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Most Welcomed Sushi in the City: Hane. Finally, an urban branch of Sushi Ota, with skilled, friendly chefs who (unlike Ota-San himself) all speak English. Alas, it’s usually jam-packed now that word’s out. (I still haven’t tried Kaito Sushi in Encinitas, which from many reports is giving Ota a run for his money as the best local sushi. It’s on my list for 2010.)

Best Cornbread and Gumbo: Bull’s BBQ. After trying five new barbecues, sorry, good old Barnes’ BBQ is still the king. Bull’s was my favorite of the new crop (for smoky, tender meats), but its most riveting dishes were sides: a deep, dark, voodoo gumbo, best in town since Juke Joint closed and as good as any in NOLA, served with light, sweet, moist corn muffins subtly flecked with jalapeño. Runner-up BBQ side dishes: Genuine Hill Country Texas link sausages in a rich, cheesy sandwich at Brett’s BBQ; authentic bean-free Texas chili at West Coast BBQ.

Creative Cocktails: Bite. The chef’s prosecco cocktails made with fruit essences, flower syrups, and sorbets are light, cool, and enchanting. The one with aromatic rose syrup drives me mad.

Other memorable dishes: Arterra’s cauliflower soup with braised beef; Alchemy’s pork-stuffed piquillo peppers, and vegetarian lasagna; Himalayan Cuisine’s Tibetan lamb momos; Iris’s chocolate brownie cake; Milles Fleurs’ Chino tomato-and-eggplant salad and smoked-eel appetizer; Muzita’s fried okra coated in Ethiopian teff grain; Quarter Kitchen’s wine-braised short ribs and T-Day special of chestnut soup with sweetbread croutons.

Obits (partial list): Most heartbreaking, Better Half (last year’s “best new moderate”) went down to defeat. So did Apertivo (heartless rent increase), Batter Up (but owner-chef Mel Johnson’s gone over to Lil’ Piggy’s Bar-B-Q, which bodes well for Q in Coronado: he’s the very man to liven up the side dishes), Café Noir, Café One-Three, California Cuisine, Crescent Grill (another short-lived star from last year’s “bests”), Dakota Grill, Epazote (replaced by a steakhouse, same owners), Fix Me a Plate Cafe, the Guild, Illume, La Vache, Milles Feuilles (ouch! another short-lived “best”), Modus, Mukashi, Ole Madrid, Parallel 33, Rainwater’s (say goodbye to the last great Beef Wellington), Sluggers.

Stibo (“Obits” spelled backward): The delightful Chilango came back from the dead! Stay alive, we’re rooting for you!

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Comments

millerowski Dec. 30, 2009 @ 9:32 p.m.

While I appreciate this year-end summary/analysis, I am disappointed to see Cantina Mayahuel named the "best new inexpensive Mexican" restaurant.

First, it is not inexpensive. Two tacos (4.50 each) plus a side of black beans and rice (3.50) will cost you $12.50 before tax and tip. Bowls are $11, as are salads. And that's that! Aside from chips, guac, and salsa and one daily special (Wednesday's special of grilled halibut weighs in at $20), that's the menu. (Ms. Wise mentioned the Friday special of mole, but I haven't had the chance to try it, and probably won't given my experiences there to date.)

The formula is simple: you can have steak, chicken, mahi, or shrimp in your taco, salad, or bowl. Neither the mahi nor the shrimp were flavorful on the two occasions I dined there. The beef was over-salted and dry. (I didn't try the chicken.)

There are about 60 tequilas, and the cost of a shot varies from 4.50 to 18.00. For a margarita, choose your fave tequila and add $1.50. The cheapest margarita (4.50 + $1.50) costs $6--not $5, as the article claims. (Ok, it's only a buck difference, but that's a margarita with the cheapest ingredients.)

There is a nice patio--but not-so-nice in this weather. Seating inside is at the bar and at high tables with bar stools--not exactly comfy.

