Where the Chefs Eat: Off the Beaten Path

Our chefs dish on the best San Diego off-the-beaten-path restaurants

Some of the tastiest bites hail from tiny spots scattered around the city, so we asked which San Diego off the beaten path restaurants and small establishments six of San Diego’s finest chefs prefer.

Bull’s Smokin’ BBQ

“This is the best barbecue, and I grew up eating Carolina barbecue,” says chef Deborah Scott of this joint that screens spaghetti westerns and gives your pooches bones. Get the coleslaw with candied almonds, gumbo, cornbread and ribs, she advocates.

1127 W. Morena Blvd., 619-276-2855, bullssmokinbbq.com

san diego off the beaten path restaurants bull's smokin' bbq
Photo: courtesy Bull’s Smokin’ BBQ

Clayton’s Mexican Take Out

Just around the corner from Melissa d’Arabian’s favorite ice cream sundae joint is the tiny colorfully tiled takeout window serving quick and inexpensive Mexican classics. Melissa and her crew recommend the rolled tacos to go.

1107 10th Street, Coronado, 619-437-8811  

san diego off the beaten path restaurants clayton's coronado
Clayton’s Mexican Take Out (photo: Gary Payne)


The Russian restaurant offers plentiful delightful vegetarian and/or vegan options on their menu, Chef Bernard Guillas says.

2312 El Cajon Blvd., North Park, 619-297-4007, pomegranatesd.com

Little Italy Mercato

This farmers market has become part of Richard Blais’s family’s Saturday morning routine. The fit foursome parks at Juniper & Ivy and walks the half-mile to get their fruits and veggies and local bread. They stop and sample hummus, get an organic, fresh juice, coffee and sometimes a pastry.

Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., West Cedar Street between Kettner Boulevard and Front Street, sandiegomarkets.com/little-italy-mercato

san diego off the beaten path restaurants little italy mercato farmer's market
Little Italy Mercato (photo courtesy Luna Photo)

Lucha Libre

Deb Scott hosts an annual Fourth of July party at her house and always gets Lucha Libre taco shop (with three locations: Mission Hills, North Park and Carlsbad) to cater because “it’s good, funky and kind of quirky,” she says.


san diego off the beaten path restaurants lucha libre
Lucha Libre (photo: Sam Wells)

Mitsuwa Market

“I find great Japanese snacky foods in this friendly market,” chef Andrew Santana says. “It’s inspiring to just go there, walk around and gather flavor ideas while you do some low-key shopping.”

4240 Kearny Mesa Road, #119, 858-569-6699, mitsuwa.com


“You can go, get two glasses of good pinot, share a handmade pasta and a salad, and walk out the door for $40,” Deb Scott explains.

455 10th Ave., East Village, monzufreshpasta.com

Oscar’s Mexican Seafood

This one might not be a secret any longer since the tiny stand with the long lines that started in North Pacific Beach has expanded to include five restaurants throughout the county. “I love Oscar’s,” Deb says. “It’s quick, easy, casual and amazing.”


Pearl Chinese Cuisine

For a variety of great dim-sum options, Andrew Santana heads here.

11666 Avena Place, Rancho Bernardo 858-487-3388, pearlchinesecuisinetogo.com

Peterson’s Donut Corner

“They make the best maple bar I have ever had in my life,” Deb Scott gushes.

903 S. Escondido Blvd., 760-745-7774, petersonsdonutcorner.menutoeat.com

Phuong Trang

The dishes at this Vietnamese restaurant along Convoy Street are packed with flavor. “They have delicious pho, of course,” Bernard Guillas admits, “but they have so much more.”

4170 Convoy St., 858-565-6750, phuongtrangrestaurant.com

Tacos El Gordo

Great traditional tacos with super intense flavors are served at this pick by Andrew Santana.

556 Broadway, 619-691-8848, tacoselgordobc.com

The Fish Market

This well-known market is far from a hidden gem, but chef Stephane Voitzwinkler can’t say enough good things about it. Besides the fresh—and reasonably priced—seafood, he says this establishment takes care of its customers. “My wife and daughter go in at least once a week, and they always leave with something extra—a bowl of clam chowder or a loaf of bread—on the house.

750 N. Harbor Drive, 619-232-3474, thefishmarket.com

Tokyo Sushi Loha

So much more than a typical raw fish eatery, this restaurant wins Deb’s praises for the food, the cool techno music and staff that dances while they serve. “I go every two to three weeks and get the tuna carpaccio in the garlic ponzu sauce,” she says.

6502 El Cajon Blvd., College Area, 619-644-8600

Vine Ripe Market

A La Mesa grocer selling Middle Eastern and Mediterranean grocery and deli items, organic produce, halal foods and more stocks Bernard’s favorite Hungarian feta.

8191 Fletcher Parkway, 619-462-7800, vineripefoods.com

Windsor Cottage

Melissa d’Arabian hits the members-and-guests-only cafe at Hotel Del Coronado after working out at the resort’s gym several times a week.

1500 Orange Ave., 619-435-6611, hoteldel.com

Categories: Food & Drink, Lifestyles, Neighborhood Guide