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The 50 Finest

Are you hungry, San Diego? From drinking to dining, we've got the goods on a culinary scene hallmarked by inspiring new restaurants, impressive chefs, dishes to die for and experiences to savor. Get going, gourmands!

Braised scallops at the new Sirena, which serves Latin seafood in Little Italy


Bottega Americano
This madcap Italian caper of a restaurant features a gourmet-to-go marketplace; cocktails that lean heavily on Italian spirits; and tantalizing live-action taste zones focusing on housemade salumi (from $16), pasta (from $15) and thin-crust pizza (from $15). Pair a food-friendly Antinori Super Tuscan ($155) with the grigliata di carne mista for two ($65).
Power Move Book seats 1 to 2 at the pizza counter or 17 to 18 front and center at the salumeria: That’s where you’re most likely to score off-menu bonus bites from chef David Warner. 1195 Island Ave., San Diego, 619.255.7800

Bracero Cocina de Raiz
Javier Plascencia’s ascendant star lights up Little Italy at this new bilevel best-of-both-worlds concept uniting Baja and Alta California, street food and fine dining. Downstairs, it’s mariscos and Tijuana-style tacos, while upstairs, look for tableside preparations and dishes like a Caja China-smoked whole fish (market price) that pairs beautifully with a specially decanted bottle of Adobe Guadalupe Kerubiel ($106).
Power Move Somm Woody van Horn's wine list includes some heavy-hitting but food-friendly tintos—like bottles from Valle de Guadalupe's Torres Allegre y Familia that open up beautifully when decanted. Call ahead to request, and van Horn will prep a bottle a few hours before your reservation. 1490 Kettner Blvd., San Diego

At this La Jolla gem, up-and-coming chef Vince Schofield dishes spit-roasted meats (market price), wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas (from $13), impeccable seafood (don’t miss the charred local spot prawns on weekends, $42) and smoked-duck liver mousse that gets its voluptuous richness from foie gras. Pair that silky starter with an Amarone Della Valpolicella ($91) off the eclectic, all-Italian list.
Power Move True foodies happily forego the scramble for hot Friday night reservations, instead booking an early table on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Why? Because Schofield makes it well worth their while, that's why. Upon request, on light(er) evenings the talented chef will go off-menu, creating memorable one-night-only dishes for those who know to ask. 7863 Girard Ave., La Jolla, 858.551.5105

Cocktails at Fairweather include fresh, new takes on tiki drinks.

Renegade chef Chad White brings border energy to his East Village spot on the booming J Street food corridor. The tostadas ($7) are legendary (try the escabeche), but save your appetite for grande dishes like the goat birria ($26) or roasted lamb leg ($25) with a Vena Cava Big Red Blend ($75) from Baja.
Power Move Only eight tickets are made available for each of White's eight-course Caja Ocho dinners ($80), which the chef customizes for the types of gastro-adventurers he calls "culinary explorers" and "fearless feeders." Got what it takes? 935 J St., San Diego, 619.358.9707

James’ Place
Jet-setting theatergoers flocking to S.D. for world-premiere, Broadway-bound spectacles have made this La Jolla Playhouse-adjacent resto a hot spot. In addition to sushi and sashimi paired with premium Haguro Honjozo sake ($68), feast on grilled rib-eye with shitake demi ($34) or miso-marinated sea bass ($29).
Power Move Book a pre-curtain private party (price upon request) with a bespoke raw menu from chef James Holder, a sushi maestro and Café Japengo alum. 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, 858.638.7778

S&M Sausage and Meat
Park it on Park Boulevard for Scott Slater’s paean to pork. Swine dominates the all-meat menu at this gimmick-free, gastronomically progressive eatery, but you’ll also find kangaroo curry sausages ($9), rabbit sliders ($8) and a killer venison meatball sandwich ($11), plus cocktails and on-tap craft brews.
Power Move Looking for something more exotic? The eatery’s VIP catering program (prices upon request) sources off-menu proteins like camel, alligator and even ultrarare wild-caught beaver. Yes, beaver (the taste is like roast pork). 4130 Park Blvd., San Diego, 619.344.2177

