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San Diego's Best Restaurants 2018

More than 7,000 readers voted in our annual poll—and the results are in! Dig into the 260 winners defining San Diego’s food scene in 2018.



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Herb & Wood | Photography by Sam Wells

A Word From Food Editor Troy Johnson

It was a year of drastic change.

After a few years of looking wan and corpulent, the mall (specifically Westfield UTC) became one of the hottest culinary meccas in town. Yes, the food and drink scene around India Street continued to do what bunnies do, but it’s now so overstuffed with bars and restaurants that upstarts have started skipping Little Italy for more underserved fringes like Imperial Beach, Ocean Beach, Oceanside, La Mesa, and Carlsbad. Vegetarian and vegan food rose from the compost to flourish, as even diehard carnivorous chefs embraced the art of plant-based cooking. With the rise in minimum wage, the restaurant server became an endangered species, replaced with counter service and kiosks and tablets. Costs, and the usual blinding speed of modern American life, led to the rise of “quick service” restaurants. Everyone seems to want to become “the Chipotle of X,” which is not necessarily a bad thing.

The good news is our options have never been more plentiful. The bad news is that getting lunch from a robot is an impending reality. Humans are being phased out of what has long been the most social sector of the American marketplace: the dinner table and bar.

Fear not. There are those who’ve joined the resistance. Like Born & Raised. In the height of fast-casualization, the owners went ahead and built a $6.5 million steakhouse with tableside service that encourages guests to socialize and linger. The other welcome news is the booming healthy gourmet food scene. From Plant Power creating the first vegan drive-thru to a second True Food Kitchen, this time in UTC, we’re finally able to eat out without buying new pants.

San Diego was late to the food revolution. And now that we’re a decade-plus into our own culinary proliferation, food people are getting older and having kids. No longer sequestered to gaudy, anti-food emporiums like Chuck E. Cheese’s, those who’ve chosen reproduction have safe havens for the entire coven at suburban places like Waypoint Public and Landon’s Gourmet Kitchen. In 2018, I think we’ll see more restaurants realize taste buds don’t die during childbirth.

So, rise, suburbs. Awaken from your chain-gruel slumber. Dinner, and lunch and breakfast and happy hour, is served.

 ​

Overall

Best New Restaurant: Born & Raised

Best of the Best Fancy

Critic’s Pick: Herb & Wood
Readers’ Pick: Juniper and Ivy
Runner-up: Lionfish

 

Best of the Best Casual

Critic’s Pick: Trust
Readers’ Pick: Whisknladle
Runner-up: Puesto

 

Best New Restaurant

Critic’s Pick: Born & Raised
Readers’ Pick: Born & Raised
Runner-up: Royale

 

Best Chef

Critic’s Pick: William Bradley (Addison)
Readers’ Pick: Accursio Lota (Solare)
Runner-up: Brian Malarkey (Herb & Wood, Farmer & the Seahorse)

 

Best Service

Critic’s Pick: Red O
Readers’ Pick: Solare
Runner-up: Barbusa

 

Best Happy Hour

Critic’s Pick: Donovan’s Steak & Chop House
Readers’ Pick: Lionfish
Runner-up: Madison

 

Best Bar Menu

Critic’s Pick: Barleymash
Readers’ Pick: El Chingon
Runner-up: Starlite

 

Best Cheap Eats

Critic’s Pick: The Friendly
Readers’ Pick: The Kebab Shop
Runner-up: The Crack Shack

 

Best Food Truck

Critic’s Pick: Mariscos Mi Gusto Es
Readers’ Pick: Mangia Mangia
Runner-up: Super Q

 

Best Hotel Restaurant

Critic’s Pick: Nine-Ten (at Grande Colonial)
Readers’ Pick: Lionfish (at Pendry)
Runner-up: Nine-Ten

 

Best Caterer

Critic’s Pick: Miho
Readers’ Pick: Kitchens for Good
Runner-up: The French Gourmet

Best Healthy Eats

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

 

Best Indulgent Eats

Critic’s Pick: The Crack Shack
Readers’ Pick: The Crack Shack
Runner-up: Extraordinary Desserts

 

Best Gluten-Free Menu

Critic’s Pick: True Food Kitchen
Readers’ Pick: Puesto
Runner-up: Bivouac Ciderworks

 

Best Breakfast/ Brunch

Critic’s Pick: Urban Solace
Readers’ Pick: Breakfast Republic
Runner-up: Snooze, an A.M. Eatery

 

Best Buffet

Critic’s Pick: Urban Plates
Readers’ Pick: Barona Resort & Casino
Runner-up: Viejas Casino & Resort

 

Best Bakery

Critic’s Pick: Prager Brothers Artisan Breads
Readers’ Pick: The French Gourmet
Runner-up: Donut Bar

 

Best Taco Shop

Critic’s Pick: Las Cuatro Milpas
Readers’ Pick: Puesto
Runner-up: The Taco Stand

 

Best Cheese Program

Critic’s Pick: Venissimo Cheese
Readers’ Pick: Venissimo Cheese
Runner-up: The Patio on Goldfinch

