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Remembering the Biggest Dining Surprises of 2014

Big name chefs and big shutter news.

Pizzeria Mozza
Pizzeria Mozza
Photo: Mike Newton

As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types, and bloggers. We've already covered the 2014's restaurant standbys and top newcomers, seen the year summed up in one word and discussed the best dining neighborhoods. Now, we're talking about year's biggest dining surprises.

Q: What was the biggest dining surprise of 2014?

Amy T. Granite, food writer, DiscoverSD: A tie between announcements that Pizzeria Mozza will close and a restaurant by Rick Bayless is slated for La Jolla.

Michael Gardiner, restaurant critic, San Diego CityBeat: The influx of big name restaurants and big name talent to San Diego. Richard Blais moves to town and opens a restaurant. Chad White gets a place of his own. And it’s continuing in 2015 with Javier Plascenscia set to open a Little Italy eatery, Bracero, and Rick Bayless coming into town too.

Erin Jackson, city editor, DiningOut San Diego: Pizzeria Mozza's inability to find an audience at The Headquarters, which could serve as a cautionary tale for how not to design, promote, and staff a Los Angeles-based business in San Diego.

Michele Parente, dining and lifestyle reporter, Union-Tribune: Mozza closing. Yes, The Headquarters can feel like a mall in Anytown, USA, but Nancy Freakin’ Silverton can’t make it in San Diego? Conjecture, of course, but I blame them (bad service and miserly attitude out of the gate) and us (why so many haters, just because it’s from LA?). And where was Mario Batali? He’s a partner but just his name clearly isn’t enough to draw people in. A little face-time would have gone a long way.

Marcie Rothman, FoodBuzzSD: That Brian Malarkey will have another restaurant in this town, when Gabardine still sits vacant. Why?

Darlene Horn, city editor, Zagat San Diego: Happily, the explosion of gourmet doughnut shops like Donut Panic, Nomad Donuts and StreetCar Merchants.

Omar Passons, eat.drink.give.go.: It was the number of restaurants who elevated their service experience. I'm always thrilled to find certified Cicerones to help with my craft beer needs. And I feel like restaurants are taking seriously the whole dining experience, not just the meal.

Caron Golden, San Diego Foodstuff: The explosion of dining opportunities in Oceanside that is hitting its stride with this year.

Troy Johnson, restaurant critic, San Diego Magazine: No. 1. That no one has yet to take over a failed fast food drive-thru and started serving quinoa and salmon and kale. First person to do a truly healthy fast food drive through will become bazillionaires. Just because we eat healthy doesn’t mean we aren’t terribly busy. No. 2. That sushi restaurants are still serving bluefin tuna. It’s like that uncle who still thinks global warming is some hippie shit Obama made up. No. 3. Mozza pulled out so quick. There were so many issues with that location. Thought they’d try harder.

Frank Sabatini Jr., restaurant critic, San Diego Community News Network, and contributing writer, Pacific San Diego Magazine: The beaver tacos and kangaroo sausage at S&M: Sausage and Meat.

Barbarella Fokos, contributor, San Diego Reader: I was pleasantly surprised by Chef Accursio’s elevated version of Italian food at Solare Ristorante. He takes the classics to another level, with dishes such as wild boar bolognese with roasted almonds and arugula, or deep green and nutty rich pistachio crème brûlée. On each of my many visits this year, there was yet another new item on the menu that both surprised and delighted.