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17 Trends and Icons Shaping San Diego’s Food Scene in 2024

The movers and shakers revolutionizing our city's restaurants and bars
Chef at San Diego restaurant The Fishery in Pacific Beach filleting a large tuna fish for food
Photo Credit: Lucianna Mcintosh

Chew on this—a butter-drenched bible to our sizzling dining scene, bursting with all the bites, sips, chefs, and trends that make San Diego hallowed ground for food people.

View the 2024 Best Restaurants Winners List

San Diego food pioneer chef Brad Wise known for Wise Ox and his new French restaurant coming to North Park
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

The Smokeshow: Brad Wise

By Troy Johnson

When it comes to things on fire, in Wise we trust. This year, San Diego’s star steakhouse chef went national. Brad Wise had a great track record (Trust, Fort Oak, Cardellino, The Wise Ox), but his casual-ish take on the steakhouse experience—Rare Society—boomed at a different decibel. Why? Because he’s nailed the art of woodsmoke, which has 400-something more flavor compounds than oven- or pan-seared proteins. And Rare’s lazy-Susan “steak boards” offer commitment phobes a ménage à steak. He expanded the concept up and down the West Coast, from Santa Barbara to Washington (the sixth iteration will open in Vegas next year). But he’s not done here at home—his “French-ish” brasserie arrives in North Park next summer.

A plate of seafood and sushi from San Diego restaurant in Bankers Hill
Kinme Omakase
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

The Experience: Omakase-Only

By Troy Johnson

San Diego’s Japanese food scene owes a debt to Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Seven years after watching the 2011 documentary, John Hong opened Hidden Fish on Convoy Street. Like Jiro’s famed restaurant in Japan, Hong’s spot is omakase-only—no à la carte ordering. The chef simply serves you course after creative course, using the day’s best ingredients. Taking choice away from Americans? Scandalous, blasphemous, and gold. It was the first of its kind in San Diego. Hong received national press, as did his newest concept Hitokuchi. Now he’s not alone. In the last year, two more omakase-only spots opened: Kinme (in Bankers Hill, from the beloved Azuki Sushi crew) and Ichifuji (thanks to two chef vets from Michelin-starred spots). A third, Hasekura, is on its way in Barrio Logan. Choice is overrated.

Dry aged fish from San Diego restaurant Matsu
Courtesy of Matsu

The Trend: Dry-Aged Fish

By Jackie Bryant

Finally, it’s being said. The supremacy of fresh fish is a myth. Sushi only gets its trademark silkiness when aged. Most beef served in high-end steakhouses is aged over 20 days, so why wouldn’t the same benevolent science work wonders on seafood? It does. While the craft was already popular in Spain (where aged, cured tuna is called mojama), San Diego fishmongers and chefs—from Tommy Gomes of Tunaville and the crew at La Jolla’s Marisi to Davin Waite of Oceanside’s Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub (one of the OGs of the trade)—started tinkering with the technique this year. “Dry-aging fish is a game-changer when it comes to hedging the peaks and valleys in local fish supply,” Waite says. “It’s just like putting a piece of fish in the fridge, only it gets better with time, instead of worse.” Even though the process has “literally been around forever,” he adds, it’s still new to many of us. Not for long.

Founders of San Diego restaurant Tribute Pizza standing infront of the North Park sign
Matt Lyons & Ammanda Lopez-Minera of Tribute Pizza
Photo Credit: Erica Joan

The Place: North Park

By Beth Demmon

North Park’s been billed as the heir to the city’s central food nerve for a long, long time. After a decade of revitalization, it’s finally happening. From Tribute Pizza (pictured) and Finca to Mabel’s Gone Fishing, Happy Medium, and Saigon Coffee, something delicious awaits every few feet. Three new concepts are incoming from some of the biggest names in the food and drink scene: Drew Deckman’s 31ThirtyOne (arriving around May), CH Projects’ Persian-fusion concept Leila (summer-ish), and Brad Wise’s French brasserie (sometime next year). The simmer is now a boil.

