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The Biggest Dining Surprises and Grievances of 2018

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Our local panel weighs in

Cafe Chloe
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 question: What was your biggest dining surprise and dining grievance in 2018?

Dining surprise:

Candice Woo, Eater: Is this the end of independent restaurants? We should be alarmed into action by the sad shutters of beloved eateries like Cafe Chloe and Ceviche House.

Jackie Bryant, Eater: I was really disappointed to see Ceviche House close, especially as Tahona was moving in. It’d be nice to see Old Town have the renaissance everyone wants it to. I was also surprised that I like Little Italy Food Hall as much as I do. Ideas like that can get gimmicky, fast, but I really enjoy the space and the purveyors.

Ann Wycoff, San Diego Magazine: Chef Angelo Sosa’s arrival in Encinitas and how creative and well executed the menu is at Death by Tequila.

Pam Kragen, San Diego Union-Tribune: Death by Tequila in Encinitas. How could a restaurant with such a lousy name turn out such elevated, beautiful, delicious and innovative food? Also: Cafe Chloe’s unexpected closing. And Urban Solace doing away with dinner service.

Frank Sabatini, San Diego Uptown News: That no more than five new burger joints opened.

Caron Golden, San Diego Foodstuff: It shouldn’t be a surprise, but I’m feeling overwhelmed by the number of chains moving to San Diego and gaining traction. I’m concerned that real estate has gotten so expensive that local talent is getting crowded out by the money coming in from well-financed national organizations.

Michele Parente, San Diego Union-Tribune: I’m cheating on this one. I already knew San Diego wasn’t a great Italian food town. For my story on the Top 10 places, I spent literally months eating over-sauced and improperly-cooked pasta, mediocre meatballs, and just overall uninspired Italian food. I tried at least 20 new places and returned to several that had disappointed me before – but people insisted I had to give another shot. In the end, I could only name 7 places to my list of Top 10. I took a little heat for that, but that was countered by the outpouring of responses agreeing with me. Forza, San Diego – step it up!

Michael Gardiner, San Diego CityBeat: The first was the closing of the widely beloved Cafe Chloe. As often as it had been described as our perfect French bistro I’d described it as “individualistic…suis generis, and it is its own thing.” Some said it wasn’t what it once had been, but I’d been recently and was sure there was plenty of gas left in the tank. The other, much less bemoaned closing was of Roadem BBQ in Convoy. The cheapest Korean BBQ spot in town, there’s likely no single place I’ve been for lunch more often over the years than Roadem. It was incredibly good value and was always busy.

year in eater

Dining grievance:

Ann Wycoff, San Diego Magazine: Encountering too much sloppy service and mediocre cuisine.

Jackie Bryant, Eater: That all the places I want to go to eat and drink are now in a mall.

Michael Gardiner, San Diego CityBeat: Too much following of trends. Do we really need so many ramen restaurants? What about poke places? How about hotpot spots? Well, judging by some of the closings, apparently not. I’d much rather see a restaurant space filled by someone doing something original or new or something old, solid and heartfelt than by someone just following the latest trend and hoping they’re on the right side of the hump.

Frank Sabatini, San Diego Uptown News: Theme concepts. Let’s shift the spotlight back onto food and service—and in quieter settings. The people will come.

Pam Kragen, San Diego Union-Tribune: The point-of-sale devices that automatically recommend tips up to 40 percent for cashier-only service. If you don’t leave a tip (with the cashier and next customer watching) you feel guilty all day. Hate it. Bring back the tip jar.

Michele Parente, San Diego Union-Tribune: Why is El Jardín not a runaway hit? The U-T’s Chef of the Year, Claudette Zapeda-Wilkins, is putting out gutsy modern and reverent interpretations of regional Mexican dishes the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Are we that timid about the unfamiliar? I like to think not, because other chefs will be gun-shy about going too far outside San Diego’s sometimes claustrophobic box. I’d also like to think that we’re sophisticated enough now to recognize that fine ingredients used in labor-intensive dishes cost money and we have to pay for that. Yes, even if it’s Mexican food.

Caron Golden, San Diego Foodstuff: Too many restaurants that are too noisy to enjoy a meal and conversation. Am I showing my age? Perhaps. But I have a lot of younger friends who are also complaining about this. Restaurateurs, fix it! Just fix it!