Prepkitchen La Jolla may have been ousted from this year’s Best Restaurants list (the New American eatery took top honors in the takeout category last year), but executive chef Ryan Johnston still has a few more tricks up his sleeve. Every day from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., the restaurant serves up some of the best tapas in town—and at $3.50 a pop (plus happy-hour pricing on the sangria), there’s no reason not to order liberally. Here, my picks for the top three tapas on the menu.
The Spanish specialty may not look like much next to its well-plated counterparts, but don’t be turned off by the unceremonious side of aioli: these are Spanish fries done right. Cut into inch-long cubes, the deep-fried potatoes are crisped to perfection. They’re also a mainstay on bar and restaurant menus across Spain, but if you really want to feel like you’re on the Mediterranean, go for a pitcher of the house sangria, too. (Poorly-kept Spanish secret: tapas are best enjoyed two or three glasses deep).
With a pitch-perfect pairing of the savory and the sweet, Johnston’s bacon-wrapped dates make for a mouth-watering starter. The bite-sized appetizer rises above the gimmickry of the past couple years’ bacon frenzy (bacon jam, anyone?) for a surprisingly light, tasty pre-entrée palate-whetting.
White bean and tuna bruschetta
This update on a classic is a radical reinterpretation of its Italian forebears (there’s no fresh-cut tomato in sight, and nary a twig of basil). Still, Johnston’s take hits all the right notes—the white-bean spread lends a light, California cuisine touch, and the tuna offers a pleasantly mild complement.
If you’re a little further north, there’s also no going wrong at Prepkitchen Del Mar, which offers a seasonal tapas menu all its own. (And if you’re inclined to stay for dinner, we’re especially fond of the lamb shank with mushroom risotto).