresh guacamoles with unique add-ons like pomegranate or mango shrimp that make sharing food here even more fun.
Address: 789 W Harbor Dr Suite 155, San Diego
Morning Glory (Little Italy)
$$ | Brunch | Interesting Decor | Bright and retro
This brunch restaurant in Little Italy is known for its vibrant gold and pink interior that harkens back to a 1950s diner straight of Liberace’s dreams. The restaurant is great for pancake and eggs benedict lovers, as the menu offers several variations of these classic dishes.
When visiting, be prepared to wait. The stunning interior means Morning Glory is the top spot on every Instagrammer’s list and the line can easily stretch around the block.
Pro Tip: Try visiting on a weekday during an off-peak hour. I mean, who doesn’t want brunch on a Tuesday at 2 pm, anyways!?
Address: 550 W Date St Suite #C, San Diego
Underbelly Ramen (Little Italy)
$$ | Japanese Food | Open-air Seating | Neon Decor
Shibuya, Tokyo meets San Diego at this tasty Little Italy ramen shop. Diners will immediately be captivated by the blue and red neon lights and open-air concept. You’ll find traditional ramen dishes and a selection of Japanese beers and whiskey.
Order food at the bar and and opt for eating in the upstairs dining area or along the downstairs bar for people watching. If you’re craving a filling and cozy meal without sacrificing the aesthetic, I definitely recommend the Tonkotsu ramen and crispy chicken wings.
Address: Corner of Kettner & Fir, 750 W Fir St #101, San Diego
Herb & Wood (Little Italy)
$$$ | New Age American | Large Dining Room | Hip & Vibrant
Herb & Wood is one of the most popular restaurants in the Little Italy area—and for good reason. The expansive interior caters well to large groups and intimate diners, alike. But thankfully, the restaurant’s volume doesn’t come at the cost of the food or service.
The menu is fresh, innovative and offers a plethora of delectable, hearty dishes. I find myself constantly craving the oxtail gnocchi and roasted baby carrots. The atmosphere is lively and energetic, but be aware that it can get quite loud inside as the night wears on. If you’re looking for quiet conversation, it’s best to go earlier in the evening.
Address: 2210 Kettner Blvd, San Diego
Neighborhood & Noble Experiment (Gaslamp)
$$ | Hearty Dishes | Speakeasy | Tasty Cocktails
Are you craving a fancy night out but have aged out of your “standing-in-line” party years? Then Neighborhood restaurant and its hidden speakeasy, Noble Experiment, are perfect for you. Both the restaurant and speakeasy accept reservations, which can be rare to find in Gaslamp! You’ll see a unique hodgepodge of hearty dishes like perogies and burgers on their menu.
Most folks come here to experience the speakeasy located behind a stack of kegs at the back of the restaurant. You’ll feel totally in-the-know while enjoying their eclectic cocktails and trendy—if not a tad morbid—decor.
Address: 777 G St, San Diego
Juniper & Ivy (Little Italy)
$$$ | Unique Comfort Food | Seasonal Menu | Date Night
It can be difficult in San Diego to find an exceptional meal and a 5-star vibe, but Juniper & Ivy marries both things perfectly. From the drinks to the dessert and everything in between, this restaurant is genuinely one of the best places for dining in San Diego.
The menu is constantly updated, so you’ll rarely have the same meal twice. Wondering what to order then? I recommend the shareable plates, or let the servers offer excellent seasonal suggestions.
Regardless of season, the melt-in-your-mouth sourdough bread is a menu mainstay and a must try. Should you be so lucky to find pork belly on the menu when you visit, do not hesitate to order!
Address: 2228 Kettner Blvd, San Diego
Kettner Exchange (Little Italy)
$$$ | Asian/European Blend | Dinner & Drinks | Trendy & Social
Kettner Exchange is the perfect place to transition your night from dinner to drinking. Inside, you’ll find a vibrant downstairs lounge and an upstairs, open-air dining room. The menu features a variety of dishes from Asian and European cuisines, making it a great spot for trying something new.