This Little Italy sleeper hit scored with savvy foodies thanks to punchy Peruvian seafood preparations, like the flavor-bomb El Peruano ceviche with uni leche de tigre ($13). Mains like braised scallops with roasted cauliflower, coconut and ginger pair well with a Chateau Montelena Sauvignon Blanc ($65).
Power Move Insiders demand the omakase menu ($68 per person, $83 with beverage pairings), which also has special vegan options on request. 1901 Columbia St., San Diego, 619.564.8970

Chef Tim Kolanko presides at this elegant Coronado chophouse, where you’re likely to find military top brass enjoying an all-American, all-out luxury dining experience—we’re talking top-shelf cocktails, dry-aged bone-in rib-eye ($54), steamed king crab legs ($69) and fine wines (Grand Cru Burgundy, anyone?) from one of San Diego’s deepest lists.
Power Move Put yourself in Kolanko’s capable hands for the Stake Experience: a multicourse tasting menu ($140) with dishes like seared foie gras; briny oysters on the half-shell;and the real-deal, so-marbled-it-hurts Japanese wagyu that’s normally available a la carte for $28 per ounce. 1309 Orange Ave., Coronado, 619.522.0077

Table No. 10
Chef-owned restos are as rare downtown as the natural beef is on chef-owner Jason Gethin’s quail-egg topped tartare ($16). The dish is indicative of Gethin’s full-flavored cooking, styled as approachable fine dining, with sharable plates like California rabbit with pea risotto ($28) or crispy chicken with a cornbread souffle ($22).
Power Move The kitchen counter has only four seats, but it’s the only other spot in the house where you can order the custom-tailored tasting menu (price upon request) normally reserved for the 10-top chef’s table. 369 10th Ave., San Diego, 619.550.1262

The Patio on Goldfinch
An instant hit in Mission Hills, this verdant, high-design resto buzzes all day long. Reservations are a must for both weekend brunch (the cured lox “sandwich” ($12), is a favorite) and dinner (try the Spanish octopus ($18). Libation-led exclusive dining experiences (from $80) routinely sell out.
Power Move Tequila-loving regulars know to book catador Chris Simmons for private tastings. The resto’s extensive collection includes bottles like Casa San Matias’ 6-year-old Rey Sol extra añejo ($55 by the glass). 4020 Goldfinch St., San Diego, 619.501.5090


Rachel King
A nominee for Food & Wine’s best new pastry chef in 2013, King has continued to rule since joining La Jolla’s Nine-Ten, where her fanciful and elegant desserts—like an icy dish of watermelon sorbet with coconut-lemongrass tapioca, lime and sea salt ($11)—are a sweet counterpart to chef Jason Knibb’s stunning cuisine. 910 Prospect St., La Jolla, 858.964.5400

Adrian Mendoza
At Herringbone, this top talent—who trained at Spago and Cut in Beverly Hills—plays it cool for summertime with dishes like a frozen coconut mousse served with apriums and apricots ($11). Mendoza's also been drafted to create desserts for the new Herringbone Santa Monica, opening soon. 7837 Herschel Ave., La Jolla, 858.459.0221

Joe Burns
Dessert lovers going gluten-free have a friend at Waters Fine Catering, where Burns waives the wheat but delivers the decadence on treats like chocolate cake layered with chocolate-banana-cashew cream and caramel, or even très adorable mini eclairs that pack a punch despite their petite size (from $2.75). 1122 Morena Blvd., San Diego, 619.276.8803


Chris Burkett, The Tortoise and the Hare
Behind the bar, Burkett reflects the Jsix from-scratch culinary ethos, crafting syrups and infusions that lend a handmade touch to his layered and sophisticated libations. For his personal favorite, The Tortoise and the Hare ($12), he makes cherrywood-smoked raspberry syrup and blends it with fresh lemon, Herradura silver tequila and Peychaud’s bitters, topping the cocktail with a float of Monk’s Café sour ale. 616 J St., San Diego, 619.531.8744

