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From the Archives: Dine Like It’s 1989

A peek at San Diego Magazine's Best Restaurants issue from August, 1989


The Best Restaurants Issue: August 1989

Our 1989 Best Restaurants feature looks much like today’s—a “listicle” of critic’s and readers’ picks with runners-up (though tallied from snail-mailed paper ballots).

Mille Fleurs took a top award (Best of the Best, Expensive), after playing second fiddle three years running to Gustaf Anders, an upscale Scandinavian institution that moved to South Coast Plaza that year. Il Fornaio, the “much-ballyhooed Italian bakery/restaurant in the new Del Mar Plaza,” won Best New Restaurant. It had been open only one month when the ballots were included in the May issue.

Set the Table

In the ’89 feature, every table is photographed from the same angle, with nearly the same accoutrements: an empty dining room with one fully plated table. White or pastel tablecloths decorate seven of the 12 tables. Flower vases, pre-poured water, and pre-Atkins-era bread baskets (and butter!) abound. Most feature a bottle or poured glasses of wine. Craft beer? Zero.

But the tide was rising. Karl Strauss’s Old Columbia Brewery, which “met with instant success when it opened,” came in third for Best Bar. Karl Strauss went on to become the fifth largest craft brewer in the U.S. This year it won Best Local Sessional and Best Local Red. We’ll drink to that!

Retro Restos

Back then, dining out meant sitting in banquettes, ordering Caesar salads, and indulging in crème brûlée. We ate lobster at Remington’s and hush puppies at the Cajun Connection. We waited up to an hour on Garnet Avenue outside Mr. Sushi. Elario’s at the Summer House Inn (now Cusp at Hotel La Jolla) offered a “decadent buffet” for “post-churchgoers and hung-over Saturday-night revelers.” D.Z. Akin’s, then only a 10-year-old Jewish deli in La Mesa, was considered “Best Ethnic.” Market Street’s Kansas City Barbeque continued to be a favorite for “its appearance in the film Top Gun.” 

But 27 years later, a few things remain the same. This year’s Best View (Urban) winner, Mister A’s, took home the same prize in 1989, for “Best Dining with a View.” And it’s nice to know that while many kids are coding and Instagramming before they’re teenagers, their dining preferences haven’t changed. In 1989, Corvette Diner took home Best Dining with Children, and this year, it won Best Kid-Friendly again.

In 2016, the defining mark of our restaurant landscape is the age of the enlightened diners—ones who know the difference between commodity produce and Chino Farms, who seek sustainable seafood, and want to know just how many acres of free space those chickens are getting. And it’s the pioneers at places like Addison, Galaxy Taco, and The Red Door who are helping us make the best dining decisions. See who made this year’s cut here.

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