My advice? Start your night off with a decadent dinner upstairs, and once the clock strikes 10, head down to the lounge to enjoy a lively night of drinking and socializing.
Pro Tip: Be aware that past a certain hour, Kettner observes a dress code that, while casual, does not allow men wearing caps, shorts, or sneakers. Plan ahead!
Address: 2001 Kettner Blvd, San Diego
$$$ | Seafood | Heart of Gaslamp | Upscale & Modern
It’s a given when visiting San Diego that you’ll want to enjoy a night out with seafood. The city still has a bustling fishing culture and fishermen can be seen bringing in their catch on Shelter Island each morning—usually yellowtail, cod, and sea bass. Though not everything on their menu is local, Lionfish does a great job of maintaining a wide selection of sustainable fish options.
The menu is ample and delicious offering oysters, sushi, and hot and cold plates. And if you’re the non-fish eater or vegetarian in your party, Lionfish has you covered too! But as far as fish goes, the all-star sushi roll is divinely fresh and the Baja striped bass with coconut curry sauce is cooked to perfection. This is sure to be a night out you’ll remember.
Address: 435 Fifth Ave, San Diego
Nolita Hall (Little Italy)
$$ | Share Plates | Lunch & Happy Hour | Unique Interior
Looking for lunch, dinner, or happy hour? Nolita Hall has you covered with tasty sharing plates like their salmon belly crudo and seasonal veggie pizza. But perhaps the most unique feature here is the flight tracker board above the bar. Let me explain.
San Diego is famous for having an airport in its city center and you can often catch tourists gawking at the low-flying, incoming flights. But why just strain your neck to look when you could be enjoying a fabulous cocktail while watching the flights come in?
The planes pass directly above Nolita Hall’s glass ceiling and the flight tracker board details each flight’s origin and number. The great food, drinks, and vibe make this an excellent choice for any group—even if you aren’t a plane enthusiast.
Address: 2305 India St, San Diego
Civico 1845 (Little Italy)
$$ | Italian | Vegan & Gluten Free Options | Traditional
It can be hard to choose from the sea of great Italian restaurants in Little Italy, but one place you’ll never go wrong with is Civico 1845. Located on bustling India Street, Civico is a go-to spot after you’ve wandered Little Italy’s Saturday farmer’s market.
You can expect to find traditional Italian pasta dishes here, as well as vegan and gluten-free versions that are just as delicious as the original. My personal favorite is the raviolo classico—the pink sauce is to die for!
Address: 1845 India St, San Diego
$ | Bakery | Buttery Croissants | Fresh Ingredients
Just outside of the Gaslamp Quarter, you can find Izola—a local bakery offering buttery croissants and sourdough breads, baked fresh every morning. While the menu pretty much centers on breads and canned coffees (gluten-intolerant beware), it cannot be overstated how truly delicious these pastries are.
Best suited for early risers, Izola can quickly develop a line around the block. But it’s well worth the wait. Some menu must-tries are the chocolate-almond croissant and morning bun. Not much of a sweet tooth? No worries! There are plenty of savory options to try like the roasted garlic or olive sourdough bread.
Address: 710 13th St Suite 300, San Diego (Limited hours: Thursday – Sunday 8 am – 1 pm)
The Nolen (Gaslamp)
$$ | Share Plates | City Views | Weeknight or Sunday Brunch
This list wouldn’t be complete without including one of San Diego’s many beautiful rooftop restaurants. The menu includes classic share plates like flatbreads and short rib sliders, and while the food is not much to write home about, the real draw is the view.
The Nolen offers a breathtaking, sweeping view of downtown San Diego and is the perfect spot to enjoy the city skyline. Check it out on any night of the week or for a Sunday brunch to enjoy a sunny, sea breeze.
Address: 453 Sixth Ave #7007, San Diego
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