Edit ModuleShow Tags

Best Restaurants 2011


Published:

Pizza from Cucina Urbana, winner of the readers’ poll for best Italian

Dhanraj Emanuel

With nearly 3,000 ballots submitted and nominations in 40 categories (that’s 60,000-plus votes!), we bring you the people’s choices for the best restaurants in the city. According to you, Brian Malarkey is the man, and Cucina Urbana is still the queen of the scene. And to balance out the popular vote—and perhaps pipe up for the unsung heroes—see Candice Woo’s first annual installment of critic’s picks, where her passion for local ingredients, thoughtful chefs and craft beer shine through. Hungry yet? Get out there and start eating your way through this list, and be sure to let us know what you think at sandiegomagazine.com

Jump to photo gallery »

Readers' Picks

Best of the Best
Truluck’s
Runner up: Cucina Urbana

Best Happy Hour
Truluck’s
Runner up: La Puerta, A Mexperience

Best Chef
Brian Malarkey, Searsucker
Runner up: Rich Sweeney, R-Gang Eatery 

Best Caterer
Waters Fine Catering
Runner up: The Wild Thyme Company

Best New Restaurant
Searsucker
Runner up: R-Gang Eatery

Best Pizza
Bronx Pizza
Runner up: Filippi’s Pizza Grotto

Best View
Bertrand at Mister A’s
Runner up: Island Prime - C Level

Best Wine List
Truluck’s
Runner up: Cucina Urbana

Best Sommelier
Jesse Rodriguez, Addison 
Runner up: Lisa Redwine, The Shores Restaurant

Best Hotel Restaurant
Kitchen 1540 at L’Auberge Del Mar
Runner up: NINE-TEN at The Grand Colonial

Best Beer Selection
Hamilton’s Tavern
Yard House (tie)
Runner up: Encinitas Ale House

Best Late Night Menu
The 3rd Corner
Runner up: Starlite

Most Romantic
The Marine Room
Runner up: Truluck’s

Most Decadent Desserts
Extraordinary Desserts
Runner up: Truluck’s

Best Service
Truluck’s
Runner up: Searsucker

Best Burger
Burger Lounge
Runner up: Hodad’s Burgers

Best Takeout
Saffron
Runner up: Del Mar Rendezvous

Best Outdoor Dining
George’s at the Cove
Runner up: The Prado at Balboa Park

Best American
Urban Solace
Runner up: Searsucker

Best French
Bleu Bohème
Runner up: Cafe Chloe

Best Italian 
Cucina Urbana
Runner up: Bencotto Italian Kitchen
Best Indian
Bombay Exotic Cuisine of India
Runner up: Royal India

Best Mexican
Fidel’s Little Mexico
Runner up: Ortega’s, A Mexican Bistro

Best Greek
Cafe Athena
Daphne’s California Greek (tie)
Runner up: Athens Market Taverna

Best Vietnamese
Le Bambou Restaurant
Runner up: Saigon on Fifth

Best Vegetarian
SipZ Fusion Cafe 
Runner up: Del Mar Rendezvous

Best Chinese
Del Mar Rendezvous
Runner up: P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

Best Sushi
Sushi Ota
Runner up: Harney Sushi

Best Thai
Lotus Thai
Runner up: Rama Restaurant

Best Asian Fusion
Roppongi Restaurant and Sushi Bar
Runner up: Roy’s Restaurant

Best BBQ
Phil’s BBQ
Runner up: Brett’s BBQ

Best Breakfast
The Mission
Runner up: Hash House A Go Go

Best Neighborhood Restaurant
Kensington Grill
Runner up: The Red Door

Best Small Plates Menu
Kensington Grill
Runner up: Searsucker

Best Steakhouse
Donovan’s Steak & Chop House
Runner up: Ruth’s Chris Steak House

Best Seafood
Truluck’s
Runner up: The Oceanaire Seafood Room

Best Breakfast
The Mission
Runner up: Hash House A Go Go

Best Sunday Brunch
Urban Solace
Runner up: Eden

Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant
Corvette Diner
Runner up: Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza

Best Business Lunch
Searsucker
Runner up: Dobson’s Bar & Restaurant

Best Deli
D.Z. Akin’s
Runner up: Milton’s

Best Cheap Eats
Devine Pastabilities
Runner up: Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill

If Heaven tasted like just one thing, what would it be?

