The restaurant business didn’t get any easier this year. Costs went up across the board. Operating a restaurant is like trying to tame a wild animal that feeds on your life savings. With our annual Best Restaurants issue coming up, I have to pick the “Best of the Best” category. Meaning the best dang dining option in town. We have established chefs and restaurants who’re always in consideration. But new blood must be recognized if new blood is good. My finalists for this year are a mix of new and old. The winner, along with our readers’ picks, will come out in the June issue. And for me it came down to these:
Addison at the Grand Del Mar will always be in play. Under the technical mastery of chef William Bradley, it’s simply one of the best restaurants on the planet, let alone San Diego. The fact that it’s not won a James Beard Award yet is a product of bias, not value. It’s a special occasion restaurant, for sure, based in the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort. It’s not cheap. It’s very, very formal. And it’s pretty spell-binding.
5200 Grand Del Mar Way, Del Mar
Although the headlines have been taken by the Crack Shack, their casual fried chicken offshoot, Richard Blais’ marquee fine-dining warehouse has continued to exceed expectations since opening in 2014. Blais lives locally, takes a very active role for someone with a TV and book career, and his team is one of the best in town, especially Executive Chef Anthony Wells, who spent a year at Thomas Keller’s Per Se and was the opening-day butcher at Jonathan Benno’s Lincoln Ristorante.
2228 Kettner Blvd, Little Italy
First off, it’s the most beautiful restaurant in town. Chef Brian Malarkey and his partner/GM Chris Puffer captured some Victorian magic in the old Mixture art warehouse. Malarkey and chef de cuisine Shane McIntyre have never been short on talent. It’s always just been a question of, “How involved will Malarkey be?” When he left Searsucker, quality suffered. But H&W is his baby, and it’s arguably the best restaurant he’s ever done.
2210 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy
Chef Trey Foshee is one of the best in the country. To boot, he’s also one of the most sustainable, ethical chefs around, meaning that his kitchen cooks for the head and the mouth. Doesn’t hurt that he’s perched over La Jolla Cove. But what really pushed the George’s empire up in recent years is the bar program, which, under Stephen Kurpinsky, has finally reached the same level as the kitchen.
1250 Prospect St., La Jolla
Chef Brad Wise seemed to come out of nowhere. His tenure at JRDN in Pacific Beach wasn’t buzzed about. But when he partnered with GM Stephen Schwob (ex-Addison) to open this hip, minimalist restaurant in Hillcrest, they’ve both consistently blown minds of anyone I’ve sent there. That oxtail raviolini, the vinegar whipped-cream potatoes, the whole damn thing, is excellent.
3752 Park Blvd., Hillcrest
Carl Schroeder seems to get overlooked, possibly because of Market’s quirky location between Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe. It’s not a road traveled much unless you own a horse and an Aston Martin. But Schroeder’s a perfectionist and incredibly talented chef, and his staff totally buys in and knows the food and wine down to the smallest detail.
3702 Via de la Valle, Del Mar
Pick up San Diego Magazine‘s June issue later this month to see who wins.
Trust Restaurant in Hillcrest is one of the finalists for top restaurant of the year in San Diego. | Photo: Sam Wells