Pastries from San Diego asian bakery, Asa Cafe Bakery in East Village
Asa Cafe Bakery
Photo Credit: Kimberly Motos

The Treat: Asian Bakeries

By Beth Demmon

There’s a time and place for Boston creams and maple bars. And that time ended around when skinny jeans went out of style. This year, San Diego’s pastry adherents turned to melt-in-your-mouth Japanese milk bread, sugar-sprinkled Chinese doughnuts, and uber-fluffy red bean buns. SD’s Asian-owned and -inspired bakery scene exploded—probably because Asian desserts tend to be less excessively sweet than their Western counterparts, and the nation’s collective palate has shifted away from sugar bombs. Enter ube, black sesame, mango, and pandan treats. At places like ASA Cafe Bakery or Phoenix Dessert, you can switch up that iced vanilla latte in favor of royal milk tea, shaved ice with coconut milk and various fruits, or boba Thai iced tea.

Chef José Cepeda, from San Diego mexican restaurant Quixote at the LaFayette Hotel in North Park, kissing a fish
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

The Arrival: José Cepeda

By Troy Johnson

The biggest news in the city’s dining scene this year was arguably the 6,000-or-so (okay, seven) concepts artfully shoved into North Park’s newly re-loved and relaunched LaFayette Hotel. The food had to make a statement as loud as the décor (not easy). CH Projects tapped elite chef Perfecte Rocher (El Bulli, Tarsan i Jane, Manresa) to quality control the whole operation, but the one to watch is Puebla, Mexico–raised José Cepeda, chef at the hotel’s signature Baja-goth restaurant, Quixote. “My grandmother used to tell me you get people from the stomach—that’s how people fall in love with you,” he says. Quixote’s menu is a mix of his family’s favorite dishes with twists learned during his time cooking alongside Joshua Gill at LA’s Mexican standout Mírame. Cepeda’s crab corn doughnut alone is a fairly romantic notion.

Founder of beverage company Novo Brazil Kombucha, Tiago Carneiro, standing by a piano in black and white
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

The Fermentalist: Tiago Carneiro

By Troy Johnson

Hard kombucha hasn’t yet made a huge splash nationwide, but it’s catching fire ($179 million in 2023, with a projected $17 billion market over next decade). San Diego is ground zero for the movement thanks to our athleisure souls and twin fangirling for both probiotics and happy hour. Brands like Boochcraft and JuneShine broke the seal, and now the emerging force is Tiago Carneiro and Nova Easy Kombucha. Raised in Brazil by a father obsessed with fermentation, Carneiro and his brother built and sold Brazil’s largest craft brewery, Wäls. He moved his family to San Diego and opened South Bay’s first brewery, Novo Brazil, in 2015. The pandemic had him on the edge of losing it all. “I said to myself, ‘This was the biggest failure of my life,’” he recalls. So he gave spiked booch a try, and Nova took off. His bright pink, just-sweet-enough La Ola Dragon Fruit—a collab with Wave FC— was the drink of last summer and this summer, too. Now he’s partnered with the Padres.

San Diego bartender Beau du Bois, joining the restaurant Baja Norte at Seaport Village, on a motorcycle
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

The Cocktail Whisperer: Beau du Bois

By Troy Johnson

His first move was to ditch bottled lime juice. To do this for an operation as large as Marisi (one location) and Puesto (nine), Beau du Bois hired a juice guy—a full-time role to keep fresh juice flowing, storing it in kegs to preserve shelf-life and eliminate waste. By opting for seemingly minor, time-consuming tweaks (like using a centrifuge to clarify peach juice for Marisi’s epic white peach bellini), du Bois and co-conspirator Derek Cram are producing some of the most craft-driven drinks in the city. No surprise, since the former was beverage director of a three-star Michelin (The Restaurant at Meadowood) before coming to San Diego. Up next is a 100-seat, Mexico City–inspired cocktail bar in downtown called Roma Norte, set to open this summer. The bar man says we can expect the best rum and Coke he’s ever had, using clear cola made from scratch.

Tracy Borkum who helped shape the new restaurants The Kitchen at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and Artifact at Mingei International Museum
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

The Curator: Tracy Borkum

By Troy Johnson

For decades, museum food in the US was a forgery. Art on walls, shrugs on plates. Other cities realized Renoirs didn’t pair great with fridge-flavored pita wraps, so New York got Untitled from Danny Meier, Seattle got Taste from Craig Hetherington, and (finally) San Diego culture-seekers have Tracy Borkum and chef Tim Kolanko. Most know Borkum for her string of Italian cucinas (Urbana, Enoteca) and her Jewish deli, Goldfinch. But over the last few years, she has radically improved the mealtime fates of aesthetes in the city with Artifact at the Mingei and The Kitchen at MCASD La Jolla. Borkum got her art history degree from UC Berkeley, so maybe we owe a bit of gratitude to selfish pursuits.

