There’s more to “America’s Finest City” than picturesque coastlines and wonderful weather. San Diego is also home to some of the country’s most innovative cuisine, thanks to the waves of Asian and Latin American immigrants and the city’s shared border with neighboring Tijuana. San Diego’s restaurant industry is renowned throughout the U.S., having been named one of the Top U.S. Destinations for Food Lovers by Yelp. As people continuously flock to the city for a taste of culinary diversity, San Diego’s restaurant industry is becoming increasingly competitive and highly challenging to penetrate.
Becoming a player in this market requires a series of wise decisions. Part of this process is hiring the right contractor to build your restaurant. To make this step easier for aspiring chefs and restaurateurs, our team has selected and ranked the best restaurant contractors in San Diego. The firms on this list have built some of the best food destinations in the city and were evaluated based on their awards, portfolios, and recognition from local and national media.
Website | 619-990-9720 | 5694 Mission Center Rd. 181, San Diego, CA 92108
Chris and Aaron Molinar founded Molinar Construction in 1998 to cater to clients in the hospitality, restaurant, commercial, and urban living markets. Since its inception, the firm has completed projects for several national hospitality brands, including Hilton, Marriott, and The Ritz-Carlton. Molinar Construction’s excellence in construction has also allowed the firm to work with casual dining brands like Subway and Jamba Juice.
In San Diego, the firm has built some iconic dining spaces in Mission Beach’s Belmont Park. Among these projects is Draft, which has been recognized in the area for its picturesque ocean views. Molinar Construction installed oversized arched windows to welcome natural light in an otherwise dimly-lit space. The restaurant also features a 31-foot LED wall, which is used to project videos of beer brewing and major sporting events for guests to watch.
Diversified Construction Technologies
Website | 858-268-0077 | 8340 Vickers St. Suite K, San Diego, CA 92111
Mike Tiffany founded Diversified Construction Technologies in 2004 after a few years of professional experience with one of the oldest and largest general contractors in the country. Over the last 15 years, Tiffany has managed to grow the company to cater to clients in the restaurant, fitness, dental, and health sectors. The firm specializes in tenant improvement services and can build projects in a variety of styles—from traditional to contemporary and eclectic.
Diversified Construction Technologies is the firm behind the 10,00-square-foot restaurant and bar on a two-acre lot, The Florence. Built in the affluent Sabre Springs community, the dining space has an eclectic aesthetic. It features stunning chandeliers in different designs, vintage and salvaged banquettes, custom woodworking, and Cape Cod shutters.
Nicolls Design Build
Website | 619-520-9119 | 1022 C Ave., Coronado, CA 92118
Nicolls Design Build shines in custom home building, but it also excels in building restaurants and commercial properties for the San Diego market. Founded by Kraig Nicolls nearly three decades ago, the firm grew through his collaboration with expert craftspeople and commitment to delivering high-quality and cost-effective projects.
Among the firm’s best projects is the French restaurant Bleu Boheme, which pays homage to traditional French eateries. The interior is rustic but cozy, with a warm wood ceiling that contrasts with the space’s stone and cement elements. A separate, large dining area replicates this vibe through contrasting cream walls, wood-framed windows, and earth tones. Nicolls Design Build also installed large candelabras in the lounge area, which serve as an exclamation point to the space’s rustic French aesthetic.
Dan Levy Construction
Website | 619-284-9227 | 3435 Camino Del Rio S #215, San Diego, CA 92108
Founded in 1969, Dan Levy Construction offers its expertise in ground-up construction and tenant improvement throughout Southern California. Under Dan Levy’s leadership, the firm has showcased its ability to build a variety of restaurant projects—from national fast-food chains to casual and fine dining places. In 2014, the firm’s construction of the Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop in San Diego was featured in Hospitality Design Magazine.
The firm is also behind the construction of Brooklyn Girl Eatery—a hip restaurant located along San Diego’s Mission Hill. The neighborhood restaurant uses a mix of urban and industrial design elements, perfectly recreating a Brooklyn, New York hipster vibe. The restaurant’s exterior is brick-clad, while its interior features a white and gray palette. Edison bulbs and chandeliers in the shape of birdcages hang from the exposed ceiling.
Website | 858-523-9760 | 12250 El Camino Real, Suite #240, San Diego, CA 92130
Based in San Diego, davisREED Construction is among the top 200 multi-regional general contractors in the country. It specializes in the design-bid-build method and has built for clients across diverse market sectors. While the firm is more of an expert in hospitality and commercial construction, it also excels in restaurant buildout and renovation, specifically for hotel dining concepts. The firm’s work has been featured in Eater, San Francisco Business Times, and Hospitality Net.
In 2017, davisREED Construction completed the construction of Pendry Hotel’s hip dining concept, Provisional. The all-day eatery was featured in Eater for its food fare, and the concept’s contemporary charm is attractive for diners. The dining space is a feast for the eyes, as classy white and gray columns, black and white herringbone tiles, and a grand, gold chandelier seamlessly blend to create a chic space. davisREED Construction also installed oversized windows, which gives the pattern-filled space a light and airy feel.