“A Kumamoto oyster and a glass of Sancerre.”– Andrew Spurgin, executive chef at Waters Catering and Fibonacci’s

“Fois Gras. I don’t cook with it much anymore, but I remember the first time I tasted it in culinary school. It changed the way I thought about food.” – Joe Magnanelli, chef at Cucina Urbana

“Home brew white lighting from the village of Mae Rim in Northern Thailand.”– Su-Mei Yu, chef/owner at Saffron

“Honey glazed doughnuts.” – Brian Redzikowski, chef at Airr supper club


Critic's Picks - by Candice Woo

Food for Thought
Taking on my first Best Restaurant list for the magazine was a challenge; superlatives are always tricky, especially with food. Taste is obviously first and foremost, but we all know there are other factors to consider when choosing favorite eating establishments; dining, after all, is not just the act of moving food from fork to mouth. Restaurant experiences, and how they linger in your memory, can be affected by a number of factors — from your eating companions to how warmly you’re welcomed.

Case in point: I wavered between two spots for the Best Sushi category. While Kaito Sushi in Encinitas performs some undeniably incredible artistry with seafood — leagues beyond most — my meals at the bar at Sushi Ota have nearly always felt just as transcendent, and the place has more of a hold in my personal culinary history. I had to select one over the other for the list, but when asked this same question out in the field, both names tumble out nearly simultaneously.

If you see some new-to-you names on my list, I hope you’ll give them a try, and let me know what you think at candicew@sandiegomagazine.com. And if the readers’ picks don’t jibe with your own, make sure to cast your vote next year.

Eat well!

Best of the Best
Blanca

Best Happy Hour
Oyster Happy Hour at Oceanaire

Best Cheap Eats
K Sandwiches

Best New Restaurant
Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria

Best Chef
Jeff Jackson, A.R. Valentien

Best Service
Cafe Chloe

Best View

George’s California Modern

Best Late-Night Menu
Starlite

Best Hotel Restaurant
A.R. Valentien

Best Wine List
Addison

BEST Sommelier
Jesse Rodriguez

Best Beer Selection
Blind Lady Ale House

Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant
Tender Greens

Most Romantic
Wine Vault

Best Neighborhood Restaurant
Alchemy

Most Decadent Desserts
Opera Patisserie

Best Pizza
Pizzeria Bruno Napoletano

Best Burger
Nine-Ten

Best American
Market

Best French
Tapenade

Best Small Plates Menu
Wa-Dining Okan

Best Italian
Bencotto
 
Best Indian
Surati Farsan

Best Chinese
China Max

Best Sushi
Sushi Ota

Best Thai
Original Sab-E-Lee

Best Asian Fusion
Roppongi

Best Mexican
Super Cocina

Best Greek
Cafe Athena

Best Vietnamese
Que Huong

Best Vegetarian
Spread

Best Barbecue
Coop’s BBQ

Best Steakhouse
Cowboy Star

Best Seafood
The Fishery

Best Breakfast
Claire’s on Cedros

Best Sunday Brunch
Farm House Cafe

Best Business Lunch
Grant Grill

Best Deli
Mona Lisa Italian Foods

Best Takeout
Miho Gastrotruck

Best Outdoor Dining
1500 Ocean at Hotel del Coronado

Best Ethiopian
Asmara

Best Middle eastern
Ali-Baba

Best Korean
Buga Korean BBQ

Best Caterer
Waters

Upping the Ante

Chef Paul McCabe is about to take the dining experience to a whole new level.

