Hot New Restaurants
1125 Rosecrans Street, Point Loma 619-450-6800
In a restaurant world gone almost aggressively casual, San Diego native George Riffle is a devotee of the elegant dining room. After cutting his teeth on such famed Manhattan restaurants as Picholine (awarded three coveted New York Times stars), Riffle returned to San Diego in 2000 as general manager of the original Laurel Restaurant & Bar, and thus began his relationship with acclaimed Roseville executive chef (and former Laurel sous chef) Amy DiBiase. Together again, the duo presides over a sophisticated candlelit scene—champagne-hued banquettes for power dinners and lush, cocoon-like nests for a romantic tête-à-tête, a gleaming bar overlooking the open kitchen, where locals convene for the Monday night special, an upscale Meyer Ranch Angus beef burger and frites. The rest of the menu blends equal parts refinement and simplicity: a perfectly crisp-skinned duck confit alongside garlicky cassoulet, market-fresh fish prepared en papiollote (highlighting DiBiase’s deft hand with seafood), a creamy and satisfying gratin of orecchiette and tangy Humbolt Fog goat’s milk cheese. The latter demonstrates another Riffle signature: the impeccably sourced cheese plate. Which, of course, pairs beautifully with one of San Diego’s best wine lists. Priced reasonably for the luxury, Roseville makes an eloquent case for the lingering, leisurely meal.
333 North Pacific Street, Oceanside 760-433-3333
The Cohn Restaurant Group has honed a reliable formula for restaurant success: Start with a stunning location, throw in a stylish dining room, then add reliably tasty food. 333 Pacific, the latest entry in the Cohn empire, continues the tradition and adds a twist, venturing just about as far north as you can go before crossing over into the reality-world wilds of Orange County. Vast windows and an outdoor patio overlook the ocean and the post-sunset sparkle of the Oceanside Pier, which just about guaranteed the restaurant, part of the new Wyndham Oceanside Resort, would become the area’s go-to nightlife destination. With a Deco-style ocean liner vibe and more than 100 vodkas on the bar menu, a cynic might say the food doesn’t even matter, beauty and booze being amply supplied. Not the case. Drawing on David Cohn’s background in beef (the group also owns Iowa Meat Farms and Seisel’s), and with the ocean as inspiration, the menu goes graciously big-night steak and seafood, with sushi and a raw bar, icy seafood towers and a very well-priced mixed grill for two, featuring two lobster tails and a monster 25-ounce bone-in ribeye for just $39.95 per person.
The Red Door
741 West Washington Street, Mission Hills 619-295-6000
Ric Libiran’s concept for The Red Door is smart and timeless, but apropos and appreciated in current times: an up-market experience at down-market prices. Opened quickly after the close of the venerated Parallel 33, the restaurant has the rich cream-and-neutral palette of a comfortable Mission Hills residence and attentive servers draped in floor-length black aprons, combining for a contemporary-meets-classic atmosphere that suits the cuisine—renditions of comfort food ably executed by chef Brian Johnson (formerly of Anthony’s Star of the Sea and El Bizcocho). The eatery’s conceit is that these dishes come with a twist, as in the superlative “chef’s family recipe” turkey meatloaf, or the maple-brined Iowa pork chop, or the “cheeky” surf-and-turf featuring a duo of pork and halibut cheeks. Its triumph is that none is priced higher than $19.50. t’s also a very welcome addition to the neighborhood Sunday brunch scene, with bottomless mimosas in sparkling champagne flutes and a powerful Bloody Mary that goes remarkably well with the best dish of the morning: eggs Benedict over spicy house-made chicken-jalapeño sausage and savory slices of griddled polenta, lavishly drenched in cilantro-lime hollandaise sauce. Considering the restaurant’s pocket size, make reservations.
West Coast Tavern
2895 University Avenue, North Park 619-295-1688
Intended as flattery, a common refrain regarding West Coast Tavern is that it feels like something out of New York City. But the loyal nighttime citizenry revolving around 30th and University who’ve warmly embraced the venue would argue it’s vintage San Diego, right down to its historical pedigree fronting the North Park Theatre. In San Diego tradition, music takes just-left-of-center stage at the tavern, with a house deejay spinning Thursday through Sunday nights and live bands—some local, some headliners—on many others.
Anchoring the theater, the brick-and-dark-wood tavern also does tie-in specials with such frolicsome events as North Park Movie Nights, screening films for boisterous and sometimes bawdy audiences. Befitting the neighborhood and the in-house entertainment, the kitchen is open until midnight, serving cocktail-friendly small plates like five-spiced Jidori chicken wings; stout-and-garlic braised mussels; lamb, eggplant and braised pork-cheek sliders (not all on the same bun); and Dungeness crab fondue. All of which makes West Coast Tavern perfect for the music-minded foodie on a bender; see the menu’s dangerous Bourbon Bar. On weekends, the tavern is equally accommodating for lunch or Sunday brunch—a bit more subdued but still rockin’.