Website | 858-259-1240 | 5441 Avenida Encinas Suite A, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Watkins Landmark is a general contracting firm that was founded in 2004 by Jody James Watkins. His goal was to create a company that aspires to build “landmarks” that leave lasting impressions on clients and communities. Impressively, despite being a relatively young construction company, the firm has already worked on high-profile projects. This includes Stadium 2 of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, a design-build project that was listed as one of the ten best venues for tennis events by Mic.
As a restaurant builder, the firm has also built several beautifully designed spaces across California. In San Diego, Watkins Landmark built Spike’s Africa, a fresh fish grill and bar in the Gaslamp Quarter. The firm had to build the restaurant out of the old Cosgrove Building, which had already undergone several renovations and additions since the 1800s. To bring the space up to date, Watkins Builders incorporated brick masonry, cement, and polished wood flooring.
Website | 760-990-3499 | P.O. Box 4118, Carlsbad, CA 92018
Founded in 2015, CLTVT is a full-service general contracting firm that serves clients throughout California. Under Chris Slowey and Mark Simons’ leadership, the firm specializes in new construction and commercial renovation for clients in the food and beverage businesses. Over the last three years, CLTVT has built a portfolio that highlights its expertise in working with breweries, artisanal food, and bars and restaurants. In 2019, one of the firm’s projects, Little Italy Food Hall, was declared as one of the top ten best new food halls in the US by USA Today. It work has also appeared in publications like Eater and on ABC 10News.
In San Diego, CLTVT had the chance to build the first brick and mortar restaurant for Bivouac Ciderworks. Built in collaboration with Tecture, the 2,500-square foot space in North Park was transformed into a homey, local bar for craft cider fans. The space honors the great outdoors through the nuanced use of climbing ropes, concrete, and upcycled glass tubes that mimic vintage camp lanterns.
Website | 760-734-5959 | 2598 Fortune Way Suite L, Vista, CA 92081
Wheelihan Construction was founded by Mike Wheelihan in 1995, after two decades of extensive experience in the construction industry. His experience with all phases of construction allows him to be hands-on with the everyday operations of his own company, and his close attention to each project has earned him praise from clients, making Wheelihan Construction one of the best-reviewed general contracting firms in the city.
As a general contractor that specializes in hospitality, the firm’s portfolio highlights its involvement in the construction of some of San Diego’s most iconic restaurants, including the hip Juniper and Ivy in Little Italy. Wheelihan Construction started with an old building that needed major structural upgrades. To turn the space into an energetic showplace restaurant, the firm worked with an out of state designer. When it opened, the restaurant featured an exhibition-style kitchen, an exterior trellis structure, and extensive millwork. The restaurant has been featured in publications like Architectural Digest and Eater.
Website | 858-784-3650 | 11440 W Bernardo Ct. Suite #166, San Diego, CA 92127
Founded in 2003 by husband-and-wife duo Pamela and Terry Arnett, TSA Construction is a family-owned and operated full-service general contracting firm that has built in locations as far as the Caribbean. The couple remains active with the company, with Pamela serving as CEO and Terry serving as president. The two bring more than 60 years of combined industry experience, helping their company become one of the leaders of commercial construction in San Diego.
Since its inception, the firm has worked on some of the city’s most loved restaurants, including The Patio on Goldfinch, which is a quintessential Mission Hills dining spot for locals. The space quickly became iconic for its unique design, which features two living walls with lush greenery that contrast with the cement and light wood tones that dominate the space. The restaurant also has a glazed cheese cave and an exterior dining area that blends with the interior via massive sliding windows.
Dickinson Cameron Construction
Website | 760-438-9114 | 6184 Innovation Way, Carlsbad, CA 92009
Dickinson Cameron Construction is a leader in retail and restaurant construction in San Diego. It is led by president and CEO Frank Naliboff, whose three-decade career and strong foundation in Mechanical Engineering helped grow the company into one of the most accomplished retail and restaurant builders in the country. Throughout the U.S., the firm has built for luxe brands like Cartier, Tiffany & Co., and Versace, among others. Its projects have graced the pages of prestigious magazines like Architectural Digest, Forbes, and Building Design + Construction.
Dickinson was the chosen builder for the San Diego location of the upscale Del Frisco’s Eagle Steakhouse franchise. The firm worked with the Illinois-based architecture practice Aria Group to build the two-story steakhouse. The 480-seater project, which totaled to around $10 million to build, features a mix of indoor and outdoor dining options. True to the Texan Del Frisco brand, the restaurant is opulent—a marble staircase flanked by glass towers of chilled wine; waterfront, climate-controlled patios; and a dining area underneath crystal chandeliers are just a few details that guests can enjoy. This project was featured in Eater and on NBC San Diego.
