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Best Things I Ate All Year

Another year, another couple thousand dishes—including these 21 standouts


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I ate a lot of food this year. I made it a point to visit chefs’ kitchens as often as possible just to see what new creations they’d come up with. So much talent in this city. Such great food. To end the year, I went through my notes and made this list—the best dishes I tried in San Diego in 2016. If happiness is a pursuit, I’d give them a try.  

 

Shrimp and Bone Marrow at Bar by Red Door

Slow roasted bone marrow, Baja shrimp, shallots, garlic butter, fried parsley, chimichurri. The shrimp, sautéed in the bone marrow (which is essentially meat butter) is phenomenal. Miguel Valdez is cooking over here. Really cooking.

 

 

Compartment Duroc Pork Chop at The Flying Pig

This is everything you want in winter, minus the Snuggy. Creamy polenta, sherry-braised Castleveltrano olives, shallots, garlic, mustard greens, then slices of that perfectly cooked chop in that glorious mess. Blew us away.

 

 

Red Eye-Rubbed Brisket at Campfire

A big slab of brisket is served with chimichurri, sushi rice, and Japanese furikake (spice mixture usually with dried fish and/or dried bonito, sesame seeds, seaweed, etc.). That mixture of spice, meat, and vinegar in the chimichurri is perfect.

 

 

Polenta with Chef’s Whim Ragu at Cucina Urbana

Mascarpone polenta, ragu with Nantes carrots. The polenta is made using the whey chef Joe Magninelli has leftover from making ricotta in-house. The exact contents of the ragu vary with what’s in season, but it’s easily one of the best bites in the city.

 

 

Green Eggs & Ham at Searsucker

A singular reason to have brunch at Searsucker. Pork belly, poached egg, brioche, brown butter hollandaise, balsamic, and serrano chili aioli. So dirty, so good.  

 

 

Heirloom Carrots with Burrata Ice Cream at Cowboy Star

Creativity and good flavor aren't easy to pull off. This nails it. The chicken skin is dusted with Japanese binchotan coal ash, the burrata ice cream is shocking and delicious, and marinated cucumber and cilantro chimichurri cut through the fat.

 

 

Softshell Crab Lettuce Wraps at Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant

Green papaya and bok choy slaw, lemongrass vinaigrette and chile glaze. The lemongrass vinaigrette and the slaw are a play on the great Thai salad, som tum.

 

 

Elysian Lamb Loin with Bone Marrow Pain Perdu at Veladora/Pony Room

The lamb gets a caramel-anise glaze and jus, which is one of the best sauces I’ve tasted. Then you've got bone marrow French toast, balanced by the nicely bitter endive and a sweet charred peach.

 

 

Buffalo Octopus at Herringbone

If anywhere near La Jolla in San Diego, go try this at Herringbone. Braised octopus done "buffalo style" over a cold salad of black eyed peas in house-made buttermilk ranch dressing. This is an entry for the city's best octopus dish (right next to the one at The Patio).

 

 

Tenderbelly Farms Pork Belly Buns at Kettner Exchange

Pickled cucumber, crushed peanuts, gochujang and hoisin on a steamed bun. Steamed buns are one of the greatest textures in the world, and this is sweet, savory, nutty, excellent.

 

 

Braised Pork Shank at The Patio on Lamont

A tonnage of food, and every bite delicious. Braised pork shank with bacon and Asiago risotto, topped with cracklins. The pork is so flavorful and tender-juicy.

 

 

Mock Turtle Soup at Grant Grill

A form of this dish has been on menu here for about 70 years. Made with pot roast, sherry drizzled atop table side. Phil the sous chef makes it every single day. No one else. Can't get more classic than this.

 

 

Beef Tartare at George's California Modern

Levain crisp, mustard-fennel kraut, horseradish, egg yolk, ramps, dehydrated spruce. Beef is a combo of dry aged 28-day New York strip and the eye of round. The beef is tossed with pickled ramps, shallots, chives, lemon, and olive oil. The mustard fennel kraut is a mix of fennel and cabbage fermented in house for two weeks. The horseradish is grated fresh. The egg yolk is an emulsion of egg yolks cooked slowly at 67 degrees until it is custard like and whipped with olive oil and salt. Then a light dust of dehydrated young spruce that the chefs. preserved from the spring. Tastes like the best Reuben you've ever had, only raw.

 

 

Lamb Sugo at Bottega Americano

One of my all time favorite lamb dishes in San Diego. The braised lamb sugo with Pecorino and house-made pappardelle. It’s just the right amount of sweet.

 

 

Compressed Watermelon at Mister A’s

Served with goat cheese, mint and chili oil. The watermelon is sliced evenly, seasoned with piment d’espelette and bruised mint before being “cryovac’d” and compressed into dense, concentrated slices. The slices are portioned into even cubes which are individually seasoned with sea salt and espelette oil, then topped with Cyprus Grove goat cheese and micro mint.

 

 

Lengua Taco at Blind Burro

Grilled tongue, salsa macha (usually deep-fried chipotles), pickled candied peanuts. Sweet, crispy, savory, tart.

 

 

Super Deluxe Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen at RakiRaki

Extra thick noodles, Tonkotsu broth (pork marrow bone broth), sizzled garlic chips, five-spice soy pickled egg, bean sprouts, scallions, bamboo shoots, wakame seaweed and crushed sesame. Spicy, creamy, delicious.

 

 

Monchong in Tomato Water at Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub

God I love this sushi joint. A sushi restaurant for punks and garage sale addicts (just look around at all the weirdcool collectibles in the joint). I'd probably just do an omakase (where chef Davin Waite serves you creative riff after riff until you surrender), but this dish was especially fantastic. Monchong is a really clean, beautiful fish. Chef Davin Waite floats his in tomato water with tangerine koshu, candied red jalapeño and pea shoots.

 

 

Truffle Pizza at Buona Forchetta

Some of the best pizza in San Diego, hands down. Buffalo mozzarella, truffles, pomegranate seeds. Oh lord. Really, any pizza here will do.

 

 

A5 Wagyu “Sashimi” at Stake Chophouse

Chef Tim Kolanko said they wanted to do a sashimi with the A5 (the highest grade), but initial experiments failed. "Cold beef fat just isn't delicious," he says. The solution was simple. They warm the plate so that the fat becomes tender and slightly rendered. Served in ponzu with togarashi and chives. Incredible.

 

 

Potatoes with Vinegar-Whipped Cream at Trust

Fire-grilled fingerling potatoes with vinegar whipped cream. The whipped cream, savory and tart from the vinegar, soaks up the smoky, grilled flavor on the potatoes nicely. One of the city’s best side dishes at one of the best new restaurants that opened in San Diego in 2016.

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