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Friends of Eater on the Biggest Dining Surprises of 2013

farm.fish.fork. by tjvphoto

As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, food writers, reviewers and bloggers. This year, we asked the group eight questions, from Meal of the Year to Restaurant Breakups; so far, we've looked at top restaurant standbys, top newcomers , had the writers sum up the year in one word and pick the dining neighborhoods of 2013. All will be answered by the time we pop open the bubbly on New Year's Eve.

Readers, please do add your own answers in the comments.

Q: What was the biggest dining surprise of 2013?

Michael Gardiner, restaurant reviewer, San Diego CityBeat: The staying power of the food truck scene. Its impending demise has oft been predicted. Its "fad" nature has oft been proclaimed. And yet the high end food truck scene is still here and will likely be so for the foreseeable future – Gloria and Faulconer and Alvarez notwithstanding – because it fills a very real market niche need.

Kirk K, mmm-yoso blogger: The closing of both The Linkery and Sea Rocket Bistro.

Ian Pike, food writer, San Diego Reader: Pizzeria Mozza. Hands down. I was so prepared to hate this place. Instead, it reduced me to a giggling schoolgirl by the end of appetizer bite two.

Michele Parente, features editor, U-T San Diego: It's surprising how the food keeps getting better and better in San Diego – more innovative, more playful, more down-to-earth. Yet, service in this town is trapped in a state of perpetual mediocrity. How could that be in 2013? Some places excel at training their staff and setting high standards for front of the house professionalism. But so many restaurants seem oblivious to the (pick your adjective) surly/overly-solicitious/unsophisticated/chatty/nowhere-to-be-found employees we're having contact with. Add how many are unfamiliar with the menu or wine list and it seems restaurateurs are focusing too much on what's on the plate and not who's bringing it to the table.

Caron Golden, San Diego Foodstuff blogger: I don't know if it's a surprise so much as a trend to watch for--the increasing collaboration between Baja and San Diego chefs. It's a wonderful gift to both regions.

Erin Jackson, San Diego city editor, DiningOut Magazine: Jeff Bonilla parting ways with Matt Gordon & Co. Can someone please woo this man to a restaurant downtown (or at least, out of North County?) I need his desserts within easier reach..

Troy Johnson, dining critic, San Diego Magazine: That my favorite one is still open. Tough business, food costs keep going up.

Amy T. Granite, freelance writer, @saysgranite: My boyfriend works part-time at The Mission, so I got to be a fly on the wall at his annual holiday party at Inn at the Park. Besides a chick wearing lingerie in place of a holiday dress and some of the best synchronized drunk-dancing I've ever seen, the main event was a buffet style dinner. Now, the B word tends to mean "brace yourself for imminent luke warm and/or mushy food" but this was the opposite. Everything tasted so homemade; hunks of (juicy?!) turkey breast with gravy like grandma's, sourdough stuffing, roast beast and horseradish cream sauce, haricot vert and classic scalloped potatoes. It was the quintessential holiday meal, nostalgic and timeless at the same time. What a lovely gesture from The Mission's owners to treat their employees (from all three restaurants) to a night that truly felt like Christmas. I knew the view would be marvelous, but I wouldn't have guessed the food… I'm sad to hear the Inn won't be around much longer and grateful to have experienced its Americana-charm at least once.

Marcie Rothman, FoodbuzzSD: Finding toddler playgrounds in many of the uber hip casual places. Take Waypoint Public as an example. They want the place to be "family friendly" thus there is a playroom for toddlers who need constant stimulation and whose indulgent parents haven't yet taught them table manners. With the kids and parents constantly walking back and forth, this creates additional tumult combined with servers, bobbing and weaving around the parents and kids. And no, I do not have children, but do eat out frequently with the expectation that I am not going to have a Romper Room experience during an evening out.

Kristin Díaz de Sandi, Life & Food blog: On a search for a Mexico City staple, Pambazos, I stumbled upon Tacos El Compita in Logan Heights. The tiny eatery has its menu painted on the outside of the building, which will already begin to tempt your appetite. Tacos El Compita is owned an operated by a family that hails from Hidalgo, Mexico. The little gem has an extensive menu with options that are not all that common here in San Diego. Make sure to not only order the chorizo and potato filed pambazos, but the huaraches, and taquitos dorados en caldo are phenomenal as well.


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