19 Places to Eat in North County San Diego
I lived in San Diego for 2 years and ate my way through North County. I frequented the less expensive restaurants since we weren’t exactly swimming in extra cash – mostly in Encinitas – but this list includes cheap eats, fancier restaurants, and good old pubs/breweries. There are always new places popping up and others shutting down (rip Stoked in San Marcos), so check on google before visiting! Have a favorite you don’t see on this list? Comment below!
1. French Corner Bakery
A cute, hole-in-the-wall bakery run by a French woman. There’s outdoor seating with a nice ambiance or you can take it to-go and walk to the beach! I always get the avocado toast and a chai latte with coconut milk. They also have a lavender latte for my coffee-lovers.
2. Eve (vegan)
They have a whole new menu since they first opened, which is a hundred times better than it used to be. I love the jackfruit tacos! They also have beyond meat, flatbreads, and Buddha bowls. Everything is 100% plant-based. It’s right on the 101 across the street from Better Buzz with the cutest interior decorating – plants every where!
3. Swami’s Cafe
My go-to beach lunch is the Ultimate Veggie Sandwich from Swami’s Cafe. I park at Swami’s Beach, walk across the street to Swami’s Cafe, then back to the beach to eat it there. The patio to eat is really cute, too. They close early, so make sure to check their opening hours before going.
4. Better Buzz
There are 10 locations (at the time of writing this) with new ones popping up around San Diego County. The Encinitas one is my favorite because Encinitas is my favorite town, plus it’s super cute – they all are. The drinks here are the best – highly recommend Chai Latte w/coconut milk or a Lavender Black Tea Buzz w/coconut milk. They have acai bowls, avocado toast, paninis, and more!
5. Pannikin Coffee and tea
This is a spot frequented by North County locals. In the mornings it’s bustling with surfers, Encinitas residents, and during summer – many visitors! Expect to wait in a line. They have a great selection of brunch food, yummy lattes, and it’s a converted railroad station! It doesn’t get much cooler than that. Look for the yellow umbrellas and be careful in the teeny parking lot – it’s notorious for fender benders.
6. Leucadia Farmer’s Market
Not a restaurant, but some of the BEST food in North County. One of my favorite traditions when I lived here was to visit the farmer’s market each Sunday, get some fresh fruits/veggies, and VEGAN FRIED AVOCADO TACOS. Yup, you heard that right. This farmer’s market is half food booths with an amazing selection of all different styles and flavors. I’m not entirely sure if Frida’s Tacos still go every week, but there are plenty of great booths to choose from.
7. Native Foods Cafe (vegan)
While not on the main street in Encinitas, Native Foods is tucked away in a shopping center with Trader Joe’s. It has a full vegan menu with great options – even your non-vegan/vegetarian friends will love it! 100% plant based. 100% yummy. (Their words, not mine, but I do agree).
8. Plumeria (vegetarian)
A newer restaurant on the Encinitas main strip, Plumeria offers an all vegetarian Thai menu with incredible service and nice ambiance. I had the Tuna Flower Cups and tried the Satay Chicken – which are both vegetarian. I hope this place stays here for awhile (although they’re calling themselves a pop-up) because I will definitely be back! They also have a location in downtown San Diego.
9. The Biergarden of Encinitas
I love a nice alehouse-style restaurant with a good selection of beers and great food. They describe themselves as “elevated pub-grub”, which I love and think fits perfectly. The back patio is a great spot to hang out after a day at the beach. Grab a beer, maybe a portabella sandwich, and hang out for awhile!
10. Flower Child
I used to work in Del Mar right across from this Flower Child location and only got it a couple times because wow I was incredibly broke, but it’s fresh and tasty! They pride themselves on serving healthy food that tastes great. The menu is very clearly marked for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and organic – always nice to have! Create your own plate or choose from their bowls. All healthy and all delicious!
11. Bushfire Kitchen
Bushfire Kitchen is unassuming, located in the La Costa Shopping Center mid-way between San Marcos and Encinitas, but somehow technically Carlsbad. When we wanted to “splurge” on a nice dinner out, we went here. Their salmon bowl is incredible with fresh veggies and brown rice. They have a few vegetarian options, which is nice for such a meat-heavy menu. I always felt amazing after a meal here because of the fresh ingredients.
