Every July, we name the best restaurants we’ve eaten in over the last 12 months. Before talking about the winners of the 2013 Silver Fork Awards, let’s look at trends we’ve noticed in the dining scene.
Pizza is the new sushi.
For almost five years, every other new restaurant seemed to be a sushi place. But all that’s changed, as pizza parlors pop up on the landscape like wild arugula. Each place says it is different; so far as we can tell, that seems to be true. What’s more, patrons are as passionate about their pizza favorites as they are about their beloved sports teams.
Beer is the new water.
San Diegans show an unquenching thirst for craft beer. It’s the new norm that bars and restaurants have 20 beers you’ve never heard of on tap. Millennials routinely discuss barrel aging, hoppiness, style and finish with the same ease and awareness as a certified sommelier talks about wine.
“Local and sustainable” is the mantra of the moment.
Food writers, restaurateurs and a dedicated public preach the foodie dogma of eating local and healthy.
Menus are matchy matchy.
Whether it’s collusion, economics or happenstance, the similarity among menus at restaurants serving New American foods is startling. The typical lineup includes short ribs, grilled salmon, diver scallops, New York steak and roast chicken. There’s only minor variation in treatment from place to place.
Pigs are on the slide.
However much we’ve embraced pig parts in recent times, our affection for pork is on the decline. Sure we still love Babe and Wilbur and Porky, but San Diego’s (and much of the nation’s) once-fanatical interest in piggy things is no longer so adamant.
Restaurant hopes spring eternal.
And thank goodness for that. The frequency of restaurant closings is enough to make the faint of heart feeble, yet the optimism of restaurateurs remains strong. The Cohn Restaurant Group is a standout for its persistence in attempting to meet the market in novel ways, like siting the upscale Vintana above a Lexus dealership. And always on the cusp of what’s new is quirky restaurateur Arsalan Tafazoli, the wunderkind who most recently brought us Soda and Swine/Polite Provisions.
This Year's Menu
Chef Katherine Humphus does double duty running BO-beau in Ocean Beach and 100 Wines in Hillcrest. This newest addition to the Cohn Restaurant Group is downhome, substantial and terrifically tasty.
Hotel del Coronado’s fine dining room is sumptuous and clubby on the inside. And should you dine outside, it feels as if you’ve simply won the lottery. But in or out, what’s on the plate is not just singular; it’s consistently superb.
Amaya La Jolla
In a setting that’s almost a caricature of how the Medicis may have dined, lunch and dinner are surprisingly informal and richly creative.
Big Front Door
This contemporary deli offers creative artisan sandwiches and fabulous sides like sesame noodles and black bean salad. Chicken, pork and salmon are roasted and/or smoked in-house. It’s like a bit of Brooklyn in University Heights.
Though intentionally designed to look like a woody and vibrant public house, Craftsman Tavern is home to some of North County’s most graceful food. Owner/Chef Wade Hageman has his roots in fine dining and proves it nightly.
Though D Bar has a primary focus on dessert, it’s the dining that wins the day. Lunch and dinner fare is hearty and unusual and always feels like an indulgence. The fabled pizza salad sandwich is a must-have.
Eclipse Chocolate Bar & Bistro
Known initially for its chocolate creations, Eclipse now offers weekend brunches and serves soups and sandwiches daily. But its most fabulous conceptions are monthly small-plate dinners. Hands down, events like Aporkalypse are the most inspired eating adventures in San Diego.
Take a trip to Encinitas to discover why dedicated carnivores wait patiently in line for vegan and vegetarian cooking. Native Foods puts equal emphasis on flavor and eye appeal, thereby dispelling the notion that vegetarian means only sprouts and greens.
Casual and worldly, this fine dining venue at Rancho Valencia Resort brings both extraordinary and visionary skills to what might otherwise be merely country club cooking.
And classics still prevail:
Previous Silver Fork winners still worth their “metal” include Addison at The Grand Del Mar, Pizzeria Bruno, Carnitas’ Snack Shack, George’s Modern, Nine-Ten, Saltbox, Sushi Ota, Table 926, Tender Greens and Underbelly. We’d like to renew their earlier Silver Forks with a hallmark that says “Still Valid in 2013.”
By Stephen Silverman
Photography by Martin Mann