The Eater Awards are back, meaning it’s once again time to celebrate the people and places that strive to make San Diego a more thrilling city to eat and drink in as the industry continues to adjust and rebound from the pandemic.
San Diego’s 2022 winners demonstrate the breadth of the local dining and drinking scenes, spanning Michelin Guide-recognized restaurants and chefs to hospitality leaders and standout bars that are both over-the-top and under-the-radar. There’s a Vietnamese family’s take on elegant Southeast Asian cuisine, a local chef dedicated to raising San Diego’s culinary profile, a pair of restaurant owners who are building community through their businesses, and two speakeasies that deliver memorable experiences through their design and drinks. Without further ado, here are Eater San Diego’s 2022 Eater Awards winners.
Restaurant of the Year
Taking flight in January 2022, Kingfisher brought a much-needed dining alternative to Golden Hill and showed San Diego what Vietnamese and South Asian cuisine could look and taste like when brought into the fine-dining realm. Years in the making, the buzzy restaurant is a dream come true for Crab Hut owners Kim Phan, Ky Phan, and Quan Le, who, along with an accomplished team led by executive chef Jonathan Bautista and general manager David Tye, have built a worthy contender in both the culinary and cocktail scene that’s won well-earned local and national acclaim, including recent recognition by the Michelin Guide. The restaurant’s award-winning interior design provides a dazzling backdrop for classic dishes reinterpreted with seasonal Chino Farm produce and modern techniques, making Kingfisher a must-try.
Chef of the Year
2022 brought Callie solidly into its second year with no sophomore slump in sight for Eater’s 2021 best new restaurant that remains one of San Diego’s hottest tables. Still putting in the maximum effort is chef and owner Travis Swikard, with support from hospitality pro Ann Sim, producing unshowy yet drop-dead delicious food while building meaningful relationships with local farmers and generously sharing his considerable stage to highlight other chef friends. While Callie’s Cal-Mediterranean menu demonstrates his extensive experience, including skill with pasta on par with Italy’s best, it’s clear that the hometown chef has much more to show in the culinary department, and more restaurants he’d like to open. Hopefully, he’ll do it all here in San Diego.
Restaurateurs of the Year
Chelsea Coleman and Rae Gurne of Mabel’s Gone Fishing
Though Mabel’s might be their biggest venture yet, owners Chelsea Coleman and Rae Gurne have been creating independent, community-tailored spaces for more than a decade. With a commitment to local ingredients as a through-line linking all of their businesses, they first became entrenched in South Park with the Rose Wine Bar and Secret Sister and then established a presence in North Park via Bodega Rosette and their newest hit, a wholly SoCal take on a Spanish gintoneria that San Diego didn’t know it was missing. Equally embraced by the industry and the city’s dining public, these ladies know how to make magic without the benefit of sky-high budgets.
Best New Design
As one of San Diego’s most dynamic and prolific hospitality groups, CH Projects has been on a tear the past year, from opening a glamorous Italian restaurant and social club atop the InterContinental Hotel to handsomely rebooting Neighborhood, its first project, and pivoting a North Park watering hole into a hifi bar and record store. But the smallest and most stunning of its recent endeavors is this speakeasy carved out of a space behind Noble Experiment that applies an intimate tasting menu experience to curated cocktails. The 30-seat super-luxe velvet cocoon, awash in warm lighting and mirrors that lend everyone and everything a gorgeous golden glow, gives off chic Parisian ladies’ dressing room vibes, though the NSFW carpet pattern keeps it from being too precious.
Best New Bar
Deep in the heart of the East Village, behind a nondescript door and beyond a hallway lined with old fishing buoys lies a low-key bar that might be San Diego’s truest expression of a speakeasy. Only open two nights a week, with the link to its reservation page hidden on a fake business website, the Commodores Club is a recent add-on to one of San Diego’s foundational craft distilleries, Old Harbor, turning an unused portion of its 17th Street warehouse into cozy, comfortable bar filled with thrifted treasures that was handbuilt by founder Mike Skubic, who often serves as its gracious host. Rather than focus on far-out flavors and techniques, the drink list here is refreshingly straightforward and classic but also really, really good, ranging from expertly-prepared martinis to tiki riffs that best showcase the distillery’s growing line of spirits.