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San Diego’s Best Restaurants 2021

See the 243 winners that our food critic and readers voted the top restaurants in San Diego this year

By Intro by Troy Johnson | Photography by James Tran and Valerie Durham

Best Restaurants - Rare Society

Best Steakhouse (Runner-up): Rare Society

Browse this year’s list by category:

Overall | Ambience | Specific Cuisines | Specific DishesDrinks

Restaurants Are Back

by Troy Johnson

The line of taco purists at Las Cuatro Milpas has reunited on the sidewalks of Barrio Logan. Ice cubes rattle in real glass at Polite Provisions, that ice-cold rumble of applause no longer silenced by the soft, compostable compromise of to-go cups. The curtain has risen again on Addison’s fine-dining opera, high tide is back to snatching breaths at Marine Room. The birria frenzy has reignited at ED Fernandez, the chorus of slurps un-paused at Menya Ultra, the vegans have replanted themselves at Kindred. Strangers are small-talking. First dates are fidgeting. Old friends and lovers are making the excessive number of toasts required for both celebrations and the end of long hurts. By the will of gods and governors, restaurants are back.

I missed the small rituals of our places. Reading the menu hours ahead to start the daydreaming. The brief and fraudulent hesitation when I’m offered “fries with that.” The meticulous harvesting of every substance at the salsa bar. The pageantry of politeness surrounding the last mozzarella stick. The shockingly difficult math of tips. I missed the things I once swore off as unmissable—the loud talkers and the gratuitous upsellers, the beverage snobs and the burger Annie Liebowitzes. I want the glory and the grind. I’ll even take the happy-birthday song.

I want all the wildly imperfect theater of humans doing their best to amplify and artify two of the more mundane and essential tasks of humanity—eating and drinking. They’re also some of the most intimate acts we can all do together in public with our clothes still on and laws unbroken. And right now I feel a strong need to sit among the ruckus of us.

Of course, the road to recovery isn’t perfectly paved. We lost some of the places that mattered to us—cornerstones of neighborhoods run by people who live in them. An entire workforce was jettisoned, and for various reasons are still wandering the earth. Restaurants are our social glue, and the glue cracked a bit. But now the doors are open and the music’s on. The food is mostly hot, the beer is mostly cold, and the seats are finally warm.

The greatest thing about restaurants is not the tacos or the duck breast, not the Negronis or the ‘gram. It’s the gossip and the laughs and the tears and the stories. They bring people together under the same roof, at the same table, focused on each other for hours at a time. That’s the reason we closed them, and now, as always, it’s the reason we need them.

Every year, we dedicate this issue to the bars and restaurants and chefs and servers and dishwashers and bussers and winemakers and bakers and every person who has a hand in building this culture of hospitality. Every other issue, we have the space to cover a few dozen. But “Best Restaurants” lets us create our ultimate list of about 200 favorites and scream about their great work. It’s what I send to friends when they email to say “best pho now” or “need electrolytes but mostly fried chicken.” We don’t have the pretension to say this is the “only list that matters!” It’s just ours, and yours—our readers.

See you out there.


Best of the Best (Fancy)

Critic’s pick: Jeune et Jolie

Readers’ pick: Animae

Runner-up: Fort Oak

Best of the Best (Casual)

