When we moved to San Diego one and a half years ago I was worried that we would be leaving behind the irreplaceable food scene that New York City is known for. Boy was I wrong. There are countless outstanding restaurants throughout San Diego and more continue to pop up on the foodie scene each month. One of the key components leading to the incredible array of dining options in this city stems from access to unparalleled fresh ingredients grown right here, in California. Combining locally grown produce, wild-caught seafood, and extremely talented chefs naturally results in a delicious selection of plenty of places to please your palate. I welcome you to dive into my March dining journey with me.
Addison (Del Mar)
Tucked in Del Mar lies a magical kitchen where food fairies bring otherworldly flavors together through pixie dust and fairy potions. There is no explanation as to how such marvelous concoctions are created in symphonic perfection, except by recognizing that it is nearly impossible for mere mortals to come close to inventing flavors this heavenly. At Addison, the price tag is certainly high ($355 per person), but well worth the enchanting experience that comes along with it.
Addison, a three-starred Michelin restaurant takes the San Diego food scene to a whole new level. You don’t come here for dinner. You dine here to embark on an elevated journey of superior service, brilliantly artistic dishes (that you’ll photograph endlessly before biting into), and masterfully combined ingredients that make for explosive flavors. Throughout the five-hour meal, our table of four had a dedicated wait staff of twelve servers, alternating between courses, so that at the delivery of each dish, or refill of each glass, the ratio was always one server per patron. There are eleven impeccable courses, with an emphasis on Japanese cuisine (although you’ll taste hints of Mexican, Thai, and Local seasonings as well). Every single morsel is thoughtfully created to not only burst with flavors but to also be aesthetically stunning.
People have asked me what I loved most about dining at Addison. Of course, it is the food that stands out most, but my response is always that I most enjoyed the perfectly illuminated tables that strategically cast a glow over the marvelous presentation of the dishes as well as the synchronized serving of each plate and pour because these two seemingly small details play a big role in the execution of an ultimate gastronomical expedition.
The menu, the colors, the flavors, the ingredients, the ambiance, the plates, the service, the lighting… all extraordinary. Reservations are fully booked three months ahead so plan accordingly.
Marisi (La Jolla)
A meal at Marisi will immediately whisk you away to the coast of Italy with its lingering scent of roasted tomatoes drifting from the open kitchen and its charming decor, including intricate tilework with hand-drawn lemon trees that are reminiscent of summers in Sorrento. I’ve dined here several times and have consistently left fully satisfied by the perfectly prepared Italian dishes. Handmade pastas are the stars of the show, along with carefully curated cocktails overseen by a dedicated Bar and Spirits Creative Director who recently worked at a three Michelin-starred restaurant in Napa Valley. The blossoms (a zucchini flower duo stuffed with caponata, pinenuts, and saffron aioli) are a great way to start your meal along with the squid (served with jimmy nardellos, Calabrian chilis, and fingerling potatoes) and burrata salad (topped with pears, almonds, lemon, seven-year balsamic herbs). The salads here are equally delicious, tossed together with the freshest ingredients seasonably available. For pasta, you cannot go wrong with my three favorites: Agnolotti (winter squash, brown butter, ricotta, pumpkin seed), Cappelletti (black truffle, porcini, ricotta), and the Rigatoni (chilis, basil, chilis, pomodoro, and stracciatella). These pasta dishes are seriously outstanding. Although meant to be shared, the plates are quite small – brilliantly leaving diners wanting seconds of everything.
