Restaurants in the San Diego area remain devoted to traditional California coastal cuisine. Even some of the high-end restaurants feature Baja tacos, and nearly all offer ahi tuna poke and variations on lobster. Here are five restaurants we recommend, from an impressive Michelin-starred hotel establishment to a veritable dive.
We didn’t book a room at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, but we did find an evening to visit its celebrated Addison, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the area. We’d heard positive things about the 249-room hotel, too, so before dinner, we stopped to explore the grounds and get a cocktail. The sprawling Mediterranean-style property sits on almost 400 acres of coastal canyonland 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The long, winding drive, bordered by tall, wind-swept eucalyptus trees and Tuscan-style gardens, sets the scene. Due to dining restrictions at the time, its 8,000-square-foot Aria Lawn, usually reserved for weddings, had been repurposed as the outdoor Fireside Lounge. The lush green was surrounded with private cabanas, and we had our choice of tables, which had fire pits at the center. On a pavilion at the far side of the lawn, a singer-songwriter played his guitar. We had time for only one drink, but the service was positively doting: Along with menus, staff brought us heavy blankets to stay warm and seemed genuinely disappointed we couldn’t stay longer.
From there, we drove to Addison, about half a mile away. Seated at a lovely corner table on the rooftop terrace, we were presented with a comprehensive 13-page wine list but initially couldn’t pass up the strawberry Negroni special. Prior to arrival, we’d ordered the five-course dinner rather than the 10-course, and by the end we were happy we had. The first presentation alone consisted of five plates: a pillow-shaped puff pastry with stinging nettle, topped with garden greens; iced Kumamoto oysters dressed with gooseberry and ponzu; a sashimi cube of in an escabeche marinade; crunchy squid ink “toast” with finger lime and salmon roe; and a mini-rosemary rösti with Iberian ham and sherry. And that was just the “prelude.” One- and two-bite dishes appeared and disappeared just as quickly. These ranged from Chawanmushi (Japanese egg custard) with sea scallops and caramelized cod, to a mid-dinner sourdough bread course, among others. Finally, it was time for the main event: barbecued squab served with a squab liver mousse. Alas, the rich mousse was, for me, a bridge too far, especially with five desserts on the horizon. Overall, our dinner was exceptional, and service was attentive and informative without any pretension whatsoever. Dinner only; closed Sunday and Monday. Reservations required. [Editor's note: This restaurant received its third Michelin star in November 2022.]