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Top 10 Restos of 2012

Troy Johnson picks the best


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Sushi Shirahama

1. Sushi Shirahama

*No ranking here! Restaurants are listed in no particular order.

We tried to feature Shirahama’s chef, Kotani-san, in our “Ultimate Guide to Asian Food” in November. He basically told us to go fugu ourselves—no photos for us. It was both sad and reassuring, since he’s not into this for the glamour shots. He’s in it for the love of Tsukiji—the famed sushi market from which he sources his fish. There he stands, in this little divot of a strip-mall restaurant, with a barrel of sumeshi (sushi rice) at his side, serving one excellently cut piece of nigiri after another until you say mercy. No rolls. No cream cheese. Sit at the bar; bring your high-limit credit card. 4212 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa

Prepkitchen

2. Prepkitchen

With its third SD location, Prep went big in Little Italy. It’s the only second-story perch in the one-story burgh, and designer Matthew Ellis gave the urbanites a visual feast—tree-branch chandeliers, old books of suspect literary caliber, stair banisters, old doors as wall art, blueprint wallpaper, you name it. The food? Just rustic, simple plates made with good, seasonal ingredients by someone who knows how to cook (chef Ryan Johnston). Local mussels in white wine and garlic; that perfect Caesar salad (anchovies included); the papardelle Bolognese with beef, porcini, and just enough rosemary. It’s just a cool-looking place to hang out, get a craft cocktail, and eat well among people who look casually stylish and smart. 1660 India Street, Little Italy

Table 926

3. Table 926

Chef Matt Richman, a former sous at Pacifica Del Mar (and La Jolla High grad), has created a gourmet hangout popular with the area’s top chefs. A trio of duck confit tacos with two housemade sauces (smoked chile salsa and tomatillo-avocado) is a deft marriage of border-city street food and culinary school protein. The beef cheeks have a sweet glaze that’s nicely offset by tart tamarind over creamy polenta. GM Gavin Cordes knows beer and is hosting pairing dinners with the city’s top craft suds. And they’ve just snagged a top-notch pastry chef, Sherman Chan (a vet of Rubochon and Hong Kong’s three-Michelin starred Caprice). A recent taste of her très leches pumpkin pie with parsnip ice cream proved she’s worthy of her advance billing. 926 Turquoise Street, Pacific Beach

TJ Oyster Bar

4. TJ Oyster Bar

The line out the door at its original location in Bonita said it all—this taco shop is worth the wait. Imagine a world in which Roberto’s got a shipment of fresh seafood delivered daily and cooked most things fresh to order while the freezer was left to wither from lack of use. They do a lot right here—from the bite-sized pieces of heavily smoked tuna, taco’d with cheese, to the hangover special, aguachile, a giant bowl of soupy shrimp ceviche with a generous dose of lime. It’ll rejigger your night-frayed nerves. But it’s that octopus taco—perfectly softened, excellently seasoned—that makes them truly special. I’ve had lesser octopus for $30 more. It’s part of the reason the place just expanded to a larger location, so pulpo lovers can get their fill without waiting so long. 4246 Bonita Road, Bonita

Brooklyn Girl

5. Brooklyn Girl

Restaurant icons Michael and Victoria McGeath made a triumphant return with a bit of N.Y.C. idolatry (their longtime La Jolla spot, Trattoria Acqua, was a recession casualty). Mission Hills needed a spot like this—an open, airy, urban hangout not stuck in 1980-something. With giant birdcages, concrete, and dark, important-looking woods, the room feels comfy in the past, present, and future. The kale Caesar salad is excellent—the stiff-chewing green offset by a creamy garlic vinaigrette and soft-boiled egg. Michael’s Choice pizza—spicy Italian sausage, pepperoni, chile—is pure wood-fired lust for carnivores. The cornbread capped with honeycomb does the South proud. 4033 Goldfinch Street, Mission Hills

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