The Best Food & Drink in San Diego | 2023 | The Magazine

The Best Food & Drink in San Diego | 2023 | The Magazine

Ambrogio by Acquerello

Best Sit-Down Spot With a Playplace

Del’s Hideout

Say it’s a Friday night, the kids are bouncing off the walls, and cooking dinner in that chaos feels like a very difficult form of astrophysics. Enter Del’s Hideout in Del Cerro, a Cohn Restaurant Group spot. It’s got tasty barbeque, sandwiches, and salads, plus a good kid’s menu with their favorites: burgers, mac ’n cheese, grilled cheeses. But elementary schoolers don’t sit for food no matter how much fromage is present. Del’s knows this, so they turned a shipping container into a play area with foam blocks, push carts to ride around in, and a small climbing structure. So you can sink down at a table, grab a craft beer, and send the little ones to get their zoomies out. Bonus: Every Wednesday you get a free kid’s meal with the purchase of an adult entrée. –CT

Best Gamifying of Fine Dining

Ambrogio by Acquerello

The new modern Italian tasting-menu restaurant is a partnership between the owners of Ambrogio15 and the chefs behind Milan’s Michelin-starred Acquerello. One of those chefs, Silvio Salmoiraghi, got his first star at vegetarian restaurant Joia, which explains the choice to offer two menus: omnivore (wow, the Alaskan cod) and vegetarian (featuring his signature dish, Acquerello Rossini). A knockout linguine and the “omelette surprise” appear on both lineups. The omelette is presented with four mystery fillings under each quadrant that the server asks you to taste and identify, gamifying a gourmet meal. –KO

Best New Addition to the Stadium Food Trend

Snapdragon Stadium

Snapdragon Stadium promised a lot from the get-go. So far they’ve done a damn good job delivering with Major League Rugby, one of the most electric women’s sports teams in the country (Wave FC), concerts, and concessions. That final bit is especially key, because why bother watching a game in real time unless the food is as exciting—if not more—as the spectacle? Snapdragon’s curated selections run the gamut. Petco Park started this star local-food game, and Snapdragon carries the torch well with Crack Shack, Cali BBQ, Hodad’s, and more. –BD

Juniper & Ivy Restaurant Kimberly Motos

Best Way to Sabbath

Juniper & Ivy

J&I was one of the restaurants that put Little Italy on the serious-food map. It opened with Richard Blais holding the reins. Now, for nearly 10 years, it’s been Anthony Wells (protégé of Thomas Keller and Jonathan Benno) who keeps it flying high. While they’re usually a nice-shirt kinda place, they’ve introduced a Sunday Supper, a more casual, family-style, three-course meal using the best of hyper- local farms, fish, and ferments. It’s set to return in September. Wipe great food on your jeans. –TJ

Best Bar to Cheer At


When beloved College Area dive The Ugly Dog Pub closed and became Majorette, the transition breathed new life into a neighborhood thirsty for more upscale options. Yes, there are still billiards (now free, in fact), a cozy patio, and big screens showing sports. But owner Will Remsbottom is serving seasonal plates, low-ABV cocktails, and plenty of smashburgers paired with natty wine. Rah rah, indeed. –BD

Best Drive-Thru Experience for Introverted Caffeine Junkies


If the line of SUVs at Starbucks seems a little long and life-draining, happyfastdelicious in Hillcrest is an introverted nine-to-fiver’s dream. Opened in 2022, the grape-and-yellow, A-framed coffee drive-thru offers indie-shop creativity with the speed and convenience of mobile ordering. Grab espresso, energy drinks, seltzers, and sodas in 30-plus flavors to get a customizable fix for that uber-specific craving. From banana-bread lattes to cocoa marshmallow cold brew, it’s fast done well. –MK

First Look: Ciccia Osteria

Best Not-Dessert Dessert

Ciccia Osteria

Mario Cassineri and Francesca Penoncelli had been angling toward this little house for a long time. The married Italian transplants started a decade-plus ago as the food engine at Bice in Downtown (he was the chef; she, the cheese expert). In 2019, they threw everything into this cottage of their own. They can make pasta from scratch in their sleep, but it’s the mushroom flan that snatches breaths: a little truffle, a little cream sauce, and a pecorino crust. –TJ

Best New Microgreens Dealer

Cardiff Farmers Market

How did Cardiff not have a farmers market til recently? The beach burg is so rustic that parts of it don’t even have sidewalks. Well, that’s fixed now. Saturdays bring the Cardiff Farmers Market to Mira Costa College’s San Elijo Campus from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Located just off the 5, the market has close, ample parking and 70 vendors, including Cardiff Tiny Farm and Seas Greens Microgreens. –KO

Best Place to Rock an Elastic Waistband


Devouring all-you-can-eat Asian hot pot at Shabumi with friends and family is best done in stretchy pants. Choose your steamy soup base before selecting three meats, such Angus brisket, pork belly, and lamb leg. Top it off with bok choy, bean sprouts, onions, broccoli, and other veggies. Korean barbecue is also bottomless, which means you’ll probably be back—real soon. —MK

Broad Street Dough Co. Donuts

A collection of colorful doughnuts from Broad Street Dough Co. in Encinitas 

Best Donut Shop Without a Pastry Case

Broad Street Dough Co.

