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La Jolla Mom

Best Downtown San Diego Restaurants

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Downtown is the heart of San Diego and with so many things to explore like Seaport Village, the harbor, and the history of the Gaslamp Quarter, you might work up an appetite.

Lucky you, there’s a selection of great Downtown San Diego restaurants to check out whether you’re looking for a quick and healthy fix, a burger, tacos, a power breakfast, or an upscale steakhouse.

Cowboy Star Restaurant & Butcher Shop

Downtown San Diego restaurants: Cowboy Star
Photo courtesy of Cowboy Star

This East Village restaurant has been holding the title as one of San Diego’s best steakhouses, and the consensus has been steady since its 2008 opening. Between bison steaks and dry-aged ribeyes as well as Japanese-imported Miyazaki filets, there are a lot of dishes for meat lovers to sink their teeth into.

Insider tip: Despite the meat-heavy menu, there’s also a selection of vegetarian options available like the Beyond Burger and an entree packed with farmers market vegetables.

  • 640 Tenth Ave.
  • 619-450-5880
  • www.cowboystarcs.com
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Grant Grill

Best downtown San Diego restaurants: Grant Grill
Photo courtesy of Grant Grill

History runs deep at this Downtown San Diego restaurant located within the first floor of U.S. Grant Hotel, and today it remains a fine dining establishment known for its upscale power breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

The restaurant’s mock turtle soup is a nod to the establishment’s past (it’s never left the menu), but diners can also dive into delicious dishes like bourbon apple salad, braised lamb shank, and coriander crusted lamb loin.

Insider tip: Grant Grill offers a regular happy hour Monday thru Thursday and specials during theater season.

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The Kebab Shop

Best downtown San Diego restaurants: The Kebab Shop
Photo courtesy of Kebab Shop

San Diego’s homegrown Kebab Shop is known for their Mediterranean food, and with several locations throughout the county, it’s the place to go for a quick, healthy fix when you’re in Downtown.

Customizable entrees with protein options like chicken, lamb/beef and falafels range from flatbread wraps and hot paninis to rice boxes and another stuffed with fries. Add a side salad for a full-fledged meal.

Insider tip: Kids eat free on Saturdays and Sundays.


Puesto at the Headquarters

Best downtown San Diego restaurants: Puesto
Photo courtesy of Puesto

Mexican food is a San Diego standby but head to Puesto at the Headquarters if you’re looking for delicious meals served in a gorgeously decorated restaurant. Organic, non-GMO blue cornmeal is the basis for all the tacos filled with the likes of al pastor, Maine lobster, grilled portobello or filet mignon.

Tacos aren’t the only highlights at Puesto. Save room for guacamole seasoned with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and frozen horchata for dessert.

Insider tip: All tacos are $3.50 on Tuesdays.

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Water Grill

This Gaslamp restaurant offers prime people-watching along with fresh seafood. Although the San Diego locale is one of several locations for this L.A.-based restaurant group, don’t dismiss their commitment to freshness. The group’s own private supplier sends in regular shipments of oysters, crab claws and selection of fish throughout the week.

Insider tip: Even non-seafaring diners will find something on the menu like filet mignon, ribeye, and chicken, all charcoal grilled.

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BIGA

Best downtown San Diego restaurants: BIGA
Photo courtesy of BIGA

Named after the fermentation used in baking, this Downtown Italian eatery serves up woodfired pizzas, sandwiches (using bread baked in-house), pastries and pastas. Seasonal, fresh ingredients are locally sourced and make up the foundation for each menu item.

Dishes to whet your appetite include their Tuscan vegetable soup studded with bits of house-cured bacon, warm octopus salad and any one of the pizzas.

Insider tip: Any pizza can be transformed into a pizza fritta, a deep-fried Naples specialty for $3 more.

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Tender Greens

Best Downtown San Diego restaurants: Tender Greens
Photo courtesy of Tender Greens

Chef inspired farm-to-table cuisine is within everyone’s reach at this Culver City-based restaurant chain, and the Downtown San Diego restaurant location is a favorite of many residents and employees looking to get their healthy fix come lunch and dinner.

Entrees are built around plates with the option to pick your main protein (salt & pepper chicken, grilled salmon, falafel and marinated steak to name a few), customize it with a  choice of greens and sides. Sandwiches, specialty soups, and salads fill out the rest of the menu.

Insider tip: Beat the Downtown lunch crowd by ordering your meal in advance by phone or online.


Hodad’s

Best downtown San Diego restaurants: Hodad's
Photo courtesy of Hodad’s

This burger joint is a San Diego original, so lines out the door for lunch and dinner is the norm even in Downtown. Don’t let the long lines sway you from sinking your teeth into the famous bacon cheeseburger with the works.

Although other options include double burgers, chicken burgers and even grilled cheese sandwich, stick with one of the bacon-topped numbers— the bacon is a woven patty ensuring pork in every bite.

Insider tip: The Ocean Beach location has a custom-made car booth.


Darlene Horn is a San Diego-based freelance writer and designer who has contributed to Zagat San Diego, BizBash, Mission Publishing Group, Nescafe, and Active.com. You can find her documenting her favorite food spots on Instagram as @DarleneEats.

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