The Eater Awards recognize excellence in the restaurant industry over the past year in cities nationwide. In the face of so many difficulties, from pandemic ripple effects and labor issues to increased operation costs, San Diego restaurants and bars have continued to endure and even thrive thanks to the dedication of the workers and creatives that make up the industry here in the county. There aren’t enough awards to go around to the unsung heroes who help uplift and feed communities in this expansive metropolis. Still, we celebrate these local establishments that helped define what great food and dining look like in 2023, from a North County cafe making serious food in an unlikely location to a pop-up that finally made the move to a full-fledged restaurant. Here now, are San Diego’s 2023 Eater Awards.
Atelier Manna: Best New Neighborhood Restaurant
Laidback Leucadia, an enclave in Encinitas, was certainly an idyllic beach neighborhood though hardly a food destination, that is, until the spring arrival of Atelier Manna. Chef Andrew Bachelier (previously Jeune et Jolie) ostensibly opened Manna as a workshop and test kitchen for the highly-anticipated Chick & Hawk, his upcoming project with pro skater Tony Hawk. But the all-outdoor daytime cafe fueled by a pint-sized kitchen has firmly established itself as one of the hottest restaurants in San Diego and the surrounding community’s biggest culinary draw. Supported by chef de cuisine Marlaw Seraspi and beverage director Nick Sinutko — part of a team that will transfer over to Chick & Hawk — Bachelier is doing some of the best work of his career creating seasonal menus that never try too hard but are still seriously impressive. Sitting on Manna’s patio on a sunny afternoon, enjoying an impossibly crave-worthy salad or a Spanish-style French toast that’s better than its more famous counterpart, feels like relaxed San Diego dining at its finest.
The Lafayette Hotel: Best Night Out
The $31 million restoration-slash-transformation of one of San Diego’s most historic institutions by CH Projects is a maximalist’s dream where the group — known for over-the-top, big-budget spots like Morning Glory and Born & Raised — demonstrates almost impractical attention to detail in every nook and cranny of the 139-room property. It’s also a lot of fun for both out-of-towners and San Diego residents. Hotel guests get not-so-mini bars in their rooms while regular patrons of the hotel’s past iteration still roam its halls, sipping cocktails in the lobby bar or playing foosball in the game room. Locals can save on Lyft rides by going on a bar and restaurant crawl without ever leaving the premises; start with drinks poolside followed by a modern Mexican meal at Quixote, bowl 10 frames in the Gutter, and end the night with a midnight snack at Beginners Diner. With spaces yet to be activated, including a live music venue and a fine dining restaurant, the Lafayette Hotel will soon have even more options for a choose-your-own-adventure experience.
Long Story Short: Best Pop-Up Turned Permanent
Kelly and Elliott Townsend launched Long Story Short out of their North Park home way back in March 2016, continuing to host roving dinners until 2021 when the San Diego natives, who formerly cooked at acclaimed local restaurants like Juniper & Ivy and Cowboy Star, graduated the pop-up to a regular gig at Vino Carta in Solana Beach. This year, when North Park’s Little Thief announced plans to change up its food component, the Townsends took over the kitchen where it was a welcome addition to the neighborhood’s dining landscape, serving hyper-seasonal dishes drafted from what they source directly from local farms, farmers’ markets, and fishermen. Unfortunately, Long Story Short made the unexpected announcement on Tuesday, December 5, that it is ending its North Park residency on December 30. Elliott Townsend told Eater the couple intends to go back to its pop-up roots while looking for another permanent space where Long Story Short can write its next chapter.
La Bamba Room: Best New Bar
Years in the making, the La Bamba Room blends Chicano culture with Japanese listening bar vibes in this highly personal project from Salud Tacos founder Ernie Becerra. Opened next to the popular Logan Avenue taco shop and filled with cherished heirlooms, from his grandmother’s velvet chair that sits in a place of honor to a DJ booth fashioned out of her living room furniture, the bar is a warm and welcoming space where an impromptu dance party might just break out between the bar stools. Family also inspired the extensive cocktail book, compiled and created by bar manager Tony Roehr (previously Mabel’s Gone Fishing and CH Projects), that truly has something for everyone, from a shot and a beer to well-executed classics, paired with snacks like salt and pepper chicken skin chicharron and Grandpa Pio’s marinated olives.
Yiko Yiko: Best New Dessert Shop
The preponderance of trendy, over-the-top desserts seemingly created to go viral on social media accounts made this year’s low-key arrival of Yiko Yiko particularly refreshing. The Asian bakery and cafe, whose opening in Kearny Mesa was delayed for several years due to the pandemic, began in owner Yuan Yuan Zhang’s home kitchen where she perfected wholesome desserts that center around Asian flavors, from red bean and taro to durian and pork floss, made using ingredients like organic dairy and eggs and fresh fruit. Zhang and her team of bakers continue that ethos in the shop’s glassed-in kitchen, where they build light-as-air chiffon cakes and wrap delicate, tender mochi around fresh fruit and cream. Every visit to the friendly cafe yields the discovery of a new treat that’s guaranteed to be not-too-sweet (the highest compliment).