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San Diego's Best Restaurants 2016

From a challenger to the barbecue throne to the recent emergence of vegan options, there’s a bit of manna for everyone in this year’s list of the city’s best.


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A Word From Food Editor Troy Johnson

Santa taught me everything I needed to know about making lists. My first Christmas wish lists were epic, Ulysses-esque tomes. I asked for everything under the sun, and the sun itself. My single mom just smiled at my early-onset materialism, and cautioned that Santa doles out gifts with a tad more restraint. And so it is with our annual Best Restaurants feature.

Every year, it is my job to eat at between three and 12 restaurants a week (my record is five lunches in a single day, for our 2012 guide to Asian food). I make notes throughout the year, reminisce about my most memorable meals and the restaurants that floored me, and come up with my own personal best. And then I start cutting. Some of my favorite restaurants get shaved off. Would I love to have Yakitori Yakyudori on this list, since I dream of their beef tongue skewers with gossamer ribbons of dried tuna? Yes. Sab-E-Lee is incredible Thai food, but this year, the freshness of Suppanee’s ingredients from their own garden made me lean their direction. I’d also love to see Aqui es Texcoco on this list. Their lamb barbacoa is the soul mate for your salivary glands.

And how in the world do I not have Sushi Ota as the ultimate sushi restaurant, its greatness cemented and beautifully fossilized? Well, that’s because, for me, sustainable seafood is of utmost importance. Our fishing reserves are scarily scant. And chef Rob Ruiz of The Land & Water Co. is one of the foremost sustainable sushi experts in the country at this point. I eat with my mouth—­and my ethics.

Choosing only one per category drives me insane.

Talking to San Diego chefs this year, the one thing that they tell me over and over is—San Diego is in the midst of a restaurant glut. There are too many good options, and restaurants are struggling to draw a large enough share of the city’s available diners. That’s lucky for us eaters, not so lucky for the chef-owners.

But the best will survive the eventual shakeout. From a truly selfish diner perspective, it’s a pretty wonderful problem. And it’s a pretty great time to be eating and drinking in San Diego. I hope you enjoy my picks, listed alongside the winners and runners-up of our readers’ survey. Let’s grub.

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Overall

Best New Restaurant (Critic's Pick): Bracero Cocina

Best of the Best

Readers’ Pick: Juniper and Ivy
Runner-up: Truluck’s
Critic’s Pick: Juniper and Ivy

 

Best New Restaurant

Readers’ Pick: Coasterra
Runner-up: Bracero Cocina
Critic’s Pick: Bracero Cocina

 

Best Service

Readers’ Pick: Cucina Enoteca and Cucina Urbana
Runner-up: Meze
Critic’s Pick: Addison

 

Best Chef

Readers’ Pick: Accursio Lota, Solare Ristorante
Runner-up: Joe Magnanelli, Cucina Urbana
Critic’s Pick: William Bradley, Addison

 

Best Happy Hour

Readers’ Pick: Monello
Runner-up: Searsucker
Critic’s Pick: Monello

 

Best Cheap Eats

Readers’ Pick: The Kebab Shop
Runner-up: Carnitas’ Snack Shack
Critic’s Pick: Carnitas’ Snack Shack

 

Best Late-Night Menu

Readers’ Pick: Meze
Runner-up: Searsucker San Diego
Critic’s Pick: Starlite

 

Best Hotel Restaurant

Readers’ Pick: Tidal and A.R. Valentien (tie)
Runner-up: Nine-Ten
Critic’s Pick: A.R. Valentien

Best Food Truck

Readers’ Pick: Super Q
Runner-up: Miho
Critic’s Pick: Miho

 

Best Restaurant in Baja

Readers’ Pick: Finca Altozano
Runner-up: Oryx Capital
Critic’s Pick: Deckman’s en el Mogor

 

Best Desserts

Readers’ Pick: Extraordinary Desserts
Runner-up: Le Parfait Paris
Critic’s Pick: Nine-Ten

 

Best Taco Shop

Readers’ Pick: City Tacos
Runner-up: Tacos El Gordo
Critic’s Pick: TJ Oyster Bar

 

Best Indulgent Eats

Readers’ Pick: Carnitas’ Snack Shack
Runner-up: Extraordinary Desserts
Critic’s Pick: Addison

 

Best Healthy Eats

Readers’ Pick: Tender Greens
Runner-up: Café Gratitude
Critic’s Pick: Tender Greens

 

Best Food/Drink Event

Readers’ Pick: Celebrate the Craft
Runner-up: Best of North County
Critic’s Pick: Celebrate the Craft

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Atmosphere

Best Design (Critic's Pick): Herringbone

Best Design

Readers’ Pick: Cucina Enoteca
Runner-up: Herringbone
Critic’s Pick: Herringbone

 

Best Special Occasion

Readers’ Pick: Truluck’s
Runner-up: Herringbone
Critic’s Pick: George’s California Modern

 

Best View (Urban)

Readers’ Pick: Mister A’s
Runner-up: Top of the Hyatt, Manchester Grand Hyatt
Critic’s Pick: Mister A’s

