Tiki culture is all about escapism—the food, the drinks, and the decor are all attempts to re-create some fantastical tropical island that never actually existed. This is also why tiki cocktails are so potent, designed to help ease you to into a festive state of mind. San Diego is embracing the tiki culture with a new generation of bartenders celebrating that rich tradition. Here’s a roundup of San Diego’s hot tiki bars and other spots where you can find a perfectly tropical cocktail. Continue reading
San Diego has world-class mainstay restaurants, like Mister A’s, George’s, and Addison. But new blood is good for the restaurant scene’s circulatory system. Here are eight restaurants that have made a significant impact since opening in recent months.
Where: 1909 India St, San Diego, CA 92101
The biggest project from one of San Diego’s hottest restaurant groups and one of the biggest the city’s seen in years, Born & Raised takes an American classic – the mood-lit steakhouse – and flips it on its head. In lieu of oil paintings, we get framed portraits of gangster rap icons, plus some of the country’s best craft cocktails. They’re dry-aging everything in-house for optimal meat quality, and reviving an American dinner classic: tableside service (Caesar salads, steak Dianne, French omelets, you name it).
Where: 2210 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
Chef Brian Malarkey is best known for his TV feats (Top Chef, Guy’s Grocery Games), but locally him and partner Chris Puffer have made names for creating what is arguably the most stunning dining experience in town at Herb & Wood. Malarkey and partner and co-chef Shane McIntyre’s cumin-carrots are a thing to behold, and the housemade pastas are phenomenal – try the oxtail gnocchi.
Where: 721 Eighth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
Café Chloe’s tiny French bistro was one of the trailblazers in Downtown’s East Village. While the food is phenomenal, the pure design libido of the place makes every diner feel 300 percent more attractive. And Minou, a creperie and private party space opened by Café Chloe’s owners a couple of blocks away, is even prettier. Plus, the crepes (savory and sweet) and Euro-style coffees are top-notch.
Where: 2725 State St, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Carlsbad has always been a quaint, lovely seaside town in San Diego. But no one claimed it a modern, groundbreaking place to eat or drink – until Campfire. A chef, bartender, and GM spun off one of the artsiest restaurant groups in town to build this winner. It’s an ode to fire and smoke – it even has a teepee out back. Try the brisket plate with furikake (Japanese spice mix), or any of the mind-bending craft cocktails from the bar.
Where: 435 Fifth Ave #2, San Diego, CA 92101
The Pendry San Diego is one of those projects that sends local mouths agape. It’s hip, well-designed, and impressive. Lionfish is its 150-seat main dining attraction, overseen by one of the city’s rising star chefs, JoJo Ruiz. Though it’s a seafood-centric menu (we got an ocean here!), the lamb tartare with vadouvan yogurt is a show-stealer, as is the big-eye tuna pizza.
Where: 2865 Sims Rd, San Diego, CA 92106
Buona Forchetta made its name for pizza in the artsy little burgh of South Park. Owner Matteo Cattaneo’s family owns one of the best olive oil companies in Italy, and they ship him over the best of each batch. For this new spinoff at Liberty Station, Cattaneo partnered with Chef Mario Cassineri, a pasta-whisperer who owned BiCE in Downtown for nine years. The result is an all-around Italian winner.
Where: 1980 Kettner Blvd #30, San Diego, CA 92101
Tiny sleeper hit this year. Once a cheese shop, the owner brought on a new partner and a chef who used to work for one of the city’s top caterers (Miho), and went tapas. The ahi tostadas are tiny but delicious, with a blue-corn crisp, avocado crema, morita ash, radish, green onion, and chive. The lamb chops with cilantro-aioli are also a must-try. But tapas is a drinking cuisine, so don’t ignore the well-selected wines at the bar.
Where: 4130 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92103
Last year’s runaway best new restaurant was Trust, where chef Brad Wise was blowing people away with his wood-smoked dishes (that braised oxtail raviolini will alter you). They doubled down, literally down the street, with this bar-food spinoff. Try the hen egg pizza with burrata and Calabrian chiles, the steam beer-fried fish tacos, or add some whiskey or booze of choice to one of those naughty shakes (Almond Joy, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Lemon Meringue).
