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Best Restaurants 2013
It's that time of year when Ranch & Coast editors sift through a heaping helping of reader votes, our stomachs growling as we tally the winners for our annual Best Restaurants issue. Fortunately, your opinionated voices spoke louder than our longing bellies — we’re ready to announce your selections for the best spots to get anything and everything edible in San Diego County.
From sunup to sundown and even into the wee hours of the evening (late-night happy hour territory), you’ve provided us some appetizing venues to satisfy virtually any hankering. Luxe splurge spots, burger joints, ethnic restaurants, cocktail dens, breweries, and coffee purveyors are all represented, as are special places to take vacationing guests, dates, and even man’s best friend. It’s a list as comprehensive as the 100-plus-item menu you crave.
We hope you’re hungry, because the list of winners of this year’s Readers’ Choice Best Restaurants poll should keep you busy supping on some of the finest cuisine San Diego has to offer for the rest of the year. The county’s your plump, juicy, mignonette-dressed oyster, San Diego. Get out there and eat it up! BRANDON HERNÁNDEZ
Best Al Fresco Dining: George’s Ocean Terrace
George’s California Modern gets all the media hype, but it’s the top tier of restaurateur George Hauer and renowned chef Trey Foshee’s triple-threat gastronomic fortress that won readers over for its unimpeded view of the Pacific coupled with octopus, fish, and shellfish plucked straight from it. (858.454.4244, www.georgesatthecove.com/ocean-terrace)
Best Place to Take Out-of-Town Guests: Bertrand at Mister A’s & Casa de Bandini
Many contend Bertrand Hug’s top drawer, top floor gourmet perch is the best place to show visitors a good time and a grand view of downtown. (619.239.1377, www.bertrandatmisteras.com) Just as many are willing to trade a panoramic visage for something most out-of-towners can’t find in their hometowns — outstanding Mexican food. And for that, they bring their brood to Diane Powers’ Old Town transplant, which our readers decree also serves San Diego’s Best Ceviche. (760.634.3443, www.casadebandini.com)
Best San Diego Landmark: Hotel Del Coronado
Enduringly beautiful and steeped in local lore, this ocean-adjacent luxury lodging remains at the top of the landmark list and figures to do so for some time behind the delicious Mediterranean culinary stylings of new 1500 Ocean chef de cuisine, Robert Hohmann, a newcomer molded by the likes of Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, and Jacques Pepin. (619. 522.8490, www.hoteldel.com)
Best First Date Spot: Bertrand at Mister A’s
Never underestimate the power of a breathtaking view and fine French fare. Both led to this Banker’s Hill stalwart being named the best place to woo the object of one’s desire. Nothing’s guaranteed in life or in love, but craft cocktails, escargot, and lobster make a good case for date number two. (619.239.1377, www.bertrandatmisteras.com)
Best Special Occasion: The Marine Room
Our readers choose to celebrate their milestones watching the tide roll up to their window-side tables at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club’s venerable upscale eatery while dining on worldly cuisine from chefs Bernard Guillas and Ron Oliver. (866.644.2351, www.marineroom.com)
Best Hotel Restaurant & Best Wine List: Addison
This year’s award will look right at home with the AAA five-diamond spot and Forbes five-diamond plaques on the walls of chef William Bradley’s palatial restaurant where artfully presented, forward-thinking, ultra-refined dishes never fail to disappoint. What’s more — in 2006, sommelier Jesse Rodriguez was lured from the Thomas Keller empire, and The Grand Del Mar has featured the best wine cellar in town ever since. (858.314.1900, www.addisondelmar.com)
Best Daily Specialties: The Fish Market
Freshness and creativity make anything served up du jour the catch of the day. (858.755.2277, www.thefishmarket.com)
Best Catering: Waters Fine Foods & Catering & Pamplemousse Grille
Edible offerings that look straight out of a food magazine set Water’s Fine Foods & Catering apart, and have the rest of the gun-for-hire steamer tray sect green with farm-to-table envy. (619.276.8803, www.waterscatering.com) Celebratory occasions are also made that much more special by Jeffrey Strauss of Pamplemousse Grille, whose dedication to numerous charitable causes is perhaps only surpassed by his exquisite cuisine. (858.792.9090, www.pgrille.com)
Best Baked Goods: Bread & Cie & Thyme in the Ranch
Bread & Cie’s Charles Kauffman has devoted his life to the science and beauty of yeast, flour, and water, and it shows in the crisp crust and soft innards of his artisanal loaves. (619.683.9322, www.breadandcie.com) That same level of amour comes through in every tidbit from the bakery case at Rancho Santa Fe’s much beloved daytime nosh spot, Thyme in the Ranch. (858.759.0747, www.thymeintheranch.com)
Best Desserts: Extraordinary Desserts
