Last Updated on July 2, 2022 by Team HH
I was born and raised in San Diego and if it wasn’t my favorite city before, it definitely is now. I’ve always had a love for this city, but it took moving out of state to really appreciate it. After I got married in September 2015, I moved to Jacksonville, Florida and it has been my home for the last 6+ years. Check out my list of top 5 favorite restaurants in Jacksonville here. I typically would visit home at least once a year, but when COVID hit, I went almost 2 years without visiting.
Recently, we’ve been able to come back to San Diego for an extended period of time and have been exploring like crazy! So much has changed and it felt like I needed to re-learn my whole city! There’s tons of new things to do, new restaurants, fun speakeasies, and other things to do – I plan to share all of that with you soon! For now, I’m starting with my top 5 favorite restaurants, some of which have always been a favorite, others were added to the list during this recent visit. There are so many more to mention too and lots of other places I still plan to try, so stay tuned for my next posts as I update and continue sharing my favorite eats in America’s Finest City!
1- Cucina Urbana (Banker’s Hill)
This spot has been a favorite of mine for years. Their location on Laurel Dr. between Balboa Park and Downtown San Diego is my favorite, but they also have a sister restaurant, Cucina Enoteca, which I love too! Some of my favorite dishes they always have are the stuffed squash blossoms, their pizzas which are ALWAYS amazing, and their short rib pappardelle. I even created my braised short ribs and made sure to repurpose my leftovers to recreate that pasta dish. It came out prettttty darn close, I must admit! Their other dishes, drinks and desserts change frequently based on the season, so I recommend checking out their menu when you’re ready to go!
Some of our favorite items at Cucina Urbana:
Stuffed Squash Blossoms with lemon aioli and salsa verde: Always a go-to for me. This is the first place I’ve ever tried squash blossoms years ago!
Roasted carrot & beet salad: Goat cheese, pomegranate and hazelnuts are a favorite combo for me. Loved the addition of the color, sweet, roasted veggies on top.
Chef’s whim ragu on a mascarpone polenta board: It may look small but this board will definitely fill you up! It’s a great one to share, too.
Chocolate Torta with almond & hazelnut: I will always be the one to get the chocolate dessert
2. Herb & Wood (Little Italy)
This place is described as Mediterranean cuisine with a California flair. We fell in love with this restaurant so quickly. Their menu changes frequently, but everything is guaranteed to be insanely good! Their bread is out of this world, the grilled ora king salmon was so fresh and flavorful, the spicy green beans which was honestly one of our favorite things we ate that evening are unfortunately not on the menu currently, but hopefully they return because wow. When you go, it is a MUSTTT to save room for dessert. Their chocolate tarte with sesame chocolate ganache and smoked tahini ice cream was one of the most memorable bites I’ve had in a while. You need this in your life.
Some of our favorite items at Herb & Wood:
Caña De Cabra warm goat cheese with chanterelles with a white wine sauce: A great appetizer with tons of umami flavor. I just wish there were more mushrooms but this is usually a go-to for us
Spicy green beans with harissa vinaigrette: Couldn’t be bothered to take a picture of these before eating them, they were THAT good.
Seven Spiced Cauliflower: so flavorful and a great combination of textures.
Bread: I mean come on. Warm bread. Count me in. AMAZING
Grilled Ora King Salmon with red chermoula, blood orange and fennel: So happy with this dish – and I think it’s something they have regularly. Fresh, flavorful, and I love the combination of the orange and fennel.
Chocolate Tarte with sesame chocolate ganache and smoked tahini ice cream: I don’t even have words for how good this was! If you love chocolate like me, this is a MUST when you come here if it’s on the menu!
3. Juniper and Ivy (Little Italy)
Another gem in Little Italy. Chef Anthony Wells knocked it out of the park with this one. You can expect this menu to change frequently as well. But by frequently, I mean it can sometimes literally be different from the beginning of the night to the end. When we went, one of the handmade gelatos had already changed from what was written on the menu. We tend to enjoy multiple small plates/appetizers here versus the entrees so that we can try multiple things in one visit. Our favorites were the morel mushroom toast and the cauliflower small plate with tahini – but because the menu changes so frequently, these may not be available all the time. We also LOVED the yodel, a thin chocolate tube with a decadent filling and a dreamy sauce draped on top. The flavors for this change weekly if not sooner, but they’re always bound to be incredible. Right outside this restaurant are some great views around Little Italy. Hang out in the front of the restaurant for a few minutes and you’ll catch an amazing photo-op of planes flying through heading to the airport.
Some of our favorite items at Juniper & Ivy:
Spicy tuna hand rolls: Very easy to eat, simple, light and fresh flavors.
Kampachi Crudo: Very fresh, tangy and slightly spicy. Loved the coconut “snow” on top. These flavors were right up my alley
Morel Mushroom Toast: Morel mushrooms are already amazing, put them on toast with a poached egg, it was literally an explosion of umami flavor. Way better than I even imagined when we ordered this!
Cauliflower with cashew, tahini and dates: Definitely anticipated this to have more middle eastern flavors, but it really had an Asian stir fry flair which was SO good, I almost talked my husband into ordering 2
The chocolate yodel: The flavor for this changes all the time, but it’ll always be a hit.a chocolate curl with
4. Oscars Mexican Seafood (Pacific Beach)
If you’re looking for the absolute BEST fish tacos in San Diego, Oscars is the place to be. They have 2 locations in Pacific Beach and one in Hillcrest. The true definition to me of what a perfect fish taco should taste like. Fresh, crispy, battered fish, cabbage, onion, tomato and cilantro with some fresh salsa. Out-of-this-world good and definitely worth going.
5. Animae (Marina District)
Before we came back to San Diego, I had this place on my list and couldn’t wait to try it! Asian food already tends to be my favorite, and Brian Malarkey’s restaurant and Chef Taras’s take on Asian American food is amazing! It is located downtown near the harbor so there are always beautiful views and a nice little walk.
Some of our favorite items at Animae:
You’re so hot, honey: My kind of drink. Not very sweet, and a bit spicy.
Hamachi: Really enjoyed this – so much so that I made sure to keep the plate with the extra sauce on it so I could use it with the rest of our dishes!
Caviar shrimp toast: Absolutely worth getting, a delicious savory shrimp mixture on a thick, buttery piece of toast.
Lumpia: This is not like a traditional lumpia that i’ve ever tasted, but it is a
Taiwanese chicken: Delicious and super tender
Coal roasted cabbage: We loved the rich flavors of this veggie side dish!
Short rib kare kare: This was Awad’s dish (my husband). He really enjoyed it and ordered a side of rice with it as recommended by our server. This was a tasty and very rich dish, but I did prefer my whole fried fish.
Whole fried fish: I was SO happy with this dish! The fish was fresh and the aji amarillo, citrus and herbs just tied everything together so perfectly.
Chocolate mousse bar: This dessert was so memorable, I’ve thought about going back for just that. It was crispy, rich and chocolatey. And let’s face it, sesame and chocolate is the new peanut butter and chocolate.
That’s all for now! I’ll be sharing lots more soon! I hope you enjoyed this little guide and check back for the next ones!
Comment below with your favorite restaurants in San Diego!