 

Best Desserts

Critic’s Pick: Michele Coulon Dessertier
Readers’ Pick: Extraordinary Desserts
Runner-up: Snoice

 

Best Late-Night Menu

Critic’s Pick: Starlite
Readers’ Pick: Starlite
Runner-up: Brian’s 24

 

Best Baja Restaurant

Critic’s Pick: Verde y Crema
Readers’ Pick: Deckman’s en el Mogor
Runner-up: Misión 19

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Atmosphere

Best Design (Critic's Pick): Born & Raised

Best Design

Critic’s Pick: Born & Raised
Readers’ Pick: Madison
Runner-up: Lionfish

 

Best Business Lunch

Critic’s Pick: The Grant Grill
Readers’ Pick: Searsucker
Runner-up: Red O

 

Best View (Urban)

Critic’s Pick: Mister A’s
Readers’ Pick: Mister A’s
Runner-up: The Pool House at Pendry San Diego

 

Best View (Water)

Critic’s Pick: The Marine Room
Readers’ Pick: Coasterra
Runner-up: The Marine Room

 

Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant

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

 

Best Pet-Friendly Restaurant

Critic’s Pick: The Patio on Lamont
Readers’ Pick: The Patio on Lamont
Runner-up: The Crack Shack

Best Restaurant for Big Groups

Critic’s Pick: Coasterra
Readers’ Pick: Mezé Greek Fusion
Runner-up: Barbusa

 

Best Outdoor Patio

Critic’s Pick: Jaynes Gastropub
Readers’ Pick: The Crack Shack
Runner-up: Park & Rec

 

Best Special Occasion

Critic’s Pick: Addison
Readers’ Pick: Born & Raised
Runner-up: Mister A’s

 

Best Place to Watch the Game

Critic’s Pick: The Rabbit Hole
Readers’ Pick: Kaminski’s BBQ & Sports Lounge
Runner-up: Barleymash

 

Best Date Spot

Critic’s Pick: BO-beau Kitchen + Bar
Readers’ Pick: Catania
Runner-up: Madison

 

Best Diner

Critic’s Pick: Harry’s Coffee Shop
Readers’ Pick: Studio Diner
Runner-up: Corvette Diner

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Specific Dishes

Best Burger (Critics's Pick): The Balboa Bar and Grill

Best Burger

Critic’s Pick: The Balboa Bar and Grill
Readers’ Pick: Rocky’s Crown Pub
Runner-up: Burger Lounge

 

Best Veggie Burger

Critic’s Pick: Burger Lounge
Readers’ Pick: Burger Lounge
Runner-up: Plant Power

 

Best Pizza

Critic’s Pick: Buona Forchetta
Readers’ Pick: Bronx Pizza
Runner-up: Buona Forchetta

 

Best Sandwich

Critic’s Pick: The Grill at The Lodge at Torrey Pines
Readers’ Pick: Board & Brew
Runner-up: Havana 1920

 

Best Fries

Critic’s Pick: The Smoking Goat
Readers’ Pick: The Kebab Shop
Runner-up: Searsucker

 

Best Salad

Critic’s Pick: Big Front Door
Readers’ Pick: Tender Greens and Urban Plates (tie)
Runner-up: Napizza

 

Best Chicken Wings

Critic’s Pick: Cross Street Chicken and Beer
Readers’ Pick: Dirty Birds
Runner-up: Wings-N-Things

 

Best Taco

Critic’s Pick: Puesto
Readers’ Pick: Puesto
Runner-up: Tacos el Gordo

 

Best Fish Taco

Critic’s Pick: Mitch’s Seafood
Readers’ Pick: Rubio’s
Runner-up: Brigantine Seafood & Oyster Bar

Best Chips and Salsa

Critic’s Pick: Cantina Mayahuel
Readers’ Pick: Puesto
Runner-up: El Chingon

 

Best Burrito

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

 

Best Sushi

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

 

Best Poke

Critic’s Pick: It’s Raw Poke Shop
Readers’ Pick: Poki One N Half
Runner-up: Poké 123

 

Best Ramen

Critic’s Pick: Tajima
Readers’ Pick: Tajima
Runner-up: RakiRaki Ramen & Tsukemen

 

Best Pho

Critic’s Pick: Shank & Bone
Readers’ Pick: OB Noodle House
Runner-up: Pho Ca Dao

 

Best Donut

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

 

Best Ice Cream

Critic’s Pick: Mariposa Ice Cream
Readers’ Pick: Salt & Straw
Runner-up: Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream

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Specific Cuisines

Best French (Critic's Pick): Bistro du Marché | Photo: Justin McChesney-Wachs

Best Middle Eastern

Critic’s Pick: The Kebab Shop
Readers’ Pick: The Kebab Shop
Runner-up: Mezé Greek Fusion

 

Best Italian

Critic’s Pick: Bencotto Italian Kitchen
Readers’ Pick: Solare
Runner-up: Rovino Rotisserie + Wine

 

Best French

Critic’s Pick: Bistro du Marché
Readers’ Pick: The French Gourmet
Runner-up: Et Voilà!

