Yes, the rumors are true. We did scour every restaurant, bar and fast-casual dining service in the county to bring you the most extensive dining guide to San Diego you’ll ever need. We can’t say it was hard work. While we’ve always known America’s Finest to be home to some of our most favorite eats, San Diego’s dining scene seems to have taken off to soaring heights in recent years, with ambitious and innovative restaurants popping up every month. Now with acclaimed chefs and bartenders staking ground and upping the ante, San Diego has become a global culinary destination in its own right.
From cozy date night wine bars to bold restaurants you'll want to show all of your friends to local treasures you'll fall in love with, there's something for every diner out there. Happy eating!
Reporter: Erica Nichols | Restaurant: Jeune et Jolie
Gaslamp & East Village
What Downtown may lack in late-night scenes (San Diego is considerably quiet compared to most cities), it makes up for in urban distilleries, a strong cocktail scene and tacos (lots and lots of tacos). Home of the good group hangouts, you can find the perfect scene for your crew between Gaslamp and East Village.
It’s always ‘game on’ at this fun barcade in Gaslamp. Enjoy American eats and a solid selection of local beers and cocktails, then put on your game face and head to the arcade! All the classics are there, along with skeeball and basketball to practice your shot.
This urban distillery specializes in gin and vodka, serving tasting menus and craft cocktails in a spacious, bright ambiance complete with comfy and modern touches. Have an event in mind? The space can accommodate up to 85 guests for your next birthday bash.
We were in love with Lola 55 the moment it graced our Instagram feed, long before we got a taste of the even more lovely eats of filet mignon tacos, ceviche tostaditas and their signature ice cream sandwiches. Step inside, you’ll see what we mean.
For a no-fail spot for great tacos, look no further than Puesto at The Headquarters by Seaport Village. You can’t go wrong with any of their choices—though we suggest trying their Taco of the Month and carnitas—and their spicy margarita packs an awesome punch.
This trendy eat-drink-play emporium nails what most ‘eatertainment’ spots fail at: fun games and chef-driven dishes of shareables, burgers and more (hello, chicken and waffles). Karaoke, bowling, arcades—whatever your group goes gaga for, Punch Bowl has it.
This dimly-lit, intimate bar features eclectic art and a playful menu of game-focused eats and some of the best cocktails in the city. It’s not uncommon to spot a few of San Diego’s top bartenders sipping on a refreshment before or after their shifts.
San Diego’s epicenter of artistic touches and top-tier cuisine always has a new restaurant opening its doors—and it’s always a hit. Some of the city’s very best dining options are lined up on Little Italy’s main stretch of India Street, which attracts a wave of locals most days of the week.
There is no better place for oysters in San Diego than Ironside—the restaurant and bar offers fresh Kumiai and Sol Azul from Baja. But for those that prefer to pass on oysters, the rest of the menu is just as appetizing with fresh catch entrees and seafood small plates (don’t miss out on the chowder fries, they are a must).
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Pink accents, checkered floors, copper finishes—Morning Glory checks all of the boxes for a dreamy brunch ambiance. The menu is just as delightful, with global day-starters like chilaquiles with mole, pork belly with eggs and fried rice, and American classics like steak and eggs.
Not only does Pali Wine serve up some delicious wine tastings from the Central Coast, it also offers visitors a great place to unwind on their cozy rooftop deck overlooking the hustle and bustle of Little Italy.
Even more swoon-worthy than Kettner Exchange’s pretty—and tasty—cocktails is their cozy rooftop patio with great views and comfortable furnishings. For bigger groups, reserve one of the cabanas for brunch or dinner, which comes with its own wet bar.
This trendy food-and-drink emporium is ideal for your after-work or weekend hangout with friends. Munch on pizzas and zesty salads, sip on playful libations and let out your competitive side over a game of shuffleboard or Xbox tournament.
Boasting some of the best cocktails in the county, Craft & Commerce has been a staple since it first opened in 2010. Among taxidermy from the Natural History Museum and quote-sprawled booths, you and your friends can enjoy wood-fired dishes and the innovative drinks that made this spot an icon of the modern craft cocktail scene.