Chelsea Coleman and Coco Randolph, the founders of San Diego restaurants and bars Mabel's Gone Fishing, The Rose, and Rosetta Bodega, in a wine bar playing chess
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

The Vin-Garde: Chelsea Coleman + Coco Randolph

By Jackie Bryant

San Diego’s not historically a wine town. But that’s changing, thanks in part to juice nerds like Chelsea Coleman and Coco Randolph. Coleman is co-owner of three low-intervention wine temples—Mabel’s Gone Fishing, The Rose, and Bodega Rosette (along with sourdough bakery Secret Sister)—and she co-founded the natural wine festival Nat Diego, which lured national wine icon Alice Feiring to town. Randolph is wine director at North Park bistro Black Radish, as well as co-owner of the two-Michelin-star Californios in San Francisco. She won tons of accolades for her work at the latter, including Michelin’s 2021 Sommelier of the Year.

A woman pouring coffee at San Diego coffeeshop Saigon Coffee in North Park
Photo Credit: James Tran

The Coffee: Saigon Coffee

By Maren Hawkins

Vinh and Tu Duong’s father set the bar high for how a husband should treat his wife. Growing up, the siblings—and Saigon Coffee founders—saw their dad travel to faraway villages in the central highlands of Vietnam to bring back the finest coffee beans for their mother. Their mom taught them to slow-brew java with time-tested Vietnamese phin filters (pour-over, but make it fancy). From humble beginnings in 2012 at the Hillcrest Farmers Market to two bustling brick-and-mortars in North Park and University Heights, Saigon Coffee creates every cup with this ancient technique. The rich egg foam that tops one of their strong, satisfying iced beverages is worth being late for work… which you will be, unless you rise with the baristas themselves to beat the omnipresent line.

Pastries with potatoes and asparagus on top from San Diego bakery Wayfarer Bread in La Jolla
Photo Credit: Airyka Rockefeller

The Bread: Wayfarer Bread

By Amelia Rodriguez

If Crystal White’s sourdough starter were a human child, it’d be in second grade right now. But instead of learning to subtract, the bubbly colony of lactic acid and wild yeast is doing what it does best: making bread delicious, with help from White’s lovingly obsessive attention to details like humidity and the seasons. Trained by bakers at The French Laundry, Tartine, and Proof, White launched Wayfarer Bread in Bird Rock in May 2018 following a series of successful pop-ups. The humble outpost has since made like its starter and sent San Diego’s bread culture rising ever-higher. While White’s crackly baguettes and fluffy cream buns generate Disneylandish morning queues, weekend evenings draw fans for pizza nights, when Wayfarer lays down veg- and meat-loaded pies with—you guessed it—killer crusts.

Margarita pizza from Italian Amalfi Cucina Italiana
Photo Credit: James Tran

The Pizza: Amalfi Cucina Italiana

By Troy Johnson

When four Italian friends who’d helped build the Buona Forchetta empire struck out on their own, some raised brows at the spot they chose—Lake San Marcos, a man-made, cult-loved boat community in suburban North County. Not exactly food-scene central. And maybe that was their stroke of genius. Putting a six-time World Pizza Champion (chef Marcello Avitabile) in a part of the county that’s been unfairly ignored by the culinary arts? Like putting a tiki bar in a PTA meeting. Huge hit. Now, the quartet has expanded to another un-hyped food neighborhood with Amalfi Cucina Italiana in Carmel Valley. The menu and specials are different, but both locations offer the same hefty Valtellina pizza, crafted with speck, provola di agerola, brie, caramelized onion, and sausage and wood-fired in a majestic Napoletano-style oven.

Falafel from San Diego food truck Shawarma Guys in South Park
Courtesy of @dwurstdadjokes

The Breakout: Shawarma Guys

By Amelia Rodriguez

Shawarma Guys founder Bryan Zeto grew up in an Iraqi Chaldean family in Detroit and was hailed as a top-notch home cook. But he still had a lot to learn about Middle Eastern cuisine before launching his food truck in South Park in 2019. A month of daily munching on slow-roasted meat, falafel, and other dishes helped the former phone salesman hone his recipes, including his now-iconic Wagyu shawarma and an addictive “garlic paste.” The truck nabbed a feature on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and, in 2020, Yelp named it the number-one restaurant in the country. The long lines that followed helped Zeto open a brick-and-mortar in La Mesa, with a Mira Mesa location on its way. His shawarma-stuffed egg rolls will melt you.