Sarah Ellis, Turnbull Tipple
If 30th Street is North Park’s restaurant row, then Adams Avenue is Normal Heights’ cocktail corridor—and Sycamore Den is its boys’ club. Or was. New bar manager Ellis, who has deep Scottish roots, is a favorite for drinks like her shandy-influenced Turnbull Tipple ($10), blending scotch (natch) with lemon, housemade ginger syrup, strawberries and hard cider. 3391 Adams Ave., San Diego, 619.563.9019

Roy Ledo and Has Mahmood, No Esposa
Playfulness is a hallmark of the cocktails crafted by this Lion’s Share duo. The No Esposa ($10) is a great example: Named after a beloved dishwasher who could stick around for a staff drink only on nights when his wife wasn’t picking him up, it has tequila, grenadine and lemon, then gets a kick from habanero and strawberry shrubs. 629 Kettner Blvd., San Diego, 619.564.6924

Trevor Easter, Peach Julep
Remember when Noble Experiment was a secret? The cat may be really, really, really out of the bag, but the downtown speakeasy still reigns as one of S.D.’s hottest bars, where Easter—who notes that a simple martini is his own favorite drink—goes for minimum ingredients and maximum impact. Taste that on a peach julep with bourbon, a sprinkle of Jamaican rum, mint and the fresh stone fruit ($13). 777 G St., San Diego, 619.888.4713

Anthony Schmidt, Pina Colada
At tikilicious rooftop bar Fairweather, Schmidt uses his finely calibrated skills to turn out serious renditions of not-so-serious drinks. Do you like pina coladas? So does he, blending light rum, lime, coconut and fresh pineapple juice in a signature sip ($11) that nails that I’m-on-vacation vibe. 795 J St., San Diego, 619.225.6507


Octopus Meatballs at Cannonball
Post multimillion-dollar renovation, this Mission Beach rooftop resto boasts mod-gone-aquatic midcentury styling and a splashy menu. VIPs reserve a fire pit and sip ultrapremium Kubota Manju Daiginjo Sake ($140) while diving into the house-specialty takoyaki ($9), a perfect warmup for the rest of the resto’s izakaya-inspired menu. 3105 Ocean Front Walk, San Diego, 858.228.9304

Pork Belly and Peaches at Ballast Point
BP’s hoppy and slightly sweet Grapefruit Sculpin, a cult favorite, is the perfect foil for this rich plate’s grilled stone fruit and smoky, crispy belly ($9). It’s a sharable snack, which is perfect—you’ll want to hit up the glammed-out new Miramar hot spot with a crew of fellow craft connoisseurs. 9045 Carroll Way, San Diego, 858.790.6901

Tableside Guacamole at Coasterra
Built from scratch on Harbor Island by the Cohn Restaurant Group, this 28,000-square foot, $10-million-plus restaurant boasts some of San Diego’s most stunning views from its firelit lanai. The modern Mexican fare on offer includes this scene-stealing dish (price varies) prepared tableside with plenty of theatrics, and with add-ins like crab or lobster. 880 Harbor Island Drive, San Diego, 619.814.1300


StreetCar Merchants of Fried Chicken, Doughnuts & Coffee
Expect this new North Park favorite to cause a ripple effect: Like Carnitas' Snack Shack before it, its tightly focused fast-casual menu helps fill a specific dining-category void in S.D. Plus, the fried-to-order chicken ($7 to $25) is truly top-notch, especially the Nashville Hot, served with pickles on a slice of white bread. Pillowy brioche doughnuts (from $4) and Intelligentsia’s buzzy brew cap your meal. 4002 30th St., San Diego, 619.546.9010

Haggo’s Organic Taco
This lionized Leucadia iconoclast may have made the leap to brick-and-mortar, but don’t expect the lines to have abated. Part of the appeal has always been owner James Haggard (aka Haggo) himself, sporting his Cousteau cap and ruling the resto with churlish charm. Then there’s the lineup of feel-good eats—organic, local, grass-fed, free-range, non-GMO—served up flavorful and simple, in a dining room replete with quirky Wes Anderson memorabilia. 1302 N. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, 760.753.6000

