Quite astonishingly, another year is almost behind us! San Diego's hospitality industry certainly had its ups and downs in 2015. We mourned the loss of Hodad's exuberant owner Mike 'Bossman' Hardin. Ramen shops popped up all over town. High-end Mexican food continued its steady rise in popularity and availability. We saw that San Diego's East Village still has a lot of growing to do before it can support top notch eateries. The term 'craft' was applied to EVERYTHING. We had many grand restaurant openings and regrettable closings. In this post, we run down the 10 biggest restaurant openings and 10 most surprising closings of 2015.
Last year, we attempted to list all the openings, closings and coming restaurants, but that took FOR-EVV-ERR! This year, we've scaled back our once-lofty aspirations, and the result is the below list of San Diego's 10 Biggest Restaurant Openings and 10 Most Surprising Restaurant Closings of 2015, as well as a bit about what we are excited for in 2016.
10 Biggest Restaurant Openings of 2015
10. Catania - Whisknladle Hospitality does a great job balancing refined eats with casual comfort, and their latest endeavor, Catania Coastal Italian, is no exception. Perched atop La Jolla's La Plaza Center on Girard Avenue, Catania offers lovely views of the coast and inspired, modern Italian dishes. They even offer Italian craft beer and a fantastic weekend brunch.
9. Galaxy Taco - The team behind La Jolla's Georges California Modern decided that 2015 was the year to get into the upscale taco game, so they took to La Jolla Shores to open Galaxy Taco. The 4,200 square foot, casual eatery takes up about half of the former La Jolla Shores Market space in the Kellogg Building at 2259 Avenida de la Playa, and Executive chef and partner Trey Foshee, chef de cuisine Christine Rivera and co-owner George Hauer have a success on their hands with fresh-made, Baja-inspired flavors and a curated bar menu highlighted by rare tequila and mezcal.
8. The Lot - Doing "dinner and a movie" has new meaning now that The Lot is open in La Jolla. Promoted as a "lifestyle destination," The Lot features seven insanely comfortable theaters, a full bar, a café, and a beautifully designed chef-driven, family-style restaurant, and is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A second location is planned for Point Loma's Liberty Station in 2016.
7. Rustic Root - The sister restaurant to Don Chido is marketed as the Gaslamp's "only dedicated rooftop restaurant." The space is beautifully eclectic and offers a rooftop patio that is quite the respite from the hustle and bustle of 5th Avenue below. We were sad to hear that Chef Antonio Friscia is no longer associated with this eatery, but RMD Group still has a winner with the centrally located Rustic Root.
6. Blush - This restaurant would have been much higher on this list had it not seemingly started to fall apart toward the end of the year. It opened with huge hype and fanfare, but only a few months later, their chef de cuisine moved on, their executive chef quit, and rumors swirled of a kitchen staff walk out. There has even been online speculation that the restaurant may be the first surprising closure of 2016. Only time will tell for Blush, but at least Wet Willies is gone!
5. Duke's La Jolla - With locations all over Hawaii and California, it was only natural for TS Restaurants to venture further south. They already had a hold of San Diego with Jake's Del Mar, but now they have prime real estate atop La Jolla Cove. With an unrivaled vantage point and the young and talented Chef Anthony Sinsay leading the kitchen brigade, we hope Duke's has staying power. Our only hope is that they give their executive chef more free reign over the somewhat ordinary menu.
4. Water Grill - The much anticipated Roosterfish died before ever setting foot into the former Palm Restaurant space, but maybe that was a blessing, as Los Angeles-based Kings Seafood Company took over the location and opened its popular Water Grill, offering an extensive selection of seasonal seafood within a vibrant setting at the massive, two-storied, 11,000 square-foot restaurant. Water Grill is the perfect spot to stop in for a seafood tower and pitcher of beer before a game a Petco Park or an evening in the Gaslamp.
3. The Crack Shack - Owner Mike Rosen admitted that the inspiration for The Crack Shack stemmed from his undying love for chicken. It's one of his favorite things to eat! When you have a Top Chef as your partner, heck, why not open a fast-casual, al-fresco chicken and egg shop? Executive Chef Richard Blais has a certain success with his new eatery in Little Italy, a beautifully designed space located adjacent to his other San Diego baby, Juniper + Ivy.
2. Coasterra - The Cohn Restaurant Group doubled down on San Diego's waterfront with the opening of their most ambitious project to date - the $15+ million, modern Mexican restaurant, lounge, and event space that occupies 28,000 square foot of space adjacent to Cohn's C-Level/Island Prime on Harbor Island. More than eight years in the making, the expansive venue offers a combination of panoramic views of San Diego’s downtown skyline, classic and reimagined Mexican dishes and a tequila-focused bar program, all housed in sleek, modern design.1. Bracero Cocina de Raiz - Most of you probably saw this coming, but come on, Javier Plascencia can do no wrong. The biggest name in Baja's culinary community opened a stunner in San Diego's Little Italy in 2015. His second U.S. restaurant and most northerly eatery, Plascencia's Bracero occupies two stories within the Ariel Suites building on the corner of Kettner Boulevard and Beech Street at the southern end of the ever-expanding Little Italy neighborhood. The restaurant is beautifully designed, paying homage to the bracero program that brought Mexican laborers to the United States during the heart of WWII until the mid-1960s, and features two open kitchens that pump out modern Mexican cuisine to a consistently packed house.
