Every year, Eater San Diego closes out the year by surveying local food writers about their take on the past year in the San Diego dining scene. And every year for the past four years I’ve been a part of it. It is a year-end tradition that I enjoy. Here are EATER SD’s offerings of this year:
Here is a collection of my contributions (some of which hit the Eater site and some of which didn’t:
What were your top restaurant standbys of 2017?
Tacos Fito has become a ritual part of every morning trip to the Mercado Hidalgo in Tijuana. There are two tacos to order at Fito: the sweet spice-braised birria or the crispy tripe version. Go for Door #3: the combination of the two. It’s addictive. But as good as the tacos are the show is equally enjoyable as the taquero quite literally throws birria juice into the tortilla he’s got waiting in his other hand.
What were the top restaurant newcomers of 2017?
It is rare that a restaurant bursts on the scene at the top of its category but that’s what happened with Menya Ultra in the Convoy District. When Menya Ultra arrived in a town and an area already silly with ramen things suddenly got very serious and very real. If that wasn’t the most-talked-about opening of the year Born & Raised in Little Italy certainly was. “Retro,” “high-end” and “swanky” are words that were endlessly tossed around about CH Projects’ modern steakhouse. That’s what three years, $6,500,000.00, and tableside service from a by-gone era buy. Perhaps the best restaurant newcomer of 2017 was a change of chefs at an existing spot: Patrick Ponsaty at 1500 Ocean in the Hotel Del Coronado.
Sum up the 2017 restaurant world in one word.
Consolidation. For the most part the 2017 San Diego restaurant world was not an adventurous one. It wasn’t a year for the exploration of new horizons but, at its best, a refinement of old ones. Menya Ultra is another ramen joint, albeit far and away the best one yet. Born & Raised is, of its nature, a loving – albeit exciting and spectacular – look backwards. Fung Fung Yuen is a newer, bigger version of what we’ve had before. And while 1500 Ocean with Patrick Ponsaty at the helm is something different than the restaurant was before an argument could be made that it is just an incremental development on gains already made by Ponsaty at his prior homes (though it feels like more than that).
What was the best dining neighborhood of 2017?
While Little Italy lost one of its brightest lights in Javier Plascencia’s Bracero Cocina de Raiz when the restaurant closed in April it’s gained overall as Civico 1845 and Herb & Eatery hit stride and Born & Raised became an immediate sensation. These join the star power of Juniper & Ivy (Richard Blais) and Herb & Eatery’s big brother, Brian Malarkey’s Herb & Wood to form the foundations of San Diego’s best dining neighborhood
What was the biggest dining surprise of 2017?
I didn’t see Masala Street in La Jolla coming. In America, with few exceptions, Indian food is expected to be cheap and thus rarely climbs to the heights of which it’s capable. The food that Saransh Oberoi (formerly of the Michelin-starred Cal-Indian trailblazer Campton Place in San Francisco) puts out at Masala Street is characterized by both subtlety and power as well as an extraordinary precision in his use of spices.
What was your biggest dining grievance of 2017?
Inconsistency. It is a central reality of the restaurant industry: you’re not judged by your best night you’re judged by your worst. It is another central reality of the restaurant industry that it’s a marathon not a sprint. As staffing problems have become more of an endemic crisis in the industry the ability to put out the same high quality food night upon night has, inevitably, suffered.
What was your best restaurant meal of 2017?
My best San Diego restaurant meal of 2017, easily, was at 1500 Ocean in the Hotel Del Coronado. Patrick Ponsaty’s food at 1500 Ocean is French food (but not the way you know it), it’s California cuisine (but with a pronounced Gallic accent) and it possesses the powerful capacity to surprise (and yet it isn’t showy).
What are your headline predictions for 2018?
“NextBigThing Restaurant Group to open New York/San Francisco/Portland knock-off concept in North Park/Little Italy/La Jolla.