In the classic French style of service, top chefs with the most expertise were trotted out from the kitchen in Europe’s finest restaurants to dazzle guests with fancy techniques of whipping, chopping, carving, and flambéing. It was food as theater. Today, even in the face of the growing fast casual and counter service trends, tableside preparations are making their way back into dining rooms both casual and upscale.
Here’s a roundup of San Diego’s most tasty tableside creations, from the waterfront to the foothills.
Born & Raised
Little Italy’s gorgeous new steakhouse Born & Raised straddles the line between elegant and modern. San Diego Magazine food critic Troy Johnson calls the $7 million space “a grand, elaborate investment in America’s past,” where servers clad in tuxedo jackets and Chuck Taylors offer classics like steak Diane and rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding as well as de rigueur dry-aged cuts of beef and duck. Wheeled out on ornate carts with brass and wood detailing, the tableside preparations of steak tartare, classic French omelets, and shrimp Louie take the drama up a notch.
Where: 1909 India St, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Born & Raised
Just down the block in Little Italy’s culinary center, Monello (the “naughty little brother” to longtime local favorite Bencotto next door) finishes orders of classic Italian risotto tableside in a unique vessel: a wheel of imported Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The cheese is the final ingredient in the creamy rice dish and, instead of grating or tossing it in, chef Fabrizio stirs and scrapes the entire order inside the cheese wheel, which is lit afire at the edges to keep the dish warm. Rumor has it, they will also finish other pasta dishes in the wheel at a guest’s request.
Where: 750 W Fir St, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Monello
Manhattan of La Jolla
Head up to La Jolla for another classic tableside dish: Caesar salad. Originally invented just south of San Diego at Hotel Caesars in Tijuana, the legendary salad’s egg, anchovy, lemon, garlic, and Parmesan dressing makes for an impressive show when mixed fresh at the table. Manhattan of La Jolla has made it a signature experience for years in its swanky Empress Hotel restaurant that’s hosted celebrities like Ann Bancroft, Mel Brooks, Johnny Depp, and Jay Leno over the years. For locals, it’s been a beloved spot for special occasions for more than 20 years.
When: 7766 Fay Ave, La Jolla, CA 92037
> Find out more about Manhattan of La Jolla
Any list of tableside dishes served in San Diego wouldn’t be complete without guacamole. It’s the local version of bread and butter in a region that produces 40 percent of the nation’s avocados – and it’s most impressive when prepared fresh at the table with simple ingredients: Avocados, smashed with garlic, onions, lime, salt, and salsa fresca garnish. Try it alongside an unparalleled view of the city skyline at Coasterra on Harbor Island, an upscale Mexican restaurant right on the bay.
Where: 880 Harbor Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Coasterra
Travel deep into Hillcrest, one of the city’s original foodie neighborhoods, and find Ortega’s tucked away in the corner of small strip mall. Almost as famous as their tableside guacamole is their simple, seasonal offering of Puerto-Nuevo style lobster dishes served in the rustic space with thick wood tables and colorful, imported glassware.
Where: 141 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103
> Find out more about Ortega’s
Riviera Supper Club
For a twist on tableside, try La Mesa’s Riviera Supper Club. Its nod to midcentury steak houses is evident in the both menu (steaks, chops, and sides like macaroni and cheese and bourbon baked beans) and the décor of cozy booths, dim lighting, and live music – all housed in a classic 1962 building that was once home to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Here’s the twist: It’s a DIY grill. You pick your protein and cook it yourself on a large communal grill, equipped with tongs and seasonings. The kitchen handles the sides (and we hear they’ll help you with your meat if requested) and desserts like bacon chocolate cake and s’mores casserole. A warning to those who opt to sip a Sidecar while manning the grill: The cocktails are served famously stiff.
Where: 7777 University Ave, La Mesa, CA 91941
> Find out more about Riviera Supper Club