Top Foods to Try in San Diego
Like many parts of the United States, San Diego is a melting pot for many cultures. In every San Diego neighborhood, you will find restaurants and shops of different cuisines and cultures. If you want to know our favorite spots, take a look at our San Diego Restaurant guide, giving recommendations for our go-to restaurants in each neighborhood.
Living here can feel lively and vibrant. Visiting can be thrilling but sometimes a little overwhelming. Which Thai place should you try? You don’t want to miss out on the San Diego staples. Ah! It’s too much!
Relax. Take a breath. I’m here to help you out. The thing is, you have the freedom to try whatever the heck you want to. There are just a couple of things I suggest you try first. Let me break it down.
What Foods Is San Diego Known For?
San Diego has a little bit of everything from Asian to Indian to Italian food. However, we are known for the following local specialties:
- Wood-fired, California style pizza
- Southeast Asian specialties
- Mexican food
- Local wine
- Locally produced hard and sweet apple cider
- Avocados, mushrooms, and acidic fruits like tomatoes, oranges, and limes
Which Dish Should You Try First?
Okay, now that you know what San Diego is best known for in the culinary world, let’s find out which awesome dishes you should try first. I will tell you exactly where you can get them to have some of the best food experiences around. I’ve lived in San Diego for about 85% of my life so I’m pretty savvy with this kind of thing. Let’s get started!
This awesome little dish highlights those fruits and veggies I was talking about before. Basically, it’s traditional guacamole with all those traditional ingredients like tomato, lime juice, onions, etc.
But the twist is adding mangoes, pomegranate seeds, candied walnuts, and Chile de Arbol. The combination of all the textures and tastes creates a symphony in your mouth as you scoop it into your mouth.
Where to Get It: Puesto
789 W Harbor Dr. San Diego, CA
Panang curry is a Thai dish that can vary in protein and spice. It’s a variety of red curry that’s thick, sweet, salty, and a little nutty from the peanuts. Panang is an old curry that dates back to at least the 1890’s if not later than that.
Like many Southeast Asian dishes, Panang curry is super flavorful and delicious. At many restaurants, they will let you chose the protein and spice level of your curry. If you’re brave, go all the way!
Where to Get It: Sab-E-Lee
6925 Linda Vista Rd. (Linda Vista Plaza – Suite B) San Diego, CA 92111
There has been a recent Poke craze that’s gone around town. While the chains are reliable, nothing beats a little mom and pop shop. If you don’t know what poke is, it’s usually a fish tartar type deal with Polynesian flavors and spices. I’m usually not one for raw fish but I do admit that poke is pretty great. You can either have it as an appetizer or a main course, I usually pair it with some Spam musubi and rice. It’s best to get a small quantity of several different types. It’ll definitely light your palate up.
Where to Get It: It’s Raw Poke Shop
3112, 4991 Newport Ave A, San Diego, CA 92107
Apple Pie a La Mode
This is a staple American dish. The flaky pie crust so delicately encompassing al dente apples that have been cooked in butter, sugar, and spices. Then topping this already seemingly perfect dessert with ice-cold creamy vanilla bean ice cream. Ugh, it’s absolute perfection. If you’re visiting San Diego then you MUST take a day trip to Julian to try a piece of the magic.
Where to Get It: Julian Pie Company (It’s Famous Nationwide)
2225 Main Street, Julian, CA 92036
Pizza is probably one of the most popular foods in the US and almost everyone has their own style of pizza from New York to Chicago deep-dish to the traditional Neopolitan. But in California, specifically SoCal, pizza is served in single servings on thin-crust with local ingredients. California Pizza Kitchen is super popular in this aspect but it’s not necessarily the best.
Where to Get It: The Besta Wan Pizza House
148 Aberdeen Drive, Cardiff By The Sea, California 92007, United States
Now, this isn’t necessarily Mexican but it is served at every single Mexican restaurant in San Diego and has quickly become a fan favorite. The California Burrito is filled with either Carne or Pollo Asada (I prefer Pollo), guacamole, pico de gallo, French fries (yes, you read correctly), sour cream, and cheese. It’s the ultimate meal for surfers, stoners, slackers, drunk people, and college kids. Add some hot sauce and you’re golden.
Famous Brussel Sprouts
Yes, I know it’s kind of expected that one of the awesome dishes I’m telling you to try is a vegetable. One of the least popular ones too. But hear me out. This particular brussel sprout dish is bursting with flavors of pancetta, parmesan, balsamic, and Port. They are freaking mind-blowing.
Local San Diego Wine
California has worked hard to make a name for themselves in the wine industry. It started in Northern California in the 70’s. There’s even a movie about it called Bottle Shock. Great movie with Chris Pine and Alan Rickman.
Once it hit big, the vineyards started to branch out and Southern California started producing wine. San Diego wineries are fun to visit. There are many varieties but they get a lot of praise. There’s only one place that serves just locally sourced SoCal wine.
Where to Get It: Pali Wine Co.
2130 India St, San Diego, CA 92101
Vegan Thai Food
Vegan food has hit pretty big with the younger crowd, especially in towns like San Diego. I, personally, am not a vegan nor do I plan to be but I stumbled across vegan Thai food while I was a canvasser a while ago. I couldn’t even tell that it was vegan and had no idea it was until I actually looked at the name of the restaurant.
The soup I ate was flavorful and savory while the noodles with thick and sweet to contrast. The soul of Thai food was not hindered by the vegan ingredients but somehow enhanced. I was delighted and surprised.
Where to Get It: Veganic Thai Cafe
1417 Suit A, University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103
While it is not Southeast Asian, Japanese food is very popular around San Diego. There are several sushi restaurants, ramen shops, and the like. Ramen is a bit complicated since some people don’t think it’s Japanese.
It has actually been an iconic Japanese dish since as early as 1859. It is originally Chinese but has become a staple in Japanese cuisine. Yes, it is Japanese. The multiple styles from Tonkatsu to Curry make it a very exciting dish to try over and over again to have different experiences.
Where to Get It: Tajima Ramen
4411 Mercury St, Ste 110, San Diego, CA 92111
Last but not least – Tacos. You can’t write a food article about San Diego and not mention tacos, especially fish tacos. Fish tacos are an absolute staple in San Diego. Tacos, in general, are popular with the border so close but fish tacos are much more in demand with the coast right there.
A soft shell corn tortilla with crispy fish filet, shredded cabbage, chipotle sour cream sauce, and delicious pico de gallo on top, it’s hard to resist. But fish tacos aren’t limited to fish filets, there are shrimp tacos, smoked fish tacos, and so much more. It’s a must if you’re visiting San Diego.
Where to Get It: Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
703 Turquoise St, San Diego, CA 92109
Read our full guide on the best San Diego Taco Shops here>>
San Diego is full of life and culture that is best represented through the food it serves. This only brushes the surface of the amazing San Diego delicacies and specialties. But trust me, start with these 10. They’ll have you coming back to San Diego for more.
Top 10 Foods to Try in San Diego was written and edited by Hedge Metreyeon. For more San Diego Explorer posts, check out our homepage. For more of their articles visit here. Follow them on social media here.
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Last Updated on May 11, 2023 by Maria Haase