Critic’s pick: Kindred

Readers’ pick: Cori Pastificio Trattoria

Runner-up: The Kebab Shop

Best Restaurants - Callie

Best New Restaurant (Critic and Readers’ Pick): Callie

New Restaurant

Critic’s Pick: Callie

Readers’ Pick: Callie

Runner-up: Arlo


Critic’s Pick: Travis Swikard

Readers’ Pick: Accursio Lota

Runner-up: Tara Monsod


Critic’s Pick: Addison

Readers’ Pick: Cori Pastificio Trattoria

Runner-up: Solare Ristorante

Best Restaurants - Arlo

Best Hotel Restaurant (Reader’s Pick): ARLO

Hotel Restaurant

Critic’s Pick: Nine-Ten

Readers’ Pick: Arlo

Runner-up: A. R. Valentien


Critic’s Pick: Snake Oil Cocktail

Readers’ Pick: RoVino Restaurants Fine Catering

Runner-up: Miho Catering

Best Restaurants - Fauna

Best Restaurant in Baja (Runner up): Fauna

Restaurant in Baja

Critic’s Pick: Finca Altozano

Readers’ Pick: Deckman’s en el Mogor

Runner-up: Fauna

Cheap Eats

Critic’s Pick: Las Cuatro Milpas

Readers’ Pick: The Kebab Shop

Runner-up: Tacos el Vaquero

Healthy Eats

Critic’s Pick: Parakeet Cafe

Readers’ Pick: Urban Plates

Runner-up: Paleo Treats

Farmers’ Market Vendor

Critic’s Pick: Prager Brothers Artisan Bread

Readers’ Pick: Kula Ice Cream

Runner-up: Maya’s Cookies


Critic’s Pick: Kindred

Readers’ Pick: Split Bakehouse

Runner-up: Kindred


Critic’s Pick: Morning Glory

Readers’ Pick: Breakfast Republic

Runner-up: Parakeet Cafe


Critic’s Pick: Dija Mara

Readers’ Pick: Trust

Runner-up: Sugar & Scribe


Critic’s Pick: Wayfarer Bread

Readers’ Pick: Split Bakehouse

Runner-up: Wayfarer Bread


Critic’s Pick: Grand Ole BBQ Flinn Springs

Readers’ Pick: Phil’s BBQ

Runner-up: Grand Ole BBQ Flinn Springs

Best Restaurants - Serea

Best seafood (critic’s pick): Serea


Critic’s Pick: Serea

Readers’ Pick: Ironside

Runner-up: Blue Water Seafood


Critic’s Pick: Cowboy Star

Readers’ Pick: Cowboy Star

Runner-up: Rare Society


Critic’s Pick: Le Parfait Paris

Readers’ Pick: Extraordinary Desserts

Runner-up: Paleo Treats


Best Restaurants - Animae

Best Design (Reader’s pick): Animae


Critic’s Pick: Morning Glory

Readers’ Pick: Animae

Runner-up: Callie

Best View: Urban

Critic’s Pick: Mister A’s

Readers’ Pick: Mister A’s

Runner-up: (TIE) Born & Raised; The Nolen

Best View: Water

Critic’s Pick: The Marine Room

Readers’ Pick: Coasterra

Runner-up: Tom Ham’s Lighthouse

Kid Friendly

Critic’s Pick: Liberty Public Market

Readers’ Pick: Station Tavern

Runner-up: Shabu Works

Dog Friendly

Critic’s Pick: Station Tavern

Readers’ Pick: Chiefy Café

Runner-up: Urban Plates

Patio Dining

Critic’s Pick: George’s at the Cove

Readers’ Pick: Arlo

Runner-up: Herb & Sea

Best Restaurants - Don Pietro

Best Parklet (Runner-up): Trattoria Don Pietro


Critic’s Pick: Nolita Hall