Burger from Tanner's Prime Burgers recently opened in Oceanside, San Diego
Courtesy of Tanner’s Prime Burgers

The Next Big Thing: Tanner’s Prime Burgers

By Troy Johnson

Get ready to hear this name. A lot. Years ago, Brandon Rodgers moved to San Diego to learn from iconic chef Tony DiSalvo of the now-defunct Jack’s before joining Gavin Kaysen at El Bizcocho (Rodgers cooked on Kaysen’s Iron Chef team, winning the battle against Michael Symon). After a stint at French Laundry, he helped his friend Corey Lee open Benu. Rodgers was chef de cuisine when Benu was awarded its third Michelin star. And now he’s back in San Diego for a burger with a hell of a resume. He teamed up with Eric Brandt of family-owned Brandt Beef to open the first Tanner’s in Oceanside. Their calling card is one-third-pound USDA prime patties, smashed then topped with beef bacon, caramelized onions, New School American Cheese, sauce, sweet onions, pickles, and tomatoes on a brioche bun. Oh, and they also serve a beef tallow ice-cream sandwich. Watch out, Shake Shack.

Chef Jojo Ruiz from restaurant's Serēa, Lionfish, and Lillian's
Courtesy of JPR

The Marquee Maker: Jojo Ruiz

By Troy Johnson

Some of the most promising chefs never get the support they deserve. Others get too much “support,” their talent and dreams sucked up by the bottom line of an unfeeling corporate structure. San Diego born-and-raised JoJo Ruiz seems to have found just the right fit with Andy Masi and Clique Hospitality. Together, they crafted marquee restaurants for two of the city’s top properties (Serẽa at Hotel Del and Lionfish at The Pendry), plus a sustainable sushi hand roll bar in Encinitas (Temaki). This year, their big unveilings were Lilian’s and Bing’s—the signature restaurant and bar, respectively, of the $100 million reimagining of the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. Their secret? “JoJo’s passion is contagious, and it’s the soul of what we do together,” Masi says. A James Beard nod for Ruiz’s work in sustainable seafood doesn’t hurt, either. And they’re not done yet.

Husband and wife team Mario + Morgan Jean Guerra, that founded The Leucadia restaurant company, drinking glasses of wine
Photo Credit: Matt Furman

The Cornerstones: Mario + Morgan Jean Guerra

By Troy Johnson

Leucadia’s got loads of charms: unincorporated shagginess, farmy beach town chutzpah, cliffside homes with stairways once used to smuggle drugs. But, for decades, a thriving food scene was not one of them. Mario Guerra did something about that. Born in Mexico City, he moved to San Diego when he was young (he was GM at downtown’s sorely missed Candelas). He got “real jobs” in finance and manufacturing and moved his family to Leucadia, but he kept dreaming about that restaurant life. He traveled the world based on food scenes and became a hell of a home chef. And, finally, he couldn’t resist: He opened Moto Deli in 2015 as a little food truck, and now he and his wife Morgan (head of design) have seven concepts, including Hamburger Hut (good burgers meet tiki drinks), Corner Pizza, pheromonal date spot Valentina, and Vale Bodega. Leucadia’s food scene owes a debt to his inability to stay away.

By Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

By Jackie Bryant

Jackie is San Diego Magazine's content strategist. Prior to that, she was its managing editor. Before her SDM career, she was a long-time freelance journalist covering cannabis, food/restaurants, travel, labor, wine, spirits, arts & culture, design, and other topics. Her work has been selected twice for Best American Travel Writing, and she has won a variety of national and local awards for her writing and reporting.

By Amelia Rodriguez

Amelia Rodriguez is San Diego Magazine’s Associate Editor. The 2023 winner of the San Diego Press Club's Rising Star Award, she’s covered music, food, arts & culture, fashion, and design for Rolling Stone, Palm Springs Life, and other national and regional publications. After work, you can find her hunting down San Diego’s best pastries and maintaining her three-year Duolingo streak.

By Maren Hawkins

Maren Hawkins is an editorial intern at San Diego Magazine. She is in her second to last year at San Diego State University and serves as a staff writer for The Daily Aztec. When she is not writing, she spends her time finding the best workout spots in SD, thrifting for the cutest clothes, and traveling whenever possible.

By Beth Demmon

Beth Demmon is an award-winning writer and podcaster whose work regularly appears in national outlets and San Diego Magazine. Her first book, The Beer Lover's Guide to Cider, is now available. Find out more on

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