One of the best parts of any vacation is experiencing new local foods and restaurants, and San Diego, California has no shortage of great eating establishments.
If you want to get a truly local dining experience, there are few places you should take in next time you're in San Diego on vacation that are a bit off the traditional tourist path.
Now this is working under the assumption that you're already going to eat plenty of local specialties like Mexican food and seafood, so as a 25+ year resident of San Diego, here are three great local restaurants you should visit.
Filippi's Pizza Grotto
Filippi’s is technically, a chain (they have several restaurants in the San Diego area) of restaurants, and I can attest to the great food at the Mira Mesa and Mission Valley locations. But you need to visit the downtown location on India Street, it is Italian food at its finest and most authentic.
The portions are huge, prices reasonable, the food delicious, and the pizza is piled higher with mozzarella cheese than any pizza I've seen. You should absolutely bring your appetite.
The downside to the original location on India Street is that it gets really busy. I'd strongly recommend getting there either before the lunch rush (before 11 :30 am) or before the dinner rush (5:00 pm), even on weekdays.
Late lunches or early dinners are your best bet. They don't take reservations and wait times for dinner regularly get to an hour and beyond. The food is good enough to warrant the wait, but if you go at off hours, you can minimize your time spent standing in line.
I can't claim that Phil’s BBQ the best bar-b-que anywhere in the country, but I do think it is the best in San Diego, and a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Phil's started as a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint in the Mission Hills/Hillcrest area, but a few years back opened up a sparkling new location near the San Diego Sports Arena (in the Point Loma area).
Recently, they also expanded to the North County and have a location in East County (Santee) and at the airport. Everything on the menu is fantastic, but I would strongly recommend the Rib Tickler, you get three/four pork ribs, fries, coleslaw, and two of their famous giant onion rings for about $8. You can't beat it.
The only downside to Phil's BBQ is that much like Filippi's, it gets busy, like, really busy, especially on weekends. They open at 11 a.m. and there is almost always a line at the door waiting for them to open, six days a week (they're closed Mondays). They don't take reservations, so if you go at the height of lunch or dinner, be prepared to stand in line, for up to an hour or more.
I'd strongly recommend getting there right at 11 a.m. when they open or between lunch and dinner time during the work week. You would think that going from one small location to several large gleaming facilities would have reduced demand, but nope, Phil’s is just as popular as ever and more location means more folks can enjoy the delicious BBQ.
Pizza Port is also a local San Diego institution, and they have four locations in San Diego and Orange County. I'd highly recommend either the original Solana Beach location or their fairly new facility in Ocean Beach. Their fare is traditional pizza parlor fare and is pretty good, but the true beauty of Pizza Port is their extensive beer selection.
Along with a handful of their homemade Pizza Port brews they feature an impressive selection of local San Diego beers, microbrews and other hard to find beverage selections. If you're looking for an authentic (and maybe a tad bit gritty) San Diego pizza place to watch the locals, and sample some awesome local beers, this is your place.
There's no real downside to Pizza Port, other than to slightly scale back your expectations. This is not fine dining, this is pizza and beer with suntanned folks in board shorts and flip flops who still smell like sunscreen.
The décor could be generously described as “significantly understated” and seating is on long wooden benches, so as the number of diners increases, you're likely to find yourself rubbing elbows with some new friends.
But what better way to learn the local customs and find out about which microbrew you should sample next? These are but three restaurants out of the literally thousands in San Diego, but each is great in their own special way.
If you're planning on taking a trip to San Diego and want to eat at some local institutions, you should consider stopping by Filippi's, Phil's BBQ, or Pizza Port. You won't be disappointed.