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Hillcrest has always loved good food. It could arguably be called San Diego’s first foodie neighborhood. Before the tide of craft breweries, artisanal doughnuts, and design-conscious bistros, this district offered a wide variety of tastes, cultures, and price points. Hillcrest—along with Balboa Park and Bankers Hill—still keeps things fresh and exciting, welcoming adventurous flavors from all corners of the world.
From San Diego staples to new kids on the block bound for distinction, these neighborhoods are filled with so many top restaurants, you may never get to them all. There’s no reason not to try, though! Restaurants of every genre fill cozy corner spots, high-ceilinged expanses, and mood-lit nooks—and finding the best is a worthy endeavor. Here are a few stars to point you in the right direction.
The columned courtyard setting in the center of Balboa Park makes even locals feel like they’re on vacation. Tucked between the Museum of Art and the sculpture garden, this casual eatery and bar offers house-made cocktails, salads, sandwiches, and weekend brunch. Live music jazzes up the atmosphere four nights a week, soft blankets are available for picnic-style lounging in the garden, and with the iconic California Tower as a dining companion, you can’t ask for a prettier view.
Location: 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101
This rustic space with a strong splash of class is as perfect for group brunch on Sundays as it is for intimate date nights. Fresh, local ingredients form the basis of the chef-described craft-cooking menu, and the cocktails know a little something about the word craft, too. From the wood and metal décor to the patio’s verdant living wall, this restaurant is a real charmer. Don’t leave without trying the signature deviled egg. (Hint: The Bloody Marys come with one, if you want to live big.)
Location: 2202 4th Ave, Bankers Hill, San Diego, CA 92101
Classic Italian blends seamlessly with laidback California modern at this beloved Bankers Hill eatery. The ingredients are top-notch, the preparation masterful, and the environment warm and welcoming. The extensive wine list is available at retail level, so when you find one you like, you can take a bottle to go.
Location: 505 Laurel St, Bankers Hill, San Diego, CA 92101
Cozy, romantic décor and Tagine comfort foods lend Kous Kous its allure. Chef Moumen Nouri blends memories of color, sound, and experience with the flavors of his native Morocco to tell stories through food. Great for groups, you can order a Moroccan Feast, which includes several shared dishes and is served with saffron rice, fresh Moroccan bread, and dessert.
Location: 3940 4th Avenue, Hillcrest, San Diego, CA 92103
With an open kitchen, big floor-to-ceiling windows, great service, and an expansive patio, it’s no surprise Trust quickly became a neighborhood favorite. Chef and owner Brad Wise ensures seasonal and local ingredients grace the menu, and the woodfire grill brings added flair and flavor to shared plates and entrees. Sip astonishingly good cocktails among the midcentury décor, and soak up the perfect pairing of style and substance.
Location: 3752 Park Blvd. Suite 105C, Hillcrest, San Diego, CA 92103
The Valhalla of coffee houses, this large and meticulously designed space boasts high, exposed beam ceilings, crisp tile details, and warm lighting. From the round central counter to the mezzanine lounge, it will leave you buzzing from eye candy alone. They also happen to serve richly flavored cold brews and hot coffee drinks, grilled sandwiches, and an array of pastries.
Location: 801 University Ave, Hillcrest, San Diego, CA 92103
Vegans, take note. Not only does Hachi serve four vegan ramen choices as regular offerings, nearly every part of their menu—from apps to seasonal plates—has at least one vegan option. Non-vegans will also find plenty to love in the Japan-by-way-of-California flavors. The light wood and tile-accented interior is simple but welcoming, and every plate and bowl is a feast for the eyes and the palate.
Location: 2505 5th Ave, Bankers Hill, San Diego, CA 92103
A tried-and-true little enclave in the midst of bustling Hillcrest, this tucked-away Thai restaurant is a perfect respite after a busy day. Their hotpot soups melt flavor across your tongue, and the aromatic curries are traditional and delicious. Pair dishes with a pick from the robust wine menu, and let the warm atmosphere work its magic. With remarkably reasonable prices, you’ll leave happy, too.
Location: 3843 Richmond St, Hillcrest, San Diego, CA 92103
The cocktails really shine at this Hillcrest heart-stealer, but the food will give you the warm and fuzzies, too. If you want to try locally distilled spirits, you’ll find the city’s largest variety under Two Seven Eight’s roof. On the rocks or shaken, swirled, and stirred, these liquors are crafted into creative concoctions with names like Warrior Queen. With seasonally inspired shared plates and a neighborly vibe, this Craftsman house-turned-restaurant makes both natives and visitors feel right at home.
Though BO-beau has four locations, none but Hillcrest’s come with two added bonuses. Craft cocktail bar Caché is a romantic speakeasy accessed via refrigerator door. Don’t let its threshold fool you, though. Inside is a sophisticated Paris-inspired dreamland filled with bonne temps and a little je ne sais quoi. Libertad doubles as a taco joint and charity—it functions as a non-profit that gives proceeds back to the community.
Location: 1027 University Ave, Hillcrest, San Diego, CA 92103
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