Honorable Mention: Breakfast Republic, Kula Revolving Sushi, Café Gratitude, Ocean Pacific Grill, Dumpling Inn's Shanghai Saloon, Entrada, Oceana Coastal Kitchen at Catamaran, Social Tap, The Brew Project, JINYA Ramen, Lemonade, Quad AleHouse, Mess Royale, Backyard Kitchen & Tap, Half Door Brewing Co., Ocean Pacific Grill, and Nishiki Ramen.
10 Most Surprising Restaurant Closings of 2015
10. Table 926 - Owner/Chef Matt Richman's North Pacific Beach respite lasted 4 years and brought a welcomed sophistication to the neighborhood but was closed just before Thanksgiving. We frequently ran into Chef Matt picking up produce at the PB Tuesday Farmers Market and were saddened by the closure.
9. Bijou French Bistro - Even big 'Papa' Doug Manchester could not make this Amaya-offshoot a success in La Jolla. Not long after the closure of Bijou, Manchester sold The Grand Del Mar to Fairmont. Despite the media hype machine trying to push this French-inspired eatery, it lasted less than a year.
8. Local Habit - Hillcrest's Cali-Creole concept started by Chef Nick Brune did not last long under new ownership. After Brune sold the place, new owners renovated it, brought in a new chef, but nothing worked. Local Habit has already been replaced by a Mexican restaurant named La Vencindad.
7. Toast Enoteca & Cucina - Chef and Owner Martin Gonzalez operated Toast for 5 years before shutting it down this past September. Don't fret because you can still get his traditional Italian fare at his other restaurant Acqua Al 2 in San Diego's Gaslamp.
6. Table No. 10 - We had very positive experiences at Table No. 10, but it's delicious, well-conceived dishes could not prevail in a tough East Village location. We hope to see Chef Jason Gethin somewhere new soon.
5. Albie's Beef Inn - The nude paintings made diners uncomfortable at Albie's in Mission Valley since 1962. Diners are mourning an end of an era as both Albie's and neighboring Adam's Steak N' Eggs both close for business on December 23 due to a new landlord raising rents in hopes of bringing in some new blood.
4. Kitchen 4140 - One of our best meals of 2015 was at Chef Kurt Metzger's Bay Ho oasis, so it saddened us to hear of its closing. Fortunately, Chef Kurt has plans to open a new concept in a more central location.
3. D Bar - Owners Keegan Gerhard and his wife Lisa Bailey are both award winning pastry chefs with a successful eatery in Denver, so you would think they'd have no problem in Hillcrest. Unfortunately for us but good for them, business is booming in Colorado, so they are shutting down their struggling San Diego location by year's end and moving back to where they're adequately appreciated.
2. Roppongi - Sammy's Woodfired Pizza owner Sami Ladeki operated Roppongi successfully in La Jolla for 17 years, but rising rents made him reconsider keeping his Japanese fusion eatery alive. Ladeki has indicated a possible Roppongi revival if he can find a smaller location to house it.
1. Comun - When news broke that Chef Chad White would be on the next season of Bravo's Top Chef, we thought it would be a boom for business at his East Village Mexican fusion eatery Comun Taqueria. Unfortunately, the couple months of filming that took Chef Chad away from his restaurant combined with a tough location in the East Village spelled doom for Comun. Chad closed the restaurant around the same time he announced that he would be departing San Diego to move back to his hometown of Spokane, WA, where he will open a new restaurant. We smell a Top Chef win.
Honorable Mention: R Gang Eatery, Wang's, Rama, Delicias, Alchemy, Yard House, Brabant Bar, Zarco, Bailiwick, Yard House Downtown San Diego
So what are we excited for in 2016? Brian Malarkey is opening a 12,000 square foot, multiple concept market at 2210 Kettner Blvd in Little Italy called The Herb Shop, with a fast/casual eatery called Herb & Eatery and a full service restaurant named Herb & Wood. Good Time Design is transforming the former Fred's Mexican/Typhoon Saloon space in Pacific Beach to become Cerveza Jack's and Moonshine Beach. Kindred will bring vegan dining and take-forever-to-make cocktails to the former Alchemy space in South Park. We hope Liberty Public Market is a great success in Point Loma's Liberty Station. The Patio Group is also entering Liberty Station with Fireside. CH Projects is opening another restaurant in Little Italy. And Beerfish may finally open... Keep following SanDiegoVille for information on all the fun and delicious happenings in America's Finest City. See you in 2016!