26 Hottest New Food Cities

It’s starting, all those end of the year lists

26 Hottest Food Cities as determined by Zagat

Showing up at #26 is America’s Finest City. Don’t know if that’s a good thing, bad thing or simply wishful thinking on the part of a food writer, but Zagat seems to be doing it’s damdest to put SD on the culinary map.

Agree? Disagree? Don’t really care?

To my limited knowledge, that seems about right. I was kinda surprised Portland wasn’t included as well as the central coast (Paso or SLO), but that maybe because the coast is more an area than a city.

The cities are ranked based on the growth of worthwhile eating establishments in the past year, not absolute culinary worthiness. Look how far down NYC and San Francisco are. That is because there is a huge denominater of great established restaurants in those cities. Given that, I am surprised that San Diego didn’t rank higher.

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I have to agree with Encinitan. Being #26 is almost as if somebody did a top 25, then thought “we must make it 26 to squeeze in this city”.

What are all the hot new world-class places that opened in the last year in SD?

I was at Herb and Wood a couple of months ago, and it was a very enjoyable spot.

Beautiful space ( we were on the patio), great service and I liked my food very much.

We each had salads, some delicious rolls, one pasta and a pizza. Was rec’d to get a dessert, which I don’t usually order- blueberry soufflé and a play on a Twix, both excellent.

Although I don’t have much SD dining experience, I would certainly go back.

Where did you get the notion of “world class”?

As far as noteworthy and unique new dining establishments within the past calendar year:

*Liberty Public Market
*Pop Pie
*Galaxy Taco
*The Crack Shack
*Tribute Pizza

Don’t forget Trust. It’s only been open about a year, maybe less. Probably the best new restaurant in SD

In the Ranch there is Cesar (an offshoot from Cesar in the Bay Area) and Ponsaty’s.

I figured that was the criteria for being a hot city for restaurants. The openings in LA and SF, for example, are assuredly world-class. Maybe not all 3-michelin stars or whatever, but they would be excellent restaurants anywhere in the world.

Curious what one ought to eat at these places? Not the best reference, but Yelp is not very promising for most of them. Galaxy Taco is apparently not even good enough to convince La Jolla’s elite that it’s good… but then again, maybe that’s a good thing. Lena looks somewhat interesting, though.

The new American places remind me of The Playground in their plating a lot…maybe a shallow approach, but hard to say. For some reason the majority of them look like they would be 3rd tier restaurants if they were in SF for example (Lena maybe the one exception; but then again, it’s interesting to look at, say their Yelp photos versus Cala’s yelp photos).

Pictures can be deceiving, of course, but there is something to be said about a lack of finesse in plate composition being indicative of overall quality… it feels hard to tell if most of these places would be worth a drive from the LA area. Outside of the photos most of the menus sound very standard, as if SD is sort of just hopping on a couple of restaurant trends (people seem super excited about brussel sprouts at several places for example). Great for people who live there, but hard for me to see one of the hottest dining cities in the entire country in this compared to places listed in the other cities I guess.

Maybe I’m biased somehow, but I feel like I’m not…I would enjoy it if SD somehow had a restaurant scene that was extraordinary, as it’s much closer to LA than any other city, but it still feels like it’s just barely getting going. Not that there aren’t a bunch of things that are good to eat there though…in terms of widespread availability of casual food of high quality it is tremendous.

I’m having a difficult time understanding your point. San Diego wasn’t rated 1, or 5, or 10. They were 26, on a list that was likely a top 25 and then somebody thought “oooops, better add San Diego to be nice”. Are you arguing they shouldn’t even be 26? LOL


That was kind of my take too. Who does a Top 26 list anyway?

If you go back through all the myriad lists that Zagat publishes, they almost always try and include San Diego in it someway, somehow, deserved or not. Perhaps because we’re one of the top tourist destinations in the country so they feel they have to give that market some coverage? I don’t know. But being #26 on a list with 26 entries feels a lot like being relegated to the kiddie table at Thanksgiving :wink:



By far the majority of restaurants in SD are not worth the drive down from LA and especially not from SF. You’re right on there.

Menus in SD are pretty much a running joke here and were on CH as well. Requisite short rib dish? Check. Salmon dish? Check? Tuna dish? Check. Some sort of entree pasta? Check. “Upscale” burger? Check. Flat iron steak? Check. Brussels app? Check. Something vaguely resembling “Mexican/Baja” cuz, you know, it’s hot now? Check. Boring…yawn

What SD does have are world class raw ingredients. In spite of what Eater and many of the local publications would like us to believe, what we don’t have are world class restaurants to match.

