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San Diego’s 2018 Restaurant Newcomers and Standbys

Local food writers discuss their new discoveries and regular haunts

El Jardin
Haley Hill Photography

As is Eater’s annual tradition, we’re closing out 2018 by surveying local food writers (including our own staff and contributors) on various restaurant-related topics, and we’re publishing their responses in these final days of the year. Readers, please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Today’s questions: What were your top restaurant newcomers and standbys of 2018?

Restaurant Newcomers:

Michael Gardiner, San Diego CityBeat: Eater San Diego recently named El Jardín chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins Chef of the Year. The award represents both a stepping out of the klieg lights (two seasons on two different Top Chef shows) and a stepping out of the shadows of some of the chefs with whom she’s cooked. El Jardín’s food is at once both designed to take a stance but also true to tradition. Lola 55 blurs the line between high-end and fast casual while Priscilla Curiel’s food at Tuétano Taqueria is passionate, precise, soulful and balanced.

Candice Woo, Eater: Din Tai Fung, where I’ve eaten at least eight dozen soup dumplings since it opened.

Ann Wycoff, San Diego Magazine: Death by Tequila and Realm of the 52 Remedies.

Caron Golden, San Diego Foodstuff: Lola 55, Bahn Mi Hoi An, and Din Tai Fung.

Michele Parente, San Diego Union-Tribune: Delectable dumpling palace and U-T Restaurant of the year, Din Tai Fung; the glitzy Del Frisco’s; Campfire’s young and beautiful French sister, Jeune et Jolie; the soulful El Jardín; and, though not officially a restaurant, the glam/cheesy Raised By Wolves.

Jackie Bryant, Eater: Bivouac Ciderworks takes the cake for me. I think DJ Tangalin is one of the most talented chefs in town and I love his infusion of Filipino flavors into non-Filipino recipes.

Frank Sabatini, San Diego Uptown News: Aside from the buzzy places like El Jardin, Hidden Fish, Double Eagle Steakhouse, and several others, I was particularly excited to see the arrival of Fourpenny House in La Mesa Village, which is the only Scottish-inspired pub in San Diego County.

year in eater

Restaurant Standbys:

Michele Parente, San Diego Union-Tribune: Born & Raised, for every special occasion and the occasional Tuesday. James’ Place, before every show at La Jolla Playhouse, for sashimi and $2 truffle and parmesan potato chips! And Biga – not just because it’s right by the office but because Tae Dickey makes some of the best pasta, pizza, focaccia and charcuterie in town.

Ann Wycoff, San Diego Magazine: Dija Mara and Market Restaurant.

Caron Golden, San Diego Foodstuff: I’ve gone international: Supannee House of Thai, Bahn Mi Hoi An, Steamy Piggy, Spicy City, and Ambrosio15.

Jackie Bryant, Eater: My go-tos haven’t changed much year-to-year. Royale, Cantina Mayahuel, The “Cucinas,” Little Lion Cafe, Kettner Exchange, Biga, It’s Raw, Ambrogio15, Trust, Tribute Pizza and The Rose are always in my heavy rotation.

Pam Kragen, San Diego Union-Tribune: Trust (recommended to all), Maestoso (for fun, innovative and great service), The Balboa (for a great burger), Campfire (great food for North County residents like me!); Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub (there is no one as innovative with seafood in San Diego as chef Davin Waite, who’s the master of omakase.

Frank Sabatini, San Diego Uptown News: The very dated Szechuan Mandarin on Mission Gorge Road for steamed pork dumplings; Havana 1920 for croquetas and Cubano sandwiches; and the student-run Palette restaurant inside The Art Institute of California-San Diego, where gourmet meals sell for doable prices.

Michael Gardiner, San Diego CityBeat: If it weren’t in the far north coastal stretches of San Diego County and I didn’t happen to live in East County I (like a certain local chef who calls it his “happy place) would probably be at Davin and Jessica Waite’s Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub at least once a week. As it is, I’m there enough to feel like I’m cheating on my kitchen and my food writerly duties.