I was fortunate to have had some "wow" moments in dining last year-meals in which everything comes together just right. Whether it's the best I've ever had of a certain dish or an entirely new flavor combination, from humble sandwiches to fancy breakfasts, these meals had me from the first bite.
I try to limit my burger consumption, but when I have one, I want the patty to be thicker than a coaster and come with decent fries, and I don't want to eat it in my car. Hodad's serves some of the best (and cheapest) burgers in San Diego. The décor is funky beach-shack style and if you really do like eating in a car, you can sit in a booth made from the front of a VW bus. The mini burger ($3.99) is comparable to regular-sized versions at other spots, but Hodad's also offers two bigger-sized burgers. Topped with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, lots of pickles and grilled onions on a toasted bun, the burger is cooked to your specifications and is unabashedly greasy, juicy and delicious. Wedges of batter-crisp steak fries or fat, crunchy onion rings make superb accompaniments, especially when dipped in spicy Sriracha sauce. They also serve an excellent veggie burger. Wash it all down with a creamy milkshake or jelly jar full of beer. 5010 Newport Ave., Ocean Beach, 619-224-4623.
Another discovery that became one of my frequent destinations this year is the Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill on India Street. This place serves up seriously delicious fish and shellfish and, since it's also a seafood market, everything is fresh and affordable. Some of my favorites include the tasty fish tacos, the ceviche (a seafood salad marinated in a tangy salsa and served with a pile of tortilla chips) and the plump, briny oysters. What I stop for most often, though, is the fish sandwich. Beautiful in its simplicity, Blue Water's sandwich consists of your choice of grilled fish on a soft toasted roll. They'll ask you how you want your fish seasoned-say yes to both the lemon and garlic butters. You'll be rewarded with an amazing contrast of moist, warm fish and cool veggies in a luscious, irresistible combination. The same fish preparation can also be had atop a salad or alongside rice pilaf. Wahoo Wheat beer from local Ballast Point Brewery provides the ideal refreshment. 3667 India St., Middletown, 619-497-0914.
Just north of Blue Water is a restaurant I can usually afford only on special occasions, but I try to get there as often as possible, if only for dessert. I'm a little obsessed with Parallel 33's signature dessert, the medjool date Madeleines. The rich taste of dates is somewhat similar to chocolate, and I get a perverse thrill from eating something so decadent made with such a celebrated health food. The addition of vanilla rose gelato, dollops of caramel sauce and honey-sweet nubbins of dates make the dish something I know I'll crave indefinitely. 741 W. Washington St., Mission Hills, 619-260-0033.
Most of my friends know that it's pretty difficult to reach me before noon on weekends since I'm not really a morning person. The only thing that lures me out of hibernation is the promise of a first-rate brunch, and I'll gladly get up early for brunch at Café Chloe. The charming café looks like something you might find in Paris or New York, with its simple yet elegant décor, but it's the creative menu that makes this place a treasure. We've all had mimosas at some brunch place, but how about lavender mimosas? Café Chloe uses fresh lavender to create a syrup that gives an unexpected twist to the standard cocktail. Everything on the brunch menu is appealing, but the best bet is the savory custard, a creamy, ultra-rich wonder. My first revelatory taste was of a version punctuated with melting pockets of cheese and savory bits of ham. Spreading the warm custard on triangles of hearty brown bread makes me think that this must be what butter wishes it could be. 721 Ninth Ave., East Village, 619-232-3242.
Of course, none of this food would have been quite as delicious without family and friends to share it with so a big thanks to all my eating partners. Hope 2007 brings many great adventures in food to all my fellow CityEaters.