Like a dating app for donuts. Patrons select their sugary soulmate from a roundup of photos pinned to the wall, then the lovely folks at Encinitas’ Broad Street drop dough in the fryer; glaze it, stuff it, and spackle it with Fruity Pebbles; and serve it still warm. Most of the menu can be made vegan and/or gluten-free and is 99 percent less likely to disappoint than your latest Hinge match. –AR

Sandpiper Restaurant La Jolla

Best Cake That’s Not a Cake


Sandpiper is the offshoot of George’s at the Cove, which means one of the most respected chefs in the country (Trey Foshee) is on the QC. If you blink when driving into La Jolla Shores (by the beach we all go to, not up top at the Cove with the fancy galleries), you’ll miss it. Stop missing it. There are oysters and good beer and oak-smoked, fire charred dishes (the Niman Ranch pork chop is life), but that blue-corn cake with spicy macha agave steals all shows. –TJ

Best Form of Choking

Amalfi Cucina Italiana

It’s no surprise that Amalfi is a runaway hit in San Marcos, since chef-partner Marcello Avitabile is a six-time World Pizza Champion. The tiles on his woodfired cauldron are gold because that’s what his oven makes. However, the best menu item comes crust-free: The pan-fried Roman artichokes with arugula and Grana Padano Parmesan prove why they import most of their ingredients directly from Italy. –TJ

Best Surprisingly Hearty Coffee Shop Meal

Mujer Divina

Bedecked with bright murals and faux flowers, Mujer Divina is a beacon of coffee and community in National City. You can order online to grab a café de olla and slim chorizo burrito on the fly. But if you can nab a table, it’s worth lingering over a big plate of green chilaquiles, a veritable feast in comparison to other quick-service cafés’ dainty pastries and toasts. Add machaca or birria to power a full afternoon of errands. –AR

Best Symphonic Salad

Little Frenchie

Little Frenchie’s roasted beet salad is a microcosm of the Coronado bistro’s knack for balance. The petrichor sweetness of the beets and subtle salt of goat cheese cut the bitterness of the dish’s radicchio base and temper its bright citrus. Also melodic: its entreés, including two takes on mussels, the sexy butter of the sea. –AR

Best Reason to Wear a Bib

Crab Hut

Crab Hut is owned by the local family behind the breakout restaurant Kingfisher. Tidiness and polite, methodical eating happen at some other, more boring place. Here, they hand you a bib and gloves and bring your seafood feast in a giant bag. Just put your whole you into the experience. In that bag—as long as you did this right and ordered the “full house sauce”—is one of the best seafood-boil sauces in the city, plus snow-crab clusters, lobster, crawfish, sausage, corn, and potatoes. Regulars beat the crowd at their four-hour happy hour (3 to 7 p.m.). Also, they have pretty fantastic cocktails. –TJ

Best Place to Get Dessert On Tap

The Craft Creamery

You know how you can go into a bar in SD and order a kolsch from Colorado or a pilsner from Pennsylvania? At The Craft Creamery near Shelter Island, the idea is the same, but with ice cream. Here you can find rotating flavors from the best ice cream makers in the country, such as Fat Elvis (banana ice cream with peanut butter and chocolate chips) from Wisconsin’s Chocolate Shoppe and Marionberry Pie from Tillamook in Oregon. Grab a four-flavor flight for $12. –MH

Best Jewish-Korean Handheld

Homestead Solana Beach

This is a husband-and-wife-owned little casual-bites and gourmet-goods store in the design district. Work up a hunger buying vintage lamps, then regain life here. The roast beef dip is a winner. Tuna salad is one of those things you don’t realize you require in your life until you see it on a menu and it feels like a religious need, and their tuna toastie is excellent. The star, however, is the Korean twist on a reuben: pastrami with kimchi and swiss on toasted rye. –TJ

Best Place to Strip

Cowboy Star

Making it as a steakhouse these days usually requires coast-to-coast financial backing, so this one’s special. It’s San Diego’s indie steakhouse, started by a trio of industry vets, little butcher shop attached. The’ve got all of the fancy meats, all aged in-house–Wagyu skirt, bone-in ribeyes, the works–but it’s the relatively homely New York strip that slays after 21 days of dry aging. Also, the bread pudding will roll your eyes back into your personal sweet spot. –TJ

Valentina Restaurant Kimberly Motos

Best Celebrity Ham On Toast


Every neighborhood needs one of these pheromone-boosting little spots, a minimalist charmer with mussels and wine and a couple well-placed lamps. Valentina is owned by Mario and Morgan Jean Guerra, whose Leucadia Co. restaurant group (Moto Deli, Corner Pizza, Hamburger Hut) has thrived up here. They named this Spanish tapas bistro after their daughter. Get the tomato toast with the famed jamon Iberico, a garlicky, salty, lightly sweet piece of bread art. –TJ

Best Boneyard

Ranch 45

The secret’s out about dry-aging. Won’t be long before we get the dry-aged Whopper. And bone marrow is the activated charcoal of the beef world, a silky collagen bomb people on the internet claim reverses the aging process and brings the Chargers back to San Diego. But the only folks I know that are dry-aging bone marrow are husband-and-wife duo Aron and Pam Schwartz in their Solana Beach restaurant-slash-butcher-shop. Spread it on toast, on steak, on your life. –TJ

Best Meat on a Tree

Tribute Pizza

A midcentury post office turned into a pizza haven with a farmer-focused ethos (get the kale salad with aleppo pepper), Tribute has knockout focaccia, soft-serve ice cream with olive oil and sea salt (sounds weird, is glorious), and world-class pies (order the mushroom whitestone). Lots of yes here, especially the “handsome board”—specifically, the “Big One”— with all kinds of cured meat snacks and fancy cheeses and housemade sauces beside in-season farm fruits and nuts and such, served on a fallen tree ring. –TJ

Golden Mushroom