San Diego was all abuzz last year with the grand opening of the highly-anticipated Born and Raised—it cost $6.5 million to design, after all. The modern steakhouse exceeded expectations with a totally posh dining experience complete with monogrammed plates and remarkable cuts of meat, overseen by esteemed Chef Jason McLeod.
You can get a taste of Napa right here in San Diego at this urban winery. The team sources grapes from Central and Northern California, then transports them back here to finish the process for a taste of wine country within city limits.
We love Bencotto for many reasons, but number one is for their fresh, daily-made pastas. Take your pick from pappardelle, tagliatelle, fettuccine and more, then pair with their house pink pancetta sauce for total cuisine heaven.
Though the interior design alone was enough to capture our hearts, famed chef Brian Malarkey’s Herb & Wood seals the deal with a delightful menu of wood-fired pizzas, fresh seafood plates and balanced pasta dishes.
Cool outdoor space, a solid Happy Hour and, oh yeah, really great fried chicken are the name of the game at Crack Shack. Order a sandwich or keep it classic with a 5- or 10-piece order of that salty, crispy good stuff.
At the heart of Little Italy sits this Italian family restaurant, which pays homage to traditional recipes with a twist and offers a completely vegan menu. In a modern rustic setting, start with the wildly flavorful caprese calda, dine on scratch-made pasta dishes and save room for limoncello.
One of the first brewing companies to become an empire in San Diego, Ballast Point opened this Little Italy hangout as a one-stop for people to taste their award-winning brews and enjoy a chilled ambiance with share plates and tasty burgers.
At Queenstown Public House you can enjoy New Zealand favorites in an inviting atmosphere. Nosh on popular bites like lamb skewers, fish and chips, or their cracked burger with a fried egg, and definitely come back for Happy Hour!
Hillcrest & Mission Hills
The diverse enclave of Hillcrest, and its close neighbor Million Hills, offers no shortage of exciting eateries. Whether it’s fine dining or an approachable, at-home feel you’re after, you’re bound to find it, and so much more, at these culinary standouts.
Creative, hip and globally-inspired, this Mission Hills restaurant offers a taste of San Diego dining at its finest. Produce-driven dishes are grilled over a wood fire to bring out ambitious, vibrant flavors that seem to jump off the plate.
If the dreamy, urban-rustic decor wasn’t enough to win you over, Trust’s menu of seasonal, ingredient-driven dishes will do the trick. We hold the braised oxtail raviolini in a special place in our hearts.
In a bright, spacious setting complete with exposed beams, Common Stock highlights the signature dishes from all around the country. Nashville hot chicken? Check. Classic cheeseburger? Yep, that’s there too. New favorite dining option? Yes, to all of the above.
With easy access to Downtown and Balboa Park, the historic Bankers Hill already stole our hearts a long time ago. But the effortless mix of city staples and fresh-faced restaurants has us paying much more attention to this leafy neighborhood.
The space alone is breathtaking, with marble tables, plush velvet chairs and brass finishings. Add in a Calabrian-style menu crafted by michelin-starred chefs and you’ll see why Il Dandy brings the cutting edge to San Diego dining.
Vegan dining doesn’t get much better than at Donna Jean. But don’t expect a menu full of health-conscious dishes here (there are options, of course). Instead, indulge in plant-based pizzas, mac and cheese, sandwiches and more.
Head to Cucina Urbana for an unexpected twist on pasta, pizza and other mainstream Italian items in a tasteful, rustic atmosphere. Here, pastas are tossed with hen egg and topped with bonito flakes; order them family-style with a bottle of vino!
We love Bankers Hill Restaurant for a number of reasons, but the sentiment is even stronger during their Happy Hour, where you can munch on a majority of their selections (sliders, pulled pork sandwiches, truffle fries) for under six dollars each.
This hip cantina puts a modern spin on classic, hearty Mexican dishes in a trendy, colorful atmosphere. Don’t miss out on their great Taco Tuesday deals and always, always order a margarita.
North & South Park
North Park and South Park may each have distinct identities, but they both share the same buzz for neighborhood-focused eateries and bars. In North Park, you’ll find industrial-chic breweries and upscale concepts. In South Park, you’ll experience the ‘small town’ essence that has attracted so many chefs and restauranteurs to open up shop.
