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10 Trends that Defined San Diego’s Food Scene in 2018

Carnivorous menus, the return of retro, and good-for-you (-ish) booze, here's a look back on San Diego's food and drinks in 2018

By Lauren Winget

1. Big Meat

While coconut “bacon” and jackfruit “pulled pork” tried to compete for our attention, big meat is enjoying its moment in the spotlight, thanks to new concepts that have put beef front and center on their menus. The wildly popular Grand Ole BBQ y Asado in North Park expanded to East County with “the biggest steakhouse west of Texas,” while Born & Raised (pictured) staked out their corner in Little Italy with a $6.5 million stunner that serves dry-aged T-bone and tableside Caesar salads with a side of gangster-rap swagger. We also saw STK open in the Andaz San Diego hotel, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse at the InterContinental, and more barbecue spots, like Smokeyard at Westfield UTC.

2. Natural Wine

The term “natural wine” popped up on restaurant menus all over town, but what is it exactly? These pours are farmed organically, with no additives or processing aids used, and this year, San Diego’s natural wine movement picked up serious steam. Pioneers like The Rose in South Park helped introduce these wines to the city, while Nat Diego, a natural wine festival in July, and shops like Vino Carta are helping bring it into the mainstream. Plus, at both Madison (pictured) in University Heights and Oceanside’s Dija Mara, the wine lists are now almost exclusively made up of natties.

3. Food Hall Sprawl

It feels like every neighborhood has a food hall these days. They offer space to smaller concepts and chefs who wouldn’t otherwise be able to open a full-service restaurant. Little Italy Food Hall debuted this summer with poke bowls, pizza, and Not Not Tacos by Sam the Cooking Guy, while Carlsbad’s Windmill Food Hall is slated to open this month. Next up: Park Commons in Sorrento Valley, The Outpost in Poway, and a third location of Foodgarden in Tijuana.

4. Retro Revival

Tiki took a back seat this year as Mad Men–inspired, delightfully retro restaurants opened their doors to hungry, nostalgic crowds. From a revamp of The Pearl Hotel’s restaurant, Charles + Dinorah, to Royale’s charming diner vibes and the overhaul of Saska’s steakhouse in Mission Beach, the era of bingo and Frank Sinatra is back and cooler than ever.

5. Shop and Dine

Taking experiential dining to another level, restaurants have opted to open storefronts inside their spaces, creating a hybrid shop-dine environment. What started in 2017 with Brian Malarkey’s curated selection of cookbooks and foodie gifts at Herb & Eatery and Moniker General’s lineup of home goods next to its in-house cafe has continued into 2018. Most notably, Raised by Wolves at Westfield UTC sells high-end spirits and barware in a storefront that leads into a hidden cocktail bar. In South Park, the new Italian bodega Enoteca Buona Forchetta stocks Forchetta-branded foodstuffs and accoutrements. Shopping has never been so tasty.

6. Upscale Mexican Food 2.0

While we still mourn the demise of Bracero, there are a few chefs in town bold enough to build upon Baja chef Javier Plascencia’s original vision. Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins, who came up in Bracero’s kitchen learning the art of highbrow tacos and the power of a good mole, launched Liberty Station stunner El Jardín, while Lola 55 in the East Village continues the wave, serving gourmet tacos at wallet-friendly prices.

7. Convoy is Cool

Convoy Street—aka Asian Restaurant Row—has always attracted worldly diners, but in 2018 the neighborhood exploded with several high-profile concepts, including Sapporo ramen specialists Ramen Ryoma with their signature housemade egg noodles, along with San Diego’s first exclusively omakase (chef’s choice) sushi bar, Hidden Fish, which combines traditional techniques, top-quality seafood, and fast service. And Convoy’s not just Asian cuisine; try the cooked-to-order churros at The Churreria Café.

8. Fancy Frozen Treats

Cupcakes are so last season. This year San Diego elevated the dessert game with a few fancy frozen treat options, including Portland-based craft creamery Salt & Straw, which is opening another location at One Paseo next year, plus gelato shop An’s Dry Cleaning, and shaved snow at Snoice. Good thing we have 266 days of sunshine around here, so ice-cold treats are always in season.

9. Instagrammable Plates and Places

For those looking to go viral, head to the Pendry Hotel’s Provisional Kitchen for their ostrich egg breakfast platter. The three-pound dish is made from one ostrich egg (equal to 16 chicken eggs), served sunny-side up with roasted potatoes, seasonal vegetables, bacon, sausage, and a toasted baguette. If you want a little design (or selfie) inspiration, visit ice cream shop Stella Jean’s in University Heights to get a pic in front of their cartoon mural, or stop by the “Do You Boo” neon signage at Little Italy’s Nolita Hall.

10. _____ is the New Craft Beer

San Diego is a bonafide craft beer mecca, with over 200 spots serving local pints. These breweries have paved the way for new ideas from innovative brewers, like JuneShine, whose hard kombucha offers a healthier, but still boozy, alternative to beer, and Bivouac Ciderworks, which serves a rotating selection of housemade ciders, including an English-pub-style, a tart blackberry, and a West Coast IPA hopped cider. We’ll cheers to that!

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