2760 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill 619-260-1411
Hane opened in late 2008 to much pre-launch buzz, the beneficiary of near-worshipful reverence among sushi aficionados loyal to Ota-san of PB’s Sushi Ota. The tale is akin to a samurai legend: After nearly 11 years of apprenticeship, Roger Nakamura—Ota’s loyal lieutenant—opened the Bankers Hill outpost and named it in homage to the wings his mentor had bestowed on him (“hane” means “feather” in Japanese). Now, Hane Sushi is lauded for its own merits, hybridized like a makizushi roll: the sleek glass-and-concrete glitz of a San Diego hot spot on the outside; the tradition, quality and time-tested recipes (plus patronage) of Sushi Ota on the inside. On any given night there are sushi purists dining at the bar, mesmerized by Nakamura’s dazzling knifework as he prepares omakase, a six- to seven-course chef’s-pick tour of the seasonally changing menu. There are an equal number of date-night diners cozying at wooden tables, nibbling sushi or sampling specials from the daily blackboard menu that reveals the chef’s playfulness—such as a surf-and-turf roll wrapped with tender slices of Kobe beef.
505 Laurel Street 619-239-2222
Note to midtown real eastate agents: Cucina Urbana’s local-centric Takeout Tuesday could singlehandedly reinvigorate the condo market around this stretch of Fifth Avenue. To wit: a bottle of wine from the in-house (and retail-priced) wine shop, an artful salad (like the house-made burrata and proscuitto caprese) and a wood-fired gourmet pizza with toppings like duck confit or wild-boar sausage, all for $30. On the other hand, the dining room is so unabashedly fun and theatrical, takeaway almost misses the point. Tracy Borkum (of Kensington Grill) dramatically reimagined her former Laurel space, creating a bright, funky, kinetic dining room that’s prime for people-watching. (Think communal tables and that fantastic stairwell.) And chef Joe Magnanelli engineered a nuovo Italiano menu that hits sexy high notes with dishes like meaty short-rib pappardelle, braised black cod with a crunchy-tart pistachio-caper crust and locally sourced fried squash blossoms stuffed with creamy house-made ricotta. And those mini Mason jars (vasi in Urbana-speak) filled with such Tuscan toast toppings as chicken liver paté with shallot marmalade, or spicy ceci bean hummus? As witty and cute as those circling the bar. Word to the wise: Make reservations. Or try the recently launched lunch, when the cheerful room is equally loud and buoyant.
NEW AND NEWLY IMAGINED
San Diego’s foodie destination reputation continues to grow, with the addition of fresh new restaurants as well as refreshed approaches at established eateries - By David Nelson
South Park’s perfect distillation of cocktails, fine fare and neighborhood vibe.
The second time around may be the charm for this international Italian eatery (there was a Bice atop downtown’s Paladion in the early 1990s).
Casa de Reyes
Hip, hip, hooray, the fun and color—and the combination plates—are back with style in Old Town.
A swank, Milan-inspired retreat for creamy gelato and other sweet indulgences in the Gaslamp and in Hillcrest.
Adjacent to Petco Park, it serves upscale Mexican cuisine downtown.
A hit with the ladies courtesy of Hillcrest eatery/club impresario Chris Shaw, who caters to a mostly gay clientele.
Freshly redone, it’s a prime downtown setting for glam drinks and fine Happy Hour fare.
A prime pick among the new crop of “local cuisine” specialists, it’s a fave of Del Mar locals.
A great place in Little Italy to approach a meal two slices at a time.
When it’s time for tacos, take two at this Gaslamp eatery.
Swimmingly good seafood on busy Fifth Avenue.
A taste of Milan in the Gaslamp, and great before or after a performance at Balboa Theatre.
619-238-4590 (State Street), 619-906-5566 (Hillcrest), pappalecco.com
A big new branch of the tiny Little Italy original has made a big, big splash in Hillcrest.
This hip South Park burger joint is ultra family-friendly.
Suite & Tender
The artsy downtown space is a feast for the eyes that rivals the deluxe seafood and meats.
Friendly new prices and a revamped menu make a new friend out of this old La Jolla favorite.
The La Jolla outpost is, without question, the rendezvous for myriad crab preparations, as well as excellent steaks, in a stellar setting.
Some in P.B. like it hot, so pass the Japanese horseradish!