Readers’ Pick: Homestead Solana Beach

Runner-up: Trattoria Don Pietro

Date Spot

Critic’s Pick: Starlite

Readers’ Pick: Cori Pastificio Trattoria

Runner-up: Animae

Restaurant at Petco Park

Critic’s Pick: Barrio Dogg

Readers’ Pick: Puesto

Runner-up: (TIE) Barrio Dogg; Cardiff Seaside Market

Best for Big Groups

Critic’s Pick: Coasterra

Readers’ Pick: Barbusa

Runner-up: Cafe Coyote

 Specific Dishes

Best Restaurants - Ed Fernandez

Best Birria (Critic’s Pick): Ed Fernandez


Critic’s Pick: ED Fernandez

Readers’ Pick: (TIE) Cocina de Barrio; ED Fernandez

Runner-up: Mr. Birria


Critic’s Pick: Ranch 45

Readers’ Pick: Funky Fries and Burgers

Runner-up: Rocky’s Crown Pub


Critic’s Pick: Lucha Libre

Readers’ Pick: The Taco Stand

Runner-up: Lolita’s Mexican Food

Chicken Wings

Critic’s Pick: OB Noodle House

Readers’ Pick: Willie Wingz

Runner-up: Zen Modern Asian Bistro

Chips and Salsa

Critic’s Pick: El Zarape

Readers’ Pick: Puesto

Runner-up: La Puerta

Best Restaurants - Sidecar

Best Donuts (Critic’s Pick): Sidecar


Critic’s Pick: Sidecar Doughnuts

Readers’ Pick: Nomad Donuts

Runner-up: VG Donuts and Bakery

Fish Taco

Critic’s Pick: TJ Oyster Bar

Readers’ Pick: Rubio’s Coastal Grill

Runner-up: Fish Shop

Best Restaurants - Firebirds

Best Fried Chicken Sandwich (runner-up): Firebirds

Fried Chicken Sandwich

Critic’s Pick: The Crack Shack

Readers’ Pick: The Crack Shack

Runner-up: Firebirds Chicken


Critic’s Pick: Cross Street Chicken and Beer

Readers’ Pick: The Kebab Shop

Runner-up: Funky Fries and Burgers

Ice Cream/Gelato

Critic’s Pick: Stella Jean’s

Readers’ Pick: Kula Ice Cream

Runner-up: Mr. Trustee Creamery


Critic’s Pick: Phuong Trang

Readers’ Pick: OB Noodle House Bar 1502

Runner-up: Shank & Bone


Critic’s Pick: Tribute Pizza

Readers’ Pick: Tribute Pizza

Runner-up: Bronx Pizza


Critic’s Pick: Fish 101

Readers’ Pick: Blue Poke

Runner-up: Poki One N Half

Best Restaurants - Menya Ultra

Best Ramen (Critic’s Pick): Menya Ultra


Critic’s Pick: Menya Ultra Ramen

Readers’ Pick: Tajima

Runner-up: Menya Ultra Ramen


Critic’s Pick: Pete’s Seafood & Sandwich

Readers’ Pick: The Miller’s Table

Runner-up: RoVino the Foodery


Critic’s Pick: Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub

Readers’ Pick: Sushi Ota

Runner-up: Azuki Sushi


Critic’s Pick: Lola 55

Readers’ Pick: Tacos el Vaquero

Runner-up: Puesto

Specific Cuisines

Asian Fusion

Critic’s Pick: Animae

Readers’ Pick: Animae

Runner-up: Zen Modern Asian Bistro

Best Restaurant - Miss B's

Best Caribbean (Reader’s Pick): Miss B’s Coconut Club


Critic’s Pick: Havana Grill

Readers’ Pick: Miss B’s Coconut Club

Runner-up: (TIE) Rock Steady Real Jamaican; Tropical Star Restaurant & Specialty Market


