San Diego’s Best Restaurants 2020 | Guides

Pamela G. Knowles

Best New Restaurant: (Readers’ Pick) Cori Pastificio Trattoria


Browse this year’s list by category:

Overall | Specific Cuisines | Specific Dishes | Ambience | Pandemic Pivots | Drinks



Our Turn to Serve Them

By Troy Johnson

I want a crowded table in a crowded room. I want to order some finger foods to share, take a sip of your drink, high five, hug, break into song, rub a menu on my face for no apparent reason, really embarrass myself. Do all the verboten things. I want to do this for hours and hours and talk about dreams, not droplets. I want to stay so long they kick us out, so we adjourn to a crowded dive bar packed with semi-clean people and watch a band sweat and scream. We’re gonna stage dive.

We’d all like to take this year back to the year store. But we can’t, so we sanitize and find fixes. We know about perspective. We realize when this is over we will truly savor and appreciate the endorphin cocktail of the “good times” because we slogged through the pandemic’s bowl of rusty nails.

I prefer reality over rosy pictures. I’m not going to force-feed you a bag of silver linings while the bars and restaurants we love are choking on the clouds. This is the meanest, cruelest, unfairest thing that’s ever happened to our restaurant culture. And when we say culture, we mean the dishwashers, line cooks, bussers, hosts, farmers, fishermen, breadmakers, winemakers, food truck drivers, cleaning crews, and of course the chefs and owners and entrepreneurs.

Behind every bite or sip are people.

Restaurants are the wildflowers that grow in the cracks of our neighborhoods. A bootstrap taco joint or life-savings café is often the first domino of rejuvenation for a struggling block. And we’ve never needed them more. As we become more isolated, staring at our endless arsenal of glowboxes, restaurants and bars and catered parties help us binge-watch humanity. They inspire us to put our phones down for minutes or hours at a time and do old human stuff—talk, tell jokes, make friends, make families, make business partners, make ideas, make cities.

The San Diego Magazine editorial staff questioned the appropriateness of doing a Best Restaurants issue during the pandemic. I really struggled. Every year I write about my reticence to name one place “best” when behind every place are humans with hearts doing good work. Especially now, I want to write corny love poems for every single one of them. But unfortunately time and space still exist, and that’s a task best left for Sisyphus. What it comes down to is this: This issue helps the couple hundred restaurants we’ve listed here, and it honors the work and contributions to what make San Diego so imminently livable. It’s better to help a couple hundred than none at all.

This list is personal. I don’t claim it to be the end-all, nor the be-all. I don’t eat with your mouth. Every week, people email or call me to ask, “Where should I eat or drink?” I don’t usually send them 75-plus restaurants, because they would question my sanity. But that’s exactly what I’ve compiled for you guys here—along with the choices you voted for.

My personal “Best Chef” this year doesn’t have a restaurant (yet). Phillip Esteban has been a silent creative force in San Diego kitchens, at Cork & Craft and then Consortium Holdings. When the pandemic hit, he worked with World Central Kitchen to cook for front-line workers and started his own catering concept, Craft Meals, where he donates a meal for every one purchased. He’s also one of a few chefs leading a renaissance in Filipino food, building a new restaurant in National City where he grew up and a food stall in Liberty Station (opening soon). So many chefs have helped so many people during all of this. If you want a silver lining, that’s it. Even with their own survival tenuous, restaurants and bars and caterers fed others.

Now is our time to help them. Order takeout or delivery. Tip excessively if you have the means. Buy gift certificates for the massive goodbye-COVID party we’re going to have. (It will happen. We will stage dive.) If you’re comfortable, dine out. Be safe, be respectful, be patient, be kind. Be there for our food and drink people.

Thanks, guys.




Best Restaurants 2020 / Best New Restaurant Critic’s Pick The Plot

Best New Restaurant: (Critic’s Pick) The Plot

 Best of the Best (Fancy)

Critic’s Pick: Juniper and Ivy

Readers’ Pick: Mister A’s

Runner-Up: Herb & Wood


Best of the Best (Casual)