What’s in a name? In the case of dessertier and cookbook author Karen Krasne’s confectionary kingdom, the perfect way to describe everything available at her pair of mid-city sweets outlets. (619.294.7001, www.extraordinarydesserts.com)
Best Chinese & Best Vegetarian: Del Mar Rendezvous
You like them. You really like them. Enough to vote them first place in two categories. Dishes like yu shiang eggplant, vegetable dumplings, and seaweed salad appeal to a wide array of palates. It’s more modern, yet clearly every bit as beloved, as its tasty predecessor, Dumpling Inn (858.755.2669, www.delmarrendezvous.com)
Best Kept Secret: Cafe Secret
This aptly named Peruvian eatery is as charming as it is delicious. Empanadas warm the soul while a ceviche bar featuring half a dozen varieties, including scallops in aji sauce and mussels from Carlsbad Aquafarm with Peruvian peppers, refresh the body, mind, and palate. (858.792.0821, www.cafesecret.com)
Best Steak: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse
Readers give this dark wood-clad carnivore lair an A grade for hearty hunks of meat cooked to perfection and complemented by 100 wines by the glass. (858.535.0078, www.flemingssteakhouse.com)
Best Seafood: Pacifica Del Mar & Eddie V’s
Pacifica Del Mar, a long-time sea fare fave, remains on top at Del Mar Plaza, literally and competitively, behind updates to its menu by Peruvian chef Stephanie O’Mary-Berwald (a Todd English disciple) and the bar, where 200 varieties of vodka await. (858.792.0476, www.pacificadelmar.com) Eddie V’s, a La Jolla newcomer, can signal a “V” for victory behind a fan base as hearty as its lobster, shrimp, and oyster adorned iced shellfish tower. (858.459.5500, www.eddiev.com)
Best Charcuterie: Kitchen 1540 & Dolce Pane e Vino
Question marks abounded when chef Paul McCabe left the restaurant he designed at L’Auberge Del Mar, but over a year later, one thing’s for certain — the cured meats and accoutrements being served by Kitchen 1540’s chef Scott Thomas Dolbee since are tops in town! (858.793.6460, www.laubergedelmar.com) Meanwhile, the salumi and sausage continue to meet meat standards in RSF’s Dolce Pane e Vino. (858.832.1518, www.dolcepaneevino.com)
Best Oysters: Fish Market & Herringbone
The Fish Market’s bivalves come out of their shells bursting with the essence of the sea. (858.755.2277, www.thefishmarket.com) In La Jolla, the same perfection on the half-shell lives on at Brian Malarkey’s seafood-focused outpost, where several varieties are simply dressed and left to shine via their innate merits. (858.459.0221, www.herringboneeats.com)
Best French Cuisine: Mille Fleurs
Outstanding black-tie service every bit as classic as this Rancho Santa Fe eatery’s French cuisine push it to the top of la montagne. (858.756.3085, www.millefleurs.com)
Best Italian Cuisine: Solana Beach Crush & Firenze Trattoria
Classic style wins out over neo-Italian trends here. Readers are sweet on Crush, a Solana Beach sophomore where the authentico factor’s driven home by gargantuan meatballs straight of nona’s kitchen. (858.481.2787, www.solanabeachcrush.com) At Firenze Trattoria, polenta is tastefully amplified with porcinis and gorgonzola, and an impressive, extensive school of fish are made new via Old World preparations. (760.944.9000, www.firenzetrattoria.com)
Best Thai: Taste of Thai
Whether you’re a one or a ten on the heat scale, the trademark flavors of what is, arguably, southeast Asia’s most profound culinary superpower, will satisfy at this San Diego institution, which celebrates 25 years in business this year. (858.793.9695, www.tasteofthaisandiego.com)
Best Sushi: Sushi Ota
Our readers (and many a local chef) praise the namesake of this Mission Beach purveyor of expertly sliced, pristine oceanic fare. There’s no better place in San Diego to sign over your inhibitions and enjoy a chef’s choice omakase experience. (858.270.5047, www.sushiota.com)
Best Pasta: Vivace
It’s easy for a hotel restaurant to fade into obscurity, but the Park Hyatt Aviara’s ristorante registers high on the radar for diners looking for toothsome, perfectly al dente noodles dressed and stuffed to sumptuous perfection. Mangia! (760.448.1234, www.vivace-restaurant.com)
Best Pizza: Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria & Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza
Gourmet standards applied to rustic fare have made Blue Ribbon (760.634.7671, www.blueribbonpizzeria.com) a destination resto, while converting toque-turned-peeler Wade Hageman into a foodie cult hero every bit as well known as long-time hometown pie innovator, “Sammy,” who continues to offer quality and comfort served up in doughy disk form. (858.259.6600, www.sammyspizza.com)
Best Soup: La Especial Norte
Posole, albondigas, tortilla soup — they’re all here! And that’s just skimming the steamy surface of an entire page of belly-warming, soul-fulfilling caldos at this family-owned Encinitas Mexican restaurant. (760.942.1040, www.laespecial101.com)
Best Fast Casual: Urban Plates
There’s no shortage of quality dining options at Del Mar Highlands Town Center, but this new addition ranks tops among readers for its farm-to-plate salads, braised dishes, and freshly carved proteins. (858.509.1800, www.urbanplates.com)