By Ann Wycoff

Paul McCabe is like a 2000 Château Pétrus—robust and confident, yet comes across as seamless and should age well for another 50 years. McCabe is readying KITCHEN 1540 for its third incarnation, to be unveiled this July. Armed with a new savvy general manager Andre Kikoski, erudite oenophile Bryan LaFontaine, and renowned mixologist Darby Kelly, from Wynn, Las Vegas, McCabe is about to up the ante. Quips LaFontaine, “This building is a restaurant that happens to have a hotel attached to it, so if you overindulge you can stay the night.” 

What’s new?
“Kikoski has great plans. The new upholstery and wall coverings will make the room more vibrant. I’m most excited about the sleek modern honey-gold chairs from France that will give the room the added pop of color it’s been missing. There will be fresh artwork, different lighting, new uniforms, and a menu makeover—so the look and feel of it, and the way people come in to dine, will be completely different.”

Sneak peek
“Unctuous black and white sweetbreads. We make a glaze, using a Japanese technique with soy, mirin (sweet sake) and dashi, which we reduce and finish with cuttlefish ink to make it jet-black. It tastes like the ocean but also has the soy-dashi-umami thing going on. Then we cook the sweetbreads and dip them in this glaze almost like you would ganache a cake. It’s set on a white plate with all white vegetables like asparagus, daikon, and arugula flowers, next to black-and-white rice cakes. Then we smoke black trumpet mushrooms, dehydrate and grind them, and sprinkle a black powder on the plate. It looks like a piece of art.”

White flag menu
“There’s no written menu—rather, the servers gather information from the guests: food preferences, dietary restrictions, or whether they are looking for opulent ingredients like foie gras or caviar. Then the kitchen builds a completely spontaneous menu. We keep sending out food—paired with cocktails, beer, or wine—until they wave the white flag of surrender. Then we send out two dessert courses.”

New hydroponic garden
“A local company, Vertical Gardens, designed this above-ground urban garden for us. We have 142 plants at any given time that take up very little space. If they were in the ground it would take 80 percent more water to keep them alive. We are growing micro root vegetables, too—never done before, but it’s working. We are also producing tiny green strawberries as a special room amenity for guests who’ll receive them with a little bowl of chocolate for dipping.”

San Diego restaurant scene
“There are pockets of good food here, but generally people play it a little safe. I have been here for 11 years and I’ve heard over and over, ‘In five years, San Diego is going to become a food town.’ There’s a fine line between giving customers what they want and educating them a little. That’s why we are staying away from the standard proteins like salmon, halibut, filet, and chicken that you can find in hundreds of restaurants all over San Diego. We have tested out some really weird specials like yellow-eyed snapper with smoked tofu—it sells out in 90 minutes. Our guests are more sophisticated than we sometimes think, so we are pushing the boundaries. I have to be honest; it’s a little scary. It all falls on me. But hey, we might go too far and then we’ll come back a bit, but you don’t know if you don’t stretch. It’s time.” 


Rolling Into Town

3 new food trucks set to hit the streets this summer

Thought the food truck trend had peaked? Maybe in L.A., but since we were a little late to the taco-truck party (playing catch-up is getting old), it seems our local appetite for gourmet roach coaches is still growing. Kelly O’Laughlin is the maven of mobile munching in San Diego, as the hungry handle behind @sdfoodtrucks on Twitter. Here’s what she thinks about the next generation of food trucks coming soon to a street near you.

Asian Persuasion “Opening around June 1. I love all kinds of Asian food (who doesn’t?) and am very excited to see what they have in store. Their Facebook page says everything from Japanese to Vietnamese to Chinese flavors.” facebook.com/asianpersuasionftc; @asianfoodtruck on Twitter.

Linme’s Gourmet Soul Food “Run by Mechiel Earls, the reason I like this one is pretty obvious: there aren’t any existing soul food trucks in San Diego. I love trucks that have something completely new. They should be open by late May.” facebook.com/pages/LINMES-GOURMET-SOUL-FOOD; no twitter handle yet.

Bitchin Burgers “I’m looking forward to them because while several current trucks serve burgers, none serve JUST burgers. And we all know that San Diegans LOVE burgers!” @bitchinburgers on Twitter. 



