Atypical Waffle Company
Plenty of places serve waffles, but nowhere else will you find “the number seven” — a Liege waffle topped with smoked brown-sugar bacon, smashed avocado and goat cheese. This glamping-themed backyard restaurant isn’t easy to find (if you’re at the trendy laundromat, you’re close), but once you’re there, you’ll want to linger at the picnic tables or near the bright-yellow fireplace. Food is served on tin plates or in handy to-go pouches. And you can get lemonade, kombucha and cold brew on tap.
BTW: Wear layers. The backyard alley can get pretty chilly in the morning.
Atypical Waffle Company, 3519 30th St. San Diego, Calif. 92104
Sugar and Scribe
This restaurant started out as a small Irish bakery where chef Maeve Rochford made cakes from scratch. She upgraded to the posh La Jolla neighborhood, along the way adding items like Irish eggs with goat cheese, traditional brown bread and hot chocolate topped with a giant house-made marshmallow. The front of the restaurant is a bakery, where you can choose from freshly baked croissants, tarts and cupcakes, as well as a full coffee bar. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there on a day when Rochford turns all her treats into Harry Potter- or Willy Wonka-themed designs.
BTW: Buy a box of the ginger chews on your way out. They’re the most incredible cookies in town.
Sugar and Scribe, 7660 Fay Ave. La Jolla, Calif. 92104
The Taco Stand
People say the best Mexican food in Southern California comes from any place called Roberto’s or Alberto’s or Rigoberto’s. While that’s true, if you’re looking for a taco with handmade tortillas and fresh ingredients, you go to the Taco Stand. Don’t be intimidated by the super long lines; these tacos are worth it. Local favorites are the camarón (spicy shrimp) and grilled pescado (mahi-mahi), both served with avocado and chipotle sauce. Seating is limited at all four locations, so be ready to eat these standing up, as though you’re at a stand across the border in Tijuana.
BTW: You might be tempted to go for a burrito, but this place truly is all about tacos.
The Taco Stand, 645 B St. San Diego, Calif. 92101
This Little Italy restaurant is great for any meal, but the reason it’s so beloved is its authentic Italian aperitivo (happy hour): Show up, even on weekends, between 4 and 7 p.m. for cocktails and get complimentary small bites of the day, such as homemade gnocchi or braised octopus. Monello makes its own sweet vermouth that’s so smooth, you can drink it straight. Other lunchtime favorites are the raspa dura — light cheese flakes served in a paper cone — and fresh pasta tossed in a cheese wheel.
BTW: Monello’s sister restaurant, Bencotto Italian Kitchen, is a few doors away and perfect for a fancy night out.
Monello, 750 West Fir St. San Diego, Calif. 92101
Karina’s Mexican Seafood
The guidebooks tell you that Old Town is where you’ll find authentic Mexican food, but farther south, Karina’s is where the Mexican community actually hangs out. Scattered across the South Bay, the area closest to the border, this local chain is where people gather for family dinners and celebrations. The atmosphere is festive and colorful, with brightly painted walls and portraits of Mexican music and film icons hanging on the walls. There’s mariachi music at all times, whether on the speakers or performed live. The menu blends comfort dishes like enchiladas with more adventurous items like mango jalapeño tuna sashimi.
BTW: There are seven ceviche options on the menu, but go for the Ceviche Karina’s; it’s the signature dish.
Karina’s Mexican Seafood, 89 Bonita Rd. Chula Vista, Calif. 91910
George’s at the Cove
San Diegans love their sunsets. In some areas, people gather every day to watch the sun dip into the ocean and maybe catch a sight of the mythical green flash. George’s at the Cove is a restaurant that maximizes your sunset experience, boasting both a sophisticated interior and an oceanfront terrace. Fish, lobster and beef dishes are prepared by nationally renowned chef Trey Foshee. The craft cocktails at George’s Level2 bar are inspired by 23 San Diego neighborhoods. (The La Jolla, for example, is dehydrated mango, lime- and chile-infused tequila, lime, agave nectar and a sea cube.)
BTW: Foshee has a casual taco restaurant, Galaxy Taco, a few miles away, at La Jolla Shores.
George’s at the Cove, 1250 Prospect St. La Jolla, Calif. 92037
Starlite is a special place, which is immediately obvious when you spot its grand hexagonal doorway from the street. Step inside to find a gold-hued, twinkling seating area filled with local artists, musicians and other creatives. The front room has a sunken bar where some of the city’s best cocktails are served; the Starlite Mule and Kentucky Colonel are considered local classics. The back, meanwhile, has an intimate dining area where you can share marinated European olives and a charcuterie board, or go for the late-night favorite, a Starlite Burger, served with Gruyere and caramelized onions. The music here is always a blend of Motown, indie rock and soul.
BTW: The saying here is that one Starlite Mule is not enough, and two is too many.
Starlite, 3175 India St. San Diego, Calf. 92103
Lestat’s on Adams Avenue
Yes, this 24/7 cafe is named after the Anne Rice vampire, Lestat de Lioncourt, and even the aesthetic is very New Orleans French Quarter. During the day, locals zip in for coffee and freelancers work on laptops. But late at night is when its goth personality truly shines. Because there’s a music venue next door, you’ll find singer-songwriters and their guitars sharing space with caffeinated poets, teens too young for the club and friends in the middle of marathon Magic the Gathering sessions. The food is your standard coffee-shop fare: scones, muffins, panini and very, very strong coffee.
BTW: Next door, Lestat’s West features live music or comedy almost every night of the week.
Lestat’s, 3343 Adams Ave. San Diego, Calif. 92116