San Diego is widely known as a craft beer city. But the truth is, the city’s cocktail scene, and the talented bartenders who’ve helped build it, are on par with big names in LA, San Francisco, and New York. Here are seven San Diego cocktails to add to your must-try list.
at Balboa Bar & Grill
Henebery Whiskey and R&D Bitters, both local companies, combined forces to create what’s considered San Diego’s official cocktail. Made with Henebery rye, R&D sarsaparilla bitters, fresh lemon juice, and honey syrup, it’s very approachable. You can also find The Balboa on the menu at downtown speakeasy Prohibition, Counterpoint, and several other San Diego bars and restaurants, including inside the airport.
1863 Fifth Ave, Bankers Hill
A matriarch of San Diego’s modern culinary scene, Borkum started out mastering the neighborhood restaurant. Kensington Grill was a celebrated, beloved eatery in quaint, historic Kensington for nearly 20 year: Sure, mules have become ubiquitous, but they weren’t when Starlite opened seven years ago. The Starlite Mule was an immediate hit—so much so that the restaurant put a note on the menu asking patrons to stop making off with the iconic copper mugs. Starlite’s cocktail menu remains one of the best in San Diego, but there’s something magic about the Starlite mule, made with Rain vodka, ginger beer, lime, and Angostura bitters—served, of course, in an ice-cold copper mug.
3175 India St, Mission Hills
Trust Cocktail #2
Made with jalapeño-infused tequila, fresh grapefruit juice, agave syrup, and Scrappy’s Firewater Bitters, this sophisticated, spicy riff on a margarita is for those who love a cocktail with some heat. It was on Trust’s inaugural menu and quickly became the Hillcrest restaurant’s most popular cocktail—so popular that beverage director Jose Sanchez included it on the menu at Trust’s sister restaurant, Hundred Proof.
3752 Park Blvd, Hillcrest
at Sycamore Den
When the Normal Heights bar with a 1970s dad-den theme opened in 2013, the Wolf Ticket was an immediate hit. It’s a refreshing blend of bourbon, Orchard Peach liqueur, lemon juice, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters—created by bartender Eric Johnson, who now helms downtown’s Smoking Gun. The cocktail, now dubbed “The Ticket,” maintains its spot at the top of the menu and continues to be a bestseller.
3391 Adams Ave, Normal Heights
Named in honor of Michael Skubic, founder of San Diego’s Old Harbor Distilling Co., this cocktail is made with Old Harbor’s San Miguel Southwestern Gin, St. George Basil Eau de Vie, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, and celery bitters. A pinch of salt ties everything together beautifully. For fans of cocktails that lean a little savory, this is a must-try.
1654 India St, Little Italy
at George’s Level2
Level2 overlooks the La Jolla cove, which provided inspiration for barman Stephen Kurpinsky, who hand-picks the prettiest sea grass and freezes it in salted ice cubes for this elegant take on a margarita. Its base spirit is a blanco tequila that Kurpinsky infuses with mango, lime, and chili. As you sip, the cubes slowly melt, adding a nice bit of salinity to the cocktail.
1250 Prospect St, La Jolla
St. Elizabeth’s Sexy Party
at The Lion’s Share
You can’t go wrong with a cocktail featuring St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, a rich, spiced liqueur made from Jamaican pot-still rum. Here, it’s mixed with Buffalo Trace bourbon, cinnamon syrup, and chocolate bitters. It’s a classic that’s remained on Lion’s Share’s menu throughout several menu changes and helped solidify the restaurant’s reputation as a craft-cocktail destination.
629 Kettner Blvd, Little Italy
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