Craft cocktails, an all-vegan menu, a pretty in pink bar—these are a few of our favorite Kindred things. The South Park restaurant has become a local gathering spot thanks to its whimsical ambiance (complete with heavy-metal music because why not?) and next-level libations.
Expect generous ramen servings and a modern indoor-mostly outdoor space at the North Park location of this local favorite. In the evening, stick around for the California yakitori, a selection of skewered bites grilled over oak charcoal.
We’ll save you time—you won’t find better pizza in San Diego than Buona Forchetta’s Neapolitan pizzas. The South Park flagship Officine (and the local franchise’s other two locations) serves wood-fired pies and traditional Italian eats, all cooked to perfection for destination-feels dining.
Get a taste of the Big Easy at this new creole and cajun restaurant in North Park. All the classics are there (see: gumbo, po’ boys, crawfish etouffee), plus some more contemporary nods like alligator andouille cheesecake and the Dooky Chase, honoring the Queen of Creole Cooking herself, Leah Chase.
At One Door North, you’ll experience garden-to-table dining in a nature-themed contemporary space—safari tents included. No matter when you visit, the eats are beautifully presented and rich in flavor, but we especially love them for their Happy Hour menu!
Tribute Pizza has been locally beloved since its humble beginnings as a one-man shop. Now well into its restaurant days, this popular pizzeria still masters the art of their globally-inspired neo-Neapolitan pies in a bright, modern and welcoming setting.
The industrial bar specializes in New Haven-style pizzas—coal-fired, thin-crusted, Neapolitan goodness. Finish it off with a local draught beer or craft cocktail and consider your hunt for the perfect North Park hangout complete.
This family-friendly hangout is everything you want in a stylish neighborhood spot. Explore their hefty list of draft beer and elevated California eats while the little ones run off energy in the play area.
The Smoking Goat offers up savory, upscale French dining and gives it a North Park twist with urban farmhouse decor and some of the city’s best cocktails. Run by Exec Chef and Owner Fred Piehl, the restaurant presents French cuisine in a familiar, inviting way.
Quiet University Heights has always been a pillar for international fare, but in recent years the neighborhood has opened its arms to design-driven cocktail bars and eateries that give this enclave its own unique voice.
One step inside Madison and you’ll understand why the cedar-walled design is award-winning. Once you recover (take your time), swoon over their classic cocktails and menu of modern Mediterranean bites.
Off Park, this new brewpub sets the standard for New Zealand fare. Nosh on spiced lamb tacos, fish and chips and lobster skewers while exploring their New Zealand draft beer selections. Also, did we mention the rooftop bar? We’ll save you a seat.
Newly reopened from a recent rehaul, this beloved neighborhood hangout feels equal parts brand new and just like home. The jukebox and arch focal points still remain, but the restaurant added a fresh touch to the New American menu with seafood options, elevated snacks and zesty cocktails from Polite Provisions partner Frank McGrath.
When the weather’s nice (and let’s face it, when isn’t it here?!) Park & Rec will be calling your name. The multi-house bar offers plenty of outdoor space, lots of games and a cocktail menu we dream about all in its own picture-perfect world.
With Liberty Station under its wing and a prime spot along the bay, it’s no wonder why Point Loma has long been one of San Diego’s most cuisine-centered neighborhoods. Great seafood, chef-driven concepts and guilty pleasures, you can find it all on this pretty peninsula.
Top Chef contestant Claudette Zepeda created this Liberty Station restaurant to pay homage to the regional Mexican cuisine of her childhood. Under a ceiling of umbrella-shaped blue light fixtures, explore Zepeda's unmatched menu of tlacoyo, an iconic tamale-like street snack, aguachile and pozole rojo.
We're all familiar with farm-to-table, but at Royale it's 'farm-to-shaker' – all cocktail ingredients come from their family farm, Nopalito. The vibrant midcentury modern diner is washed in cool tones with plenty of little corners to tuck into while enjoying your burger and cocktail.
At the Pearl Hotel, Charles + Dinorah fuses modern eats with nods to mid-century modern ambiance in honor of the hotel’s original owners. You’ll find a little bit of everything here (grits, kushiyaki and everything in between), expertly prepared with a gourmet touch to let the flavors do all the talking.
Seven days a week you can eat your way through some of San Diego’s best food offerings at this public market in Liberty Station. Find local favorites like Venissimo Cheese, RakiRaki and so much more. Seriously, so much more—come hungry!
