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, discussed the best dining neighborhoods and shared dining surprises. Now, we're talking about our panel's favorite meals of the year.
Q: What was your single best meal of 2014?
Marcie Rothman, FoodBuzzSD: A lovely evening with three friends at Market Restaurant + Bar ...everything including the service was spot on.
Caron Golden, San Diego Foodstuff: My first visit to Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub with Tommy Gomes was simply a wondrous parade of inventive seafood. I mean, really, grilled hagfish? Ceviche served with chicharon? Fantastic! And then I got an Andrea’s Truffle for dessert. Bliss!
Amy T. Granite, food writer, DiscoverSD: I’m not sure that it was the best, but I can’t seem to get StreetCar Merchants of Fried Chicken, Donuts and Coffee out of my mind. Just last week, I flipped out like someone called my Mama fat when a friend criticized the menu for lacking class. Say what? In retrospect, I’m pretty sure my rage stemmed from caloric withdraws. There is nothing in San Diego like southern fried chicken served with a brioche doughnut chaser. The place is literally like a drug den for food junkies.
Michael Gardiner, restaurant critic, San Diego CityBeat: Laja Restaurant in the Valle de Guadalupe. Jair Tellez’s crudo of callo de hacha "scallops" and sea snail, standing alone, was a dish worth crossing an international border to eat. Served with lightly (and ever-so-slightly spicy) pickled cucumbers, cherry tomato slices, and scallions with avocado in an herb-infused vinaigrette, this dish was everything that BajaMed promises: simple and fresh with complementary flavors and contrasting textures. But I cannot give just one. A tie for first has got to go to Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub in Oceanside. The originality and creativity Chef Davin Waite puts on ever plate cannot be overstated. There is, essentially, no one doing what he’s doing.
Erin Jackson, city editor, DiningOut San Diego: Stella Public House, where I ate nearly a dozen different small plates, salads, pizza, and desserts. You've got to respect a place that makes their own mozzarella and serves it in a Texas-sized Caprese salad with thick slices of heirloom tomatoes, hydroponic basil, and local extra virgin olive oil for $11.
Michele Parente, dining and lifestyle reporter, Union-Tribune: Does Baja count? Diego Hernández is cooking up stunningly creative food at Corazón de Tierra in the Valle de Guadalupe. My six-course lunch there blasted its way into my Top 10 Meals of All Time list. I will dream of my blue fin tuna tiradito, grilled pulpo with burnt eggplant purée and dessert with beets four ways way into 2015. If I must be San Diego-specific, then my first meal at Juniper & Ivy, when we swooned over the smoked-butter biscuit, squealed at the morphing, exploding Yodel and marveled at wine dynamo Tami Wong’s ambitious selection.
Barbarella Fokos, contributor, San Diego Reader: Fortunately, I had my share of exceptional standouts this year, but if I have to choose one that rises above the rest for all around best meal, I would say it is any one of my handful of meals at Wine Vault & Bistro. From starter to finish with these reasonably priced multi-course meals, each sophisticated dish is consistently as gorgeous to behold as it is delicious. The atmosphere is casual but elegant, and the service is knowledgeable and friendly.
Troy Johnson, restaurant critic, San Diego Magazine: Land & Water Co. One of the most progressive, sustainable, give-a-damn restaurants in San Diego. And the biggest surprise in terms of quality. Owner Rob Ruiz is a sushi chef by trade. He has no right doing prepared Franco-American food this well. Talented people bother me.
Darlene Horn, city editor, Zagat San Diego: Kamayan night at Villa Manila.
Omar Passons, eat.drink.give.go.: I don't think I can pick just one. The Alesmith Beer Dinner at Waypoint Public is up there among the best. We ate almost everything at Juniper & Ivy with some friends, that was great. And Hanis and Max at Carnitas' Snack Shack continue to keep us excited. Wait, I got it. There was this San Diego Beer Week event at Tom Ham's where Chad White paired something with a Lost Abbey beer and it was just ridiculous. I can't remember what it was, but if he puts it on his menu at Comun you'll know because it will be better than anything you ate that week. Was really, really good.
Frank Sabatini Jr., restaurant critic, San Diego Community News Network, and contributing writer, Pacific San Diego Magazine: Just when I thought that miracles can no longer occur with ubiquitous sea bass, Executive Chef Russell Rummer of Croce’s Park West pulled a good one by serving the pan-seared fillet with Spanish chorizo, braised gigante beans and kale. A plop of fabulous Romesco sauce on top tied everything together.