When you think fine dining, do you think South Bay, San Diego? Maybe you should. What about exotic dining? That’s here too. The South Bay offers all sorts of excellent cuisine. Since it’s a minority-majority region, the food is also different from what you’ll get anywhere else. For Thanksgiving week, I’m taking out all my restaurant reviews of the last two years and re-posting them. But first, I’ve got to let you know what my Top 10 Picks are for 2015:
1. Romesco: This restaurant has been hailed constantly in the media. A fusion of Mexican, Spanish and California cuisine, the tapas are both exotic and tasty.
2. Cafe La Maze: This iconic restaurant hearkens back to prohibition days when celebrities came to gamble or enjoy forbidden delights before heading down to the Tijuana racetracks. Today, those celebrity pictures still hang on the walls and their cuisine is both hearty and old school.
3. Pizzo’s Wine & Bar: My absolute favorite watering hole, chef Santino Pizzo imports his flour from Italy and makes authentic Neapolitan pizzas. His antipastas include a scrumptious burrata plate. He also is careful to carry the best Italian Chianti’s around. His menu is ever-changing as he experiments with traditional Italian delights, which include spaghetti and meatballs, calamari and more.
4. Sea 180 Coastal Tavern: Recently opened along Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach, this is a premier restaurant. Go for special occasions or just to treat yourself. The IB Pier lingers in the background and watching the sunset here is divine. Their cuisine is spectacular. I love the mussels.
5. Villa Manila: What you won’t find anywhere else (possibly in the world) is the fabulous Filipino cuisine in the South Bay. While I have several favorites, my top pick is Villa Manila for their “Kamayan” style meals, which means they serve large portions for your entire family on banana leaves and you eat the food with only your hands. You’ll get fried fish and shellfish, rice and more.
6. Pho Hiep Grill: Everybody needs a little Pho in their life. On a cold winter day, there’s nothing that warms the spirit better than a large bowl of pho. The best bowls are found in Eastlake at this restaurant.
7. Mandarin Chinese Restaurant: Salt & Pepper Chicken wings are all the rage these days. This restaurant serves them up the absolute best way. Take out for parties or sit down any day of the week, this establishment is the absolute best.
8. 277 Cocina Artesanal: This establishment along Third Avenue combines fine dining with a comfy feel. They tout excellent Mexican wines and Grilled Panela Cheese with Guavo Ancho Glaze, Bacon & Mezcal.
9. TJ Oyster Bar: You’ve got to order the oysters, but they also have excellent wines, Chealadas and a signature Empapelado dish.
10. Stardust Donut Shop has a cranky man inside who makes donuts — well, whenever he wants! If you catch this place open, for goodness sakes, rush and get a donut! They are fantastic and well worth it.