Critic’s Pick: Shan Xi Magic Kitchen

Readers’ Pick: Zen Modern Asian Bistro

Runner-up: Dumpling Inn & Shanghai Saloon

Best Restaurants - Awash

Best Ethiopian (Runner-up): Awash


Critic’s Pick: Gihon Ethiopian Kitchen

Readers’ Pick: Muzita Abyssinian Bistro

Runner-up: Awash


Critic’s Pick: White Rice

Readers’ Pick: Starfish Filipino Eatery

Runner-up: Tita’s Kitchenette


Critic’s Pick: The Marine Room

Readers’ Pick: Et Volià! French Bistro

Runner-up: The French Gourmet


Critic’s Pick: Mezé Greek Fusion

Readers’ Pick: Olympic Cafe

Runner-up: Cafe Athena


Critic’s Pick: Punjabi Tandoor

Readers’ Pick: Sundara

Runner-up: Punjabi Tandoor

Best Restaurants - Bencotto

Best Italian (critic’s pick): Bencotto


Critic’s Pick: Bencotto

Readers’ Pick: Cori Pastificio Trattoria

Runner-up: Solare Ristorante


Critic’s Pick: Lumi

Readers’ Pick: Sushi Ota

Runner-up: Soichi Sushi


Critic’s Pick: Friend’s House

Readers’ Pick: Friend’s House

Runner-up: Chiko


Critic’s Pick: Herb & Wood

Readers’ Pick: The Kebab Shop

Runner-up: Callie


Critic’s Pick: Puesto

Readers’ Pick: Tacos el Vaquero

Runner-up: Puesto

Middle Eastern

Critic’s Pick: Tahini

Readers’ Pick: The Kebab Shop

Runner-up: Shawarma Guys


Critic’s Pick: Q’ero

Readers’ Pick: Q’ero

Runner-up: Coya Peruvian Secret

Best Restaurants - Pomegranate

Best Russian (Critic’s and readers’ pick): Pomegranate


Critic’s Pick: Pomegranate

Readers’ Pick: Pomegranate

Runner-up: Pushkin

Best Restaurants - Louisiana Purchase

Best Southern (Critic’s and Reader’s Pick): Louisiana Purchase


Critic’s Pick: Louisiana Purchase

Readers’ Pick: Louisiana Purchase

Runner-up: Bud’s Louisiana Cafe


Critic’s Pick: Costa Brava

Readers’ Pick: Costa Brava

Runner-up: Cafe Sevilla

Best Restaurants - Suppane House of Thai

Best Thai food (Runner-up): Supannee House of Thai


Critic’s Pick: The Original Sab-E-Lee

Readers’ Pick: Bahn Thai

Runner-up: Supannee House of Thai


Critic’s Pick: Shank & Bone

Readers’ Pick: Shank & Bone

Runner-up: Phuong Trang


Best Restaurants - Polite Provisions

Best Cocktails (Runner-up): Polite Provisions


Critic’s Pick: Youngblood

Readers’ Pick: The French Gourmet

Runner-up: Polite Provisions


Critic’s Pick: Old Harbor Distilling

Readers’ Pick: You & Yours Distilling

Runner-up: (TIE) Pacific Coast Spirits; Cutwater Spirits

Dive Bar

Critic’s Pick: Captain Keno’s

Readers’ Pick: Aero Club

Runner-up: Waterfront


Critic’s Pick: Societe Brewing

Readers’ Pick: Burgeon Beer

Runner-up: Fall Brewing

Best Restaurants - Original 40

Best Brewpub (Runner-up): Original 40


Critic’s Pick: Gravity Heights

Readers’ Pick: Gravity Heights

Runner-up: Original 40

New Brewery

Critic’s Pick: Mcilhenney

Readers’ Pick: Puesto Mission Valley

Runner-up: Burgeon at The Arbor


Critic’s Pick: Gianni Buonomo Vintners

Readers’ Pick: Gianni Buonomo Vintners

Runner-up: Carruth Cellars

Wine Bar

Critic’s Pick: Rose Wine Bar

Readers’ Pick: Gianni Buonomo Vintners

Runner-up: Coronado Tasting Room

Wine List

Critic’s Pick: Addison

Readers’ Pick: Cori Pastificio Trattoria

Runner-up: Solare Ristorante

Bloody Mary

Critic’s Pick: Terra American Bistro

Readers’ Pick: Farmer’s Table

Runner-up: Breakfast Republic


Critic’s Pick: Galaxy Taco

Readers’ pick: Puesto

Runner-up: La Puerta


Critic’s Pick: Caffè Calabria

Readers’ Pick: Camp Coffee Company

Runner-up: Deja Brew Lounge

Juice Bar

Critic’s Pick: R3Fresh

Readers’ Pick: (TIE) Choice Juicery; Pure Press

Runner-up: Señor Mango’s

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