The Point Loma Italian Trattoria brings a fresh take to San Diego’s Italian restaurant scene. The glass-enclosed pasta factory steals the show, creating the foundation for Cesarina’s outstanding pasta dishes. To end on a sweet note, the tiramisu is not to be missed!
The second location of the North Park flagship, Soda & Swine in Liberty Station is just as good with even more space to bring the group to eat, drink and hang. Make your meatball selections, pick your sauce and grab one of their old-fashioned sodas—then enjoy the eatery’s foosball tables and outdoor lounge areas.
The view of all views, Coasterra’s expansive deck overlooks the bay and downtown area for prime sunset dining. To eat, look to their Mexican-inspired seafood dishes like ceviche to share and rainbow trout a la pancha. For libations, their margarita selection is not to be missed.
Pacific & Ocean Beach
In most coastal cities, people don’t expect much of the surfer communities that hug the beach in terms of dining. But San Diego isn’t like most coastal cities, and neighborhoods like Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach are riddled with long-running restaurants serving out some of the city’s best.
This laidback tiki hangout is great for creative small plates of eggplant stir fry and lamb dan dan noodles, and fun rum-based cocktails. You can also sign up for their rum club for exclusive rum tastings and discounted specials.
Master Ota’s famous sushi bar always ranks in the country’s very best and serves as the learning ground for San Diego’s new batch of sushi masters. Be sure to make reservations ahead of time to ensure seating, Sushi Ota is always packed for its omakase tastings and premium nigiri.
In the heart of Ocean Beach, OB Noodle House has been a San Diego go-to for years. In a lovably no-frills setting, you’ll see why their large bowls of pho, pork belly tacos and spicy garlic wings landed them a spot on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
The only thing that could take you away from the stunning ocean views of this posh coastal village is great food. Thankfully, La Jolla delivers ten-fold with cozy breakfast spots, top-tier sushi and so much more.
The global sensation touched down at UTC in 2018 and has been able to live up to the hype and keep up with demand without sacrificing the quality they’re known for. Order, and subsequently devour, a few of each from their soup and steamed dumpling selections to taste what all the fuss is about!
Elegant speakeasies situated across from mall giants (i.e. the Apple store) is just the M-O of UTC these days, and we are here for it. The cocktails-only lounge is truly an experience like no other, complete with a revolving hidden door, a grand chandelier over the bar and a novella-sized menu of innovative cocktails.
We have three words for you: maple bacon doughnuts. But the reigning king of San Diego brunch also serves a lovely evening experience for those looking for seasonal dinner entrees of beef bourguinon, lamb ragu and salted caramel pork ribs. Yes, salted caramel.
San Diego is no stranger to great sushi, but Himitsu raised the bar to a whole new level, thanks to Sushi Ota alum Mitsu Aihara. The sushi pro crafted omakase, sashimi and nigiri selections rooted in tradition that will change the way you think about modern-day sushi.
A quintessential experience for elevated coastal cuisine, George’s makes a statement with delicious eats and an unbeatable view overlooking the cove. The multi-floor establishment offers lower-level dining, mid-level cocktails and a rooftop terrace for your choice of true California living.
The cozy, casual eatery puts an emphasis on comfort-food cuisine, prepared with locally-sourced ingredients. Stop in for modern selections inspired by what’s in season, and complete your meal with a glass of wine to pair!
A long-time frontrunner in the San Diego breakfast scene, The Cottage remains popular due to its farm-driven brunch and lunch items, housed inside a quaint cottage complete with a white picket fence. It’s everything you hope for when starting your morning seaside.
Clairemont & Kearny Mesa
If you haven’t dined in the Clairemont/Kearny Mesa area, you haven’t been paying attention! Lined with mom ‘n’ pop shops churning out next-level asian cuisine, these central San Diego neighborhoods offer hidden gems still fairly under the radar—but not for long!
A hidden bar concept housed inside Common Theory, 52 Remedies transports its visitors into an entirely new world. The art of crafting cocktails takes center stage, supported by seasonal bar eats in an opulent, art-focused lounge setting.
San Diego’s first omakase destination is an unparalleled experience from start to finish. In the 13-seater space, select a 50 or 90-minute omakase of top-level seafood expertly prepared from seasoned sushi chefs. No California rolls here, let the experts make the selections!
