We just put our Best Restaurants issue to bed. Some person is at a printing press right now transferring our photographers’ epic, nearly scandalous food art into a physical thing you can hold and drool on. Should be hitting the streets and mailboxes sometime in the next few weeks. In it you’ll find a couple hundred recommendations of my favorite places to eat and drink in San Diego and the results of our readers’ poll, plus a long-winded explanation of why I agonized over even the idea of doing a list this year.
I’ve been doing the Best Restaurants issue for ten years now. People always ask what the process is like. It’s pretty simple. I eat at anywhere between three and 25 restaurants a week (usually just three to five, but during special issues I’ll do five a day, five days a week). I make a mess and I make notes on some of the things that blew my mind and I believe would similarly detonate your mindspace. For Best Restaurants, I flip through all those notes and start pin-dropping my favorite things into the category holes.
But the word “best” is overt hyperbole and we all know it. I don’t eat with your mouth, and I don’t suppose my opinion to be the best or the greatest, neither the end all nor be all. And with every category there are always five or six places that I could just put into a hat, pick one, and feel great about sending you there.
For instance, for the best burger in San Diego this year, here were the five it came down to for me. The editors told me I had to pick just one and I obliged, and you’ll see that reflected in the issue. Just letting you in on the process here. Give these a try, make your own list; I’d love to hear your recommendations.
Support your local restaurants if you’re comfortable and able. Order a burger.
Jeff Jackson at The Grill at Torrey Pines is probably one of the most underappreciated chefs in the city because he cooks in a very nice resort and not a trendy new place with a plant wall. And this burger will forever be on my list. It’s how your grandpappy ate back in the days when Coca-Cola still had hard drugs in it. White bun that’s steamed in the juices of the ground chuck patty, topped with melted cheddar, chopped iceberg lettuce, Bermuda onion, pickles, tomato, and a housemade aioli.
This thing is ugly delicious. There are photos of it all over the internet and not one of them looks appetizing. It’s the food equivalent of a messy dorm room. Just a couple of browned and crusted patties with grilled onions, garlic aioli, and melted American cheese. It’s cheap. It’s a train wreck. And it is almighty good.
Bankers Hill is currently shuttered, but the owners swear it’s temporary, which is great news. When it reopens, if you haven’t tried their burger your life has a hole in it that needs filling. Chef Carl Schroeder is behind this gem—a patty that’s a mixture of chuck and brisket and short rib, melted aged white cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and pickled red onions. It’s massive and life affirming.
This brunch special is some next-level stuff, thanks to a Wagyu beef patty from chef Brad Wise’s butcher shop, The Wise Ox, then aged cheddar, fried egg aioli, and red onion marmalade on a housemade potato roll.
Some people will knock this pick and the next one because they’ve been around so long. But things become classics for reasons. Rocky’s is one of my favorite ways to induce a nap. It’s lumpy, buttery, simple, beautiful. Know what you want before stepping up to order or the staff here is likely to roll their eyes and walk away and come back to you in about a half hour. They are eminently loved grumps. Get the one-third-pound cheeseburger with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, and mayo. Take it to go in a bag and eat it on the beach. Sleep.
If you go during the week, the line’s not insane. I always order the single on account of no human mouth being large enough to successfully eat the double. Hodad’s puts a whole salad on theirs—huge slices of onions and tomatoes and lettuce. It’s that collection of cool and crunchy flavors that really balance out the guilty pleasure chunks of meat. Take it to go and eat it on the beach and take in the local OB culture, which is adventurous and rough around the edges and exactly as it should be.