Critic’s Pick: Cori Pastificio Trattoria

Readers’ Pick: The Kebab Shop

Runner-Up: Cori Pastificio Trattoria


New Restaurant

Critic’s Pick: The Plot

Readers’ Pick: Cori Pastificio Trattoria

Runner-Up: Animae



Critic’s Pick: Phillip Esteban

Readers’ Pick: Accursio Lota

Runner-Up: Filippo Piccini



Critic’s Pick: Solare

Readers’ Pick: RoVino the Foodery

Runner-Up: Solare


Hotel Restaurant

Critic’s Pick: Nine-Ten

Readers’ Pick: Nine-Ten

Runner-Up: Sea 180 Coastal Tavern


Restaurant in Baja

Critic’s Pick: Deckman’s en el Mogor

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: The Taco Stand


Healthy Eats

Critic’s Pick: Eve

Readers’ Pick: Parakeet Café

Runner-Up: The Kebab Shop



Critic’s Pick: Kindred

Readers’ Pick: Kindred

Runner-Up: Café Gratitude



Critic’s Pick: Breakfast Republic

Readers’ Pick: Breakfast Republic

Runner-Up: Parakeet Café



Critic’s Pick: Wayfarer Bread & Pastry

Readers’ Pick: The French Oven Bakery

Runner-Up: Wayfarer Bread & Pastry



Critic’s Pick: Serẽa Coastal Cuisine

Readers’ Pick: Ironside Fish and Oyster

Runner-Up: Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill



Critic’s Pick: Grand Ole BBQ

Readers’ Pick: Phil’s BBQ

Runner-Up: Grand Ole BBQ



Critic’s Pick: Born and Raised

Readers’ Pick: Cowboy Star

Runner-Up: Born and Raised



Critic’s Pick: Le Parfait Paris

Readers’ Pick: Extraordinary Desserts

Runner-Up: Le Parfait Paris




Best Restaurants 2020 / Best Asian Fusion Animae

Best Asian Fusion: Animae

 Asian Fusion

Critic’s Pick: Animae

Readers’ Pick: Animae

Runner-Up: Chiko



Critic’s Pick: Chiko

Readers’ Pick: Dumpling Inn & Shanghai Saloon

Runner-Up: Chiko



Critic’s Pick: Addis

Readers’ Pick: Muzita Abyssinian Bistro

Runner-Up: Awash



Critic’s Pick: Fredcel Lumpias & Catering

Readers’ Pick: Tita’s Kitchenette

Runner-Up: Goldilocks


Best Restaurants 2020 / Best French Critic’s Pick Jeune et Jolie

Best French: (Critic’s Pick) Jeune et Jolie


Critic’s Pick: Jeune et Jolie*

Readers’ Pick: Et Voilà

Runner-Up: Le Parfait Paris

*Jeune et Jolie has a prix fixe menu and only offers takeout when outdoor dining is not available on rainy nights. Each dish will be packed to be reheated at home.



