Our appetites surge while we work on our February issue, and it’s not from New Year cleansing — rather, it’s because it’s our annual Best Restaurants issue, in which we reveal your favorite places to dine in nearly 50 categories. Best special occasion? First date place? Wine bar, craft beer, gastropub? It’s all here. Cheers to this year’s winners.
Al Fresco Dining
Selecting the best in outdoor supping is a choose-your-own-adventure affair. Opt for a perch overlooking the Pacific complete with coastal fare at Eddie V’s (858.459.5500) or a view down the Ranch’s main street with edibles plucked from The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe’s (858.756.1131) proprietary gardens and orchards.
Place to Take Out-of-Town Guests
Though La Valencia Hotel’s dining venues have been in flux, the long-tenured Whaling Bar’s rebirth as the posh Café La Rue keeps The Pink Lady a unique spot for impressing visitors. (858.454.0771)
San Diego Landmark
Hollywood lore, a famously haunted room, and beachside ice-skating lure guests to the Hotel Del Coronado, while gourmet fare blending California, Polynesian and Mediterranean sensibilities provides reason for many happy returns. (619.435.6611)
First Date Place
Generous portions of steaks and shellfish are bound to impress, but those looking to end their dates on a sweet endnote would do well to resist the immense temptations of Truluck’s equally mammoth desserts. (858.453.2583)
Whether modern French with a sweeping view of downtown at Bertrand at Mister A’s (619.239.1377) or Marine Room’s (855.923.8057) adventurous cross-cultural dishes paired with waves crashing tableside, the food and the atmosphere at these standouts are worthy of commemorating life’s greatest moments.
L’Auberge successfully shifted its culinary point of view to one bringing in influences of the deep south with Kitchen 1540 (858.793.6460), while The Grand Del Mar’s platinum-level Addison (858.314.1900) maintains its stellar status behind inventive, luxe tasting menus from star chef William Bradley.
In a day when casual-upscale bar-restaurants are a dime a dozen, West Coast Tavern’s kitchen never runs out of bold-flavored, stick-to-your-ribs takes on pub grub and comfort food classics. (619.295.1688)
You want the best brought straight to you? Artistic food almost too pretty to eat floats with seeming ease from the Waters Fine Foods & Catering (619.276.8803) kitchen, while the event-tailored noshes from Pamplemousse Grille (858.792.9090) match the flair and flavor of chef Jeffrey Strauss’ cult-favorite eatery.
San Diegans come from far and wide to Bread & Cie to get their daily bread at this hub for carb-loving fans of crusty-on-the-outside, warm-and-fluffy-on-the-inside artisan loaves and more. (619.683.9322)
At Extraordinary Desserts, thick, rich, towering, and artfully adorned sweet treats that look straight out of some royal fantasyland make this pair of confectionary havens downright addictive. (619.294.7001)
For the gluten sensitive by an entrepreneur with the same affliction, 2Good2B specialty bakery makes delicious flatbread, French toast, pasta, pot pies, and sandwiches possible for everyone. (760.942.4663)
A location tucked away from PB’s bright lights keeps Table 926 hidden from the masses, but delicious, forward-thinking cuisine toeing the line between casual and haute make it worth exploring. (858.539.0926)
In the no-surprise-there category, Donovan’s Steak & Chop House delivers the dimly lit, wine- and liquor-drenched, delectable experience carnivores crave. (877.698.6666)
When it comes to our readers’ taste in sea fare, size matters. Both Truluck’s (858.453.2583) and Eddie V’s (858.459.5500) give diners their money’s worth with substantial fish and shellfish given delectable treatments both rich and buttery, and light and vibrant.
For house-made, air-dried, salt-cured, peppercorn-studded, tangy, spicy artisanal meats and accoutrements, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but one would seem well advised to stay coastal, as all of our readers’ faves hail from a seaside stretch spanning La Jolla to Encinitas with Sea & Smoke (858.925.8212), Solace & the Moonlight Lounge (760.753.2433), Prepkitchen (858.792.7737), and Whisknladle (858.551.7575).
No, it’s not called the Bivalve Market, but with plump, juicy oysters rife with the essence of the waters from which they were plucked, maybe a moniker shift should be considered for the Fish Market. (858.755.2277)
Something old, something new, but neither are bleu. With 30 years of service under its belt, Mille Fleurs (858.756.3085) is one of the county’s French elder statesmen. Still, it holds its own with the less-than-a-year-young Bijou (858.750.3695), the plushest, most well-appointed (and newest) of San Diego’s bistros.
