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The Best Restaurants for Every Budget in San Diego

Where to dine, whether you're low on bucks or looking to go all out
February 13, 2017
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by Darlene Horn

There’s no lack of dining options in San Diego, and depending on the occasion, you can scratch every culinary itch, from business lunches to outdoor dining destinations. The good news is that you can do it all regardless of budget. We've broken out some of our favorite reasons to dine out by price — inexpensive, moderately priced and worth a splurge — to help you get the most out of dining in San Diego. 

Outdoor dining

Inexpensive: Panama 66
Dine alfresco in Balboa Park next to the San Diego Museum of Art. While the menu is limited to sandwiches and beer, you can opt to sit at a table, grab a seat at the bar or dine on the grass at the sculpture garden.

Moderately priced: Cannonball
This Belmont Park eatery lets you dine eye-to-eye with the seagulls from its second-floor perch, plus you get priceless views of the beach. Menu items like reinvented Japanese dishes and tacos are priced on the affordable side.

Worth a splurge: Mister A’s
Much of this Bankers Hill restaurant is indoors, but request to be seated on the patio (pictured), where you’ll get a stunning view of Downtown, Balboa Park and Hillcrest in one fell swoop. The red carpet treatment includes a VIP elevator ride to the restaurant and extends to its classic French-American fare like butter-poached Maine lobster tail.

Pastries

Inexpensive: 85C Bakery
​Grab a tray and fill up on pastries from this Taiwanese bakery chain. Both locations in Clairemont and Mira Mesa serve up Asian sweets such as savory pork sung buns and marble taro loaves plus multigrain bread and Danishes that will only set you back a few dollars.

Moderately priced: Michele Coulon Dessertier
Pastry chef and owner Michele Coulon whips up wonderful French-inspired goodies from her La Jolla shop. Choose among French macarons, slices of angel food cake (pictured) and squares of Belgian chocolate cake.

Worth a splurge: Extraordinary Desserts
Extraordinary Desserts fills its pastry case with gorgeous cakes, scones, brownies and cookies decorated with fresh flowers, gold leaf and ribbons, and they're not cheap. While prices for individual dessert can be as low as $3.50 for cupcakes, whole cakes can be anywhere from $40 to $70. Order desserts from either the Little Italy or Hillcrest shop.

Brunch

Inexpensive: Cardamom Cafe & Bakery
This North Park cafe is open for breakfast every day and you’ll find your breakfast favorites — egg croissant sandwiches, oatmeal, bacon Bennies and more — all under $10. 

Moderately priced: Breakfast Republic
It’s breakfast all the time at this local chain with restaurants in North Park, Liberty Station, Encinitas and East Village. Breakfast Republic specializes in international as well as regional morning favorites such as chilaquiles, croque monsieur, Benedicts, pancakes (pictured) and French toast — served all day.

Worth a splurge: Crown Room
Historic Hotel Del Coronado is home to the Crown Room where every Sunday, the majestic ballroom is transformed into an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet for $95 per person. Luxury offerings include cold water prawns, lobster and cheese tortellini, salt-crusted prime rib plus a donut bar.

Business lunches

Inexpensive: Tender Greens
​This health-conscious chain has four area locations at Liberty Station, Downtown, Mission Valley and La Jolla, so you’re never far from wallet-friendly lunches such as locally sourced salads (pictured), sandwiches and plates. 

Moderated priced: Grant Grill
This lunch destination in The U.S. Grant Hotel is famous for its fancy Downtown business lunches, but that doesn’t mean it’s not reasonably priced. Along with salads, sandwiches and soups, you can also dine on grilled steak, roasted half chicken and pork tenderloin.

Worth a splurge: Cowboy Star
If you’re looking to bring out the big guns and cost isn't an issue, head to Cowboy Star in East Village. Lunch options include roasted lamb, Hudson Valley duck breast and seared big eye tuna.

Tasting menus

Inexpensive: Wine Vault & Bistro
The real deal at this Midtown restaurant happens on Thursday nights when three-course meals (with three choices per course) are an economical $20 per person plus an additional $15 for an optional wine flight. It’s not so bad later in the week, either, when the three-course dinner jumps to $30 per person.

Moderately priced: Trust Restaurant
This Hillcrest restaurant offers the "Trust Experience," its version of a tasting menu, which is built based on your food preferences and budget. Family-style sharing plates include uni pasta, lobster risotto and pork sugo and are super-affordable at less than $20.

Worth a splurge: Addison
This Del Mar restaurant is worth every cent for its five-star service and beautiful presentation, even when you consider meals start at $110 per person for four courses and go up to $250 for the chef’s tasting menu. French dishes by director and executive chef William Bradley change according to season and have been known to include foie gras, pot de crème, tins of caviar (pictured) and Kumamoto oysters. 

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