Civico 1845
Calabrian brothers Dario and Pietro Gallo join the ranks of expat Italians retaking India Street from the red-sauce joints—but with a twist. Along with from-scratch pastas (like scialatelli with prawns ($21); fusilli with beef and pork Bolognese ($18); a prosciutto bar (from $16) and carnivorous mains (a 10-ounce grilled bistecca ($22), you’ll find vegan dishes like escarole pizza with capers and olives ($12), and what is surely Little Italy’s only seitan and vegan Parmigiano lasagna ($16). 1845 India St., San Diego


Bernard Guillas
Globe-trotting Guillas—a member of the prestigious Maître Cuisiners de France and exec chef of the Marine Room since 1994—is S.D.’s de facto culinary ambassador to the world. So it’s hardly surprising that the chef’s signature dish—sesame-peppered ruby red ahi tuna with fennel mango salad and an avocado fritter ($44)—borrows from many culinary traditions. 2000 Spindrift Drive, La Jolla, 858.459.7222

Carl Schroeder
James Beard-nominated Schroeder is a fixture at Market Restaurant + Bar. And if he’s not in the kitchen, he’s in pursuit of pristine ingredients, even line-fishing for the local calamari and white sea bass he serves on a dish with caper rémoulade and marinated Chino Farms tomatoes ($32). 3702 Via de la Valle, Del Mar, 858.523.0007

Jason Knibb
At Nine-Ten at the Grande Colonial Hotel, Knibb produces plates that are almost too beautiful to eat. But don’t let their delicate appearance deceive—the chef is at his best on robust, full-flavored dishes like the unforgettable lamb tartare ($16) with black garlic and cured egg yolk. 910 Prospect St., La Jolla, 858.964.5400

Jeff Jackson
His peerless farm-to-table reputation at A.R. Valentien recently helped The Lodge at Torrey Pines land an exclusive James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour dinner. True to Jackson's locavore roots, his technique-driven cooking is straight-ahead, letting the ingredients shine, as in his signature lunch-menu dish of Chicken Under a Brick ($18), where the crackly, golden-skinned poultry is served with a salad of pea tendrils and crispy curried chickpeas. 11480 N. Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, 858.453.4420

Patrick Ponsaty
The vineyard-dappled hills surrounding Bandy Canyon Ranch resonate with Gallic Ponsaty, who also helms sister resto Bellamy’s nearby in Escondido. There he shines on “forgotten recipes” like navarin d’agneau ($68), but the real treat is his five-course Innovation Menu ($75), which changes daily and is served for the whole table. 417 W. Grand Ave., Escondido, 760.747.5000; 16251 Bandy Canyon Road, Escondido, 760.871.6494


Chef’s Tasting Menu at Addison at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar
Among chef William Bradley’s numerous other honorifics is this recherché distinction: At Addison, he presides over one of the most expensive tasting menus in the country. Indulging in the full 10-course menu ($235 per person) takes the better part of an evening—dishes like sake-cured kampachi, coffee-roasted canard and sweetbreads with porcini marmalade can’t be rushed. Exquisite touches abound throughout the lavish service, including a sweet lagniappe for the journey home (or back to your suite). 5200 Grand Del Mar Way, San Diego, 858.314.1900

TBL3 at George’s California Modern
Trey Foshee is adept at many formats: He’s currently readying his La Jolla Shores fast-casual project, Galaxy Taco, and on George’s upstairs Ocean Terrace, it’s approachable fare. But for TBL3, Foshee forages the fields, canyons and coastline of San Diego for hyperlocal ingredients, then crafts a 12- to 14-course tasting menu ($170 per person, $250 with wine pairings) that celebrates the bounty. Seven days' notice is required to book the exclusive table, with a minimum reservation for two diners and a maximum of six. The intimate setting and attentive service renders this one of San Diego’s premier luxury experiences. 1250 Prospect St., La Jolla, 858.454.4244