Jaime Partners of California
Website | 619-269-1320 | 925 B St. Suite #601, San Diego, CA
Jaime Partners is an expert design-build contractor and construction management firm for commercial projects. Since its inception 17 years ago, the firm has managed to build some of Southern California’s best structures, even winning awards like the Calibre Design Award for Music Box Italy and a Gold Key Award from Boutique Design Magazine for Puesto. In 2016, the firm was recognized by the San Diego Business Journal as the 15th Fastest-Growing Private Company in the city.
The firm has excelled in its work through collaborations with outstanding industry professionals. In 2014, it worked with Tecture to build the highly anticipated Kettner Exchange, a restaurant that features progressive American cuisine. The firms worked together to create a space that was innovative, but still comforting. The restaurant stands out for the firms’ expert use of contrasts. The first floor’s eclectic mix of industrial and vintage elements is contrasted by the second floor’s lighter materials, which encourage a more relaxed vibe.
Website | 619-541-4470 | 7584 Metropolitan Dr. Suite #100, San Diego, CA 92108
Reno Contracting is an award-winning general contractor that has successfully built more than $2.5 billion dollars worth of structures throughout California. The firm has managed to amass this portfolio value by working with clients in booming industries, including hospitality, multifamily, solar, and healthcare. Being prolific across these sectors, the firm became a trusted contractor for international brands like Hyatt, Marriott International, and Sheraton Hotels and Resorts.
Through its strong client relationships with hospitality clients, the firm was also able to secure contracts for restaurant projects within hotels. Among its best work is the remodel of Sally’s Seafood on the Water, which was built on the first floor of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. Reno Contracting installed new grand windows, a patio deck, and an accessibility ramp.
Website | 858-622-4040 | 16798 W Bernardo Dr., San Diego, CA 92127
Swinerton Builders is one of the oldest and largest general contractors in the country. It specializes in green building and has built more than eight million square feet of LEED-certified and registered projects since its inception in 1888. In San Diego, the firm has worked for clients across a broad range of market sectors.
Swinerton’s restaurant portfolio has also been expanding in the last few years. In 2019, the firm completed the construction of the Coasterra Restaurant, a luxury oceanfront dining concept by the Cohn Restaurant Group. Aside from its scenic views of the San Diego Harbor, the concept’s plush and elegant interior design is a treat for the eyes. The firm installed a curated collection of warm pendant lights over the white marble bar area, while one of the dining areas highlights an abstract wall mural that contrasts with the space’s neutral-toned fixtures. Swinerton Builders also incorporated solar panels, which serve as the outdoor patio’s awning.
Website | 619-831-0325 | 2001 Main St. Suite A, San Diego, CA 92113
Founded by NewSchool of Architecture and Design alums David Michael, Kyle Preish, and Slade Fincher in 2012, Tecture is a young and progressive team of designers, artists, and builders. Despite being one of the youngest firms on this list, it has already garnered praise and awards from San Diego Magazine, Eater, Modern Luxury, and the San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF).
Among the firm’s award-winning projects is Nolita Hall in Little Italy, which has been featured in the media several times for its elevated take on European beer halls. The firm opened up the 6,500-square foot space and installed a skylight that spans the length of the hall. This takes advantage of the space’s location underneath a flight path into San Diego International Airport, giving guests a unique and compelling view. Tecture also took the open concept a step further, installing floor-to-ceiling roll-up windows that give diners access to San Diego’s beautiful weather. The project won Design of the Year from Eater and an Orchid for Interior Design from the SDAF.
Website | 619-234-2400 | 840 Eleventh Ave., San Diego, CA 92101
BASILE Studio is an award-winning design, build, and fabrication studio that caters to clients in the restaurant, creative office, and mixed-use markets. The firm was founded by Paul Basile, who is frequently referred to as San Diego’s “brick and mortar guru” after receiving several accolades from the American Institute of Architects (AIA). With Basile at the helm, the firm has consistently received praise and recognition from industry organizations and prestigious magazines, including Luxe Interiors + Design, Modern Luxury, and Interior Design Magazine.
The firm’s reputation as a stellar restaurant builder has allowed it to build for discerning clients, including Consortium Holdings, who has hired the firm to build several of its dining concepts. BASILE Studio built Raised by Wolves, Polite Provisions, Craft & Commerce, and even the group’s headquarters in San Diego’s East Village.
Born and Raised in Little Italy is also among these constructions. The project required the complete transformation of a 1930s-era building into an upscale steakhouse. The restaurant features opulent wood and brass finishes, as well as parquet and terrazzo flooring, leather, and tambour paneling on the first-floor dining room. The firm also installed eight bespoke columns that were sourced from a single walnut tree from Northern California. The project won an Orchid for Interior Design from the SDAF and was declared as the winner of the Upscale/Fine Dining Restaurant category of Hospitality Design Magazine’s 14th Hospitality Design Awards.