 

Best View (Water)

Readers’ Pick: Coasterra
Runner-up: C-Level
Critic’s Pick: Coasterra

Best Outdoor Patio

Readers’ Pick: Coasterra
Runner-up: Oceana Coastal Kitchen
Critic’s Pick: Jaynes Gastropub

 

Best Kid-Friendly

Readers’ Pick: Corvette Diner
Runner-up: Station Tavern
Critic’s Pick: Waypoint Public

 

Best Place to Watch the Game

Readers’ Pick: Kaminski’s BBQ
Runner-up: Barleymash
Critic’s Pick: Wonderland

 

Best Date Spot

Readers’ Pick: Bleu Bohème
Runner-up: Herringbone
Critic’s Pick: Cafe Chloe

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Specific Dishes

Best Burger (Runner-up): The BH Burger at Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant

Best Sandwich

Readers’ Pick: Rubicon Deli
Runner-up: Board & Brew
Critic’s Pick: Cucina Urbana

 

Best Pizza

Readers’ Pick: Napizza
Runner-up: Buona Forchetta
Critic’s Pick: Buona Forchetta

 

Best Burger

Readers’ Pick: Burger Lounge
Runner-up: Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant
Critic’s Pick: Rocky’s

 

Best Taco

Readers’ Pick: Puesto
Runner-up: Tacos El Gordo
Critic’s Pick: Galaxy Taco

 

Best Fish Taco

Readers’ Pick: Rubio’s
Runner-up: Puesto
Critic’s Pick: Puesto

 

Best Burrito

Readers’ Pick: Lolita’s
Runner-up: Lucha Libre
Critic’s Pick: Lucha Libre

 

Best Chips and Salsa

Readers’ Pick: Miguel’s Cocina
Runner-up: Puesto
Critic’s Pick: Ranchos Cocina

 

Best Fries

Readers’ Pick: Searsucker
Runner-up: Burger Lounge
Critic’s Pick: Searsucker

 

Best Sushi

Readers’ Pick: Sushi Ota
Runner-up: Sushi Deli
Critic’s Pick: The Land & Water Co.

 

Best Salad

Readers’ Pick: Napizza
Runner-up: Tender Greens
Critic’s Pick: Urban Solace (watermelon salad)

Best Small Plates Menu

Readers’ Pick: Meze
Runner-up: Tidal
Critic’s Pick: Tidal

 

Best Ramen

Readers’ Pick: Underbelly
Runner-up: Tajima
Critic’s Pick: Underbelly

 

Best Bacon Dish

Readers’ Pick: Pork belly app, Carnitas’ Snack Shack
Runner-up: Maple bacon donut, Great Maple
Critic’s Pick: Maple bacon donut, Great Maple

 

Best Ice Cream

Readers’ Pick: Hammond’s
Runner-up: Bobboi Natural Gelato
Critic’s Pick: Pappalecco

 

Best Donut

Readers’ Pick: Donut Bar
Runner-up: Nomad Donuts
Critic’s Pick: Donut Bar

 

Best Pancakes

Readers’ Pick: Snooze
Runner-up: Richard Walker’s
Critic’s Pick: Snooze

 

Best French Toast

Readers’ Pick: Snooze
Runner-up: The Mission
Critic’s Pick: The Mission

 

Best Eggs Benedict

Readers’ Pick: Snooze
Runner-up: Breakfast Republic
Critic’s Pick: Little Lion

 

Hall-of-Fame Dish

Readers’ Pick: Spinach and ricotta ravioli, Solare Ristorante
Runner-up: Kung pao chicken, Szechuan Mandarin
Critic’s Pick: Jamaican jerk pork belly, Nine-Ten

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Specific Cuisines

Best Italian (Readers' and Critic's Pick): Solare Ristorante

Best Middle Eastern

Readers’ Pick: Meze
Runner-up: The Kebab Shop
Critic’s Pick: Khyber Pass

 

Best Italian

Readers’ Pick: Solare Ristorante
Runner-up: Cucina Urbana and Cucina Enoteca
Critic’s Pick: Solare Ristorante

 

Best Greek

Readers’ Pick: Meze
Runner-up: Cafe Athena
Critic’s Pick: Cafe Athena

 

Best Mexican

Readers’ Pick: Talavera Azul
Runner-up: Puesto
Critic’s Pick: Bracero Cocina

 

Best French

Readers’ Pick: Bleu Bohème
Runner-up: Cafe Chloe
Critic’s Pick: The Marine Room

 

Best Indian

Readers’ Pick: Bombay
Runner-up: Royal India
Critic’s Pick: Taste of the Himalayas

 

Best Chinese

Readers’ Pick: Szechuan Mandarin
Runner-up: Dumpling Inn
Critic’s Pick: Dumpling Inn

 

Best Japanese

Readers’ Pick: Sushi Ota
Runner-up: Blue Smoke
Critic’s Pick: Wa Dining Okan

 

Best Thai

Readers’ Pick: Supannee
Runner-up: Amarin
Critic’s Pick: Supannee

 