Critic’s Pick: Mezé Greek Fusion

Readers’ Pick: Mezé Greek Fusion

Runner-Up: Olympic Cafe



Critic’s Pick: Sundara

Readers’ Pick: Royal India

Runner-Up: Taste of the Himalayas



Critic’s Pick: Catania

Readers’ Pick: Cori Pastificio Trattoria

Runner-Up: Solare



Critic’s Pick: Yakyudori

Readers’ Pick: Sushi Ota

Runner-Up: Tajima



Critic’s Pick: Woomiok

Readers’ Pick: Chiko

Runner-Up: Manna Heaven Korean BBQ



Critic’s Pick: Galaxy Taco

Readers’ Pick: Puesto

Runner-Up: Tahona Bar


Middle Eastern

Critic’s Pick: Medina Kitchen

Readers’ Pick: The Kebab Shop

Runner-Up: Aladdin Mediterranean



Critic’s Pick: Panca

Readers’ Pick: Q’ero

Runner-Up: Panca



Critic’s Pick: Pomegranate

Readers’ Pick: Pomegranate

Runner-Up: Pushkin



Critic’s Pick: The Smoking Gun

Readers’ Pick: Bud’s Louisiana Cafe

Runner-Up: The Smoking Gun



Critic’s Pick: Cueva Bar*

Readers’ Pick: Costa Brava

Runner-Up: Café Sevilla

*Cueva Bar has been renamed De Nada Kitchen & Market



Critic’s Pick: Bahn Thai

Readers’ Pick: Supannee House of Thai

Runner-Up: Bahn Thai



Critic’s Pick: Phuong Trang

Readers’ Pick: Phuong Trang

Runner-Up: Shank & Bone




Best Restaurants 2020 / Best Donuts Critic’s Pick Nomad

Best Donuts: (Critic’s Pick) Nomad


Critic’s Pick: Nomad

Readers’ Pick: VG Donut & Bakery

Runner-Up: Donut Bar


Ice Cream /Gelato

Critic’s Pick: Bobboi Gelato

Readers’ Pick: Salt and Straw

Runner-Up: Bobboi Gelato



Critic’s Pick: Shank & Bone

Readers’ Pick: Pho Ca Dao

Runner-Up: OB Noodle House Bar 1502



Critic’s Pick: HiroNori

Readers’ Pick: Tajima

Runner-Up: Underbelly


Chicken Wings

Critic’s Pick: Royal Mandarin

Readers’ Pick: Dirty Birds

Runner-Up: OB Noodle House Bar 1502


Fried Chicken

Critic’s Pick: The Crack Shack

Readers’ Pick: The Crack Shack

Runner-Up: StreetCar Merchants



Critic’s Pick: The Taco Stand

Readers’ Pick: The Taco Stand

Runner-Up: Sombrero Mexican Food


Chips and Salsa

Critic’s Pick: Puesto

Readers’ Pick: Puesto

Runner-Up: Miguel’s Cocina



Critic’s Pick: Cocina de Barrio

Readers’ Pick: Cocina 35

Runner-Up: Breakfast Republic



Critic’s Pick: Barrio Dogg

Readers’ Pick: The Kebab Shop

Runner-Up: Burger Lounge



Critic’s Pick: Fort Oak

Readers’ Pick: Burger Lounge

Runner-Up: Royale*

*Royale has closed


Best Restaurants 2020 / Best Sushi Readers’ Pick Sushi Ota

Best Sushi: (Readers’ Pick) Sushi Ota


Critic’s Pick: Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub

Readers’ Pick: Sushi Ota

Runner-Up: Sushi Lounge


Fish Taco

Critic’s Pick: George’s Ocean Terrace

Readers’ Pick: Rubio’s Coastal Grill

Runner-Up: Brigantine Seafood



Critic’s Pick: Lola 55

Readers’ Pick: Puesto

Runner-Up: City Taco



Critic’s Pick: Bread & Cie

Readers’ Pick: Board & Brew

Runner-Up: RoVino the Foodery



Critic’s Pick: Tribute

Readers’ Pick: Buona Forchetta

Runner-Up: Ambrogio15




Best Restaurants 2020 / Best Design Readers’ Pick Animae

Best Design: (Readers’ Pick) Animae


Critic’s Pick: Common Theory / Realm of the 52 Remedies

Readers’ Pick: Animae

Runner-Up: Gravity Heights


Date Spot

Critic’s Pick: Little Lion Café

Readers’ Pick: Catania

Runner-Up: Madison


Outdoor Patio

Critic’s Pick: Caroline’s Seaside Café

Readers’ Pick: Catania

Runner-Up: Park & Rec


Dog Friendly

Critic’s Pick: OB Noodle House

Readers’ Pick: Cesarina

Runner-Up: Slater’s 50/50



Critic’s Pick: Station Tavern

Readers’ Pick: Gravity Heights

Runner-Up: Corvette Diner


Best View: Water

Critic’s Pick: The Marine Room

Readers’ Pick: Coasterra

Runner-Up: The Marine Room


Best View: Urban

Critic’s Pick: Mister A’s

Readers’ Pick: Mister A’s

Runner-Up: 10 Barrel Brewing




Best Restaurants 2020 / Best New Pop-Up Outdoor Dining Critic’s Pick Jeune et Jolie

Best New Pop-Up Outdoor Dining: (Critic’s Pick) Jeune et Jolie

Best New Pop-Up Outdoor Dining

Critic’s Pick: Jeune et Jolie

Readers’ Pick: Solare

Runner-Up: The French Gourmet


Best Curbside Pick-Up

Critic’s Pick: Tuétano Taquería

Readers’ Pick: Herb & Sea

Runner-Up: The Grill at Torrey Pines


Best To-Go Family Meal Packs

Critic’s Pick: Terra American Bistro

Readers’ Pick: Terra American Bistro

Runner-Up: The Crack Shack


Best To-Go Cocktails

Critic’s Pick: Madison

Readers’ Pick: Kettner Exchange

Runner-Up: The Duck Dive




Best Restaurants 2020 / Best Cocktails Readers’ Pick Madison

Best Cocktails: (Readers’ Pick) Madison

 Best Dive Bar

Critic’s Pick: The Tower Bar

Readers’ Pick: Waterfront Bar & Grill

Runner-Up: Live Wire


Best Bloody Mary

Critic’s Pick: Morning Glory

Readers’ Pick: Farmer’s Table

Runner-Up: Small Bar*

*Small Bar has closed


Best Margarita

Critic’s Pick: Cantina Mayahuel

Readers’ Pick: Puesto

Runner-Up: El Chingon


Best Wine Bar

Critic’s Pick: The Rose

Readers’ Pick: Gianni Buonomo Vintners

Runner-Up: The Rose


Best Brewpub

Critic’s Pick: Original 40

Readers’ Pick: Gravity Heights

Runner-Up: 10 Barrel Brewing


Best Coffee

Critic’s Pick: Dark Horse

Readers’ Pick: Parakeet Café

Runner-Up: Better Buzz


Best Cocktails

Critic’s Pick: Polite Provisions

Readers’ Pick: Madison

Runner-Up: Misadventure & Co.


Best Restaurants 2020 / Best Distillery Critic’s Pick You & Yours

Best Distillery: (Critic’s Pick) You & Yours

 Best Distillery

Critic’s Pick: You & Yours

Readers’ Pick: (TIE) Misadventure & Co., You & Yours

Runner-Up: Cutwater Spirits


Best Brewery

Critic’s Pick: Border X

Readers’ Pick: AleSmith

Runner-Up: Modern Times


Best New Brewery

Critic’s Pick: Two Roots Brewing Co.*

Readers’ Pick: Hopnonymous

Runner-Up: Harland

*Two Roots Brewing Co. closed its Ocean Beach tasting room, but its products are available at local dispensaries and at


Best Winery

Critic’s Pick: LJ Crafted Wines

Readers’ Pick: Gianni Buonomo Vintners

Runner-Up: Carruth Cellars


Best Wine List

Critic’s Pick: Addison

Readers’ Pick: Solare

Runner-Up: Village Vino


Best Restaurants 2020 / Best Brewery Critic’s Pick Border X

Best Brewery: (Critic’s Pick) Border X

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