I consider myself somewhat of a self-made food connoisseur. Since moving down to San Diego, I’ve made it my mission to explore food from all over the city, and I’ve narrowed down my list to the top 20 most delicious things you need to eat in San Diego before you die. To make it a little easier for the struggling college freshman without cars, I’m listing 10 off campus places around the city and 10 on campus restaurants that are the best of the best.
For those of you who don’t have cars: make a friend with a car. And then convince them to try these places.
1. Carne Asada Tacos/Tacos Al Pastor from Tacos El Gordo (Chula Vista, CA)
If there’s one word I would use to describe Tacos El Gordo, it would be this: Life changing. Not to be dramatic, but Tacos El Gordo might have been as close to a culinary spiritual experience as you will ever get. There’s two locations, both in Chula Vista, but it’s honestly worth the 15-20 minute drive from campus. While the lines may be long, they are most definitely worth it. Pro Tip: Get the horchata! It’s the cherry on top to the entire experience.
2. Aloha Bowl from Rum Jungle Cafe in Pacific Beach
If you go to SDSU, you’ve definitely seen all the pictures of girls on Instagram holding up an acai bowl in a pineapple and wondered where they got it from. Well, look no further. I discovered Rum Jungle Cafe within the first month of my freshman year, and I haven’t looked back since. While the acai bowls themselves are pretty good, what really makes it is that they’re served inside a pineapple! You can order the Aloha bowl, which is the famous bowl they automatically serve inside a pineapple, or you can order another bowl and get it served inside the pineapple for an additional charge.
3. Create your own ramen from Tajima in Convoy, San Diego.
Tajima is a chain of ramen restaurants in Southern California. I’ve been to several ramen restaurants around San Diego, and I can confidently say that Tajima takes the cake. Besides Tajima being completely bomb, they also serve vegan ramen, and if you go to SDSU, you know that at least one or two of your friends are bound to be vegan. Another reason Tajima is (not to be dramatic but) The Greatest Ramen Of All Time Ever is because you can literally hand choose everything you want, from noodle thickness, to the type of meat chashu, to all the extra ingredients. Personally, I loved adding the black garlic oil in my ramen. Fair warning though, there is usually a bit of a wait, but I think that speaks to the amazing quality of the ramen and it’s definitely worth it.
4. Menage a Trois from Ike’s Sandwiches in San Diego, CA.
Ike’s is a chain that began in the Bay Area and has slowly been moving their way down south. As a Bay Area native, I can’t even begin to explain how excited I was when I heard there was an Ike’s only 10 minutes away from campus. Like Tajima, Ike’s has a plethora of options for vegans, so it’s a great place to go with a group. Most San Diegans, as I’ve found out, are religiously faithful to Board & Brew, but Ike’s will definitely give them a run for their money. Ike’s sandwiches are huge, and the bread is awesome. The sandwiches can be a little pricey, but Ike’s can usually last me through 2 full meals, so I think that justifies spending $11 on a sandwich. Bonus: They give you a caramel apple lollipop with your sandwich!
5. Poke from San Diego Poke Co. in San Diego, CA.
San Diego Poke Co. is pretty close to campus, about a 5-10 minutes drive away depending on how aggressive your driver is. Their fish is always super fresh and the restaurant is run on a chipotle-style system, where they build the bowl right in front of you. Most of the time, the bowls are in the $10-$12 dollar range, which is pretty average pricing for good poke, and San Diego Poke Co. is definitely the best quality poke you’ll get in the college area.
6. Ice Cream Sandwich from The Baked Bear (Multiple Locations).
What kind of San Diego food list would this be if I didn’t talk about The Baked Bear? The Baked Bear is unique because you can customize everything about your ice cream sandwich, from the flavor of the ice cream to what the base is made of (You choose between brownies, cookies, and donuts). Definitely a must try!
7. Burger from Hodad’s in Ocean Beach
Hodad’s is a San Diego classic. One of the reasons they are so loved is because they are so simple, everything a burger should be without being overdone. Hodad’s is the place to go if you’re spending the day in Ocean Beach around the dog beach (As any normal, pet-missing college student would do).
8. Pizza Knots from Soda and Swine (North Park)
Pizza. In knot form. What more do I need to say? While everything at Soda and Swine is delicious, the pizza knots are definitely the best. They come with a side of marinara sauce and a sinful amount of calories, but the splurge is so worth it.
9. Carne Asada Fries from Lolita’s (Chula Vista and Convoy Street)
Lolita’s is the O.G. carne asada fry spot in San Diego. A trend that has spread all over the state, carne asada fries are probably one of the most delicious and ingenious creations ever to exist. Lolita’s keeps them simple, fresh, and delicious, as they should be.
10. Chamango from Teresita’s Fruiteria (Chula Vista)
Mango+chamoy+chili powder+tamarindo=Heaven. Whoever came up with Chamangos, can I just say, THANK YOU. Chamangos are basically a mango smoothie with sour and sweet chamoy, chili powder, and tamarindo, which is a type of candy. They can be made many different ways, but honestly, bae looks good in any way from any direction. Try a chamango once, and you’ll be hooked, guarantee.
