San Diego Best Restaurants 2012

A taste of San Diego’s fab food scene



Published:

Photography by John Dole & food styling by Maria Sparks

Go to page 3 to read food critic Troy Johson's picks.


Baby Back Rib & Chicken Dinner from Phil's BBQ

With more than 5,000 ballots submitted and nominations in 43 categories (that’s 215,000-plus votes!), we give you the 2012 list of best restaurants in San Diego County. Plus: Critic Troy Johnson’s picks.

READERS' PICKS

Best of the Best

Truluck’s
Runner-up: Slater’s 50/50

Best New Restaurant

Slater’s 50/50
Runner-up: Burlap

Best Chef

Brian Malarkey, Searsucker
Runner-up: Antonio Friscia, Gaijin Noodle + Sake House

Best View

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

Best Cheap Eats

Carnitas’ Snack Shack:
Runner-up: Rubio's

Best Barbeque

Phil’s BBQ
Runner-up: Gingham

Best Service

Searsucker
Runner-up: Truluck’s

Best Happy Hour

Slater’s 50/50
Runner-up: Truluck’s

Best Hotel Restaurant

Nine-Ten
Runner-up: Jsix

Best Outdoor Dining

George’s at the Cove
Runner-up: C Level

INDUSTRY PICK

Tsuruhashi Japanese BBQ on Convoy is my favorite place to go eat with my family. My two boys love it and I love to see them eat healthy food. The service is casual yet attentive.”

Antonio Friscia Executive Chef/Partner Gaijin Noodle + Sake House

Best Kid-Friendly

Corvette Diner
Runner-up: Station Tavern

Most Romantic

The Marine Room
Runner-up: Truluck’s

Best Neighborhood Restaurant

Gingham
Runner-up: Del Mar Rendezvous

Best Desserts

Extraordinary Desserts
Runner-up: Truluck’s

Best Burger

Slater’s 50/50
Runner-up: Burger Lounge

Best Pizza

Bronx Pizza
Runner-up: Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza

Best Small Plates

Café Sevilla
Runner-up: Burlap

Best Chinese

Del Mar Rendezvous
Runner-up: Jasmine

Best Thai

Lotus Thai Cuisine
Runner-up: Amarin Thai

Best Beer Selection

Slater’s 50/50
Runner-up: Hamilton’s Tavern

INDUSTRY PICK

“I enjoy Shimbashi Izakaya in Del Mar. I like the variety of authentic Japanese dishes and the chef uses amazing techniques. A chef I admire is Brian Redzikowski at Flavor Del Mar. Brian is young, full of talent, and very ambitious.”

William Bradley Executive Chef Addison
 


Fish tacos at South Beach Bar & Grille

FISH TACO Bracket

Looks like a different voter takes to a bracket—when given options (as opposed to the write-in survey below), readers chose Rubio's hands down.

Best Coffee

Caffé Calabria
Runner-up: Bird Rock Coffee Roasters

Best Fish Taco

South Beach Bar & Grille
Runner-up: Rubio's

Best French

Bleu Bohème
Runner-up: Cafe Chloe

Best Sandwich

The Rubicon Deli
Runner-up: Board & Brew

Best Japanese

Sushi Ota
Runner-up: Harney Sushi

Best Asian Fusion

Burlap
Runner-up: Roppongi

Best Mexican

Talavera Azul
Runners-up (tie): Miguel’s Cocina, Café Coyote

Best Greek

Café Athena
Runner-up: Daphne’s

Best Vietnamese

Le Bambou Restaurant
Runner-up: Saigon on Fifth

Best Vegetarian

(Tie) Del Mar Rendezvous, Sipz Fusion Café
Runner-up: Royal India

Best Steakhouse

Donovan’s
Runner-up: Ruth’s Chris

Best Italian

Bencotto Italian Kitchen
Runner-up: Cucina Urbana

INDUSTRY PICK

“If you want traditional Mexican seafood dishes, try Los Arcos in Bonita. My favorite is the Kino Scallop. For the best sandwiches in town, I choose Bolillo Tortas. I always get Torta Cubana.”

Martin Gonzalez Executive Chef/Owner Acqua Al 2 and Toast Enoteca & Cucina

Best Indian

Royal India
Runner-up: Bombay Exotic Cuisine of India

Best Cocktails

Craft & Commerce
Runner-up: Searsucker

Best brewery/Brewpub

Stone Brewing Co.
Runner-up: Pizza Port

Best Wine Bar

Wine Steals
Runner-up: The 3rd Corner

Best Breakfast

The Mission
Runner-up: Talavera Azul

Best Seafood

Truluck’s
Runner-up: Gabardine

Best Brunch

Burlap
Runner-up: Urban Solace

Best Business Lunch

Searsucker
Runner-up: Del Mar Rendezvous

Best Food Truck

MIHO Gastrotruck
Runner-up: Devilicious

Best Casual Gourmet

Croce’s
Runner-up: Waters Fine Foods and Catering

Best Salad

Tender Greens
Runner-up: Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza

Best Late Night Menu

Slater’s 50/50
Runner-up: The 3rd Corner

INDUSTRY PICK

“I love to eat and you can catch me at nearly every restaurant in San Diego, from Carnitas’ Snack Shack to Rancho Bernardo Inn and everything in between. I’m always on the hunt for new flavors.”

