San Diego dining destinations allude to familiar places of home.
Looking for the right place to eat with family and friends, but yearn for a menu steeped in tradition and generations-old recipes? Whether you’re craving something simple or exotic, there are many choices in our fair city to satisfy the masses. Come with me as we journey down the road to taste cuisine ranging from old-world, south-of-the-border dishes, to great American comfort food. We also travel to a rustic French bistro, a hidden gem found on a road less traveled, and an over-the-top fancy Southern California landmark. Each boasts its own heritage, but all invite you to join their tables and stroll down memory lane for one of the oldest excuses for gathering the family together. Buon Appetito!
Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro
Opened in 2006 and located in San Diego’s Bonita neighborhood, Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro is part of a legendary group of family-owned restaurants, including Villa Saverios, Casa Plascencia, Caesar’s Restaurant and Giuseppi’s located in Tijuana, along with Finca Altozano in Valle de Guadalupe, Ensenada. The Plascencia family offers an old-world ambiance at this hidden gem boasting a traditional wooden bar and black-and-white bistro floors. Mexican recipes utilizing Mediterranean techniques continue to delight food critics, locals and out-of-towners. “We opened Romesco so that our friends and family could enjoy Mediterranean-style dishes featuring the distinct flavors of Baja cuisine that we love here in San Diego,” says Executive Chef Javier Plascencia. The Tapas Bar offers a lively, casual space with an extensive happy hour menu. Favorites include Caesar’s Piquillos Rellenos De Salmon, stuffed sweet piquillo peppers topped with mango basil vinaigrette, and specialty drinks like the acclaimed Tamarindo Martini.
Serving fun versions of American breakfast fare since 1992, Café 222 has gained popularity with both locals and tourists alike, which has been the key to its longevity. First opened in a redevelopment area of San Diego’s Marina District, the industrial-influenced café now sits in the middle of a large residential district, making it a favorite destination for breakfast or lunch. The long lines of patrons waiting for their chance to savor their favorite dish are a testament to the consistency and quality of the menu. Upbeat and quirky with a bright and sunny ambiance, chef and proprietor Terryl Gavre refers to her eatery as “a fine-tuned little buzzing machine that has a great staff and rocks it out every day.” Popular favorites at Café 222 include the Buttery Scones and Pumpkin Waffles. “The waffle is a moist and spice–cake-like waffle,” Gavre says. “It is wonderful with just butter and a little bit of syrup. It’s also great with fresh whipped cream and a little sprinkle of grated fresh nutmeg on top.”
A destination restaurant with a neighborhood feel, this casual bistro in Ocean Beach is reminiscent of a cottage in a tiny village in the south of France, with two dining rooms and a bar and outdoor patio complete with a stone fireplace. The stone walls reflect natural light by day and the warm glow from antique fixtures at night, adding to the ambiance. A graduate in 2009 from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France, with a Grand Diplôme in Cuisine and Pastry, Executive Chef Katherine Humphus cares about using sustainable, local and organic ingredients with presentations that are quite modern and approachable. She prefers to source most of her products from Specialty Produce and local farms, Point Loma Farms, as often as possible. Her menu is filled with classic dishes including Boeuf Bourguignon with baby carrots, pancetta, mushrooms, pearl onions and fingerling potatoes and Ancho Chili Braised Pork with house-made orange-thyme gnocchi, roasted mixed mushrooms, kale, pickled shallots and bone-marrow griddled baguette. Chef Humphus credits her parents for their support and her grandmother for keeping her engaged in the kitchen—helping her understand that cooking is fun and creative.
Off the beaten path, located an easy drive from the busy streets of San Diego, Kitchen 4140 can be found tucked away at the quiet north end of Morena Boulevard. The space itself was designed with reclaimed wood and metal from a local barn, wall tiles from a small remnant shop in Riverside, tables and chairs handpicked in Los Angeles and a glorious chandelier that Executive Chef Metzger purchased while on a trip to Quebec with his wife. Kitchen 4140 redefines everything you thought you knew about organic, farm-fresh and sustainable cuisine, focusing on two key points: Use locally sourced ingredients and take all the time needed to create every dish to utter perfection. Lovingly nicknamed “The Kitchen,” this innovative eatery has been serving up a variety of breakfasts, lunches and brunches since fall 2010. “Fast food is a term that need not be spoken here,” says Chef Meztger. “Some fans have been known to fly in from faraway locales just to experience the tasty fare. The freshness that comes alive on the plate is mixed with passion, artistry and skill. Our Braised Lamb Shank recipe is a perfect example, combining fresh ingredients for an exciting dish.” The homegrown kitchen, outside the south wall, opens up to the Kitchen’s leafy patio-seating where guests will find an herb garden reminiscent of the kind they might grow in their own backyards.
Rising up above the spectacular La Jolla coastline, the legendary La Valencia Hotel is a stunning building with equally stunning views. Built in 1926, this “Pink Lady” has stood in a class by herself for decades, attracting visitors and locals alike for the world-class location, service and hospitality that make this destination a must-see. Inspired by luxury resorts lining the Mediterranean Sea, La Valencia has long been a respite for Hollywood stars. One of the best places to dine at La Valencia Hotel is on the terrace at sunset. “We are having fun,” says new Executive Chef Daniel Barron. “Our ambiance is California classy and always evolving.” Chef Barron is responsible for all food outlets in the hotel, including The Med, the upcoming restaurant Cafe La Rue, the La Sala Lounge, banquets and the pool program. Using sustainable and organic ingredients whenever possible, chef Barron says he puts every effort into sourcing the very best produce, including seafood and meats (90% of his produce is from local farms).