A list of the best restaurants in Old Town San Diego looks a lot different now than when I first started going there to eat (dare I say) a few decades ago.

Sure, some are touristy, but that’s part of their charm. People weave Mexican food and perhaps a fishbowl-sized margarita into their itinerary after sightseeing throughout this historic neighborhood, known as the birthplace of California.

Nowadays, you can visit Old Town San Diego just for the food. To give you an idea, one of the Old Town San Diego restaurants we like has a Michelin Star. You’ll also discover great spots for sushi, pasta, seafood, vegetarian and even Venezuelan fare. 

Have you ever dripped your own bone marrow over a birria taco? I recommend you come to Old Town to try it. The fresh-off-the-grill tortillas with fresh honey butter that you can find in a few spots (including number one below) are also personal favorites.

1. Café Coyote

I feel like a traditional Mexican restaurant needs to top the list. People seek out Mexican food in Old Town San Diego. Café Coyote has been voted Best Mexican by the California Restaurant Association for twenty years.

It’s family-friendly and easy to find. As with some other Old Town San Diego Mexican restaurants, you’ll want to try the delicious handmade tortillas prepared daily by friendly tortilla makers — you and the kids can watch as they are made. 

The festive atmosphere has strolling mariachis, bubbling water fountains, and friendly staff. The colorful papel picado banners (cut-out paper sheets, a Mexican folk art classic) decorating the outdoor patio dining area add to the jubilant mood and fit the casual Old Town vibe.

Café Coyote is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. House favorites include rolled tacos, albondigas soup, fajita veggie bowl, chimichanga, margarita shrimp tacos, chipotle camarones, and buñuelos for dessert. 

2. Sushi Tadokoro

If you’ve had a busy day of shopping and sightseeing and want to wind down away from the activity of the more touristy Old Town San Diego restaurants, Sushi Tadokoro is a terrific choice.

Located just south of the historic district, this one-Michelin-star venue prepares traditional Japanese-style sushi in an intimate setting that puts you face-to-face with your sushi chefs. 

This mini sushi counter offers a rotating selection of fish and endless creations to keep patrons happy. Fresh ingredients include California coast sea urchin, British Columbia oysters, and Hokkaido scallops. 

Some of the countless sushi possibilities here include grilled Chilean sea bass, saba salmon toro, omakase sashimi, and nigiri aji. Give the San Diego roll a try—it comes with fresh salsa and a lemon slice—and help yourself to some house-made gyoza, too. Sushi Tadokoro is THE place for seafood lovers and true sushi connoisseurs.   

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3. Tahona Bar

  • 2414 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
  • (619) 255-2090
  • tahonabar.com
  • Open for dinner/happy hour only and closed Mondays

Tahona Bar is an Old Town San Diego Mexican restaurant centered around a curated collection of over 120 types of mezcal. The Baja California and Oaxaca-focused menu is outstanding and a bit more upscale Mexican than you’ll find in other nearby restaurants.

Try the corn croquetas, tempura squash blossom, carnitas bao bun, ahi tostada, or tempura nori tortilla taco. Check out their menu for other fusion creations, and save room for dessert—like the chocolate plantain served over ice cream. 

Happy hour (currently Wednesday—Friday) is a great time to try what Tahona Bar is best known for: its mezcal. Order a mezcal flight with your meal, or participate in a mezcal tasting (reservations are required for the tasting). 

We’d place it higher on this list, but it’s only open from happy hour onward, and most people visit the historic neighborhood during the day.

4. Harney Sushi

Harney Sushi serves a wide selection of sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese cuisine favorites, including tempura and miso soup. Offering traditional and creative fusion flavors, this place is ideal for date nights, or anytime you’re in the mood for amazing sushi. It’s a favorite of locals.

The menu is extensive. In addition to serving popular specialties—orange crush, lightning roll, Maui wowie, Bruce Lee, mellow yellow nigiri, moon dance, dragon roll, tuna maki, and more—Harney Sushi offers cooked entrees, such as katsu chicken, Mongolian beef stir fry, and even a bento box for the kids.

Add a traditional soup or salad—try one of their specialty miso soups or the Chuka seaweed salad—or an appetizer, such as oysters, classic tempura, or specialty edamame.

Some vegetarian and vegan options are listed on the menu, including avocado maki, mushroom roll, vegetarian roll, vegan rainbow, and others. The beverage selection includes alcoholic options, including beers, sake, wines, and cocktails, and non-alcoholic sodas, teas, and juices (try the lychee juice).  

5. Casa de Reyes

Mexican food in San Diego's Old Town.
Photo credit: Flickr/Ming-yen Hsu

What makes Casa de Reyes one of the best Old Town San Diego restaurants is the festive garden setting you’ll enjoy while dining here. It’s just a nice place to enjoy traditional Mexican favorites outside in good weather. It’s an easy stop while walking around the Old Town State Historic Park.

Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options are marked on the menu for convenience. Vegan choices include soft corn tacos and veggie enchiladas with plant-based cheese. Gluten-free items include shrimp ceviche, enchiladas, tacos, and chicken mole poblano. On the drinks menu, you’ll find many different specialty margaritas, which you can get for the table by the pitcher. Horchata is also on the menu.

You’ll find all your favorites at Casa de Reyes: chicken rolled tacos, quesadillas, steak and shrimp burritos, chile rellenos, fajitas, and more. On the weekend, you can order breakfast items until noon. Try the machaca burrito with scrambled egg or the egg, potato, and cheese — a popular breakfast burrito (or all-day burrito in my family). 

6. Old Town Tequila Factory

A lot of first-timers come for the view—which is spectacular—but it’s the food and warm hospitality that keeps them coming back. (Okay, and the views.) 