Ironside Fish & Oyster’s Chef’s Catch Dinner Series
Michelin-starred chef Jason McLeod dropped a line and reeled in some of the country’s hottest chefs for this collaborative dinner series (from $59 per person), running throughout 2015. Guests get premium family-style service at the restaurant’s hottest seats, and a chance to dine with A-listers like Chris Pandel (The Bristol, Balena in Chicago); Renee Erickson (The Whale Wins, Boast Street Café, The Walrus and the Carpenter, Barnacle in Seattle); Bill Kim (Urbanbelly, BellyQ, Belly Shack in Chicago); and Mike Lata (The Ordinary in Charleston). Make reservations. 1654 India St., San Diego, 619.269.3033 

Juniper & Ivy’s Left Coast Tasting Menu
On Thursday evenings, Richard Blais’ crack team of tasting menu technicians, led by Chef de Cuisine Anthony Wells, dishes up more than a dozen courses at primo counter seats reserved exclusively for this spontaneous VIP feast ($95 per person, $155 with beverage pairings). Fresh, seasonal produce carries the day (this summer, look for sweet Chino Farms corn to feature prominently), and the team plays with techniques like sous vide slow cooking and liquid nitrogen flash freezing. For groupies (er, fans), Blais puts in plenty of face time at the counter, explaining dishes in detail and gamely posing for photos. 2228 Kettner Blvd., San Diego, 619.269.9036

Valle de Guadalupe Tours with the Wine Vault & Bistro
Don’t forget your passport: This charming India Street resto does its lauded list one better with these exclusive cross-border trips (from $680 per person) to Baja’s famed wine region. The three-day adventure includes transportation; luxury lodging in Ensenada; a dinner worthy of Drew Deckman’s Michelin star at the South African chef’s eponymous Valle restaurant; plus lunches, winery tours and tastings with your fellow food-loving oenophiles. Be forewarned: Bookings sell out almost immediately. 3731 India St., San Diego, 619.295.3939


Juniper & Ivy
In the early days just after the resto’s opening, owner Mike Rosen’s passion for pricey Burgundy inspired one of the most inept burglary attempts ever in S.D.’s dining history. Since then, somm Tami Wong’s inspired list—highlights include 1998 Krug Champagne ($500), 2009 Comtes George de Vogue Bonnes-Mares ($875) and the 2012 Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon by the glass ($45)—is kept under better lock and key. Her informative but chill presence tableside helps burnish the hot spot’s hip reputation. 2228 Kettner Blvd., San Diego, 619.269.9036

Marina Kitchen
After its relatively unknown somm, Joshua Orr, won the 2014 Top Somm U.S. Sommelier Championship, this Marriott Marquis & Marina resto found itself plunged into the limelight. Happily, it was close-up ready, with a thoughtful, wide-ranging but focused list that includes bottles like a 1991 Vega Sicilia Unico Tempranillo ($525). Thanks to innovative storage techniques, Orr and fellow somm Wendy Shoemaker can even offer 3- and 6-ounce tastings of pricey premium bottles like a 2010 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon ($28, $65, $425) or 2009 Michel Gros Vosne Romanée Close de Réas 1er Cru Monopole Pinot Noir from Burgundy ($18, $35, $190). 333 W. Harbor Drive, San Diego, 619.234.1500

Bankers Hill Restaurant + Bar
Rising-star somm Molly Brooks-Thornton presides over the list at this Fourth Avenue institution. She’s irreverent and informative, nudging diners to try wines they might otherwise overlook, like Scribe’s 2013 Skin-Fermented Carneros Chardonnay ($60), or a 2010 Bricco dell’Uccellone Braida Barbera ($143) that’s a moody version of a normally playful wine. And for pairings, she doesn’t think twice about matching the fried-egg topped BH burger ($16.95) with Forest-Marie’s Cuveé St. Crespin 1er Cru Brut Champagne ($95). 2202 Fourth Ave., San Diego, 619.231.0222

