San Diego Downtown is teeming with restaurants. Some are great, some ok, and some are tourist traps. I live downtown and am a self-proclaimed foodie. My husband and I go out to eat more than we should and have eaten our way through the Downtown San Diego restaurants. As San Diego locals, we love to share our favorite places so you can try them too! If you are a local, what are your favorite restaurants in Downtown San Diego?
San Diego Gaslamp Quarter Restaurants
The Gaslamp Quarter is the center of San Diego’s night live scene. You will find lots of restaurants, shops, bars, clubs, and some places that try to be everything at once. Rents in the Gaslamp Quarter are astronomical, so be prepared to pay a little more. We tried to include some cheaper options as well, though.
One of my favorite Greek restaurants in San Diego. They offer lots of Greek classics but with a fusion twist. The ingredients are always fresh, and everything is prepared perfectly.
I had Shrimp saganaki there a few times, and not only was the sauce divine, but the shrimp were so juicy and cooked on point. Their lamb shank cooked in a tomatoey red wine sauce is also killer, and their cheese and shrimp Saganaki is flambéed tableside, which makes for a little fun entertainment.
If you love cocktails, this is also a great spot for some fun libations with a Greek twist. I always have to chuckle at their cocktail names like “Bye Felicia 6.0!” or “The Dirty Greek” LOL!
Dobson’s Bar and Restaurant is an institution. Right in the heart of downtown, next to the remnants of Horton Plaza, Dobson’s has been open since the early 80s.
Wood-paneled walls, a long and well-stocked bar, and of course, the delicious food, make Dobson’s a popular lunch and dinner spot with a classic feel that makes it perfect for a business lunch just as much as drinks before a show or even a romantic date night.
One of the must-try dishes is the famous mussel bisque, served with a puff pastry shell that is absolutely divine. According to their website, they sold over 1 million of them so far.
I walked by LAVO numerous times, and after I finally ate there, I regretted waiting so long. This upscale Italian restaurant in the heart of the Gaslamp offers an elegant atmosphere, great service, and delicious food.
I love eating family style there and ordering a bunch of dishes and then trying them all. I really love their three-cheese arancini and their 1 pound Wagyu meatball is a must every time I go. And if a whole fish doesn’t intimidate you, order the branzino. Sooo delicious!
Lou & Mickey’s
If you are looking for an “old school” steak and seafood restaurant in San Diego, then Lou & Mickey’s is a fantastic choice. The ambiance is classy, and the people-watching from their tables on 5th Avenue will keep you entertained all night long.
My husband is still dreaming about their 60-day dry-aged Porterhouse, and I can’t resist their Raw Bar every time I go. I find a lot of surf ‘n’ turf restaurants try to be good at seafood and steak, but most simply are not. Lou & Mickey’s is an exception, and they do an excellent job, whether you prefer steak or seafood.
Another thing I really like about this place is the sides. They are not just an afterthought. I’d be happy to go to Lou & Mickey’s and only order some sides for dinner. They are that good! The broccolini with tahini is fantastic, and so is the asparagus with gremolata. Yum!
This Bib Gourmand Modern Mediterranean restaurant is one of my favorites in East Village. It wasn’t love at first sight, though.
I remember the first time we went there and ordered a few dips as starters: some hummus, baba ganoush etc and some pita. Each dip was $14-16, and one slice of Pita was $5. On top of that, the serving size was tiny. Uff, not off to a good start. I was sure the dinner would be one of those “fine dining” experiences where we’d stop at a taco shop on the way back, ha.
However, each subsequent course we had was absolutely fantastic (and the portion sizes were more adequate as well)! Our absolute favorite dish of the night was the mushrooms with poached egg, followed by the duck breast and the lamb chops. Everything was prepared on point.
One thing I personally don’t like about Callie’s is that it is incredibly loud. You can listen in on conversations a few tables over. So if you are looking for something a bit more quiet and intimate, this might not be your best option. But the food is so good, I come back anyway!
Cowboy Star Restaurant & Butcher Shop
When you walk into Cowboy Star, you feel like you walked on a set of “Dallas”. The vibe is classy, but definitely more Texas than SoCal. The menu is classic steakhouse fare that will delight any carnivore. One of their specialties is the 35-day dry aged 18 oz Cattleman’s Cut Bone-In Ribeye. You’d better come with a bit of an appetite to finish this monster.
One of my favorite evenings at Cowboy Star was a few years back for my Birthday. They created a custom menu with special Birthday wishes for me. It definitely added a special touch.
Another downtown steakhouse on our list. But each one has such a unique feel and vibe, they all deserve a spot! The Huntress has a modern, clubby vibe, fantastic cocktails, and stunning interior design.
The Huntress offers steaks ranging from Australian to A5 wagyu center cuts, dry-aged bone-in ribeye, and of course, all the traditional cuts. Appetizers and sides are mostly traditional with a few “exotics” thrown in the mix like the truffle donuts or katsu style sandwich.
