Culinary innovation is at the heart of San Diego’s red-hot restaurant scene. After two years of shuttered eateries, it’s a breath of fresh air to see new restaurants and bars popping up to bolster the recovering hospitality industry. As your neighborhood expert and the ultimate foodie, here are seven new San Diego restaurants and bars that are at the top of my list to visit this summer.
Neighborhood: Downtown San Diego
One of my favorite restaurants in San Diego, Seneca is an exquisite dining concept located on the 19th floor of the InterContinental San Diego Hotel. This Roman trattoria offers breathtaking views over downtown and the San Diego Bay. Among the carefully curated dining spaces, you’ll find a dining room styled after the grand ballroom of a luxury ocean liner. Complete with porthole-style windows, wood paneling, gleaming metal fixtures, and plush banquet seating, you’ll be transported to one of the White Star Line’s transatlantic ships as you dine on an expansive menu of upscale Italian fare. Thick, crusty bread, decadent pasta dishes, crispy pizzas, and an indulgent dessert menu make Seneca one of San Diego’s best culinary experiences.
Neighborhood: Gaslamp Quarter
Ever wanted to dine inside of a haunted space? You just might have the chance at Madam Bonnie’s, a new dining concept from Magnolia Management. Situated inside a 121-year-old building once known as the Hotel Lester, Madam Bonnie’s is the latest in the establishment’s long line of business endeavors. The name “Madam Bonnie” comes from a woman named Bertha “Bonnie” White, who ran a brothel out of the hotel during the Prohibition era. Her ghost is said to still haunt the Hotel Lester. Tastefully decorated with exposed brick, gleaming wood surfaces, and vintage décor, Madam Bonnie’s will serve up a menu of fresh casual fare including seafood, salads, and rotisserie meats. With an extensive cocktail list featuring drinks named after some of the most famous (or infamous) women of the 1920s and 30s, Madam Bonnie’s is sure to be your next favorite spot in the Gaslamp Quarter.
WOLFIE’S CAROUSEL BAR
Neighborhood: Little Italy
Little Italy is one of San Diego’s most vibrant and artistic neighborhoods so it’s no surprise that it’s now home to Wolfie’s Carousel Bar. This playful restaurant features a real rotating carousel where you can sip craft cocktails prepared by one of the talented bartenders. Named after Charles “Wolfie” Looff, a German master carousel maker, Wolfie’s offers a French-inspired menu with dishes like caviar, escargots, oysters, and croque monsieurs. Be sure to order the decadent crème brûlée or the piping hot beignets with lemon curd for dessert! Open for weekend brunch and dinner, you’ll love catching up with friends beneath the marquee lights and whimsical French artwork.
Neighborhood: East Village
Longtime San Diegans no doubt remember Polite Provisions, the hidden bar inside the Neighborhood Restaurant. As part of a recent facelift for the dining concept, there’s now a new speakeasy in town called Young Blood! Serving up all the decadent, Jazz-era vibes you could want for a night out in the East Village, Young Blood is the ideal celebration spot for a birthday, engagement, anniversary, or other special event. This intimate, 30-seat bar offers craft cocktails, transportive ambiance, and opulent décor. Reservations can be challenging to acquire, but the effort is well worth the reward.
GO GO AMIGO
Neighborhood: Point Loma’s Liberty Station
You’ll be hard pressed to find a neighborhood in San Diego that doesn’t already have at least a handful of exceptional Mexican restaurants and Taquerias, however the new concept that has just landed in Liberty Station is more than worth a visit. Go Go Amigo’s atmosphere is lively, colorful, and trend forward, evoking memories of your last beach vacation to Cancún or Cozumel. Margaritas are definitely on the menu, with combinations that put a new spin on an old favorite. Try the Tamarindo or Cucumber Jalapeño for an explosion of south-of-the-border flavor. If you’re hungry, you can’t go wrong ordering any of their taco plates. Choose from options like carne asada, pollo asado, al pastor, quesabirria, and more. There’s even a Korean-fusion taco featuring kalbi marinated skirt steak, kimchi, and kogi bbq. Other can’t-miss bites include the nachos, the ceviche, and the cali asada burrito. For dessert, treat yourself and order both of their sinfully sweet options, the chocoflan brûlée, and the buñuelos and ice cream.
WOLF IN THE WOODS
Neighborhood: Mission Hills
Historic Mission Hills is one of the best places to discover the San Diego of yesterday while exploring the newest restaurant trends and boutique shopping obsessions. It’s this blend of old meets new that makes it the perfect neighborhood for Wolf in the Woods, a unique dining establishment that prides itself on curating “both old and new world-inspired wines and small plates with the goal of cultivating warmth, creativity, and an appreciation for our region.” Stepping inside Wolf in the Woods is like entering your stylish grandmother’s kitchen. With gorgeous wood floors, rustic-inspired décor, and a warm, candlelit atmosphere, Wolf in the Woods is the perfect place to unwind at the end of a long week. Boasting a robust menu, be sure to try the fresh-baked focaccia bread, the creamy sweet corn and piñon soup, and one of their charcuterie or cheese boards. From the tapas menu, the thin cut harissa octopus is a standout along with the citrus cured salmon. Although this dish isn’t for everyone, you can also find steak tartare on the menu. Be sure to pair any of your dishes with a decadent glass of wine for a memorable meal that you won’t soon forget.
Neighborhood: Little Italy
SDCM, the brilliant minds behind Kettner Exchange, the Grass Skirt, and Waverly, have cooked up another outstanding addition to the San Diego restaurant scene. A love letter to Tulum, one of the hottest travel destinations of the year, and El Camino, SDCM’s previous concept, you’ll be transported to a jungle oasis with exquisite bohemian décor and ambiance. Using only the highest-quality ingredients, the dinner menu is a feast for both the senses and the taste buds. Start your evening with the delicious chili grilled prawns or the wagyu beef salpicón, affectionately called the “Gordita Crunch.” Not to be missed is the mouthwatering sonoma lamb shoulder barbacoa or the creekstone ribeye, finished with a delightful Yucatán peanut sauce. Of course, no evening out in San Diego is complete without dessert! Try the budino with caramel and crème fraîche. In the mood for a drink? Their libations boast Mayan and Yucatecan influences, with an array of mezcal-forward cocktails and wines from Spain, Latin America, and South America on the menu.
Did I miss any of your top San Diego restaurants or bars? Leave me a comment below – I love exploring the hidden gems in America’s Finest City!