The Dinner Lab: Pop-Up Dining Arrives in San Diego

San Diego’s latest fine dining experience.

past event: inside a church

San Diegans are known for their love of activity, adventure and food. Along with the burgeoning dining scene and chef talent in San Diego, the Dinner Lab founders saw an excellent opportunity to expand to America’s Finest City and introduce the Dinner Lab concept to a new community who would actively engage, explore and love the experience.  

Dinner Lab is a membership-based social dining experiment that unites undiscovered chefs with adventurous diners looking for something different from the traditional restaurant experience. 

Guests come to explore new cuisines and community in a space that only exists for 24 hours. Members aren't told the location until the night before. Local chefs are given a creative platform - a culinary theatrical stage of sorts - to prototype new dishes and ideas. Each chef's menu tells a compelling story, and guests are encouraged to use this platform to provide honest and truthful feedback to the spotlighted chefs!

The Expectation 

Most dinners start with a cocktail hour at 7:00 PM; the venue could be anything and everything - an empty warehouse, atop a parking structure, inside a church, around a museum - the location is truly unpredictable.

the dinner lab pop-up dinning location abounded house

Also, expect lots of booze: cocktail/wine/beer pairings are always involved. The dinner starts around 7:45 PM and includes 5-7 courses. The chef mixes and mingles with guests, who ask colorful questions about the inspiration of each dish. The seating is unassigned, and guests are encouraged to make friends with others at their table. The Dinner Lab community is rich in diversity. People young and old, from all walks of life, come together around the Dinner Lab table to share an experience and discover something new.

The Background

Dinner Lab was created in New Orleans, Louisiana in July 2011 by New Orleans transplant, Brian Bordainick. The mission was to provide a dining experience different from anything being offered in the New Orleans landscape at the time. 

The first dinner took place in the Garden District, cost $200, and was served on fine china. The meal was diverse in both people and food, and it planted the seed for what Dinner Lab has become. After nine months of hosting occasional dinner parties for friends, on nights similar to the first, the idea to experiment in the pop-up scene began to bear fruit.

Now in 31 markets domestically, Dinner Lab is a culinary testing ground for some of the world’s best chefs to explore new ideas and build a community around discovery. People of all kinds come together to share a meal with an open mind. With their one-of-a-kind nomadic dining experience, Dinner Labs across the country join diverse diners and chefs to share a meal and explore what’s possible.

The Process

Membership is $175 annually, which allows a member to purchase event tickets for themselves as well as a guest. Event prices averaging $50-$80 per person which includes 5+ courses, beverages, tax and gratuity. Diners can view information about their chef and menu ahead of time, but the location is kept a secret until the night before.

Dinner Lab is rolling out tiered membership options. Guests can head to right now sign up for a free membership, and you'll also get $20 off of your first ticket purchase.Other wise you can sign up for a Select Membership (pay $175) and the perks include ability to attend events at a discounted price nationwide, 3 week advance notification of events and early sign up, and special offers such as happy hours, elite chef access events, wine dinners, etc. 

The Next Dinner Lab

The first San Diego event is scheduled for Sunday, October 25 and features brunch. Los Angeles-based chef DJ Park is cooking his famous "Recovery Brunch," an ode to the morning after; nothing clears up the night before quite like a healthy dose of brunch. It's the cure all that will keep you going through the rest of the week. 

Our eye is on the Loco Moco dish: teriyaki beef, 63 egg, kimichi fried rice, red-eye gravy - and of course, the Charred Peach Cobbler: brown buttered hazelnut salted caramel ice cream.

They are partnering with local California Fruit Wine Co. to provide the brunch pairing sangrias for the afternoon. Brunch starts at 1:00 p.m. Interested? Sign up for membership here