Put a Fork in San Diego
Story & photos by Neil Wolkodoff
San Diego is now the home of “Cali-Baha” inspired cuisine. What has changed in the last three years is the return of local chefs who have made their stamp elsewhere and have a unique perspective on their cuisine’s history and local flavor. Permeating every good restaurant here is a balance in flavors, texture, and presentation. Like the Vulcan Mind Meld meets food. Different food types, concurrent themes.
A popular new hotel in Downtown is the Hard Rock, which gives easy access to restaurants, activities, and the convention center. Inside the HR is Nobu, with a great happy hour and onyx sushi bar where the fish basket pendant lights combine with great Asian food.
Just a short walk or lift is the Little Italy district, gaining culinary outlets. The Pacific Standard Coastal Kitchen, with Giselle Wellman at the helm, serves rustic food you can eat every day. The Cassoulet takes the French dish and zips it up a bit with sofrito. The chicken with the unique baked, then fried potatoes combined with charred mint green beans is typical of the hearty fare.
Brocera Cocina is the epitome of Cali-Baha Mexican cuisine under Chef Javier Plascenia. It delivers from top to bottom staring with the unique two-level approach with stunning visuals. The wood-grilled octopus with meyer lemon, crispy garbanzo, and jalapeno is one example of the cuisine he is defining in San Diego.
If water activities along Harbor Drive are in the plan, then get off the boat at Carnitas Snack Shack, the home pier for all things pork and beyond. You sit under a nifty cover in outdoor comfort with a view of the city and the water. The Triple Threat Pork sandwich is hog heaven.
On the other side of the bay is the Liberty Station in the Point Loma area. A combination of shopping, arts, crafts, dining and history await in this historical enclave. The food pavilion features niche eateries that offer quick fare that is five-star quality. Wicked Lobster offers a real lobster roll sandwich, while you can get your veggie & vegan on with creative salads at Local Greens.
Encontro is a gastro-pub married with craft beers in the North Park District. The Prime Pork Chop with apple croquette is one example of basic but tasty food. Other creative pub fare includes the Portobello fries and the patatas bravas made zippy with the pickled fresno aioli.
Venture south for history and shopping to Old Town, and Casa Guadalajara is the Mexican restaurant of choice. Way beyond basic with dishes like the Camarones ala Diabla, swimming in a spicy chipotle sauce. Daily entertainment and large margaritas round out the experience.
A trip to San Diego for most people means getting to La Jolla, and Galaxy Taco is the up-casual creation of chef Trey Foshee. Baha-inspired dishes with a healthy dose of zing say fun and taste bud exploration. The must-try dishes include the grilled octopus tostadas with burnt-orange habanero sauce.
The Hake is sea-side dining with a Mexican theme with a healthy dose of international flavors and ingredient accents. Chef Aari Sanghavi combines heritage, travels and varying culinary approaches for creatively surprisingly nifty culinary treatments. Imagine Tuna Carnitas with ponzu and serrano and then the finale’ of lemon cake combining goat cheese mousse and blackberry.
Catania is classical and coastal Italian done to perfection, with a seating and bar arrangement that oozes chic comfort. A healthy respect for tradition combined with excellence in preparation means dishes like the Arancini, a red wine mushroom risotto with Parmesan is the perfect starter. The Duck Sugo Orecchiette with duck, porcini mushrooms, and tomatoes just never leaves the menu. Cioppino can be a complicated dish, but this one gets a lift from red wine brood and clams for a sure hit.
Neil Wolkodoff, PhD, is a Sport Scientist in Denver, Colorado who has worked with golfers and skiers over the last 15 years. A Colorado native, he grew up skiing and still seeks the elusive powder day combined with sparkling winter sun. During balmy temperatures, the rare free times bring travel to exotic golf destinations to see how golf, culture and local geography mix in different locales. He has penned articles for Colorado Avid Golfer, Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and has authored five books. In his travels, he has golfed with royalty, tour professionals, the local duffer, and the occasional goat.