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Restaurant Gurus Name the Biggest Dining Surprises of 2016

As is tradition at Eater, we close out the year by surveying local food writers and our own staff on various restaurant-related topics, and we'll be publishing their responses throughout the week. Readers, please feel free to share your thoughts below.

TRUST Restaurant Puts Good Faith Into Food & Hillcrest

Troy Johnson, San Diego Magazine: Trust in Hillcrest. I usually hear about rising talent. People love to call me and say “Hey, idiot you’re missing out on this chef go eat his food idiot.” Brad Wise had been at JRDN for a while, and I hadn’t heard a peep. Then he moves to Hillcrest for this new project and everyone hails him as kitchen jesus. I went in there a little suspect. I took two of my more jaded food friends with me. Guys who shit on buzzy restaurants for sport because buzz makes them feel impermanent and dirty. And we were all a little disappointed that we were so impressed.

Erin Jackson, Thrillist: The proliferation of poke spots. One minute there was one, the next they were everywhere.

Darlene Horn, Zagat: ​​Dunkin' Donuts' munchkins come in packs of 10 not 12.​

Michele Parente, San Diego Union-Tribune: Petco Park has evolved into one of the more exciting dining locations in San Diego. Cardiff Crack, Mister Softee, Zenbu sushi, poke tacos, Hodad’s, The Patio, Lucha Libre, Rimel’s ramen, Phil’s BBQ – c’mon, who needs baseball? No, really, with the way the Padres play, who needs baseball?

Josh Kopelman, DiningOut: Herb & Wood.

Candice Woo, Eater: Though there were some great original projects that opened this year, I was surprised and disappointed by a general lack of progressiveness in terms of concepts and menus. San Diego shouldn’t be a late-adopter of trends, we can and should be creating our own.

Michelle Dederko, PACIFIC Magazine: The enormously long lines at Pop Pie Co., which trailed deep into my hood in University Heights, BEFORE the shop opened doors shocked me. I’ve witnessed that level of line-waiting only in bigger foodie cities such as Austin, but it was a yummy surprise to see San Diegans so eager to test a novel food concept.

Frank Sabatini, Jr., San Diego Community News Network: The recent opening of Pop Pie Co. in University Heights, a casual joint specializing in sweet and savory pies. I haven’t been there yet, but to see an eatery emerge in metro San Diego that isn’t about tacos, pasta, sushi, drunken noodles, sandwiches or ramen is damn astounding.

Keri Bridgwater, Eater: I think Phil Esteban joining CH Projects versus starting his own concept took San Diego completely by surprise.

Michael Gardiner, San Diego CityBeat: For a town with a reputation of poor Chinese food, we’re catching up quickly and the growth of our regional Chinese cuisine options—the leading edge of that move—was on full display throughout 2016. Facing East and the growth of regional Chinese options: Village Kitchen, Shan Xi Magic Kitchen, the new FuAn Garden.

If I had to pick one restaurant, though, that was the biggest surprise to me it has to be Sanvil Baja-Indian Food in San Antonio de las Minas in the Valle de Guadalupe. The food at Sanvil reflects the heritage of its executive chef, Surinder Veer Singh Ortega: half Indian, half Mexican. The seamless blend of the two is both fascinating and exciting.

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