SDSU meal plan is most definitely a struggle. While there are more options than some other colleges, I definitely would not say that SDSU’s meal plan options are as expansive as many of us would like. However, I’ve done all the digging and I’ve come up with the most delicious places to eat on campus, so that you don’t have to try the gross ones like I did.
11. Rawcai bowl, from Shakesmart.
The Rawcai bowl only came out about a month ago, but it’s already taken over the campus by storm. Coming in at a steep $6.50, the rawcai bowl is definitely not for the person without meal plan. However, if you are blessed enough to have a precious meal plan, I would definitely recommend trying the rawcai bowl. With a relatively low calorie count and fresh fruit, it’s the closest you’ll get to rum jungle without leaving campus. And trust me, the rawcai bowl is miles above any other acai bowl on campus.
12. Salad from Salad Bistro.
College: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The Freshman 15 definitely qualifies as the worst of times. Luckily, salad bistro might help you avoid that ultimate danger. Salad bistro runs on a system where you write down what you want on your salad and pick it up a few minutes later at the end of the bar. Honestly, I’m not the biggest salad fan but salad bistro has converted me. Just give it a try, and while you’re there, try the oriental sesame sauce. You won’t regret it.
P.S: The breadsticks they give you with the salad are #lifechanging.
Sorry Pancho’s fans, but Trujillo’s is definitely the winner of the ultimate SDSU battle. By far the most superior late-night eatery on campus (I’m looking at you, Pancho’s), Trujillo’s has objectively the greatest late-night Mexican food you will ever be blessed enough to experience in your life. The most popular meal there is the Sigma Chi crunch wrap, which I would describe as a sort of Taco-Bell-Crunch-Wrap-On-Crack. The Sigma Chi is unanimously loved by the student body, and for good reason. So move out of the way Pancho’s, sigma chi has got you beat.
14. Atomic Grilled Cheese from Olive Oil.
The atomic grilled cheese is an explosion of meat and cheese in your mouth. It has ham, bacon, cheddar, and probably a million other secret ingredients of deliciousness that make you come back every day of the week for more, not like I ever did that or anything because that would be weird and not socially acceptable….Anyways, the atomic grilled cheese is a student favorite for a reason, and it definitely deserves a try, or 5.
15. Mongolian Beef from Aztec Shops Terrace.
Aztec Shops Terrace is a little eatery near Storm Hall, containing an Aztec Market, a Starbucks, and a super random mongolian beef bar. But don’t be fooled. The seemingly random mongolian beef bar is one of the best places to eat on campus. They give you literally a bucket full of food, easily enough to last the average person two full meals, for a mere $8 off your meal plan. So make the wise investment, and get yourself some Mongolian beef. Your 2am self will thank you.
16. Culinary Theater in East Commons.
Every Monday through Thursday, the chefs at SDSU create a meal and serve it right inside East Commons for $8.50 ($9.50 with lemonade!). Sometimes, they are super delicious and extremely well balanced meals, like when they serve salmon, brussel sprouts, and potatoes (my favorite!). Most of the time, they vary their meals between popular dishes such as the salmon, a burger, and carnitas. Most people don’t think about the culinary theater when choosing what to get for lunch and opt for Rubio’s or Subway instead, but definitely give it a try. You might even be able to trick yourself into thinking you’re adulting for a few minutes.
17. Flavors of EastAfrica from the Farmer’s Market.
Every Thursday, a farmer’s market comes to campus and every Thursday is the best day of my life. The farmers market is made up of local eateries who come and profit off of starving college students, and I happily give in. Probably the most popular booth is Flavors of East Africa, which is an East African restaurant who serves mainly chicken and rice. Personally, I would recommend the sweet jerk chicken but honestly everything you get there is equally delicious.
18. The Green Bar at the Farmer’s Market.
The Green Bar is a self proclaimed “Healthy Thai Eatery” that comes to campus with the farmers market every Thursday, and sometimes hosts pop-up shops at Chappy. Though I can’t speak to how healthy it actually is, I can definitely tell you that it is delicious. My personal favorite meal is the chicken panang curry, but most people opt for the poke bowl and a Thai tea. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with this place.
Though not on meal plan, C.R.E.A.M. is conveniently located near the residence halls to make giving in to your 2 A.M. cravings even easier. C.R.E.A.M. has a similar concept to The Baked Bear, where you choose your own ice cream sandwich, the only difference: It’s a 2 minute walk back to your dorm room. My personal favorite is to buy a pint of ice cream from C.R.E.A.M. (only $5!) and eat that instead of the ice cream from the Aztec Market, which is a generic brand and costs more than $5.
Though not officially on campus yet, Nektar is a juice bar chain with locations all around San Diego. They are known for not only being super healthy, but also extremely delicious and carry items such as pressed juices and acai bowls. Watch out rawcai bowl, Nektar might be giving you a run for your money come Fall.