Rakiraki offers both traditional and creative chef-driven ramen in each of their three locations. The supporting menu options are just as good, with massive sushi rolls and plump gyoza. Pro Tip: Check their Yelp! Waitlist beforehand, this location is always busy!
It’s hard to go wrong with any choice at the original location of this local Ramen empire, which now houses six restaurants in southern California. Definitely get an order of the takoyaki to share, then go straight for the goods with one of their signature ramen bowls—the spicy sesame ramen is great when you’re looking for an extra kick.
Menya Ultra is an award-winning ramen shop from Japan that landed in Kearny Mesa in 2017 with much of the same praise. Now one of San Diego’s top ramen destinations, Menya is a must and their tonkotsu ramen, a must-order...weekly.
The long-time Clairemont staple serves vegetarian-fusion fare with Asian influences. For starters, order their “chicken” dumplings, then choose from their variety of filling noodle bowls for the main course. Plus, keep a look out for their new La Jolla spot coming soon!
Specializing in yakitori, a style of skewered chicken popular in Japanese street food, Yakyudori serves up the county’s best in a simple, modern environment. Also, check out their sake and soju offerings to complete your meal.
Unpopular opinion: some of the best dim sum isn’t served on food carts. We know, we know! But China Max proves us right with all of your dim sum must-haves, hand-delivered fresh and hot. No more flagging down the shrimp shumai cart from across the room! Pro Tip: Order the calamari and thank us later!
Miramar & Sorrento Valley
Once thought to be just a part of a daily commute, the Miramar and Sorrento Valley area has blossomed into its very own destination ‘hood, thanks to modern coffee shops and quite a few killer breweries and beer gardens in the area.
In the heart of Sorrento Valley, Gravity Heights serves as a cool respite from the biotech hustle and bustle of the area. With a spacious, bright backdrop (hanging plants included), the brewery/beer garden puts an emphasis on smart beer and food pairings to bring out the best in each.
Though their canned cocktails have brought this distilling company much of their success (for good reason), the Miramar hangout also has a strong menu to back it up. Here you’ll find small plates of bourbon barrel mussels, entrees of pork ramen and vegan curry, and rum cake for the sweet tooths of the group.
The company’s largest brewery and restaurant on the West Coast, Ballast Point’s Miramar spot is not to be missed. Stop in for a tour of the brewery, then unwind in their expansive indoor/outdoor space with a cold one in hand.
Del Mar & Solana Beach
Though close in proximity, Del Mar and Solana Beach strike different chords. Where Del Mar is upscale and elegant, Solana Beach is laid-back and homey. What they both offer? Top-notch dining that rings true to the place it calls home.
This elegant fine dining restaurant, located in Fairmont Grand Del Mar makes a statement with elevated French cuisine served in a grand European setting. Make your wine selections from the cellar, situated in the center of the room, for perfect pairings to coincide with your meal. Plan accordingly—this is the date night spot!
Like the other two San Diego-based Cucina restaurants, Cucina Enoteca is part retail wine shop, part restaurant. For dinner, find from-scratch selections focusing on traditional Italian cuisine. Mangia!
A spacious indoor-outdoor hangout that overlooks the San Dieguito Lagoon, Viewpoint is everything a Del Mar brewery should be—it is the neighborhood’s first, after all. Check out the brewery’s 20 taps, some house-brewed and some selected from small distribution breweries, then kick back and stay awhile.
Though just situated off the Coast Highway, Encinitas and Leucadia offer so much more than the casual seafood stops you’d expect. Those are there aplenty. But so are a handful of beloved restaurants with refreshing concepts, strong neighborhood roots and great drink menus to go hand-in-hand with even better food.
Valentina serves flavorful entrees inspired by the signature dishes that define cuisine cultures all over the globe. France, Mexico, Italy—the gang’s all here in Chef Caballo’s steak and frites, cochinita pibil and pesto gnocchi. For the loyal fans of previous tenant Moto Deli, you can still find their popular sandwiches on the lunch menu.
You can get a taste of Baja without having to cross border lines at Death By Tequila. Yes, there are tacos, but the real stars are their small plates of Spanish octopus, elote tostadas and fresh ceviche. And to match their picture-perfect menu? A killer cocktail list.