12. Pizza Port
A casual pizza place with great pizza and equally great beer. They have a nice fire-pit outside so you can relax while stuffing your face with all of the carbs – mmm so good! Fun fact: remember that fish tank show (Tanked) where they made cool unique fish tanks? This place has one of them!
13. Yamariki Sushi
We were weekly patrons of Yamariki Sushi solely for their incredible, 7-days-a-week Happy Hour – 50% sushi from 3:30-5:30pm! As two broke people who loved sushi, this was a dream. The sushi is actually very tasty and we hardly ever got food poisoning from the happy hour fish! (kidding). You must get 2 entrees to qualify for happy hour pricing, but that’s easy to do with 2 people. I, myself, typically got 2 entrees anyway and waddled out full and happy every time.
14. Belching Beaver Brewery Tavern and Grill
Vista is a bit more inland, but the brewery scene there is a beer-lovers dream. Belching Beaver is the largest brewery in this area with a huge back patio area with an additional outdoor bar. Plenty of seating around fire pits and an upbeat, happy vibe. Of course, they have a large selection of beer – all the ones I’ve tried were great. Highly recommend stopping in here if you’re looking for a good brewery.
It’s also walking distance to other breweries – Mother Earth Tap House, Wavelength Brewing Company, and Vista Village Pub – all worth visiting as well!
15. Yellow Deli
Fair warning: Yellow Deli was built and is run by a commune called Twelve Tribes that many refer to as a cult. The servers are all part of the Twelve Tribes commune where they grow their own food, but also have limited social skills when it comes to being a server. Nonetheless, it is an absolute MUST-visit. The entire restaurant feels almost like a tree house with outdoor seating both upstairs and downstairs. Did I mention they are open 24 hours a day except from 3pm Friday until 12pm Sunday?! It’s weird, mysterious, delicious, weird, eclectic, and an overall fun experience.
After a certain time (maybe 9pm) they only take orders from the take-out area. You can still eat there, but you won’t have a server. The outdoor seating downstairs has a few fire pits that I’ve spent more than a few hours (more than 8 hours one trip) sitting around, eating, talking, enjoying life. It is one of my favorite spots in all of San Diego.
16. Old California Restaurant Row
There are over a dozen restaurants on Old California Restaurant Row – 14 to be exact! Their website boasts, “North County’s Largest Dining Experience.” I can’t say I’ve been to all 14 restaurants, or even half that number (again, we were really broke when we lived in San Marcos). But, we did go to 2 and they were good enough to recommend on this post – Sublime Alehouse and Old California Coffee House and Eatery. Sublime Alehouse has the usual pub food and beers which are always a good time. Old California Coffee House and Eatery is a great breakfast/brunch spot to hang out or work on your laptop.
While 14 restaurants sounds like a great selection, I must note that included in that number is IHOP and Buffalo Wild Wings. So let’s say there are 12 cool, local restaurants in there.
17. Mr. Taco
Look, it’s almost impossible to have a bad burrito in San Diego, but if you’re looking for the best, Mr. Taco is it. There’s something about the way they cook the beans and rice that makes all the difference for me. I have been to this Mr. Taco more than a dozen times because I used to live walking distance! I always came here for a weekly California burrito with no meat. It’s not fancy, but the food is authentic and the inside is still nice.
18. Decoy Dockside
Decoy is an upscale restaurant right on Lake San Marcos. It has a beautiful ambiance with upscale decor and lake-views. It is on the same property as Lakehouse Hotel and Golf resort, so if you’re staying here, it’s just a walk through the parking lot. This is possibly the nicest restaurant in San Marcos – the prices are high, but lake-front dining with a floating bar is worth it. I’ve only been once when my parents were visiting and we had a lovely dinner.
Photos via sandiegomagazine.com
19. Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens
I know what you’re thinking – “Escondido… really?” If you’re familiar with North County, Escondido probably isn’t at the top of your list for places to visit, but hear me out. Stone is the most beautiful brewery I have ever been to. They did an amazing job creating winding paths, ponds, and planting lush greenery throughout this huge property. With most breweries, they have a large selection of great beers. The food is also pretty good, too! They do close earlier than you would expect (10pm), so don’t come here thinking you’re going to have a late night of drinking.