The 10 Best Restaurants in San Diego, According to a Food Photographer - Full-Time Travel

The 10 Best Restaurants in San Diego, According to a Food Photographer

Gourmet Guides: The 10 Best Restaurants in San Diego, According to a Food Photographer

In Gourmet Guides, food industry insiders serve up recommendations on where to dine in their town.

By Esme Benjamin

As an immigrant who moved to San Diego from the Philippines at 18 years old, Kimberly Motos was immediately struck by the beachy town’s diversity of cuisines and restaurants. Famous for fresh-from-the-ocean seafood and the best Mexican cuisine this side of the border, San Diego is a city where chef pop-ups command lines around the block and fine-dining establishments boast multiple Michelin stars. 

After a stint working in corporate America, Kimberly launched her own business as a photographer and content creator who specializes in food, interiors and lifestyle. It’s a career that’s placed her at the heart of the local dining scene, shooting some of the city’s top restaurants for publications including Eater, Bon Appetit, the LA Times, and San Diego Magazine.

“The San Diego food scene has exploded over the last five years,” explains Kimberly. “There are multiple restaurant groups doing amazing things and we’ve had several well-known chefs move to the city to start their new culinary journeys. Last year alone we had three restaurants receive a Michelin star, with Addison earning its third, making it one of seven three-Michelin-starred restaurants in the entire state of California.” 

We asked Kimberly to provide a selection of her favorite places to dine, complete with the dishes you’ll still be salivating over long after returning home.

By Kimberly Motos


Callie, which is Greek for ‘most beautiful,’ is one of my favorite restaurants in San Diego. Using ingredients from local farmers and fishermen, Chef Travis Swikard creates memorable California-Mediterranean dishes and his amazing team provides impeccable service that’ll keep you coming back. Get the baba ganoush with the house pita, the uni toast, anything with squid ink, and the Aleppo chicken.

Mabel's Gone Fishing | By Kimberly Motos

Mabel's Gone Fishing

Mabel’s Gone Fishing is a gintoneria (a gin specialist, for the uninitiated) and natural wine bar in North Park. Focusing on Iberian coastal cuisine with San Diego and Baja seafood offerings like oysters, scallops, mussels and more, it was named one of EATER’s best new restaurants of 2022. Order the Spanish tortilla (before they sell out), clams & ham, and mackerel toast, and end with the best basque cheesecake in town.

Smoked Dry Aged Duck at Kingfisher| By Kimberly Motos


Despite being only a year old this beautiful French-Vietnamese restaurant has already attracted a flock of food critics and accumulated national accolades including a mention on Bon Appetit’s list of 50 best new restaurants in America 2022. Get there early if you don’t want to miss Kingfisher’s smoked dry-aged duck that sells out every night. You’ll also want to try the beef tartare, wild mushroom congee, and crispy chicken wings washed down with their inventive Asian-inspired cocktails.

The Fishery | By Kimberley Motos

The Fishery 

The family of fishermen behind The Fishery also own Pacific Shellfish, the warehouse next door which distributes freshly caught seafood among San Diego’s top restaurants. With that in mind, it’s little wonder The Fishery is considered the best seafood spot in town. The menu changes by the season but you must get the salt spring mussels in green curry broth and the bay scallop and Mexican shrimp fettuccine when they’re available.

Courtesy of Wolf in The Woods

Wolf in The Woods 

Dubbed the best date night spot in San Diego, Wolf in The Woods is a hidden gem nestled in the charming Mission Hills neighborhood. It’s an intimate wine bar and restaurant serving small plates of European fare with an ambiance that’s hard to beat. Order the sweet corn & piñon soup, harissa octopus, and the chicken liver paté, and ask the sommelier to pair your meal with the perfect bottle of wine.

Campfire | By Elodie Bost


One of my favorite neighborhood haunts in Carlsbad, Campfire is where I always take my friends from out of town. The most talked about menu item is the broccoli – yes, I said broccoli. It’s fire-roasted and made with chermoula, lime and peanuts, and it’s probably the best broccoli you’ll ever have. You should also get the roasted beets cocktail, which is on the secret menu. You won’t regret it.

Rare Society | By Kimberly Motos

Rare Society

An homage to the famous Las Vegas steakhouse, Rare Society is no doubt my favorite steakhouse in San Diego. Start with the caesar salad with fried anchovy and pecorino cheese, then get the thick slab of bacon with gojuchang glaze and wipe that sauce with the buttery parker house rolls. Share an associate board (a selection of chef-determined cuts of the night) with some friends and don’t skip the brown butter cake for dessert.

Wrench & Rodent | By Oriana Poindexter

Wrench & Rodent 

This sushi restaurant in Oceanside is known for its responsibly sourced fish and produce. Wrench & Rodent aims to reduce waste by transforming all cuts of fish and veggies into inventive dishes. My personal fave is the hedgehog roll (krab and shrimp tempura topped with yellowtail, garlic and truffle oil), the salmon nigiri with citrus salt, and the mushroom calamari. They also offer omakase for those who are interested in chef’s choice for the evening.

