The 10 best things we ate at San Diego restaurants in 2019

A decadent ricotta gnudi dish disguised as an edible flower pot at Avant restaurant in Rancho Bernardo.
A decadent ricotta gnudi dish disguised as an edible flower pot at Avant restaurant in Rancho Bernardo.
(Courtesy photo)

Dining writers Michele Parente and Pam Kragen each picked their five best bites of the year, both savory and sweet


Every year, dining writers Michele Parente and Pam Kragen keep meticulous notes on the dishes that most tantalized their taste buds during their culinary travels through San Diego County restaurants. This year, they each offer their five top picks, with Kragen starting things off with a savory list and Parente finishing the meal with an all-dessert selection.

Pam Kragen’s Top 5 Bites
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(Courtesy photo)

1. Charred caulilini at Fort Oak, Mission Hills: This broccoli/cauliflower hybrid vegetable is fire-roasted and served with a tangy fermented chile aioli, shallot vinaigrette, crunchy smoked almonds, currants and herbs. It’s the perfect blend of tastes, textures and umami. $15. (Kragen)

(Lily Glass)

2. Coquille at Jeune et Jolie, Carlsbad: A scallops dish to die for. Halved scallops are perfectly cooked and served with sunchokes, abalone mushrooms and a delicate vin jaune sauce. $32.

Gluten-free brown butter waffles with walnut butter and raspberry sauce at Homestead restaurant in Solana Beach.
(Courtesy of Jessica Davis Photography)

3. Gluten-free brown butter waffles, Homestead Solana Beach: Chef Jamie Brawn created this decadent, savory, buttery dish for his sons, who are both gluten-intolerant. Crispy on the outside and feather-light inside, these satisfying waffles are served with whipped walnut butter, raspberry coulis and fresh berries. $12.

Ricotta gnudi dish at Avant at the Rancho Bernardo Inn
(Courtesy photo)

4. Ricotta gnudi at AVANT, Rancho Bernardo Inn: An homage to the inn’s expansive produce garden, Chef Chris Gentile serves this dish in a deep bowl filled with what looks like dirt and edible flowers. Dig below the black truffle-infused “soil” and find the surprise of hand-pressed mushroom gnudi, oxtail, chestnuts and cranberry. $19.

A vegan ramen bowl with fried kombucha squash, grilled tofu cutlets, vegan shoyu broth and choice of kale, beet, classic or gluten-free noodles at The Yasai, a vegan Japanese restaurant opening Nov. 15 on Convoy Street in San Diego.
(Courtesy of The Coast Creative)

5. The Classic vegan ramen at The Yasai, Kearny Mesa: Opened in November by Rakiraki Ramen founder Junya Watanabe, The Yasai is the county’s first vegan Japanese restaurant, and its savory, delicious Classic vegan ramen is a guilt-free pleasure. Fried kombucha squash, grilled tofu cutlets, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, wakame seaweed, green onions and garlic chips are served with classic, kale or beet noodles in a surprisingly rich vegan shoyu broth. $14.

Michele Parente’s Top 5 Bites: Sweet Tooth Edition
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The tiramisu at Cesarina restaurant.
((Courtesy of James Tran) )

1. Tiramisù at Cesarina, Point Loma: Pastry chef Cesarina Mezzoni has masterfully reinvented the ubiquitous Italian dessert, layering perfect amounts of ladyfingers, espresso, mascarpone and cocoa powder to-order tableside, making for the dreamiest tiramisù you’ll ever taste. That’s right, ever. $11.50.

Butter and Salt doughnut at Sidecar Doughnuts
(Courtesy photo)

2. Brown butter fleur de sel doughnut at Sidecar Doughnuts, Carmel Valley. Rich yet simple, these moist vanilla bean cakes, glazed with brown butter and French sea salt, are served warm out the oven and made fresh every half hour. They’re the golden standard for what a doughnut should be. $3.50.

Fort Oak waffle.jpg
(Courtesy photo)

3. Tahitian vanilla waffle at Fort Oak, Mission Hills. Now served with pancakes (yay!), this brunch delight is adorned with delicately flavored sweetened ricotta, silky lemon curd and hot smoked almonds. If you’re like us, you’ll want to savor the goodness without syrup. $14.

(Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

4. Vegan coconut cake at Orfila Tasting Room, Oceanside. Go for Orfila winemaker Justin Mund’s exceptional line-up of wines, stay for executive chef Luke Morganstern’s on-point cooking — and baking. Morgansten uses his mom’s recipe to make a surprisingly tender and moist vegan coconut cake with vegan butter coconut frosting that opened our minds to plant-based desserts. $9.

The must-dessert of the moment is The Henry’s peanut butter molten cake.
(Courtesy photo)

5. Peanut butter molten cake at The Henry, Coronado. If the crowds jamming the bar and patio at this new Orange Avenue hotspot are drinking their carbs, they’re missing out on the luscious dark chocolate molten peanut butter cake with peanut butter ice cream, salted peanuts caramel and ethereal peanut dust. $8.

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Michele Parente is the Dining, Wine + Lifestyle reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune. Her areas of expertise include the Valle de Guadalupe wine region, fashion, television, women’s issues and coverage of aging, such as the impact of Alzheimer’s and dementia and family caregiving. Michele is the former Sunday and features editor, where she oversaw profiles, special projects, such as the Legacy of WWII and in-depth reports on a variety of topics. She joined the U-T in 2003, supervising coverage areas that have included features, fashion, TV, Food, Consumer Health and Arts & Entertainment. Previously, Michele was the assistant features editor at The Oregonian, in Portland, as well as the Portland City Hall reporter. She spent 10 years at New York Newsday as a reporter on the crime, education, state legislature and New York City Hall beats. She was part of a team that won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Reporting. A native New Yorker, Michele received her B.A. in political science and Italian Literature at UC Berkeley. In 1980, she studied at L’Università di Urbino, in Italy. One of her life’s goals is to make her way through each of the world’s great wine regions.
Pam Kragen is a feature writer who specializes in writing human interest, dining, theater and opera stories. She joined The San Diego Union-Tribune staff in October 2012 after 27 years at the North County Times, where she served as the Arts & Features Editor, as well as the paper’s longtime arts writer and theater/opera critic. She is the president and co-founder of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from San Diego State University and completed fellowships in theater criticism at the University of Southern California and opera/classical music criticism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She reports from the U-T’s North County office in San Marcos.