Best Vietnamese

Readers’ Pick: Le Bambou
Runner-up: Saigon on Fifth
Critic’s Pick: Saigon on Fifth

Best Korean

Readers’ Pick: Manna Korean BBQ
Runner-up: Tofu House
Critic’s Pick: Do Re Mi

 

Best Filipino

Readers’ Pick: Tita’s Kitchenette
Runner-up: Manila Sunset
Critic’s Pick: Tita’s Kitchenette

 

Best Russian

Readers’ Pick: Pomegranate
Runner-up: Pushkin
Critic’s Pick: Pomegranate

 

Best Ethiopian

Readers’ Pick: Muzita
Runner-up: Red Sea
Critic’s Pick: Muzita

 

Best Vegetarian/Vegan

Readers’ Pick: Café Gratitude
Runner-up: Civico 1845
Critic’s Pick: Café Gratitude

 

Best Barbecue

Readers’ Pick: Phil’s BBQ
Runner-up: Coops West Texas BBQ
Critic’s Pick: Coops West Texas BBQ

 

Best Steakhouse

Readers’ Pick: Cowboy Star
Runner-up: Donovan’s
Critic’s Pick: Cowboy Star

 

Best Seafood

Readers’ Pick: Ironside FIsh & Oyster
Runner-up: Truluck’s
Critic’s Pick: Mitch’s

 

Best Breakfast/Brunch

Readers’ Pick: Talavera Azul
Runner-up: Snooze
Critic’s Pick: Café 21

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Drinks

Best Cocktails (Critic's Pick): Polite Provisions | Photo by Paul Body

Best Wine List

Readers’ Pick: Cucina Urbana and Cucina Enoteca
Runner-up: Solare Ristorante
Critic’s Pick: Addison

 

Best Beer Selection

Readers’ Pick: Hamiltons
Runner-up: Regents Pizzeria
Critic’s Pick: Hamiltons

 

Best Cocktails

Readers’ Pick: Searsucker
Runner-up: Polite Provisions
Critic’s Pick: Polite Provisions

 

Best Coffee

Readers’ Pick: Dark Horse
Runner-up: Bird Rock
Critic’s Pick: Caffé Calabria

 

Best Mocktails

Readers’ Pick: Café Gratitude
Runner-up: Lemonade
Critic’s Pick: Prepkitchen Little Italy

 

Best Brewpub

Readers’ Pick: Ballast Point
Runner-up: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens
Critic’s Pick: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens

 

Best Wine Bar

Readers’ Pick: Village Vino
Runner-up: Wine Steals
Critic’s Pick: 3rd Corner

 

Best Juice Bar

Readers’ Pick: Papayas Juice Bar & Fruiteria
Runner-up: Sacred Juice
Critic’s Pick: Farm to Fork

 

Best Margarita

Readers’ Pick: Puesto
Runner-up: Cafe Coyote
Critic’s Pick: Puesto

 

Best Mule

Readers’ Pick: Starlite
Runner-up: Uptown Tavern and West Coast Tavern (tie)
Critic’s Pick: Starlite

 

Best Old-Fashioned

Readers’ Pick: Seven Grand
Runner-up: Cowboy Star
Critic’s Pick: Cowboy Star

Best Local Craft Beer Brand

Readers’ Pick: Ballast Point
Runner-up: Stone
Critic’s Pick: Green Flash

 

Best Pale Ale

Readers’ Pick: Big Eye, Ballast Point
Runner-up: .394, AleSmith
Critic’s Pick: Alpine

 

Best IPA

Readers’ Pick: Sculpin, Ballast Point
Runner-up: Stone IPA, Stone
Critic’s Pick: Sculpin, Ballast Point

 

Best Stout

Readers’ Pick: Peanut Butter Milk Stout, Belching Beaver
Runner-up: Speedway Stout, AleSmith
Critic’s Pick: Speedway Stout, AleSmith

 

Best Porter

Readers’ Pick: Smoked Porter, Stone
Runner-up: Victory at Sea, Ballast Point
Critic’s Pick: Smoked Porter, Stone

 

Best Sessional Beer

Readers’ Pick: Mosaic, Karl Strauss
Runner-up: Even Keel, Ballast Point
Critic’s Pick: Session IPA, Duck Foot

 

Best Wheat Beer

Readers’ Pick: Orange Avenue Wit, Coronado
Runner-up: Fortunate Islands, Modern Times
Critic’s Pick: Cali Creamin’, Mother Earth

 

Best Brown Ale

Readers’ Pick: Nut Brown, AleSmith
Runner-up: Speedo’s Tiki Love God, Fall
Critic’s Pick: Board Meeting, Port

 

Best Red

Readers’ Pick: Red Trolley, Karl Strauss
Runner-up: Mermaid’s Red, Coronado
Critic’s Pick: Red Trolley, Karl Strauss

 

Best Belgian-Style Beer

Readers’ Pick: Cali-Belgique, Stone
Runner-up: The Harlot, Societe
Critic’s Pick: The Harlot, Societe

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