My favorite part of the meal at The Huntress was the dessert though. The presentation of their famous “Magic Mushroom” dessert was phenomenal. The dessert looks deceptively real to mushrooms growing on the forest floor, is presented under a “cheese dome” infused with smoke. Definitely an insta-worthy dessert, so get your camera ready.
One of the best sushi spots in downtown San Diego. It is located just upstairs from The Huntress and offers a rooftop bar vibe with modern Asian influences. It has a clubby vibe and also offers bottle service when Lumi shifts from restaurant to bar.
We ordered some cocktails and the Nazo 9 – Lumi’s Signature Mystery Box. It’s a little bit like a small Omakaze, but all bites are served at once in a box with nine sections. We also ordered some more sushi, and they were delicious.
For dessert, we ordered the AB Cigar. The words chocolate and log form should give you an idea of what it looked like. They have since switched it to white chocolate, and I think that was a very wise decision 😉
If you love Whiskey, you HAVE to go to the Whiskey House. Not only do they hold the world record for the bar with the most whiskeys (over 4000!!!), but they also have one of the best happy hours in Downtown (daily from 4-7 PM). The mixologists at the Whiskey House are some of the best in San Diego. Their drinks, obviously, have a strong whiskey bias, but you can get a variety of other cocktails as well.
The atmosphere is very speakeasy-like with plush leather sofas, crystal chandeliers, and ceiling-high shelves filled with bottle after bottle of whiskey (and other spirits). My favorite design part is the library ladders that the bartenders use to reach the bottles on the upper shelves.
The food definitely exceeds bar-style food and the prices during happy hour can’t be beat. $18 for a New York Strip Steak or $14 for a salmon fillet with sides can’t be beat. My husband loves their lamb sausage and lamb burger and I love their kale salad and scotch egg. Oh, and their breakfast/brunch is really good too! Definitely one of my favorite downtown San Diego restaurants.
San Diego Marina & Waterfront Restaurants
The Lion’s Share
If you want something special and unique, check out The Lion’s Share in the Marina. My husband and I go there at least once a month, if not more often. The restaurant focuses on specialty meats, unique dishes, and tasty cocktails.
If wild boar bolognese, elk & water buffalo sausage, and bison short ribs sound like your kind of thing, The Lion’s Share is your spot. Probably not the best place to take your vegan or picky-eater friends, though.
I also love their design. Dark walls, decorated with oil paintings that remind me of the Chronicles of Narnia give this place a unique vibe.
They have a fantastic Happy Hour every day from 4-6 PM (except Mondays, when they are closed), which includes a few tasty bites, but most importantly, their best offer: A burger & a beer for $. Say what??
This is pretty much unheard of in San Diego outside of a fast-food joint. But also try their regular dinner menu. They have so many delicious options and always come up with fun new creations.
Located in the heart of the Marina District, this steak house with an Asian twist created by star chef Brian Malarkey will entertain your tastebuds. Executive Chef Tara Mansod has created a menu that celebrates her Philipino-American heritage and is one of the most unique steak house experiences in San Diego.
Try some of the best A5 Wagyu steaks in San Diego paired with some unique menu items that you won’t find on your regular ol’ steak house menu, such as crispy pigs ears, short rib kare kare, and more.
The ambiance is glamorous and cozy. Moss green, plush sofas, golden brown velvet curtains, and dimmed lighting make the decor very cozy and nature-inspired.
This rooftop bar and restaurant inside the InterContinental Hotel is one of my favorite Italian places. We took my mother-in-law there for her birthday and it made for a really special evening. The views from the 19th floor over the bay and Coronado are spectacular and the layout of tables on the terrace makes for a cozy and intimate experience.
Their food is also fantastic. Our favorite is the wood-fired shrimp appetizer. The shrimp were cooked perfectly and had the perfect char and smokiness from the wood oven. We shared a bunch of other dishes and each was fantastic. Another must-try is the 30-layer lasagne. It just melts in your mouth. Sooo good!
Some say Brigantine’s has the best fish tacos in San Diego. While this is a hot topic and I personally love the fish tacos at Mitch’s more, Brigantine’s at Portside Pier offers one of the best view/food combinations in the city. Too often, a restaurant thinks they can get away with mediocre food just because they have a spectacular view.
Well, Brigantine has both! The views over the San Diego Bay and the Star of India are such a gorgeous backdrop for a special meal. I am a swordfish lover and it is one of those dishes, not many restaurants get right. Often it is too dry and overcooked. Brigantine’s does it perfectly, every time! Their fish and chips and the Branzino are also fantastic.
There are so many restaurants in downtown San Diego to choose from, and not all of them are great. Some are tourist traps or are not consistent enough that we, as locals who live downtown, wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending them. This list of downtown San Diego restaurants are the places we go to and recommend to our friends and family when they plan to come downtown. I hope it helps you to find some good options and new places to put on your to-try list.