San Diego’s Best Restaurants 2016

Best Ethiopian
Critic’s Pick: Muzita Abyssinian Bistro
Readers’ Pick: Muzita Abyssinian Bistro

Santa taught me everything I needed to know about making lists. My first Christmas wish lists were epic, Ulysses-esque tomes. I asked for everything under the sun, and the sun itself. My single mom just smiled at my early-onset materialism, and cautioned that Santa doles out gifts with a tad more restraint. And so it is with our annual Best Restaurants feature.

Every year, it is my job to eat at between three and 12 restaurants a week (my record is five lunches in a single day, for our 2012 guide to Asian food). I make notes throughout the year, reminisce about my most memorable meals and the restaurants that floored me, and come up with my own personal best. And then I start cutting. Some of my favorite restaurants get shaved off. Would I love to have Yakitori Yakyudori on this list, since I dream of their beef tongue skewers with gossamer ribbons of dried tuna? Yes. Sab-E-Lee is incredible Thai food, but this year, the freshness of Suppanee’s ingredients from their own garden made me lean their direction. I’d also love to see Aqui es Texcoco on this list. Their lamb barbacoa is the soul mate for your salivary glands.

And how in the world do I not have Sushi Ota as the ultimate sushi restaurant, its greatness cemented and beautifully fossilized? Well, that’s because, for me, sustainable seafood is of utmost importance. Our fishing reserves are scarily scant. And chef Rob Ruiz of The Land & Water Co. is one of the foremost sustainable sushi experts in the country at this point. I eat with my mouth—­and my ethics.

Choosing only one per category drives me insane.

Talking to San Diego chefs this year, the one thing that they tell me over and over is—San Diego is in the midst of a restaurant glut. There are too many good options, and restaurants are struggling to draw a large enough share of the city’s available diners. That’s lucky for us eaters, not so lucky for the chef-owners.

But the best will survive the eventual shakeout. From a truly selfish diner perspective, it’s a pretty wonderful problem. And it’s a pretty great time to be eating and drinking in San Diego. I hope you enjoy my picks, listed alongside the winners and runners-up of our readers’ survey. Let’s grub.