First Look - Moe's

This room should be filled with expensive smoke. Should be filled with men who love watches, talking about horse races. A maitre d’ should be floating around, flirting, taking twenties from aspiring dandies for the red vinyl booths with a view of the fireplace. I feel the presence or premonition of illicit gambling here. But mostly, I feel ribeyes and I feel bourbon. 

This is Moe’s, San Diego’s new steakhouse. Two years in the making. It’s going into the spot on Mission Boulevard where, for decades—the dark years, before San Diego woke up and realized food was a thing, and there were even good chefs you could hire to make the food better—a local family reigned as just about the only good restaurant in Mission Beach. This is the former home of Saska’s. 

There’s a black and white photo of Joe Saska holding court, an homage. Changing the name wasn’t a flip or rash decision. Many hands were wrung. But at the end of the day, says owner Eric Leitstein—in a trucker cap and flannel shirt, eyes red from the long slog of getting a restaurant ready to open—“I’m not a Saska.” 

So Leitstein named this new chapter after his own family. Specifically, his granddad. 

“He used to take me to the Italian steakhouses in New York where I grew up,” he explains. Grandpa Moe was the reason Eric got into the restaurant and bar business. His hospitality group, OMG, now operates or helps operate a few places (Union Kitchen + Tap, PB Ale House, Backyard, Waterbar, Fish Shop, Moe’s). OMG are his kids’ initials. His family is all over this city, including next door. If you slide open the darkened glass windows near the bar at Moe’s, you can look out and see what will become the sister concept six feet away—a healthy smoothies and bowls place that’ll be called Molly’s. Molly was grandma.

Near the host stand, there's also a black-and-white of Moe and Molly.

Moe’s was designed by local fabricators, Tecture (Kettner Exchange, Nolita Hall). They added some elements (elegant wood slats, overhead bar lights that change colors for some soft mood disco), but kept those classic red vinyl booths from Saska’s. Skeleton keys hang by the bar to represent the booze lockers along the wall, where regulars can store their prized bottles. 

In the kitchen is Jay Scollan, formerly the exec at Laguna Beach classic, Las Brisas. He’s doing a beef tartare with quail egg, crispy calamari blackened with squid ink, a housemade ricotta agnolotti with kabocha squash puree, walnuts, sage, brown butter. The thud on the table is the 40-ounce prime bistecca alla Fiorentina (it’s $155, but the monster feeds at least four regular humans). They’ll serve USDA Prime bone-in ribeyes and New York strips, a filet mignon, a Wagyu Zabuton (aka the marbling-endowed Denver cut), with maitre d’ butter, salsa verde, brandy peppercorn, port wine jus, bearnaise, all the sauces. For sides you got creamed spinach with gruyere, mushrooms in rosemary and vincotto (wine reduction), truffle lobster mac and cheese, roasted garlic potato puree, etc. At the bar, Daniel Vargas (ex Juniper & Ivy) will do cocktails classic and new. GM Brent Noll is a certified sommelier who worked at Spanish Bay at Pebble Beach, the Mina Group, and then won a Wine Spectator award for his wine list at Whisknladle. He’ll be curating the wine list. 

Moe’s soft-opens this Friday. Soft opens are designed for operators to work out the kinks. So should you go, be patient, be cool. 

Moe’s, 3768 Mission Blvd., Mission Beach

First Look: Moe's sign
First Look: Moe's entrance
First Look: Moe's sign inside
First Look: Moe's closeup
First Look: Moe's bar
First Look: Moe's bar longer
First Look: Moe's bartop
First Look: Moe's wide room
First Look: Moe's seating
First Look: Moe's dining room
First Look: Moe's booth
First Look: Moe's corner booth
First Look: Moe's table
First Look: Moe's mirror
First Look: Moe's bar cage
First Look: Moe's bottles
First Look: Moe's skeleton keys
First Look: Moe's fireplace
First Look - Moe's picture
First Look: Moe's cocktails sign


Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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