A lot goes into creating a good restaurant, but to be an iconic restaurant, that takes history. San Diego has their very own tried and true group of icons that have lasted through the ages for a reason. You’ve eaten pasta in Little Italy, had tacos in Barrio Logan, but have you tried one of the greats? If you had a restaurant bucket list, these famous restaurants should be atop that list.
The self-proclaimed “Top Gun Bar,” Kansas City BBQ is famous for a few scenes in the famous Top Gun movie. Kansas City BBQ opened 30 years ago as one of the first restaurants in the revitalization of Downtown San Diego. A Paramount Pictures director stopped in for a beer before introducing Top Gun filmmaker Tony Scott to the BBQ joint. The restaurant is known for great service, nostalgic Top Gun decor, and of course, the barbecue. The Beef Brisket and Pulled Pork are favorites among regulars and tourists. We recommend the Four Person Sampler so you can get a bit of everything – Brisket, ribs, sausage, chicken, pulled pork, and sides!
It wouldn’t be a list of iconic restaurants without the World’s Best Burger, right? Hodads started flipping their world famous burgers back in 1969 and have since expanded all over San Diego. When the burger spot was featured on an episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives it “changed absolutely everything” for the business. Today Hodad’s can now be found all around San Diego, including at several concession locations in Petco Park. If you’ve never been to Hodads we recommend starting out with the Single Hamburger or the Single Cheeseburger. If you’re extra hungry, throw an extra patty on either or try the Guido Burger. Inspired by Guy Fieri the Guido Burger is served with pastrami, swiss cheese, grilled onion, pickles and spicy brown mustard.
Two words: Apple. Pancakes. Richard Walker’s Pancake House has been serving up made-from-scratch pancakes since 1960 when they opened the original pancake house in Illinois. In 2006 they graced us with their presence by opening up shop in Downtown San Diego, and later in La Jolla in 2014. Their iconic rabbit logo represents comfort and family, chosen specifically to symbolize a comforting welcome to all of their customers along with their tasty comfort food. Their apple pancakes are known for stealing the show, coming freshly baked at a size larger than your head! They’re made with fresh Granny Smith apples and imported cinnamon glaze to top it all off. Take the La Jolla Walking Tour for a stop at the famous pancake house among some of the other gems located in “The Jewel” of San Diego.
Established in 1933, The Waterfront Bar and Grill is San Diego’s oldest tavern. Full of history, The Waterfront Bar and Grill was opened shortly after the prohibition was repealed. It’s even rumored that the infamous Wyatt Earp was a customer, famous for his role in the Tombstone, Arizona gunfight. The walls of the bar and grill serve up their dose of history, while the kitchen serves up your helping of delicious food. The Waterfront Sliders are a fan favorite, served on a Hawaiian roll with grilled onions and chipotle mayo. You can also build your own Grilled Cheese in three steps. Step 1) Pick a cheese, Step 2) Pick two toppings, Step 3) Pick your addition, Step 4) Enjoy!
Located in Little Italy, Mona Lisa Italian Foods has been around since 1956. Historic in nature and traditional in cuisine, Mona Lisa Italian Foods does it the way founder and grandfather, Stefano Brunetto always wanted. Equipped with a deli and a restaurant, you can stop in for a quick bite or a full-service meal. The restaurant menus vary for lunch and dinner but are full of pizza, pasta, seafood, and more. If you order a pizza you’ll get to try their homemade dough and sauce, or their house-made dressings on any salad. If you decide to go to the deli, the imported prosciutto is a taste of Italy you won’t want to miss out on.
Wherever your food bucket list takes you, these iconic San Diego restaurants are famous for a reason. With decades to perfect their craft and menus full of family recipes, you haven’t tasted San Diego cuisine without tasting these iconic restaurants.