2021: from Michelin awards to our best bites, a look back at the year in San Diego restaurants


To borrow a line from Charles Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, for restaurants in San Diego in 2021. The industry has suffered COVID-related shutdowns, labor shortages labor extremes and skyrocketing food and labor costs. At the same time, an audience weary of the pandemic flooded local dining halls, bringing restaurant owners the highest traffic and sales in their history. And two years after arriving in San Diego County, the Michelin Guide has spread its love everywhere in local restaurants, from taquerias to fine dining establishments.

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Here’s a look back at the year in San Diego in terms of food and some culinary predictions for 2022.

Callie Restaurant opened on June 4, 2021 in the East Village of San Diego.

(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Restaurant of the year: Callie

After two years of construction and COVID-related delays, San Diego-raised chef Travis Swikard has finally opened his dream restaurant, Callie, serving the Mediterranean ‘sunshine’ he helped develop, as an arm right from Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud. at Boulud Sud in New York. The stylish East Village restaurant has quickly become a favorite with local diners and chefs alike. Four months after Callie opened in June, Swikard won the Michelin Plate and Michelin Bib Gourmand awards. I think a Michelin star is not far behind.

Chef Davin Waite cleans kale in his Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub in Oceanside.

Chef Davin Waite cleans kale in his Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub in Oceanside.

(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Most versatile chef: Davin waite

This longtime Oceanside resident has amazed Southern California sushi fans for years with his wildly creative raw seafood dishes at Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub. A few years ago, he and his wife, Jessica Waite, added a ramen shop next door. In 2020, he extended his skills to tasty plant-based options at The Plot, and last month he added a fourth Oceanside restaurant, the Shootz Fish & Beer quick-serve taco / poke shop.

Chef William Eick's karaage chicken sandwich at Naegi Izakaya pop-up.

Chef William Eick’s karaage chicken sandwich at Naegi Izakaya pop-up.

(William Eick)

Hottest food trend of 2021: Fried chicken

Comfort food has become king during the pandemic, and many chefs in the region have responded with gourmet, spicy Nashville and Asian riffs on sandwiches and fried chicken offerings. Among the best starters of 2021: Naegi Izakaya, serving Karaage Chicken Sandwiches at Chef William Eick’s Special Recipe in Oceanside; by Junya Watanabe Crispy Karaage line at Raki Raki Ramen on Convoy, new a barbecue. Chicken, also in convoy; and Baba’s Hot Chicken at Hillcrest. Meanwhile, locally born Crack Shack has expanded its fried chicken empire, and many fast food chains across the country have added chicken sandos to their menus in 2021.

The vegan cräb cake from The Plot, a vegan restaurant in Oceanside.

The vegan cräb cake from The Plot, a vegan restaurant in Oceanside.

(Israel Palacio)

The hottest food trend of 2022? Vegetable cuisine

Vegan dishes have become a staple on local, national and even international restaurant menus, including Din Tai Fung, which added vegan options last April. Encinitas recently launched a seasonal pop-up vegan market. The vegan bakery Split oven extended this year to La Mesa. Superbloom vegan cafe opened in Mission Bay. And 2 years The parcel aims to open more points of sale.

Chef Tara Monsod from Animae.

Chef Tara Monsod from Animae.

(Courtesy photo by James Tran)

Hottest local cuisine: Filipino food

San Diego’s Fil-Am community is one of the largest in the United States. For years, Filipino chefs have made their mark on the local restaurant scene and in 2021 they have come to the fore. Tara Monsod took the helm of 2-year-old luxury Asian spot Animae in July, and it won a Michelin plate two months later. Chief entrepreneur Philippe Esteban opened white rice and weapons ramen shops in Liberty Station and in National City’s new multi-ethnic Food Hall Market on the 8th, which was developed by developer Fil-Am Joel tubao. In March, the chef Anna santos hamilton opened Starfish Filipino Eatery in Ocean Beach. And pastry chef Justin gaspar pays homage to its culinary heritage at the newly opened Hommage Bakehouse at PB

Chef Steve Brown in front of his Poway Swagyu Chop Shop.

Chef Steve Brown in front of his Poway Swagyu Chop Shop.

(Cosecha SD)

The best pandemic pivots

When South Bay chef Steve Brown’s Japanese Wagyu dinner program closed in March 2020, it relaunched with two concepts: Swagyu butchers and gourmet burger restaurants in Imperial Beach and Pacific Beach and a butcher in Poway with plans for more. And Girl & Dug Farm – a San Marcos specialty producer that lost its main customers, Michelin-starred restaurants, during the pandemic – has found a new mail order clientele among home chefs looking to liven up their evening meals. .