A true neighborhood spot, Modern Times’ inviting yet industrial space is always packed, and for good reason! Taste test your way through their selection of over 30 taps of tasty beer, special guest beers and delicious plant-based dishes.
Nosh on family-style dishes from Thai, Lao and Vietnamese cultures in the modern, refreshing space at Birdseye Kitchen. They let the flavors do the talking here, with daily-made curry and locally-sourced, grass-fed, organic products.
It’s always a good time to visit this Encinitas hangout. Brunch, Happy Hour, Dinner—each menu is inventive and insanely good. Keep an eye out for their live music lineups on Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays!
Once a sleepy suburb, Carlsbad is now finally having its culinary moment thanks to an abundance of new design and menu-driven restaurants sprouting up over the past few years. Upscale, innovative and sourced locally, these eateries capture Carlsbad’s easy Californian identity.
It’s love at first sight at Jeune et Jolie (thanks to LA-based Bells + Whistles). But the pink hued-magic doesn’t stop there. Executive Chef Andrew Bachelier’s new wave French menu of frog legs and coquille in vin jaune is a love affair to last a lifetime.
Consider the menu at this local favorite the official cuisine of glamping. The team that brought us Craft & Commerce (and more recently Jeune et Jolie), headed straight for nature when thinking up Campfire. The result is an effortless blend of gourmet dining and woodsy unwinding, with most of the dishes cooked over an open flame.
With an impressive cocktail menu and evening-only hours, Clara sparked a rebirth of Carlsbad at night. Lounge in the restaurant’s intimate, feminine interior while enjoying their fresh, market-driven dishes for an evening that is effortlessly coastal.
Thick in the midst of the San Diego poke craze, it can be difficult to find the great among the not-so-great poke shops. That’s why we’re saving you the trouble and telling you to go straight to Pokewan. You can build your own or select one of their signature bowls; we suggest the Hotty Hotty for a kick. Either way, you’ll be getting a taste of Hawaii in every bite.
The long-time La Jolla favorite found its Carlsbad digs a couple years ago and hasn’t stopped since. Come for modern bar food, best at Happy Hour when appetizers are only $7 each, great beer and a kids menu if you’re visiting with little ones.
If there’s any beachside neighbor that’s gotten their “come up” in the last few years, it’s Oceanside. Here you’ll find eateries and breweries created by locals with diverse flavors that showcase just how global the coastal town has become.
This modern locale brings two of our favorite things together (tacos and tequila) in a stylish space with rustic elements. Order tequila or mezcal flights to go along with barbacoa or yellowtail tacos for a contemporary take on Mexican cuisine.
Chef and Owner Davin Waite could be considered one of the most sustainable sushi chefs in the county, thanks to his mission and passion for using every part of the animal. That kind of mindset brings wildly creative dishes to Wrench & Rodent’s menu, along with an omakase option that allows you to experience sushi the chef’s way.
This upscale, industrial-chic establishment brings Indonesian flavors with a Western twist to its Oceanside neighborhood. Order the Nasi Goreng, with pork belly, confit chicken and shrimp served over a bed of fried rice and topped with an egg. Yum!
As the name suggests, Local Tap House has an impressive selection of local beers and ciders from the San Diego area. On their modern American menu, you’ll find elevated bar food like their popular deviled eggs and truffle butter pretzel, served with a smoked gouda gravy.
Empanadas, sandwiches, sweets—Tambo’s Peruvian selections are inspired by the culture’s tradition of “lonche,” a casual meal for when it’s too late for lunch, but too early for dinner. We hold a soft spot in our hearts for the empanada de manzana, with apple, cinnamon and manjarblanco inside.
True to the quintessential Oceanside experience, at Bagby you can bring your friends, kids (and pups) to soak up the ocean views with a cold brew in hand. Munch on bites from their full-scratch menu, try a few beers from their extensive list and stay for their trivia nights on Tuesdays!
The family-owned restaurant has been a long-time favorite in Oceanside, serving gourmet, coal-fired Neapolitan pizzas with classic and not-so-classic toppings (see: white clam sauce). Recently, they opened the doors next store to the Privateer Marketplace, a wine-bar extension with vendors from around the county.
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