San Diego, from a culinary perspective, has come a long way in the last decade. She’s no longer a wasteland of endless fast food chains and fast causal restaurants. Now, newly gentrified neighborhoods are home to some of the trendiest and tastiest food offerings in the country, and we couldn’t be happier!
It’s hard to believe this town, which once was not-so-affectionately referred to as “Chain Diego,” has progressed to the craft beer and culinary hot spot it is today. San Diego chefs, brewery owners, and restaurant entrepreneurs are now on the cutting edge of privately owned culinary delights. This food Renaissance, combined with the rich multi-cultural heritage of San Diego’s growing population, has created a city any foodie would be happy to call home.
Here are some of our favorite culinary trends happening across San Diego today!
Although California burritos featuring carne asada and french fries will always have a special place in our hearts, today it’s all about the sushi burritos. This delicious burritos are filed to the brim with raw fish, fresh and preserved veggies, and delicious sauces. Pokirrito in Kearny Mesa is defintiely up there in our favorites list, featuring fresh seafood and delicious custom order offerings. Just take a look at what you can get:
We love that you can customize your burrito to include both fish and non-fish options, and can turn up or down the heat level depending on preference. The only problem with these places is they’re so popular, parking can be a issue, as can the line of people waiting in front of you to get their own meals!
Japanese Izakaya and Ramen
The ramen trend is alive and well in San Diego, and shows no sign of slowing down! You can get a delicious bowl of classic styled ramen at the always delicious Santouka inside the Mitsuwa market in Kearny Mesa (link), or try out Wokou Ramen recently opened in Carmel Valley for Ramen with a distinct San Diego vibe. For example, they offer the following bowl of ramen where, instead of the classic chasu pork, you instead get carnitas!
We’re also a big fan of the big surge in Japanese Izakaya (think: gastropub) restaurants that have recently opened, and are anxiously anticipating the opening of Cloak + Petal, a new 7,500-square-foot Izakaya that’s going to open in Little Italy later this year (link).
Definitely up there with our favorite food trends is the availability of authentic style Korean BBQ across San Diego’s many neighborhoods. Although Korean BBQ has been available in San Diego for many years now, it didn’t really catch fire until the arrival of Manna BBQ in Kearny Mesa. The game changer was the option to order all-you-can-eat for a low price (around $20). This ignited the local taste for Korean BBQ, and there has been no decline since.
When it comes to Korean BBQ you essentially have two options: 1) All-you-can-eat (“AYCE”), and 2) Pay per dish. What’s better really depends on your mood, and honestly, you can’t lose with either option. In terms of AYCE, Manna BBQ remains our favorite (any locations). Everything on the menu is delicious but our favorite include the brisket, spicy chicken, tongue, and Jumooluk. Make sure to ask for sesame oil to add to your salt dip, which will help enhance the flavors of your meat.
For pay-per-dish options, you can’t go wrong with our other favorite spot: Dae Jang Keum Korean BBQ, also located in the Kearny Mesa area. Although a little pricier than AYCE, the side dishes and meat quality tend to be very high. Another bonus is your meat is cooked on charcoal, rather than gas, which some people may prefer. We’ve traveled to Korea and can say without hesitation this place is the real deal. Everything from the service, food flavors, and attention to detail is spot on.
Crab and Crawfish Boil Restaurants
We love our seafood. We love it in mass quantities boiled in large bags that are unceremoniously dumped on our tables where we await with salivating mouths and big grins. We’re gluttons, it’s true, but please reserve your judgment until after you’ve tried our favorite crab restaurant, Crab Hut!
San Diego has been known for seafood for generations at this point, but it has always lacked a cool vibe. Anthony’s Fish Grotto in La Mesa has been satisfying seafood cravings since 1946, but is in desperate need of a menu update and remodel. Dick’s Last Resort in the downtown Gaslamp district tried to bring edgy cool to local seafood, but came off crass, uninviting, overly touristy, and ultimately closed at the end of 2016. The new trend of humble, food focused, emphasis on quality crab boil restaurants are matching San Diegan interests perfectly, as evidenced by the sheer number of new restaurants popping up all over the place.
There are now three Crab Huts in San Diego (Mira Mesa, Downtown, and Kearny Mesa), and a host of similar competitors. Our favorite strategy is to arrive early for happy hour to grab a craft beer and some oysters, then stay for a bag of the Seafood Bucket, a delicious assortment of king and snow crab, shrimp, crawfish, mussels, clams, potatoes, corn, and sausages. It’s enough food for a group of 3-4 to split, but you may want to order another pound or two of shrimp, and add some sweet potato fries and fried okra for good measure.
Custom Order Ice Cream
The trend of custom order ice cream may sound like old hat. After all, you’ve been able to design your own sundae at Cold Stone Creamery for decades around town. However, these places aren’t truly custom if you think about it. For example, can you select the fat level of the cream used in your ice cream? Can you specify whether you want organic or coconut base? At Creamisty you not only get to make these decisions, you get to actually watch the process of freezing your milk base using liquid nitrogen. The rest of the process of selecting toppings, including everything from sweets to fruit to cereal, is familiar, but the lead up show is too fun to not mention on this list.
Our friends from out of town inevitably will ask the somewhat condescending question “Why do San Diegans put avocado on everything??” – Answer: Because it’s $#$(*& delicious! One of the latest “put-avocado-on-everything” trends that seems to be catching hold at every brunch spot in the neighborhood is avocado toast, and it’s amazing.
While you can get it at a bunch of spots around town, our favorite, for taste/presentation/environment reasons is at Communal Coffee in North Park. They take a slab of oversized rosemary sage toast, add on ripe avocado, butter, sea salt, cracked black pepper, smoked chili flakes, and for an extra fee egg and prosciutto, to create masterpiece of taste and texture.
Communal Coffee is an incredibly cute spot that’s focused on creating a welcoming environment. In addition to serving delicious avocado toast, their coffee is top-notch, the wifi is free and fast, there’s ample seating, and a comfortable patio. We could gush more, but you should check it out yourself!
Pies, oh god yes pies! Savory pies, sweet pies, day old pies, fresh pies, crumble tops, breakfast pies, pies by the dozen, pies to go, pies for here ….we could sing their praises all day! It’s a wonder it took so long for this trend to hit San Diego, but who cares now that it’s here!
Pop Pie in University Heights is everything you knew you ever wanted from a local pie shop, and so much more. Sure they’ve got the old favorites like chicken pot pie or strawberry rhubarb, but where they excel is with pies you probably haven’t tried yet. Roasted veggies and yellow curry, pork shoulder and cheese, lemon curb cream cheese with lavender glaze, or guava cream cheese hand pies are the offerings that put Pop Pie into a league of its own. Everything we’ve tried is delicious. In fact, after going for our first visit, we returned two more times within the same week. It’s not gluttony, it’s fandom!
And there you have it! Our list of our favorite San Diego food trends! Please let us know what your favorite trends are in the comments. We’d love to hear from you what you think deserves a mention, or what you see at the next hottest food craze to hit the city we love so much!