Eric Bost, executive chef of the 3-year-old starred Carlsbad restaurant Restaurant Jeune et Jolie

Eric Bost, executive chef of the Jeune et Jolie restaurant in Carlsbad, 3, who was awarded a Michelin star on September 28, 2021.

(Devin Castaneda)

The midas touch of Michelin

In 2021, the Michelin Guide expanded its appreciation of San Diego County restaurants after taking off 2020 due to the pandemic. Michelin inspectors awarded the Carmel Valley Addison’s well-deserved second star, and three other restaurants also earned their first stars: Young and beautiful in Carlsbad, Soichi Sushi at University Heights and Sushi Tadokoro in the old town. The Guide also announced five new Michelin Bib Gourmands (“good food at reasonable prices”): Callie, Little Frenchie, Dija Mara, Morning Glory and Ciccia Osteria. And five new distinctions from the Michelin plate (“very good cuisine”) were awarded to Animae, Callie, Fort Oak, Little Frenchie and Menya Ultra.

Wood-fired sea bass with charred cabbage and shishito peppers and coconut lime leaf broth at VAGA restaurant in Leucadia.

Wood-fired sea bass with charred cabbage and shishito peppers and coconut lime leaf broth at VAGA restaurant in Leucadia.

(James Tran)

Most likely to catch Michelin’s attention in 2022

After having won the Michelin Plate and Bib Gourmand honors a few months after its opening in June, Callie is the restaurant most likely to win a star next year. Chef Claudette Zepeda’s world-inspired menu at VAGA in Leucadia is worthy of Michelin attention. The same goes for chef William Eick’s Japanese-inspired fixed-price restaurant. Matsu at Oceanside. The philosophy of chef Brad Wise from the wood fire and from scratch reached its peak with Strong oak, which should go from honor to plate in 2022. Chef Roberto Alcocer’s fixed price has just opened VALLEY The restaurant has huge ambitions and stunning execution. Multi-talented chef Brian Redzikowski’s Yucatán-inspired menu recently opened Camino Riviera perhaps his best effort yet. BEFORE at Rancho Bernardo returns to its adventurous culinary origins with a new tasting menu from Executive Chef Christopher Gentile. semolina, an Ambrogio15 gastronomy project in La Jolla, offers a fresh and imaginative mix of Italian, Argentinian, Japanese and Korean cuisines under the direction of chef Daniela Martinez. Hoxton Manor, opened in July by original Dija Mara chef Ryan Costanza in North Park, wows diners with its Southeast Asian fusion cuisine. And new Cori Trattoria and Pastificio in North Park won two international awards in 2021 for authentic Italian cuisine from Sicilian chef Accursio Lota.

The best-selling Aleppo chicken dish at Callie Restaurant in San Diego's East Village.

The best-selling Aleppo chicken dish at Callie Restaurant in San Diego’s East Village.

(Kimberly Motorcycles)

My 8 best bites of 2021

Callie’s Aleppo Chicken, which has a three day prep process that makes it juicy on the inside with a crispy crust on top, was my favorite dish of the year. I loved it too VAGA’s wood-fired bar, served with a coconut milk and lime leaf sauce. Jeune et Jolie’s vegetable dishes change frequently, but new Michelin-starred chef Eric Bost works culinary magic every night with locally grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Go to a concert at the new Rady Shell Amphitheater? Order The dish of fried potatoes and cauliflower with Indian spices from Urban Kitchen Market, a mouthwatering dish garnished with aloo gobi masala spices and a yogurt sauce. The Plot Cräb Vegan Cake, made with fibrous lion’s mane mushrooms, crunchy coleslaw, grated fennel root and creamy tarragon sauce, has the perfect stringy texture of chunky crab meat. The salpicón of the Navy room – from new chef Mike Minor – is a deliciously spicy and crunchy chilled poached lobster salad with mint leaves, fried tortilla strips, Fresno peppers, carrots and red onions. Cardellino Whole Roasted Cauliflower with shallot sumac oil, dukkah and yogurt have a rich depth of flavor. Camino Rivieria Brentwood Corn Ice Cream is molded into the shape of a corn cob and served in a real corn husk with toppings of baked corn flakes, popcorn and caramel corn – surprising, creamy and delicious.

Brentwood Corn Ice Cream at Camino Riviera Restaurant in Little Italy.

Brentwood Corn Ice Cream at Camino Riviera Restaurant in Little Italy.

(James Tran)


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