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First Look: Queenstown Bistro

Little Italy’s New Zealand-inspired concept spawns a sister at UTC


We might have to stop calling UTC Westfield a mall soon. It’s looking more like its own city these days. Might get a mayor. With Amazon and its online retail colleagues pickpocketing brick-and-mortar retail across America, the idea of a mall as we knew it in the 80s is doomed. UTC had to do something. Every mall must (this website posts photos of what happens to malls that don’t). America pioneered the mall, with more malls per citizen than any other country (though the biggest is the New South China Mall, with 5 million square feet).

The internet never closes, so malls can’t compete at selling things. What the internet can’t do, however, is supply a physical space for a city to commune and gossip, where moms can walk the demons out of their kids, where teenagers can learn the art of the come-on and the flirt. A space with built-in safety devices like mall cops and security cams.

And so malls are ditching retail for physical experiences—concerts, art shows, fitness clubs, farmers markets, spas. You can’t get a massage on the internet. The Xanadu mall in Spain has a ski slope and balloon rides, and the Mall of America in Minneapolis has an aquarium and theme park.

And, in San Diego, with large pockets combined with large guts, UTC went full frontal attack—reinventing itself to the tune of $600 million. And a huge part of UTC’s new face is food and drink—erasing the concept of snoozy chain “food courts,” and replacing it with Shake Shack, Great Maple, True Food Kitchen, Javier’s, The Winery, Smokeyard BBQ, and Raised by Wolves (a new cocktail concept from the SD group behind Craft & Commerce and Born & Raised).

The newest arrival opens today. San Diego-based restaurateurs behind Queenstown Public and Raglan Public House have unveiled Queenstown Bistro, designed by Michael Soriano of Onairos Design (The Pearl, Vin di Syrah), with help from Peter Brantley of Stellar Details. It’s the sister concept to their concept in Little Italy. In that location, the New Zealand sheep is the spirit animal, grazing upside down on the fake-grass ceiling. At the UTC outpost, it’s the bee, with light fixtures inspired by hives and honeycomb and wire bee sculptures throughout the property. This summer, they plan to serve Manuka honey, only found in New Zealand and reported to have healing properties, along with an afternoon tea service.

For now, the drink menu will be wines and craft beers, plus four sangrias (including mint prosecco, peach basil, and rose), Champagne cocktails, and a short list of craft cocktails (bloody, sparkling cosmo, marg, juniper-and-cucumber, jalapeño mule, mojito).

The food is share plates (chimichurri hummus, salmon spread, prosciutto and burrata), salads (strawberry-chicken, kale-salmon, beet, steak-and-Caesar, quinoa), small plates (chicken pot pie, cajun shrimp, lamb ribs, flank steak, mac and cheese), and burgers including their phenomenal lamb burger with blue cheese and tomato chutney).

Enough talking. The mall you grew up with is dead. The new mall is tastier. Take a look at the first photos of UTC’s new toy.

Queenstown Bistro opens today, and will serve lunch (11 a.m.–5 p.m.) and dinner (5 p.m.–close) daily.

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Restaurant reviews, food trends, top cocktails, wine, beer and generally the best eats and drinks in San Diego, by Food Editor and general good guy Troy Johnson.

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