With Firenze Trattoria, two decades of finding room to seat all of its loyal regulars exemplifies the benefits of sticking with tried-and-true recipes like Chicken Piccata, Veal Saltimbocca, and rack of lamb cooked in Chianti. (760.944.9000)
At Amarin there are curries in every color of the rainbow, but specialties like “little mermaids” (sake-marinated shrimp in rice paper) and “mad” fish with green apple salsa set this place apart. (619.296.6056)
Time-honored delicacies like Peking duck and moo goo gai pan share space with sriracha chicken, honey-glazed spare ribs and a Wine Spectator award-winning list of reds and whites at Del Mar Rendezvous. (858.755.2669)
With Sushi Ota, from an inauspicious Pacific Beach strip mall emerges some of the most deftly prepared and freshest sashimi, nigiri and playful yet elegant rolls in all of San Diego County. (858.270.5670)
Acqua al 2 has been using its noodles — farfalline with porcinis and mascarpone, anyone? — to win over customers and maintain prime real estate in the often-fickle Gaslamp. (619.230.0382)
’Za is a gourmet affair given proper Italiano treatment at Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria care of a wood-burning oven that transforms dough given three days to proof into a perfectly crisped canvas for myriad tasty toppings. (760.634.7671)
Variety is the spice of life and what Kim’s Vietnamese excels at. Wonton, egg flour, sweet and sour, and crab-studded cream of asparagus and corn — and then there’s the full page dedicated to pho. (760.942.4816)
Inventing San Diego’s quintessential contribution to the culinary world would be enough for most, but with Rubio’s, this homespun chain continues to evolve, including its use of sustainable seafood.
Grass-fed, hormone-free beef is the name of the game and the big difference at Burger Lounge. That said, this chain of cut-above burger joints gets major bonus points for perhaps the best veggie patty on the planet. (858.720.1200)
Cali cuisine can be tough to define, but you’ll know it when you taste it at Nine-Ten with meticulously composed haute plates like crab and lobster salad with blood oranges and pickled avocado. (858.964.5400)
Both Diane Powers’ venerable, once-removed North County hotspot, Casa de Bandini (760.634.3443), and post-track chips-and-salsa fixture, Fidel’s (858.755.5292), bring it with traditional south of the border flavors via tasty, gringo-friendly crowd-pleasers.
The secret is out. Readers know no place in San Diego County offers more takes than Café Secret on this acid-cured seafood delicacy — yams, chilies, passion fruit — than this quaint Peruvian eatery. (858.792.0821)
Tap after tap of worldly and West Coast-style ales and lagers from Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens and renowned breweries the planet over flow in tandem with farm-to-table cuisine at this pair of bona fide beer Meccas. (760.294.7899)
Quality vino flows like water from the dining room or the sleek modern bar at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina’s well-stocked Marina Kitchen, which includes nicely discounted happy hour offerings. (619.234.1500)
The ultimate in from-scratch mixology takes place behind Polite Provisions’ marble bar top at this urban hotspot for traditional and avant garde cocktails constructed from fresh ingredients and spirited spirits. (619.677.3784)
Enjoy Bar Life 101 on the 101 or in the Gaslamp at Union Kitchen & Tap. By night, these family-friendly eateries transform into packed nightlife spots brimming over with craft beer, cool cocktails, music, moxie, and matchmaking. (760.230.2337, 619.795.9463)
Come the early AM hours, readers opt to prolong the party at Brian’s 24 over chicken and waffles or a half-pound chicken-fried steak. (619.702.8410)
The ultimate in customized oenophile experiences awaits at Toast Enoteca courtesy of a self-serve wine dispensing system that allows one to pair multiple varietals with dishes from chef Martin Gonzalez. (619.269.4207)
An equal focus on food (wild boar ragu, duck confit, shrimp and grits) and drink (20 rotating craft taps) allow both to come together with increased synergy at Union Kitchen & Tap. (760.230.2337, 619.795.9463)
With hearty shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, and decadent buttermilk cheddar-chive biscuits, starters are meals in themselves at Encinitas’ Solace & The Moonlight Lounge (760.753.2433). The same holds true at Cardiff’s Pacific Coast Grill (760.479.0721) with shrimp dumplings in Port wine sauce, Hawaiian baby back ribs, and macadamia-crusted crab cakes; as well as at La Jolla’s Roppongi Restaurant & Sushi Bar (858.551.5252), with offerings including pan seared diver scallops, Japanese hot rock, and the signature crab stack.