Blue Ocean / Harumama (La Jolla)
I’ve heard mixed reviews about Blue Ocean so I decided to give it a try and decide for myself. Upon entering, we were greeted by a very friendly host team who walked us into the expansive space that leads into a back seating area overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The views alone are a worthy reason to dine here although the no-frills, Asian menu is good enough of a reason to visit as well. The menu offers Bao Bao Buns, Ramen bowls, Sushi rolls, Sashimi/Nigiri, and basics like vegetable fried rice and vegetable egg rolls. They have a few vegan options as well. Sadly, the one vegan dish we ordered (The Garden Party Ramen) was the one menu item that we liked least. Otherwise, we had a nice meal here (comprised of vegetable potstickers, vegetable eggrolls, vegetable fried rice, spicy garlic edamame, Power Protein Poke Bowl, and Vegetable Pan-fried Noodles). We especially loved ending our dinner on a sweet note with a couple of the kitschy character buns filled with Nutella and churro custard. Blue Ocean will most please you as a lunch destination. Make sure to ask for a window table.
California English (Sorrento Mesa)
I was thrilled when I heard that celebrity chef Richard Blais was opening a new restaurant in San Diego. I was certain that I would love his new addition, but unfortunately, I was very disappointed by my experience. The decor is quite striking, with wood accents and neutral-colored velvet banquets and seating. It has the ultimate potential to be swanky but instead, with its glaringly bright lighting the space feels like a cafeteria you’d find at a top Wall Street firm. I guess one can ultimately get over the brightness if the bar served great cocktails, but they don’t. My Arsenal (Anejo Tequila / Mezcal / Cucumber / Cilantro / Chambord) tasted like watered-down cucumber juice. Food-wise, the one highlight on the menu is ironically a dish that does not require cooking; the local radishes served over whipped brown butter, are a delight. Otherwise, everyone in our group was underwhelmed by the delivery of what Blais promised to be an unconventional twist on his favorite dishes from his hometown in the UK. Even the fish and chips, a ubiquitous UK staple, are bland. Blais attempts to be creative with this dish by eliminating the traditional accompanying tartare sauce and replacing it with a side of smashed English peas and a side of curry as well. Eh. Perhaps they need a couple of more months to work out their kinks and figure out the lighting and better train the kitchen staff. Despite the excellent press California English is receiving, I say wait out your visit. I am hopeful that they will get it right.
Wolf in the Woods (Mission Hills)
Wolf in the Woods attracts the most beautiful crowd in San Diego; for a moment I thought I stepped into a bistro in SoHo, or even Paris! The patrons here, varying in ages, are all impeccably dressed adding to the European vibe this intimate eatery exudes. Older gentlemen wear fedoras and blazers and tall, modelesque blondes sip on wines from the restaurant’s expansive collection of vino from various corners of the world. Upon first glance tables are placed seemingly too close together yet upon settling into your seat, you’ll quickly melt into the candle-lit scenery that provides delicious dishes which celebrate Native American, European, and Hispanic cultures. My favorite dishes here are the New Mexico state fair ribbon potato chips served with a dip made of fresh rosemary, sea salt, and chile crema; the raw yellowtail agua chile prepared with avocado, serrano peppers, shallots watermelon radish, and wildflowers; and the sweet corn and pinon soup topped with chile corn fritters, New Mexican Hatch chili dust, wildflowers, and crushed pinenuts. These are outstanding dishes that burst with dreamy flavors. Their uniquely delicious menu and romanticly chic ambiance make Wolf in the Woods an ideal date night loaded not only with a superior meal but also sprinkled with some people-watching, which I personally love to do.
Wolfie’s Carousel Bar (Little Italy)
San Diego is full of surprises including this whimsical bar/restaurant in Little Italy with an actual carousel serving as the centerpiece of the uniquely playful space. The menu is bistro-French inspired and although the kitchen serves so-so food, the rotating carousel bar and dessert menu delivers an inevitable fun night out. My group ordered oysters, beet and warm goat cheese salad, mushroom croquettes, burger royale, and Parisian gnocchi, which we all agreed were just “ok”. However, the beignets served warm, are exceptional and so is the Sunday royale loaded with vanilla ice cream, a waffle cone, and a fluffy ball of cotton candy. Wolfie’s is the perfect place to end your evening with a nightcap and a sweet bite.
The more I venture out into the different neighborhoods of San Diego on the hunt for great food, the more I fall in love with this city. I can’t wait to see what culinary adventures await me in April!