Pamplemousse Grille
One million dollars—that’s the roundabout amount chef-owner Jeffrey Strauss has spent curating his restaurant’s eye-popping wine list, the toast of North County. Just for starters, the tremendous tome—deep with both verticals and horizontals—includes more than 30 different Colgin Napa cabs, not to mention magnums of Bolgheri Super Tuscans (from $875). Ask for a recommendation to pair with Strauss’ French cuisine, including dishes like truffled white asparagus soup ($16) or John Dory with roasted root vegetables ($43). 514 Via de la Valle, Solana Beach, 858.792.9090

The Rose Wine Bar and Bottle Shop
While this South Park charmer is committed to “small and sometimes zany producers from pretty much everywhere,” its fan base is most enamored with its dedication to organic, natural wines made with native grapes, many from small, up-and-coming S.D. labels. On Drink Local Thursdays, encounter vintages like J* Brix’ 2013 San Diego County Carignan ($31) or Vesper Vineyards’ 2013 Grenache Rosé ($27). Tapas (from $6), meat and cheese boards ($15) and flatbreads (from $13) are on offer for nibbling. 2219 30th St., San Diego, 619.281.0718


Kettner Exchange
The indoor-outdoor bilevel design marvel colloquially known as KEX has become a hot spot for creative-world luminaries like PR titans John Bailey and Jamie Lynn Sigler, who come for cocktails by Steven Tuttle and eats by Brian Redzikowski (don’t skip the fatty soft-shell crab ($18), or Hudson Valley foie gras with mango and Brussels sprouts ($19).
Power Move The chef’s table, hidden in a private room off the kitchen, has just eight uberexclusive seats, available only at a monthly five-course dinner (from $125 per person) where off-menu dishes like fried whole Japanese char with ponzu, or oxtail with asparagus and morels, are served. 2001 Kettner Blvd., San Diego, 619.225.2001

Want to crack a famously private social scene? Look no further than the glam, redesigned resto at the iconic Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. Morada has a genteel heritage feel befitting its straight-ahead cuisine (pan-seared Arctic char, $28, filet mignon, $35) and blue-blood fan-base, replete with Forbes list regulars.
Power Move Monday night it’s a packed house for, we kid you not, Meatloaf Night ($29). Exec Chef Brian Black’s tomato-crusted twist on the mainstay comes with the famed Royce salad—plus plenty of air-kissing. 5951 Linea Del Cielo, Rancho Santa Fe, 858.756.1131

The Pony Room
Regulars know that a corner table at Rancho Valencia’s swank bar is the ultimate in RSF real estate. More “casual” than dining next-door at Veladora, Pony Room rendezvous start—and end—with margaritas (the El Jefe ($45) has Don Julio 1942 Añejo tequila) and include bites like The Chopchop salad ($13) and lobster nachos ($22).
Power Move Book catador Chris Simmons for structured agave-spirit tastings (price on request). These private parties encompass sips of sotol (from Chihuahua), bacanora (from Sonora) and mezcal (from Oaxaca), in addition to the respado, añejo and super añejo tequilas known to typical tipplers. 5921 Valencia Circle, Rancho Santa Fe, 858.756.1123


Chino Farms
At the roadside Rancho Santa Fe farm stand, pick up organic summer strawberries (including rare fraise du bois) and the sweet corn that S.D. chefs like Carl Schroeder and Jason Knibb fight over. The farm also hosts a Good Earth/Great Chefs series that brings top toques to town. 6123 Calzada Del Bosque, Del Mar, 858.756.3184 

Convoy District
Ready for some new favorites? Find A-list chefs, ex-pat Asians and second-generation Convoy kids dining on conveyor belt sushi at Kula Revolving Sushi Bar (4609 Convoy St., 858.715.4605), Anthony Bourdain-endorsed eats at Myung In Dumpling (4344 Convoy St., 858.565.2688), Chinese sausage sticky rice at Shanghai Saloon (4625 Convoy St., 858.268.9638), red bean and mocha coffee bread at 85°C Bakery (5575 Balboa Ave., 858.278.8585) or black-sesame shaved snow at Iceskimo (4609 Convoy St., 858.216.1111).