Perched high above the historic district, overlooking rooftops, city lights, and a panoramic view stretching from Mission Valley to the airport, Old Town Tequila Factory is a great place to bring out-of-town guests. It’s also a fantastic choice for celebrations — or just because. 

Despite the prime location, the restaurant is not pretentious. It serves delicious Mexican fare in a colorful setting, including indoor seating in ample dining rooms and lovely outdoor patio areas. You can sit in a cozy, secluded nook or at a table with views that make you say, wow! The lighting and décor add to the great ambiance. 

Menu items include Mexican fiesta ensalada, carne asada Tampiqueña, chicken or beef tamale, enchiladas del mar, blackened Hawaiian mahi mahi, Baja fish tacos, and deep-fried ice cream sundae. 

7. Old Town Mexican Café 

A tortilla lady makes tortillas at Old Town Mexican Cafe.
Fresh tortillas!

Serving Mexican fare since 1977, Old Town Mexican Café is as authentic as it gets. Handmade tortillas are prepared daily and are regarded as some of the best in town.

You can watch them being made from scratch. Every day, teams of tortilla ladies prepare over 3,000 corn and 5,600 flour tortillas the traditional way. 

But it’s not just about the tortillas. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Old Town Mexican Café serves various favorites, including carnitas, street tacos, spicy tequila ribs, and shrimp tacos. Vegetarian burritos, tostadas, and fajitas are also on the menu.

This is one of the best restaurants in Old Town San Diego because you can have brunch here every day of the week until noon. This is the place to go if you’re craving a breakfast torta, chorizo con huevos, or breakfast tacos.  

8. Barra Barra Saloon

Many of the best restaurants in Old Town San Diego offer nice patio seating day and night, but you may want to sit inside indoors at Barra Barra. It’s a period saloon from the mid-1800s, a timeframe that saw Mexican and American traditions blend, located inside Fiesta de Reyes at the north end of the historic district.

The covered patio dining area includes fire pits and neat hanging light fixtures, which is nice, too. Go for the margaritas and tequila selection. Order from various specialties, including queso fundido, vegetarian empanadas, Indian flatbread tacos, and Barra Barra seafood paella.

A number of the menu items can be modified to make them vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free, so check with your server beforehand for suggestions. Kids 10 and under eat free (one child per paying adult), making this restaurant a great choice for families.   

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Where to go Shopping in Old Town

We put together a list of where to find fun gifts and souvenirs while you explore this historic neighborhood.

9. Casa Guadalajara

Casa Guadalajara is among the best restaurants in Old Town San Diego because of the combination of festive decor and food.

Whether you dine inside or outside on the patio, you’ll have a delightful sensory experience. The colors are bright and cheery yet relaxing, with exquisite tile work, intricate wood carvings, stained glass features, New Mexico color combinations, and Puebla-style furnishings.

The enclosed Garden Room patio is charming, with its hanging ferns and beautiful Mexican mosaic tables. The courtyard offers an equally lovely setting, complete with a 200-year-old shade tree. 

The recipes pay tribute to the regional villages of Mexico. Try the camaroncitos fritos, chicken tortilla soup, tostada de Jalisco, shrimp fajitas, steak ranchero, mango chipotle chicken, tostada vegetariana, or Guadalajara omelet. Vegetarian dishes are marked VG. 

10. Jack & Giulio’s

  • 2391 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
  • (619) 294-2074
  • jackandgiulios.com
  • Closed Monday and Tuesday

If you’re hungry for great Italian food, head to Jack & Giulio’s, one of the district’s restaurants that doesn’t focus on Mexican fare. This Italian restaurant offers everything from antipasto classico to chicken marsala.

With indoor and outdoor seating, this restaurant takes pride in delivering great service. The vibe is friendly, and the food is fantastic. Formerly a popular restaurant in Pacific Beach, this renamed and relocated eatery has been around in some incarnation since 1961.

At its current location, the family-owned and operated restaurant has been recognized as serving artisanal Italian cooking by friendly staff in a welcoming atmosphere.

Other menu items include Brutus salad, tortelloni verdi, lasagne della casa, angel hair mediterraneo, scampi al pesto, spaghetti al burro, and chicken piccata. An extensive wine list is available, along with other signature drinks (you can get a house-special margarita). Hand-rolled pasta is made fresh daily onsite. 

11. Congress Café 

Rounding out this list of best restaurants in Old Town San Diego is Congress Café, a Venezuelan restaurant behind The Whaley House Museum offering Latin American fusion creations.

Open for breakfast and lunch, the café specializes in traditional Venezuelan cooking, sandwiches, salads, and farmers’ breakfasts.

You can dine in or take your meal to go. Offerings include Venezuelan starters—mini empanadas, tequeños (cheese sticks), fried plantains, and cachapas (corn pancakes). Main plates come with scrambled eggs, arepa, grilled tomatoes and onions, avocado, latin cream, and your choice of shredded beef, black beans, or seasoned fish. 

Try a grilled arepa—an artisanal dish perfect for brunch, made of corn flour and filled with your choice of ingredients, including ham, chorizo, avocado, or salmon. The Platanera arepa has Venezuelan cheese and fried plantains, while La Vegana has black beans, avocado, and fried plantains.

Specialty drinks include Mexican spiced mocha and chai tea latte, among other choices, or enjoy a refreshing natural juice made from mango, pineapple, or passion fruit. 

A Note About Old Town Urban Market

This former fun collection of restaurants is not succeeding and its vendors have vacated. So, while you may have seen it on other lists, including ours, its fate is unknown and the building is up for sale. Therefore, we recommend planning to eat a the other restaurants mentioned above.

What are your favorite Old Town San Diego restaurants?

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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