Restaurant to Watch: Mess Hall

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.



San Diego's Best Restaurants 2016

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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San Diego's Best Restaurants 2016

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

San Diego's Best Restaurants 2016

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

San Diego's Best Restaurants 2016

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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San Diego's Best Restaurants 2016

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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Restaurant to Watch: Mess Hall

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