 

Best Greek

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

 

Best Spanish

Critic’s Pick: Bar Bodega
Readers’ Pick: Costa Brava
Runner-up: Cafe Sevilla

 

Best Mexican

Critic’s Pick: Super Cocina Bar
Readers’ Pick: Puesto
Runner-up: Las Cuatro Milpas

 

Best Vietnamese

Critic’s Pick: Phuong Nga Banh Cuon
Readers’ Pick: Phuong Trang
Runner-up: Pho Ca Dao

 

Best Korean

Critic’s Pick: Buga
Readers’ Pick: Taegukgi Korean BBQ House
Runner-up: Manna Korean BBQ

 

Best Filipino

Critic’s Pick: Tita’s Kitchenette
Readers’ Pick: Tita’s Kitchenette
Runner-up: Zarlitos Family Restaurant

 

Best Russian

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

 

Best Ethiopian

Critic’s Pick: Awash
Readers’ Pick: Muzita Abyssinian Bistro
Runner-up: Awash

Best Japanese

Critic’s Pick: Wa Dining Okan
Readers’ Pick: Izakaya Masa
Runner-up: Sushi Ota

 

Best Chinese

Critic’s Pick: Village North
Readers’ Pick: Chin’s Szechwan
Runner-up: Dumpling Inn

 

Best Indian

Critic’s Pick: Masala Street
Readers’ Pick: Masala Street
Runner-up: Bombay Exotic Cuisine of India

 

Best Thai

Critic’s Pick: The Original Sab-e-Lee
Readers’ Pick: Supannee House of Thai
Runner-up: Bahn Thai

 

Best Peruvian

Critic’s Pick: Pisco Rotisserie & Cevicheria
Readers’ Pick: Pisco Rotisserie & Cevicheria
Runner-up: Café Secret

 

Best South American Steakhouse

Critic’s Pick: Puerto la Boca
Readers’ Pick: Rei do Gado
Runner-up: Puerto la Boca

 

Best Barbecue

Critic’s Pick: Grand Ole BBQ y Asado
Readers’ Pick: Phil’s BBQ
Runner-up: Grand Ole BBQ y Asado

 

Best Steakhouse

Critic’s Pick: Cowboy Star
Readers’ Pick: Cowboy Star
Runner-up: Born & Raised

 

Best Seafood

Critic’s Pick: George’s at the Cove
Readers’ Pick: Lionfish
Runner-up: Ironside Fish & Oyster and Water Grill (tie)

 

Best Southern Food

Critic’s Pick: Bud’s Louisiana Cafe
Readers’ Pick: Bud’s Louisiana Cafe
Runner-up: Urban Solace

 

Best Vegetarian/ Vegan Selection

Critic’s Pick: Kindred
Readers’ Pick: Plumeria
Runner-up: Kindred

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Drinks

Best New Brewery (Reader's Pick): Bivouac Ciderworks | Photo: Paula Watts

Best Wine List

Critic’s Pick: Addison
Readers’ Pick: Solare
Runner-up: Rovino Rotisserie + Wine

 

Best Wine Bar

Critic’s Pick: Wet Stone Wine Bar
Readers’ Pick: Rovino Rotisserie + Wine
Runner-up: Village Vino

 

Best New Brewery

Critic’s Pick: Wild Barrel
Readers’ Pick: Bivouac Ciderworks
Runner-up: Viewpoint Brewing Co.

 

Best Craft Beer Brand

Critic’s Pick: Eppig Brewing
Readers’ Pick: Modern Times
Runner-up: Ballast Point

 

Best Beer Selection

Critic’s Pick: Hamiltons Tavern
Readers’ Pick: Small Bar
Runner-up: Hamiltons Tavern

 

Best Brewpub

Critic’s Pick: Fall Brewing Company
Readers’ Pick: Karl Strauss
Runner-up: Ballast Point

 

Best Dive Bar

Critic’s Pick: Live Wire
Readers’ Pick: The Aero Club
Runner-up: Waterfront

Best Cocktails

Critic’s Pick: Craft & Commerce
Readers’ Pick: Madison
Runner-up: Prohibition

 

Best Margarita

Critic’s Pick: Galaxy Taco
Readers’ Pick: Barrio Star
Runner-up: Cantina Mayahuel

 

Best Bloody Mary

Critic’s Pick: Great Maple
Readers’ Pick: Small Bar
Runner-up: Café 21

 

Best Local Spirits

Critic’s Pick: Cutwater Spirits
Readers’ Pick: You & Yours Distilling Co.
Runner-up: Cutwater Spirits

 

Best Coffee

Critic’s Pick: Dark Horse Coffee Roasters
Readers’ Pick: Dark Horse Coffee Roasters
Runner-up: Parakeet Café

 

Best Juice Bar

Critic’s Pick: Northside Shack
Readers’ Pick: Juice Crafters
Runner-up: Nekter Juice Bar

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