The staff is friendly, and the service, fine. But, as several yelpers have written, this place is better for drinking than for dining. I would hope that there is a better "New" Mexican joint in town. I'll stick with my old favorites.

Let's see what 2010 brings!

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ncboy Dec. 31, 2009 @ 12:38 p.m.

I wouldn't quibble about one restaurant in such an expansive year end review. I agree with most of ms. wise's decisions and putting this year-end review togeather must have been huge feat! i just wish i was in San Diego at the time to try the closed restaurants she pined about, they sounded wonderful. here's to a great 2010 and more great reviews.

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millerowski Dec. 31, 2009 @ 7:03 p.m.

To: ncboy (comment #2 above):

I was not "quibbling." I was adding a different perspective regarding a restaurant. Ms. Wise's "Top Restaurants of 2009" list will be very influential, and, as I said in my preface to comment #1 above, I appreciate the overall article (and, further, I am a fan of Ms. Wise's reviews).

The point is: anyone who is going to spend X amount of hard-earned dollars benefits from knowing in advance what she/he is going to get for those dollars. Mayahuel has potential, but the menu is formulaic and the ingredients--IMHO, not prepared very well: tasteless shrimp, salty and dry "steak", etc.

This was Wise's nominee for "Best Inexpensive Mexican." My point is that it is not all that inexpensive, and it is not very good. So I just want to warn potential diners...they can check yelp.com or chowhound.com and find comments similar to mine.

However, Bravo to La Wise! And best wishes for 2010!

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Naomi Wise Jan. 1, 2010 @ 7:26 p.m.

First -- two important corrections.

  1. While Argentine tapas definitely made my "boca" very "alegre," the name of the Argentine tapas place that made a happy-happy hour is Puerto La Boca (not Puerto Alegre). It's at 2060 India St., (at Hawthorn), Little Italy, 619-234-4900; www.puertolaboca.us. And I'll repeat about it -- if you're looking for a loud bar scene with shrieking blondes, etc., this is not the place. Just great food, yummy wines, and a non-tourist South American atmosphere.

  2. Sorry to say that after coming back from the dead, Chilango's expired again. Damn, damn, damn! (By the way, the obits list was truly incomplete. Saw 5 more deaders en route to the Gaslamp two days ago. Mainly no great losses on that route.)

Okay, now -- Cantina Mayahuel. I ate there in April. Obviously, they've raised prices since then. I didn't see how they could survive on their low prices, and apparently, they realized the same. I swear to you, my Margaritas cost $5 each -- I had three of them, I should know! (And was still able to walk, talk, and then take notes perfectly well, so they may have been a bit weak, if delicioso.) All I ate were the $10 specials, as I'm not real excited about tacos (as a 10-year resident of scenic central Golden Hill, I don't need no stinkin' tacos -- they were about all you could get here before the blessed Luigi's Pizza came to the rescue.) But I am always excited about serious mole saucss, and was very impressed. But yeah, millerowski, could be everything has gone up (prices) or down (food quality) -- eight months is a long time in the life of a barebones restaurant struggling to survive.

Happy new year everyone. May this decade be better than the last one -- Peace on Earth, clean water to the third world, respect and freedom for women everywhere and good health care to everyone. NW

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millerowski Jan. 8, 2010 @ 5:18 p.m.

Regarding the year of the dead: Nicolosi's (for years on El Cajon and lately in Mission Valley near SDSU) died and came back to life! Apparently the nephews revived it! Great news for those of us who grew up on Nicolosi's pizza, torpedoes (what great house-made rolls!) and pasta. Well, it's great news for everyone who loves a down-to-earth red sauce joint.

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Jay Allen Sanford Jan. 8, 2010 @ 6:55 p.m.

Viva la Nicolosi's! Best sandwiches I ever ate in SD - glad to hear they're back. They used to custom bake a white sauce eggplant and spinach pizza for me that I still dream about some nights....maybe that's why I keep finding bite marks in the coaster on my bedstand...

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