De Gustibus! by L.D. Lathrop

How To Gain Entrée Into a Wine Society, Dear

San Diego is home to chapters of several world-renowned wine societies where swirling, sniffing, sipping and slurping are practiced with aplomb. Members regularly gather celebrating the vine in all its gustatory and intellectual glory. It’s the perfect place to develop one’s palate and learn ... if you can get in, that is.

The Commanderie de Bordeaux and the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin are two storied wine societies boasting chapters from New York to San Diego, Hong Kong to Sydney, and beyond.  The Chevaliers—who focus on French Burgundies—admit only men. Legend dating back to Thomas Jefferson’s days in France has it that the fairer sex just smell too good, and that interferes with serious wine tasting.

Take note: A good friend went to a $1,000 per head vertical tasting of old and rare Château Margaux, with bottles to be poured dating back to the 1920s. She was more than a little dismayed to smell a big floral fragrance emanating from the date of a fellow oenophile. Following the effusive blossom into the powder room, she handed her a wet hand towel saying, “I paid a thousand bucks for this once-in-a-lifetime tasting and your perfume is not going to ruin it for me—either you wipe that off or I will.” 

Well, now, how is the uninitiated to know that smell accounts for a greater percentage of taste perception than do the taste buds? In the world of wine, smelling like nothing smells best of all. You are hereby on notice: no perfume, no mint, no day-old brie breath. And that goes for aftershave, as well, gents.

The application process varies, but for Commanderie de Bordeaux and Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, one must be proposed, vetted (members will casually suss you out while plying you with alcohol) and approved by multiple members. And even when the outcome appears favorable, an invitation to join may remain mysteriously elusive. If invited, initiation and cellar fees are not for the faint of heart. So, here’s the skinny:

1. Be a guy, if you love French Burgundies, though women are welcome in the Bordeaux group
2. Be connected and recommended, i.e., proposed, seconded and sponsored by an additional two members.
3. Know a significant amount about wine, particularly about the region in question.
4. Have a fat wallet, as these are, generally speaking, pricey wines, especially the best vintages
5. Own a nice cellar with a significant amount of Burgundy or Bordeaux. That’s always pleasing to the powers that be.

Last but not least, these are not democratic organizations—at least not in the American understanding of the term. The Commanderie and the Chevaliers are more akin to a “limited Republic,” or even perhaps a benevolent dictatorship, with the Maître or Grand Sénéchal holding ultimate veto power over membership.  

In vino veritas, indeed.

Illustration by Steven Salerno/theispot.com


Photo Gallery

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. San Diego Fourth of July Guide 2017
    Celebrate Independence Day all weekend long with fireworks, festivals, parades, drink specials, and more
  2. The Oceanside Revolution
    The North County city has gone from an all-but annexed coastal town by Camp Pendelton to a thriving bed of culinary and artistic success.
  3. The Best of San Diego 2017
    Tacos, pasta, cocktails, spa treatments, and cool craft workshops—we’ve got 99 of the top picks in food, drink, fitness, beauty, and more
  4. 5 Places to Watch the Solar Eclipse in San Diego
    But safety first — don’t forget your eclipse viewing glasses!
  5. Will Weed Smoke Out Restaurants?
    New investment trends are creating challenges for local restaurateurs — for now
  6. The Ultimate San Diego Summer Guide 2017
    Take this season to the next level with our annual roundup of the top beach barbecues, pool parties, concerts, outdoor movies, and more
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Go Ahead... Ask McMillin!

At McMillin Realty, we are encouraging you to bring us your real estate questions. We will answer these questions….. for free.

Not Your Grandma's Orthotics

New year, new – shoe? Staying on your feet for long hours at a time just got a whole lot more comfortable with Wiivv’s BASE custom insoles
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

9 Reasons You Need a Better Barber

Get the look and service you deserve at this East Village salon

Enter a Drawing You Could Actually Win

There are more than 1,700 prizes in the Dream House Raffle
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags