Zagat Releases San Diego Restaurants Survey

This morning, Zagat Survey released the results of its San Diego Restaurants Survey, with detailed local data, maps, ratings and reviews available on, and ZAGAT TO GO for smartphones. The Survey covers 533 San Diego restaurants based on the opinions of 2,294 local surveyors. All told, the surveyors ate out 355,000 times in the past year.

Eat Less/ Pay Less: The average cost of a meal in San Diego decreased – an unprecedented event – from $35.78 in the last Survey to $34.45 this year. This is less than a meal in Los Angeles ($34.85) or San Francisco ($38.78), and below the national average ($35.32). San Diego diners also report eating out an average of three times per week, compared to 3.2 times in 2008. The national average is 3.1. This decline seems to be continuing: surveyors by a 13% margin say they are eating out less than six months ago. As the frequency of dining out has changed, so have the types of new food sources. In short, they are casual, fun and less expensive than before- for example, food trucks, followed by users via social media.  

What’s Down & Up: “San Diego diners may be eating out less and spending less these days, but the past year’s openings provide new blood for the local scene,” said Tim Zagat, CEO and Co-Founder of Zagat Survey. “As the industry emerges from the recession, this year’s newcomers are not only exciting, but affordable as well.”

Major Trends and Openings: This year’s crop of 30 San Diego newcomers tends to be inexpensive and casual. For example, Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant, Avenue 5 and Cucina Urbana have adopted a cap of $20 on all entrees. Mexican newcomer Funky Garcia’s appeals to young diners with “fun atmosphere” and “quick taco fixes.” Top Chef alum Brian Malarkey has opened Searsucker, a modestly pricey New American with “creative cocktails,” and North Park’s El Take it Easy fits the same model. Carlos De Narvaez’s Soho, also located in North Park, matches its “funky location” with “interesting Southern-accented fare” and an affordable price tag to appeal to diners, while anticipated Italian newcomers Bencotto (Guido Nistri) in Little Italy and Sapori (Rafaele and Laura Petrazzuolo) in Coronado are also offering Italian fare for the 19% of San Diego surveyors who vote Italian their favorite cuisine.

Overall: Overall, San Diego’s restaurant kitchens were harshly rated by their customers. The city’s “culinary creativity” received a score of 15 out of a possible 30 on the Zagat scale, while “choice/diversity” got a modest 17. Comparative scores for other cities overall performances are shown below:

Culinary Creativity 15 24 21 24 18 26
Choice/Diversity       17 28 25 26 21 24

Winners: This year’s Food winner, earning a near-perfect 29 on Zagat’s 30-point scale, is Carl Schroeder’s Market Restaurant and Bar in Del Mar. The “flawless” staff of Addison and “majestic” views of Sky Room have helped the restaurants earn respective Top Service and Decor honors for the first time, while George’s Ocean Terrace was again named Most Popular. The top five restaurants in each category are:

Most Popular
George’s Ocean Terr.
Sushi Ota
Market Restaurant/Bar
Donovan’s Steak

Top Food
Market Restaurant/Bar
Sushi Ota
Hane Sushi
Wine Vault/Bistro

Top Decor
Sky Room
Stone World

Top Service
El Bizcocho
Sky Room

Don’t Tweet With Your Mouth Full: When it comes to table etiquette, 64% of surveyors consider it “rude and inappropriate” to text, tweet, talk and e-mail on a mobile phone at a restaurant. However, 88% feel it is acceptable to take pictures of their food. This is good news for the 17% of surveyors who admit to using their smartphones to take pictures of food plating and of their companions.

Dining Irritants: Service remains a problem, as 71% of San Diego diners named it their main irritant, up from 65% in the last Survey. All other complaints, including noise, food, prices, parking and crowding, aggregated 29%. When seated next to a noisy party, nearly half of surveyors (49%) say they simply try to ignore them, while 38% would ask to be moved to a different table. A meager 9% say they’d ask management to talk to the party, and a courageous 4% would “politely ask” them to quiet down. For diners who choose to linger at their table on a laptop or with a friend, 64% of surveyors feel that restaurants should restrict how long guests can remain during peak hours.

Health Watch: An overwhelming 93% of San Diego surveyors say they agree with the county laws that require restaurants to conspicuously post a letter grade reflecting the results of their health department inspection (a law that has similarly passed in New York City and Los Angeles). Furthermore, 34% of surveyors feel that the government should impose a tax on sugary drinks as a way to curb obesity and 39% think they should regulate the amount of salt in dishes as a way to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Other Results: On average, local diners give an 18.9% tip, in line with other West Coast cities such as Seattle (18.6%) and Los Angeles (18.7%), but well below East Coast counterparts New York (19.1%), Boston (19.4%) and Philadelphia (19.6%). According to 23% of surveyors, men receive better treatment when dining out, while only 8% feel women are treated better. As for celebrity chefs, 35% report favoring this trend, while 16% dislike the idea. Roughly 46% of surveyors dislike cash-only policies so much they avoid these places when dining out.

Survey Details: All of Zagat’s ratings and reviews can be accessed by visiting, or by downloading one of Zagat’s mobile apps, including ZAGAT TO GO for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7. For information on Zagat’s mobile products, please visit Be sure to follow Zagat on Facebook and Twitter @Zagat for daily news and updates.

About Zagat Survey, LLC

Known as the “burgundy bible,” Zagat Survey is the world’s most trusted source for consumer-generated survey information. With a worldwide network of surveyors, Zagat rates and reviews restaurants, hotels, nightlife, movies, music, golf, shopping and a range of other entertainment categories and is lauded as the “most up-to-date,” “comprehensive” and “reliable” guide, published on all platforms. Zagat content is available to consumers wherever and whenever they need it: on,, ZAGAT TO GO for smartphones and in book form.