The Required: San Diego

The Required: San Diego

A definitive guide to San Diego's tried and trues, as chosen by over 5000+ of the nation's top chefs, sommeliers, bartenders, & other food and beverage pros.

August 6, 2020
The Required: San Diego

The Required: San Diego

A definitive guide to San Diego's tried and trues, as chosen by over 5000+ of the nation's top chefs, sommeliers, bartenders, & other food and beverage pros.

August 6, 2020

Hello, San Diego. Welcome to The Required club.

The Required is our expert version of a "best list," comprised of the stand-out restaurants that have garnered the all-time most recommendations from our expert community. That's 5000+ all-star chefs, sommeliers, bartenders, and more–no black box of food editor committees or user surveys, just plain, crave-able cred.

Read on to plan your next trip—or just to be sure you've checked all the boxes on your home turf. 

Cucina Urbana

The Story: Part of Restaurateur Tracy Borkum’s Urbana group of restaurants, Cucina takes full advantage of Southern California’s endless summer, choosing the best of local produce and meats to create its Italian fare.

What to Eat: While the menu changes seasonally, if you can get your hands on their Fried Squash Blossoms stuffed with Lemon Ricotta, topped with Saffron Aioli, do it. Our Experts say the Bucatini with Guanciale, Tomato, Chili, Pecorino and Hen Egg is not to be missed. They also gave high marks to the Grilled Octopus Tentacle, whose accompaniments change seasonally.

What to Drink: Vino! Located inside a wine shop focused on Italian imports, pick bottles from their impressive selection, pay retail price (typically 40% less than typical restaurant wine list markups) plus a ten dollar corkage, and experiment with rare finds during your meal. If you happen to fall in love with a particular choice, you can always take a bottle or more to go. 


The Vibe: A stylish yet laid back wine bar and bistro located inside of a wine shop. 


When To Go: Hit up their daily Happy Hour (at the bar only, hours vary by the day so check their website) for deals on small plates, or head in for lunch or dinner on a Sunday, when they waive the $10 corkage on bottles bought in their shop.

CUCINA urbana
Hot Spot
Park West, San Diego
$$$, Pizza, Full Bar, Italian, Bar
4 Recommendations

Hodad's Downtown

The Story: A San Diego go-to for burgers and shakes for over 40 years, Hodad’s started as a beach concession on Ocean Beach. Now off the beach, and in the hands of third-generation Hodad’s family members Shane and Lexi Hardin, they’re carrying on in the tradition of their father, local legend and burgermeister, Mike “Bossman” Hardin.  

What to Eat: Dude, you are here for their fat burgers and 50:50 orders of French Fries and Onion Rings. Our Expert tip: Hodad’s finishes their large batches of bacon on a flat top grill pressed under a flat iron, so instead of a couple of strips when you add bacon to a burger, you instead get a thin, crispy bacon patty. 

What to Drink: Local brews and/or Hodad’s epic old-school shakes and malts which are topped with an extra scoop of ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. 

The Vibe: As a nod to their beach stand beginnings with wood surfboards and license plates from all states hung on their walls, Hodad’s Downtown maintains a laid-back surf shack feel. 

When To Go: While they’re open from 11 a.m. to 9 pm daily, the lines can get long during peak lunch and dinner hours, so either arrive early or choose an off time, like late afternoon, to go. 

Hodad's Downtown
Hot Spot
East Village, San Diego
$$, Burgers, Full Bar
3 Recommendations

Cantina Mayahuel

The Story: Owner, artist, Tequila and Mezcal expert Larry Auman named Cantina Mayahuel after the Aztec goddess of agave. With over 200 bottles of Tequila and its smoky cousin, Mezcal, this is the place to come to get an education on these remarkable agave-based spirits while eating some of the best Street Style tacos in the city. 

What to Eat: Their generously portioned Carnitas tacos and Molé dishes receive high marks for flavor and authenticity from our Experts. 

What to Drink: Sip Tequila, Mezcal, and lesser-known regional Mexican spirits like Sotol (distilled from the “Desert Spoon” plant.) Don’t feel shy about asking questions, everyone who works there shares the owner’s passion and respect for these special spirits, and are happy to talk to you about them so long as they aren’t slammed. 

The Vibe: A tidy Mission-style cantina whose dark wood interior is a cool respite from that bright AF San Diego sun.  

When to Go: With a Happy Hour running from 12-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, featuring scratch tequila and Mezcal margaritas for $5.50 and three tacos for $7.50, you’ll want to clear your weekday schedule at least once while in San Diego, so you can give your full attention to enjoying an afternoon at Cantina Mayahuel.

Cantina Mayahuel
Hot Spot
North Park, San Diego
$$, Outdoor Seating, Mexican
3 Recommendations
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