Last year, The Food Chain almost died. Incredibly, getting restaurant people to cooperate with this recurring everyone-wins little feature of mine had become like getting them to stop putting fried eggs on their hamburgers—bewildering and nearly impossible. I came close to pulling the plug. But, like a guy determined to never order a hamburger with a fried egg on it (can you tell I don't want a goddamn egg on my burger?), I put my head down, led with my shoulder and plowed ahead.
It paid off. This year, the restaurants cooperated in spectacular fashion, and I'm as grateful as a guy who got served a hamburger with no fried egg on it.
A recap for those who have no idea what The Food Chain is: In 2008's Food Issue, I asked my friend Neal Wasserman at Nine-Ten restaurant to recommend one of his favorite eateries and write 100 words or so about it. Then I went to that restaurant and asked the owner to pick the next link on the chain, which has carried on unbroken in each annual Food Issue thereafter.
Last year, we ended with El Callejon's Bernard Jourdain recommending Vigilucci's in Encinitas.
Solace & The Moonlight Lounge
Tracy Pedrazzani, PR / marketing manager at Vigilucci's Restaurant Group, says: "Being in the business of Italian food and all things yummy, when not working, we try eateries that represent a different category of cuisine than Italian. My husband and I have enjoyed dinner out at Solace & The Moonlight Lounge in Encinitas. When we're not working or partaking in our kids' activities, we find ourselves there a couple times a month. I almost always have the hazelnut-endive salad and the hanger steak. We've also shared the tomato soup, jidori chicken, poached-egg salad and the s'mores for a finish if we don't enjoy a glass of port." Solace & The Moonlight Lounge, 25 E. E St. in Encinitas.
Matt Gordon, owner and chef at Solace & The Moonlight Lounge, says: "I've always had a lot of respect for Christian Graves and the food that he puts out at Jsix. Normally, I don't find myself at hotel restaurants (not intentionally—just happens), but his commitment to using really good products and ability to cook well brought me in for a few visits before the remodel. We recently revisited to see how the place turned out and enjoyed a bunch of food. The fried chicken, meatballs and pea salad plates were all licked clean. It's refreshing to find a restaurant like this Downtown! I think I secretly hoped he would get into a standalone restaurant at some point, but I think he's got a great thing going there with the revamp, and I am looking forward to visiting many more times." Jsix, 616 J St., Downtown.
The Lodge at Torrey Pines
Christian Graves, executive chef and general manager at Jsix, says: "I love going to The Lodge at Torrey Pines and enjoying the artisan table or hitting up brunch on the weekends. There's nothing more relaxing than sitting on the patio and enjoying the day. Chef Jeff Jackson is the godfather of chefs in San Diego. His food style is timeless, honest and true. The Lodge's Celebrate the Craft event actually has chefs lining up to participate in it. The first year I was down here, everyone told me how cool it was, but Jsix didn't get invited. I was so bummed. I made my whole staff buy tickets and go to drop the Jsix name as much as possible. The next year we got the invite. It was like winning the lottery or getting an awesome review, because it came from a restaurant I have such esteem for. Over the years, we've developed a great relationship, which keeps The Lodge as one of my favorite places to go." The Lodge at Torrey Pines, 11480 N. Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla.
TJ Oyster Bar
Kelli Crosson, chef de cuisine at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, says: "I owe this amazing find—TJ Oyster Bar—to a cook and a server who had been talking about it for months. We were finally able to wrangle up a group to head down there for a bite before work. I've been hooked ever since. There's not much to say about this unassuming place except for great food and great prices. It doesn't look like much from the outside—a small street-taco shop in Bonita with a table or two inside, a bar lining the counter and a table outside facing the parking lot. Don't let that fool you: I've had everything from the ceviche (insanely flavorful) to the oysters (fresh and simple), tacos (the octopus was my favorite!) and micheladas—nothing was short of delicious! Dare I say best fish tacos in San Diego? Try to go at off-peak times as the line can be as long as 45 minutes to an hour—although, to be perfectly honest, if you're with friends, just enjoy!" TJ Oyster Bar, 4246 Bonita Road in Bonita.
Yvan Jazo, owner and manager of TJ Oyster Bar, says: "I'm a Tijuana / San Diego native, and I've been going to Villa Saverios (Tijuana's version of Romesco) since I was a kid. So, when they opened in Bonita, I and a lot of other people were very excited. The food is always excellent. I love that I can order a really good pasta or lasagna but at the same time also get a great torta, taco or hamburger, and if I want to get a bunch of different stuff, I can go to the bar and order off their tapas menu. Lately, I've been a big fan of their tortas, and if I'm in the mood for some seafood, the orejas de mar are amazing. Another great thing about Romesco is its old-school style of service: You're always greeted with a smile when you walk in the door and the waiters have been around for a long time, so they know what you like or don't like, or maybe that's just me cause I go there a lot." Romesco, 4346 Bonita Road in Bonita.