At Snooze, kids cereal-studded pancakes, Nutella and banana French toast, and adult beverages make for a breakfast joint that makes one feel like they’re starting the day with a satiating dessert. (858.703.5300)
With Pannikin Coffee & Tea, when a place has been the darling of java fans for more than 45 years, it’s no surprise to see them roast the competition as this pair of coastal San Diego coffeehouses continues to do. (760.436.5824, 858.454.5453)
T’s Cafe in Solana Beach earns king of the celery stalk honors for its time-honored tomato-rich, early-morning eye-opener. (858.755.7642)
With amazing views of the San Diego Bayfront and blocks of purveyors of hand-made, locally sourced food and ingredients, it’s hard to hang with the likes of Little Italy’s Mercato (619.233.3901), but the La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market’s (858.454.1699) food court-equipped Sunday offering is enough of a “jewel” to merit a tie.
Upscale Grocery Store
Readers have serious love and loyalty for Whole Foods (760.274.1580, 858.436.9800) — but also enjoy the epicurean consumables, thoughtfully sourced ingredients, and fresh-made to-go foods that are offered at Cardiff’s Seaside Market (760.753.5445).
A sandwich is a sandwich, but Board & Brew’s thick layers of fresh toppings peeking out from freshly baked bread beside local beer is worthy of Best Of status in readers’ books. (858.481.1021, 760.929.2739, 760.434.4466)
It’s no wonder this Mediterranean chain is expanding so quick. Luna Grill pleases carnivores and herbivores alike with veggie kabobs, spinach pie, falafel wraps, and more. (760.438.5862, 858.566.5862)
A menu that’s low on calories, big on anti-inflammatory properties, and veg- and vegan-friendly might sound “too healthy,” but True Food Kitchen’s vibrant, well-seasoned, and crave-able food is as flavorful as it is nutritious. (619.810.2929)
You’ll eat well at The Patio on Lamont and The Patio at Goldfinch, both of which feature extensive patios as well as personal water dishes and treats for man’s best friend made with filet mignon. It’s a ruff life. (858.412.4648, 619.501.5090)
Don’t tell Ralph Rubio, but when it comes to sit-down fish tacos, The Brigantine’s reign supreme. Seriously, keep it on the down low and there’s a taco Tuesday in it for you. (858.481.1166)
Chef Carl Schroeder was ahead of his time when he opened his market-fresh, farm-to-table concept with Market Restaurant + Bar, and he remains at the forefront behind constant reinvention and a mad creative bent. (858.523.0007)
There are seriously flavorful benefits to tilling one’s own patch of land, and the home-on-the-range vegetables and herbs at West Steak & Seafood prove it big time! (760.930.9100)
Del Martians wondered if prince of pork Hanis Cavin’s swine-centric restaurant would work in their waistline-conscious community, but the new Carnitas’ Snack Shack location has proven well worth the splurge. (858.350.7675)
With Juniper & Ivy, Top Chef champ Richard Blais’ eclectic, ultra-mod cuisine has brought a much-needed punch of something different to Little Italy via an almost unfathomably rapid-rotating cavalcade of dishes combining whimsy and technical prowess with ingredients that are exotic and just plain delicious. (619.269.9036)
As the longtime toque heading The Lodge at Torrey Pines and its Slow Food-centric white linen, A.R. Valentien, Jeff Jackson continues to garner the respect of our readers as well as the chefing, farming, and ranching communities behind food that’s every bit as admirable as his culinary ethos. (858.453.4420)
The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, Bertrand at Mister A’s, The Marine Room, Addison, Kitchen 1540, Eddie V’s, Sushi Ota, Bijou, Mille Fleurs, Juniper & Ivy, Market Restaurant + Bar: Photography by Vincent Knakal Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria, Kim’s Vietnamese, T’s Cafe, Cardiff Seaside Market, Carnitas Snack Shack: Photo by Bob Stefanko Casa de Bandini: Photo courtesy of Casa de Bandini Marina Kitchen: Photo courtesy of Marina Kitchen Polite Provisions: Photo courtesy of Polite Provisions Stone Brewing: Photo by John Schulz All Other Photography: Courtesy Photography