Animae | By Kimberly Motos


Owned by Top Chef Brian Malarkey and helmed by Filipino-American chef Tara Monsod, Animae has been the talk of the town since it opened, lauded for delicious Filipino flavors and Asian-inspired dishes. Order the short-rib kare kare with bagoong (shrimp paste) oil, the caviar shrimp toast, and the wagyu fried rice.

Courtesy of Tacos el Gordo

Tacos el Gordo 

From tacos to burritos, San Diego offers the best Baja-Mexican food thanks to the neighboring border with Tijuana. For the best TJ-style tacos, visit Tacos el Gordo which makes its own corn tortillas, guacamole, and salsas from scratch daily. Order the adobada (spiced pork), suadero (brisket), and the lengua (beef tongue).

For more San Diego travel tips read our guide from Top Chef’s Brian Malarkey

We love a pre-winter adventure just before the water freezes into ice. @jaspernationalpark

Reel: @ninadefilla

341 3

Throughout November, the mountains surrounding the well-known abodes of Shirakawa-gō begin to adopt the colors of autumn. 🍂 ...

105 0

"The wait is over... it`s that time of year again! Every year from November to early March, millions of butterflies blanket the high altitude forest in central Mexico in a mesmerizing display. It`s truly spectacular to witness." - 🎥 @jess.wandering @everchanginghorizon ...

246 1

In the latest episode of our podcast, an award winning editor, writer and producer and the host of the podcast, Travel That Matters, @brucewallintravel travels through Central America with his then fiancee to enjoy what they imagined to be their last big adventure before settling down. It was a trip that gave Bruce a new travel ethos, that travel gets better the more effort you put into it. 🎧 Link in bio to listen! ...

39 1

When fall meets winter in Utah.

Reel: @ashleylporter

131 1

Ethereal moments from a sunset in Scoresby Sound, Greenland.

Reel: @kylekotajarvi

111 0

Autumn in Lago di Saoseo, a stunning alpine lake in the Poschiavo Valley of Switzerland, is a magical experience. The season transforms the surrounding landscape into a picturesque tapestry of vibrant colors. The dense forests that encircle the lake burst into a riot of reds, yellows, and oranges as the leaves change, creating a breathtaking contrast against the crystal-clear, emerald waters of the lake. The cool, crisp air of autumn adds to the tranquility of the scene, making it an ideal time for peaceful hikes and nature appreciation. It`s a time when the natural beauty of Lago di Saoseo truly shines, making it a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts and photographers alike.

Reel: @jakeguzman

323 1

6 Spooky Fall Adventures (An Hour from NYC)

Follow this guide from @steffy where everything is Halloween themed
including the street signs!

- @pumpkinblaze
- @harvestmoonorchard
- @lyndhurst_mansion
- @ Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
- @sleepyhollowbookshop
- @horsefeathers for a spooky drink
- @castlehotelandspa to stay!

48 1

Zhangjiajie, located in China`s Hunan province, is a stunning national park known for its towering sandstone pillars, deep ravines, and lush forests. It gained international fame as the inspiration for James Cameron`s "Avatar." The park`s surreal and otherworldly landscape, particularly the "Southern Sky Column" (renamed "Avatar Hallelujah Mountain"), served as the muse for the film`s floating mountains and lush forests. Zhangjiajie remains a popular destination for travelers seeking to witness the real-world beauty that inspired the cinematic masterpiece.

Reel: @cyn_cynti

124 0

The scent of crisp, autumn air fills the atmosphere of this picturesque region in southern Germany. Allgäu turns into a patchwork of fiery reds, golden yellows, and rustic browns as the leaves change color.

Reel: @_marcelsiebert

372 3

Host of our very own podcast, The Trip That Changed Me, and this week’s Travel That Matters guest, Esme Benjamin (@esmebenjamin), tells us about her year-in-the-making five-month-long road trip across the United States.

On the podcast, Esme starts by telling us the things that happened in her life that led her to take this life-altering adventure. Then, we hear about her path through the following incredible places: Black Hills & Badlands (South Dakota), Glacier National Park and Bozeman (Montana), Cody (Wyoming), Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park, Gateway Canyons Resort and Spa (Colorado), Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, and the Grand Canyon (Arizona), Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana), San Francisco and Los Angeles (California), and more!

🎧 Link in bio to listen and to explore the transformative power of travel.

56 1

In the latest episode of our podcast, TV writer Kristin Newman (How I Met Your Mother, That 70`s Show, Only Murders in the Building) shares two very different trips to Argentina. The first, a two-month stint in which she attempted to live like a local, fell in love, and decided to commit the next decade of her life to travel instead of marriage and babies (the theme of her memoir What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding). Eighteen years later, she returned to Argentina to shoot a TV show based on her memoir, this time with her family in tow.

🎧 Link in bio to listen to the episode!

52 0

Lake Kawaguchi in autumn is a masterpiece of colors. The leaves around the lake and the reflection of Mount Fuji create a mesmerizing scene. It`s cool and peaceful, perfect for leisurely walks and boat rides. Don`t miss the local cuisine and hot springs for a truly relaxing getaway.

Reel: @henbu_

53 0