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San Diego Food Trends

Southern California has been setting trends in the culinary arts for decades and is likely to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. The cuisine in this region is characterized by a large variety of ethnic influences that are often fused together in new ways. California also pushes boundaries by favoring vegetables more than other parts of the country, especially those grown locally. Other restaurant trends in California deal with dining options, including food delivery.

Southern California Cuisine

The Cali-Baja style is becoming one of the most popular local cuisines in Southern California. It uses ingredients from both sides of the border and has a Mediterranean influence. Distinctive examples of Cali-Baja cuisine include the Michelada-steamed mussels at Galaxy Taco in San Diego. Another characteristic dish from this style is the Mexican Street Bowl at Puesta, which is a salad of in-season produce topped with chili.

Chefs in California are also shifting their menus toward vegetables by making veggie-based entrees and serving meat as a side dish. This reversal of the traditional formula started in Berkeley during the early 1970s but is now appearing in more mainstream restaurants. The Mess Hall in San Diego strongly favors all-vegetable dishes such as its cauliflower and mushroom pie.

The birth of craft breweries and bars that serve pub-inspired food, commonly known as gastropubs, originated during the early 1990s. California has one of the greatest varieties of these establishments and is putting its own spin on them, with an emphasis on Mexican-inspired offerings. For example, Broken Spanish in Los Angeles serves Mexican craft beer with oxtail quesadillas.

The doner kebab is one of the latest food trends in California. It's a version of taco al pastor with a Middle Eastern influence. Lamb or beef is shaved off an open spit, topped with chili sauce and stuffed into pita bread. The most well-known restaurants that serve doner kebabs include the SpireWorks near UCLA and Berlins in Venice.

Fast Casual Dining

Fast casual dining started becoming more popular in 2015 and has now grown into a major trend in California. These restaurants typically provide counter service only, which eliminates the need for most front-of-house employees. This reduction in expenses — along with the potential for higher volume — makes chef-driven restaurants particularly attractive in California, where the minimum wage is rising steadily.

One of the most popular examples of fast casual dining is Locol, which focuses on bringing affordable food to under-served areas such as the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles. Porano Pasta is another restaurant to watch in this niche; it features customizable bowls with a base of pasta, rice, faro and salad. Toppings include meatballs, seasonal vegetables, tofu and a variety of sauces.


Food delivery is becoming an increasingly common way for restaurants to make sales, especially in California. Once exclusive to pizza and Chinese food, delivery is available from restaurants of all kinds now. This trend is illustrated by the dramatic increase in ordering services such as DoorDash and GrubHub. A recent study by NPD Group shows that sales from food deliveries increased by 20 percent between 2012 and 2017, while dine-in and take-out sales have remained flat. The increase in meal deliveries reflects the overall trend toward online shopping, which allows people to spend more time at home.

Buying and Selling Restaurants

The growing number of entrepreneurs has increased the buying and selling of small businesses in the United States over the past few years. California currently leads the country in small business transactions, followed by Florida, New York and Texas. Bizbuysell’s Insight report for the last quarter of 2017 reports that retail businesses were the most common type of small business to be bought and sold during 2017 with 49.5% of all businesses sold being Retail.  Restaurants accounted for 30 percent of all businesses sold in 2017. The improving environment for small businesses is largely responsible for this trend, resulting in more qualified buyers and more favorable financing options.

To explore buying or selling a restaurant with a LINK Broker contact LINK San Diego at (858) 452-3000 or email