Liberty Station
Trust us: Between S.D.’s original Tender Greens, the rustic bakery Con Pane, Stone Brewing Co.’s indoor-outdoor gastropub and Italian farm-to-fork resto Solare, this Point Loma complex is worth the parking-lot puzzle. Next up? Blue Bridge Hospitality’s $3 million Public Market food hall opens this summer. Off Rosecrans between Lytton Street and Womble Road, Point Loma

Little Italy Mercato
S.D.'s most extensive farmers market is still Saturday morning’s freshest scene. We’re fans of Da Le Ranch’s fresh rabbit and quail, the imported cheese and prosciutto sliced-to-order at Thyme of Essence and Poppa’s Fresh Fish with freshly shucked oysters or just-cracked uni. Sat. mornings rain or shine, 8am-2pm, Cedar Street between Kettner Boulevard and Front Street

Main Street in El Cajon
East County is newly vibrant thanks to the Middle Eastern diaspora that is steadily remaking El Cajon’s main corridor, now packed with halal butchers, grocers and bakeries. Gems include next-door neighbors Nahrain Fish & Chicken Grill (1183 E. Main St., El Cajon, 619.334.3222)—for the clay-oven cooked Masgouf fish and sumac-spiced Musakhan chicken—and Shakira Pastry (1183 E. Main St., El Cajon, 619.440.6068), home to a stunning variety of honey-dripping baklava. Try Valley Foods (1275 E. Main St., El Cajon, 619.749.8355) for spices and condiments, or pop into Harvest International Market (733 E. Main St., El Cajon, 619.442.0413) for teas, sweets and dates.


Cross-Border Regionalism
A foodie’s greatest asset in S.D. these days is a SENTRI pass to cut border wait times on excursions to Tijuana, Ensenada and Valle de Guadalupe. More and more, chefs from both nations are collaborating on everything from food festivals like the Baja Culinary Fest (Oct. 8 to 15) to dinners (West Coast Tavern’s Abe Botello just cooked at Adobe Guadalupe with chef Ryan Steyn), while some S.D. businesses (like North Park’s Caffé Calabria) and chefs (Chad White) are setting up outposts in Mexico. Flavorwise, S.D.’s palate is becoming attuned to Baja’s use of smoke and ash, and adopting preparations like birria (actually from Guadalajara, but popular along the border) and giving them a twist (as at South Park Brewing Co., serving opah birria tostadas). Viva!

Foie Gras’ Second Coming
Since the recent repeal of California’s ban on the fattened duck liver, this delicacy is having a moment. You’ll find it served au poivre-style atop a pan-roasted New York strip steak at Ironside Fish & Oyster ($39); seared and served with brioche and caramelized stone fruit at Bellamy’s ($21); and, our favorite, torchon-style (mais, oui!) at Café Chloe (721 Ninth Ave., San Diego, 619.232.3242), where a melt-in-your-mouth slice is served with rhubarb, celery and apple ($16).

Urban Wineries
California’s drought is putting a bright focus on S.D.’s grape-growers, many of whom have been exploiting dry farming for years to coax a taste of terroir out of our arid soils. With high-quality wine grapes grown all over the backcountry, winemaking in the city is taking off with some notable urban wineries. North County’s Solterra (934 N. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, 760.230.2970) was on the vanguard, while Koi Zen Cellars (12225 World Trade Drive, San Diego, 858.381.2675) is now uncorking its vintages in Carmel Mountain Ranch. San Diego Cellars in Little Italy (2215 Kettner Blvd., San Diego, 619.269.9463) hosts crush events where you can help stomp grapes for prized zin and blended primitivo, and this summer, Vinivanti (9550 Waples St., San Diego) will relocate to its new 3,300-square-foot winery/tasting room/restaurant in the heart of Hillcrest. Cheers!