Best Burger: Smashburger
In the battles of the burger boom era, readers crown this imported Colorado chain king of the beef bunch for 100 percent Angus patties adorned with high-quality ingredients like Maytag blue cheese. (858.461.4105, www.smashburger.com)
Best California Cusine: Market Restaurant + Bar
It doesn’t get more Cali — or S.D. for that matter — than locally reaped ingredients transformed into James Beard-worthy dishes by arguably a chef considered by fellow kitchen pros as the best in the county. (858.523.0007, www.marketdelmar.com)
Best Mexican: Fidel’s Little Mexico
It’s hard to stand out in a region replete with south of the border staples, but crab burritos and enchiladas, tomato-stewed cactus paddles, and exceptional salsa make this Solana Beach restaurant memorable. (858.755.5292, www.fidelslittlemexico.com)
Best Craft Beer: Stone Brewing Co. & Pizza Port Brewing Company
San Diego is home to over 60 brewhouses. Rising to the top like a foamy, hop-redolent head is the company that brought the world specialties including Stone Ruination IPA, Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine and Arrogant Bastard Ale. (760.294.7866, www.stonebrew.com) Kudos also to the region’s highly awarded brewing company, Pizza Port. (760.720.7007, www.pizzaport.com)
Best Specialty Cocktails: The Pony Room & Solace & The Moonlight Lounge
Top tipples modern and classic abound at Rancho Valencia’s swank new bar, The Pony Room. (858.756.1123, www.ranchovalencia.com) Readers also gravitate to the kickback coastal artsy rustic Moonlight Lounge on the top floor of Pacific Station’s Solace. (760.753.2433, www.eatatsolace.com)
Best Bar Scene: Burlap
Who knew a neutral-colored, scratchy potato sack material could be so fashionable? James Brennan and Brian Malarkey did when installing this spacious “Asian cowboy” outpost where socialites are packed in like cattle on a nightly basis. (858.369.5700, www.burlapeats.com)
Best Late Night Happy Hour: Chandler’s
Chandler’s may be the new kid on the scene, but it’s already on nightlifers’ shortlist for late PM sustenance and “just one more drink.” (760.683.5500, www.chandlerscarlsbad.com)
Best Wine Bar: The 3rd Corner
This pair of coastal vino vaults glow like lighthouses guiding in seekers of fine wine from North County to Ocean Beach. (760.942.2104, www.the3rdcorner.com)
Best Gastropub: Jaynes Gastropub
In a town where gastropubs are fast becoming ubiquitous, this one stands out behind clever craft cocktails and amplified everyman dishes that raise the bar. (619.563.1011, www.jaynesgastropub.com)
Best Appetizers: Searsucker & Roppongi Restaurant & Sushi Bar
The starters section at Searsucker is as long as most restaurants’ entire menus, and stocked with bold and interesting offerings like shrimp and grits, bone marrow and “cowboy caviar” (aka Rocky Mountain oysters). (619.233.7327, www.searsucker.com) At La Jolla standout Roppongi, Asian-fusion tapas including the Hamachi Tacos, Signature Crab Stack, and Japanese Hot Rock are offered at half price daily from 3-6pm. (858/551-5252, www.roppongiusa.com)
Best Breakfast: The Broken Yolk
Nothing’s broken at this king of the AM contingent where filling portions of eggs in all styles and value-for-dollar make prying one’s self out of bed worth the effort. (760.943.8182, www.thebrokenyolkcafe.com)
Best Coffee Spot: Pannikin
Forty-five years in business and going strong — it’s safe to say this homegrown java purveyor was ahead of the whole artisan roasting craze. Stop off to sip up single origin coffees and proprietary blends with a side of San Diego history at Pannikin’s Santa Fe Railroad Station digs. (760.436.5824, www.pannikincoffeeandtea.com)
Best Bloody Mary: T’s Café & The Tractor Room
Not surprisingly, the Bloody’s are superb at Solana Beach’s T’s Café, where delectable breakfast fare is served until 2pm. (858.755.7642, www.tscafesolanabeach.com) In Hillcrest, mid-days are made especially eye-opening at brunch bastion, The Tractor Room, thanks to 13 varieties of Bloody Mary sporting everything from anchovies to filet mignon. (619.543.1007, www.thetractorroom.com)
Best Farmers Market: Little Italy Mercato
There are few better ways to spend a Saturday morning than stocking up on local artisanal edibles at Catt White’s weekly combination block party and food fest. Say ciao to hunger and an empty pantry. (619.233.3769, www.littleitalysd.com/mercato)
Best Gluten-Free Offerings: 2Good2B Bakery & Café
Encinitas’ 2Good2B Bakery & Café offers homemade artisan loaves, cakes, and fresh meals (pizzas, quiches, sandwiches, soups) that are gluten-, corn-, and soy-free — but your taste buds wouldn’t know it. (760.942.GOOD, www.2good2b.com)
Best Sandwich Spot: Board & Brew
Stuffed sammies and hearty craft suds — it’s a simple equation expertly solved at Del Mar and Carlsbad’s best spots for one’s daily bread. (www.boardandbrew.com)
Best Dog-Friendly Spot: The Besta-Wan Pizza House
Rover’ll have time for to rest his pads while his owner pores over a menu featuring well over 100 different forms of “munchitude.” (760.753.6707, www.thebestawanpizza.com)