Where’s Honkman when we need him most. He could write volumes on this topic, and has…

I happen to like Galaxy Taco and understand why Yelpers tend to rate it low. San Diego is very much a taco/burrito shop town, it is not a town for serious Mexican food. If a taco costs more than $1.25 most San Diegans will automatically reject it because they equate quantity with quality and value. Galaxy Taco is importing non-GMO corn from Mexico and nixtamalizing and grinding to make their own masa in-house. Not an inexpensive proposition, so that kind of makes that $1.25 tacos a non-issue. They’re also using premium ingredients (i.e. organic, sustainable, fill in the appropriate buzz word) which jacks up the food cost. They spent some money on the build out of their location and it loos great. I appreciate what they’ve tried to do, particularly in a market that doesn’t understand or want to understand anything other than a cheap taco or a burrito (aka, the great American food log) the size of Coronado. Yes, the food can be hit or miss, but I’ve had more hits than misses and their cocktail program is outstanding. Would I drive down from LA to hit up Galaxy Taco, no way José. I’d high tail it over to Verlaine the place that Diego Hernandez is opening in West Hollywood…


$1.25 tacos? At my closest commodity taco shop, tacos go for around $3.50, and they are priced at another taco shop near me for around 3.00.

Are you referring to street tacos? They can go for $1.25 on taco Tuesdays. However, the Taco Stand does a booming business at three locations, selling tacos just slightly bigger than street tacos, for around $3 and up.

From your multiple choice list, I choose #3. SD’s dining scene is what it is. And Zagat is what it is. I’m happy that we have many very good restaurants in SD and frankly don’t really care how we stand up relative to other cities (such as Asheville, NC??) in Zagat’s opinion.

No need to wait for Diego to open anything. We’ve been able to eat tacos of that sort at Taco Maria for 3 years. Taco Maria is probably the reason you’re even seeing more places doing that heirloom blue corn thing. You can get fantastic tacos made with the same corn at Broken Spanish and BS Taqueria in DTLA already as well. I hope Verlaine will be more of of a tasting menu place or at least aim on the higher end. (Taco Maria mostly does tasting menus on par with the best of Mexico already thy just serve tacos for lunch and on Tuesday nights).

SD is going through the same growing pains as LA just at a delayed rate it seems like. So hopefully there are only better things to come.

Why do you think SD people seem to enjoy Lena much more than Galaxy when they appear quite similar in their programs though, just out of curiosity?

Yeah, fair enough I suppose.

I still feel like I eat well in SD, just not necessarily extraordinarily.

Moving to Boston gave me a new/different perspective to the food/restaurant quality in SD

Even more than before I realize how outstanding the raw materials are in SD (and California in general but I think even in California SD might be one of the best places to live if you cook a lot). I was always aware that the situation was great but here in Boston you realize even more how much I miss the easy accessibility of great meat and produce. I can get good local meat in Boston but it is much more difficult and complicated to get and there are much less sources. Produce is obviously not even close based simply on the weather but I didn’t realize how much even simple things like the quality of parsley can be so different.
The other thing I realized with the move to Boston was that my complaining of the quality of restaurants in SD was wrong - I should have complained much more because the quality is just pathetic. Are there a few good restaurants in SD - yes but only very few. It was always obvious that SD couldn’t compete with LA or SF restaurants but I was expecting that Boston would be on a similar culinary level as SD (both cities, depending how you count Greater SD and Greater Boston have reasonable similar people living in that region, both cities have a not so different mix of rich and poor parts of town etc) - I couldn’t have been more wrong, Boston is light years ahead in terms of restaurant quality. Even neighborhood restaurants here in Boston have more creative menus and better executed dishes than most upscale places in SD. The limitation of the menus in SD, how little creativity is there is mind-boggling. And that is not only for New American cuisine but for a lot of ethnic cuisines, like Chinese, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Greek, Italian etc. Sorry DoctorChow but you are very wrong when you say “…many very good restaurants in SD…” - there are few very good restaurants when you start to comparing it to other larger cities (and another minor thing I realized is how bad the service is in SD restaurants and it is not just being laid-back like we often discussed - Boston is a surprisingly laid back city (if you are not sitting in a car which seems to change the personality of people in Boston for the time they sitting in one) and so is the service but they are at the same time so much more professional)

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I agree about Boston! We were there a few years ago, after many years. I was looking forward to good chowders, fried clams, lobster rolls, good linguisa and Italian bakeries. But it exceeded my dining expectations. I was blown away by the restaurant scene. I hadn’t thought about it, but can imagine missing L.A.'s easy access to fruits, vedge, etc. But I have to say, as a former resident now a visitor, Boston restaurants rival L.A.

Sorry, I don’t know much about the SD dining scene. Except we did have a fantastic charcuterie board at a spot in Little Italy and yummy biscuits and gravy at Buddy’s (I think).

The “new American” and Italian restaurants might rival LA but overall the depth and breadth of the restaurant scene in LA is still more advanced than Boston. In addition in LA (restaurant) real estate is relatively cheap compared to Boston which makes it easier to open new restaurant. And not unlike the situation in SF rents are getting so high in Boston that there is a serious shortage of cooks, waiters etc in Boston which makes getting Boston to the next restaurant “level” (and really comparable to LA) very challenging.