Ricardo Heredia Executive Chef Alchemy
 

CRITIC'S PICKS

The Creepy Guy at Table 5 By Troy Johnson

I’ve been writing about what we put in our mouths now for six years. I’m the guy in the corner booth who appears to be scribbling on his pants. It’s a mind-blowing honor, and a health hazard. I wake up hungry, having dreamt about skipping along the shore hand-in-hand with a drop-dead short rib. Or doing the backstroke through the creamy center of a giant burrata. I also have nightmares where my foot just rolls off into the street, dislodged by gout.  

Food criticism should not be a pulpit for taking out latent grade-school trauma on small business owners. Done right, it’s an artful interpretation of a story. Restaurants are stories.

My average week includes a dozen or so meals around San Diego. I have a strict “two-bite rule.” Otherwise my torso would prevent adequate sunlight from reaching earth. But it’s not uncommon to schedule three lunches in a single day.

Restaurants are more than food. Before we take a single bite, we eat with our eyes. The Brawny Man décor at The Lodge at Torrey Pines makes my incisors sweat in anticipation of slow-braised animals. The minimalist hush of Wa Dining Okan urges the saying of grace. Craft & Commerce’s street art warns to expect the unexpected, and that sanity is tenuous. Restaurants are a break from our TPS report-filing, parking ticket-paying daily drudgery. If I wanted to eat in an uninspiring environment, I’d eat leftovers in my garage.

But of course, taste matters most. To me, that means three things: top-notch ingredients, balance (acid-fat, heavy-light, sweet-savory, soft-crisp), and living up to promises.
I don’t expect the Kebab Shop to shave truffles, and I don’t expect Addison to “loosen up.” I do my best to interpret the execution of visions.  

San Diego’s food scene is drastically underrated. Compared to indoctrinated foodie havens like San Francisco and New York, our city is the Wild West. Major improvements happen daily. Making a “Best Of” list is like ranking family members. I had Mariscos German cued up for Best Mexican until a carnitas taco at Rudy’s—a Solana Beach box that sells Red Bull and ciggies, too—changed my mouth forever. It’s all subjective. I didn’t overthink it. I just gut-reactioned my most memorable meals of another year of excessively masticating in San Diego.

Eat well, support ethical foodmaking, and respect the makers even if it tastes like farm-fresh garbage.

Sincerely,
The Pants Scribbler

Best of the Best

Addison

Best New Restaurant

The Lion’s Share

Best Chef

William Bradley

Best View

Bertrand at Mister A’s

Best Service

Truluck’s

Best Happy Hour


BICE Ristorante

Best Cheap Eats

The Kebab Shop

Best Late Night Menu

Quality Social

Best Hotel Restaurant

Nine-Ten

Best Wine List

Addison

Best Beer Selection

Hamilton’s Tavern

Most Romantic

BO-beau Kitchen + Bar

Best Neighborhood Restaurant

The Linkery

Best Desserts

Park Hyatt Aviara

Best Fish Taco

Mariscos German

Best Burger

Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant

Best Pizza

Basic

Best Fries

The Smoking Goat

Best Sandwich

Mona Lisa Italian Food

Best Salad

Tender Greens

Best French

Mistral

Best Chinese

Dumpling Inn

Best Japanese

Wa Dining Okan

Best Thai

Siam Nara

Best Asian Fusion


Gaijin Noodle + Sake House

Best Mexican

Rudy’s Taco Shop

Best Greek

Café Athena

Best Vietnamese

Phuong Trang

Best Vegetarian


George’s California Modern

Best BBQ

Gingham

Best Steakhouse

Cowboy Star

Best Italian

Bencotto Italian Kitchen

Best Indian


Surati Farsan Mart

Best Seafood

George’s

Best Breakfast

Snooze

Best Brunch

Le Fontainebleau

Best Business Lunch

Jsix

Best Outdoor Dining


1500 OCEAN

Best Food Truck

MIHO Gastrotruck

Best Casual Gourmet

Urban Solace

Best Cocktails

Grant Grill

Best Coffee

Caffé Calabria

Best Brewery

Stone Brewing Co.

Best Wine Bar

The 3rd Corner

 

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