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San Diego Best Restaurants 2012

A taste of San Diego’s fab food scene


(page 3 of 3)


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.

The Pants Scribbler

Best of the Best


Best New Restaurant

The Lion’s Share

Best Chef

William Bradley

Best View

Bertrand at Mister A’s

Best Service


Best Happy Hour

BICE Ristorante

Best Cheap Eats

The Kebab Shop

Best Late Night Menu

Quality Social

Best Hotel Restaurant


Best Wine List


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


Best Fries

The Smoking Goat

Best Sandwich

Mona Lisa Italian Food

Best Salad

Tender Greens

Best French


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


Best Steakhouse

Cowboy Star

Best Italian

Bencotto Italian Kitchen

Best Indian

Surati Farsan Mart

Best Seafood


Best Breakfast


Best Brunch

Le Fontainebleau

Best Business Lunch


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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