Situated high in La Jolla, the UC San Diego campus enjoys Pacific Ocean views, sea salt dusted wind and many on-campus dining options. With show venues, a movie theater, awesome craft classes and a bike co-opt, there's almost no reason to leave campus—except that even better eats can be found south into UTC, La Jolla, and even south of the border.
Wake up! Class starts in 15 minutes, which is just enough time to grab a coffee and croissant at Art of Espresso. Tucked between the old student center and Manderville Center there is plenty of seating to enjoy a well-made latte or Vietnamese coffee with the campus wireless internet... after class.
Or for coffee with your study buddy, La Jolla's The Living Room is the perfect low key spot. The upstairs hooka bar has a view of the Pacific, but the people watching in the first floor café is top notch.
For burgers, head to La Jolla where you'll find an impressive sear at Smashburger along with tempting sides like fried pickles, sweet potato smashfries and veggie frites. Or you can head to Burger Lounge. Their burgers come with a higher price tag, but also comes with 100 percent grass-fed beef. Both offer laudable veggie options.
Relegated to campus? Get your burger fix at HomePlate. It's not the greatest, but durning happy hour you can add on a draft beer and fries for just $5 then sit on the terrace and enjoy the canyon view.
When the Parents are in Town
Though it's right on campus Jai is far outside the standard student's budget. But when the parents are in town, show them what a sophisticated young adult you are by planning a fancy "by Wolfgang Puck" dinner and a play at La Jolla Playhouse.
This is San Diego, so every dive bar has a surprisingly good beer list. On-campus dive Porter's Pub & Grill is no exception, and also convenient. Come for the chill atmosphere, eclectic shows and the strong beer list. They also have a $3 lunch menu (served until 7 p.m.) with burgers, mac and cheese and so on (just remember, you get what you pay for).
After a final exam, after a game, after the Sun God Festival, after any sticky sweaty messy event, head to Cotixan, which glistens on the top of Genesee Avenue (just promise me your driver is sober). Open 24 hours, you can get potato burritos, carne asada fries or rolled tacos all night long. Smother your meal with spice from the salsa bar, including a housemade hot sauce that's so good, it may define your freshman year.
But for daytime—and frankly better—Mexican food, head to La Jolla'sDon Carlos Taco Shop. This small taco counter served some of the best burritos (stuffed with thick cut fries of course), Oaxaca mushroom tortas, fries smothered in Carne asada or pollo asado... but the tamales rein supreme, always order tamales!
Best Cheap Eats
So, you're hungry and poor. If it's Wednesday then book it to the rooftop of the old Student Center/KSDT for the $4.50 vegetarian Indian buffet by the local Hare Krishna temple served between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The line is long, but as you inch closer and closer the curry wafting through the air will assure you that the wait is worth it.
You know when you just need some warm flatbread and hummus quick? Well, Santorini Greek Island Grill has you covered. Fast, fresh, and the flatbread is always hot off the grill.
Some of the best options at UCSD sit in a small strip mall right off campus.International Market & Grill is part Persian market/part awesomesauce. The counter surrounds a kitchen that resembles a large family supper. The go-to choice are the kabobs—served with sweetly charred tomatoes, basmati rice and must-o-khiar (yogurt and cucumber sauce)—or you can get your grilled meat or veggies wrapped up in lavash bread. This is not quick service—every dish grilled to order—so bring a book, a friend or call ahead for pick up.
My local pizza endorsement goes to Regent's Pizzeria. With huge New York and Stuffed Deep Dish pizzas available by the slice (which all seem to be priced at $3.50) it's a delicious value. The tomato sauce is bold, the cheese is generic and the crust is one-dimensional. The toppings get gourmet with offerings like dairy sweet ricotta, figs, semi dried tomatoes and peppadews.
But my secret go-to here isn't the pizza... it's the Polenta Fries! Thick slabs of rosemary studded polenta are fried to a crisp, covered in fresh parmesan and served with a side of marinara. They are less then $3, super filling, very shareable and heat up nicely in a toaster oven the next day.
Sprinkles Cupcakes is right off campus, but for something a little more interesting head to Cups. Sweets are all made with organic and fair trade ingredients, and flavors are seasonally driven. Plus, Cups always offers vegan, low glycemic, and gluten-free options.
When Someone Has a Car
Everyone will find their favorite spot, but my car can be found in front of Phuong Trang. This worn-out strip mall Vietnamese restaurant is where I was first introduced to the Banh Xeo. The crisp sizzling rice flour crepe is stuffed with a filling of your choice and served with a mound of lettuce, mint and basil. Eat the crepe barehanded like a lettuce roll.
Or—since you have a car—you can just head straight to Tijuana for fish tacos!
Looking for More College Tours?
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.