June 2023

Best Restaurants 2023




A freshly shucked oyster from Mabel's Gone Fishing

JUNE 2023


Is your mouth watering? Indulge in Gordon Ramsay’s world-famous Beef Wellington at the nation’s largest and California’s first Hell’s Kitchen restaurant. Book your reservation today at Harrah’s Resort SoCal to step into the fire and experience award-winning cuisine.

Located at the Bahia Resort Hotel (858) 539-7635 | 998 West Mission Bay Drive | San Diego, California




Thanks for voting us # 1 in service!

The first thing you notice at Total Wine & More is the unbelievable selection. That’s because everywhere you turn, in every aisle, there’s— well, more. But believe this: A typical store carries 8,167 unique wines—with up to a quarter of a million bottles on the shelves—4,874 unique spirits and 2,693 unique beers. Walk through our doors and you won’t believe your eyes. Everywhere you turn there’s more. In fact, a typical store carries 8,167 unique wines, 4,874 unique spirits and 2,693 unique beers. Sure, we have unbeatable selection and prices, but we bet you’ll keep coming back for unrivaled service. Plan your visit at TotalWine.com . San Diego, you’ve never seen anything quite like this.


Working to make a difference in San Diego is one sure measure of success.

At PNC, we take pride in our longstanding commit to the community. From assisting customers with life’s big purchases to supporting healthy retirements to helping small business grow, we’ve been empowering our clients achieve their financial goals for more than 170 years.

As a Main Street bank at our very core, we’re guided by the opportunity to help our customers and communities thrive. That’s why we innovate to help make banking easier, more convenient and more accessible. It’s why we take a one-to-one approach to service and support that’s centered on each customer’s unique goals and needs. And it’s why we’re committed to investing our time and resources into helping to make San Diego a great place to call home.


Marcy Mackless Market Managing Director, Private Bank marcy.mackless@pnc.com

Alan Prohaska Regional President and Head of Corporate Banking alan.prohaska@pnc.com

Valerie Attisha VP, Client and Community Relations valerie.attisha@pnc.com

Stephan Coleman Market Managing Director, Institutional Asset Management stephan.coleman@pnc.com

Steve Bernstein San Diego Region Retail Lead steve.bernstein@pnc.com

Rick Martinez Commercial Banking Group Manager rick.martinez@pnc.com

Brian Love San Diego Mortgage Lead brian.love@pnc.com

©2022 The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. All rights reserved. CORP SPON PDF 0422-0121-2041501



You don’t have to venture far to experience a retreat that’s far from ordinary. With an Award winning spa, Kids’ club, Splash pad, waterslides, eight sparkling pools, championship golf and tennis, Omni La Costa Resort & Spa offers endless opportunities to soak up summer.


2100 COSTA DEL MAR ROAD, CARLSBAD, CA 92009 • (760) 438-9111 • OMNILACOSTA.COM


A NEW JOURNEY BEGINS SUMMER 2023. Introducing Miraval Life in Balance Spa Aviara. A perfect blend of luxury and serenity set within Carlsbad's home away from home, Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa. Featuring redesigned indoor and outdoor treatment rooms and Miraval signature treatments to soothe the mind and inspire the soul.

Details coming soon to parkhyattaviara.com | +1 760 448 1234




74 BEST RESTAURANTS You voted, we listened—and our content chief (and longtime food critic) Troy Johnson threw in his lot, too. Dig into our list of more than 150 winning restaurants, plus our favorite plates at SD’s top spots. Features

29 PLATE OF THE UNION Strip mall eats, robot servers, the restaurant group that may or may not be taking over San Diego, and other hot topics in the local food world.


Three cheers for the curious oyster! We visit the Carlsbad Aquafarm to explore the tiny creature’s potential as a bioremediative powerhouse.

12 JUNE 2023


Departments In Every Issue 20 CONTENT CHIEF'S NOTE Troy Johnson reflects on San Diego’s long and courageous road to becoming a bonafide culinary destination. 24 LOCAL STOKES Cruising’s comeback in National City, a twist on the typical hard booch, a moving new poetry collection, and a waterfront hotel’s fresh facelift. 26 COVERING 75 Drag performer Paris Max welcomes San Diego’s sweetest summer yet in this issue’s vintage cover recreation. 118 CALENDAR Stay busy this month with the county fair, a rockin’ race, a three-day beer fest, performances from the Mick Jaggers of classical music, our own Best of North County event, and more. 120 SACRED SPACES Faith and scratch cooking helped the family behind Bowlegged BBQ launch a bustling community gathering place. Food & Drink 36 HOT PLATES Wondering where SD’s buzziest chefs eat on their nights off? We were, too, so we tapped the top names in the local culinary scene to create a craveable chain of must-order bites and sips. 38 DRINK Our tips for carting your kids to breweries, cideries, and wineries—without incurring a lifetime ban. Arts & Culture 40 PEOPLE Author Madhushree Ghosh connects with chef Aarti Sanghavi over shared experiences and Indian-inspired California plates. 44 MUSIC San Diego-born musician Jesus Gonzalez thinks beyond dive bars to bring his psychedelic folk to unexpected places. 46 MUSIC A viral TikTok placed Rancho Bernardo born rapper Ktlyn on the global stage. 48 ARTS With the help of local nonprofit Save Starlight, a historic and long-shuttered Balboa Park venue will soon rise again. 52 FILM The Blue Water Film Festival places environmental advocates and researchers on the silver screen.

26 40


JUNE 2023





Living & Style 62 HOME Executive editor Mateo Hoke peeks into the dizzying, tucked-away world of backyard tiki bars. Escapes 106 WEEKENDER Can OG Tex-Mex peacefully coexist with a growing wave of swanky, internationally inspired eateries in San Antonio? 112 PIT STOP Managing editor Jackie Bryant finds her bliss in a balmy Palm Springs pool. 114 ARRIVING NOW We’re celebrating summer with BBQs in Santa Barbara County, pride parties in LA, and environmentally friendly eating in the San Juan Islands. Special Sections


ON THE COVER Aw, shucks! North Park newcomer Mabel's Gone Fishing cracked the shell on this briny bivalve for our cover shoot. For more on oysters, see page 90.




JUNE 2023

"One of the most raved-about bistros in the city" — TROY JOHNSON, SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE


2591 UNIVERSITY AVENUE, SAN DIEGO, CA 92104 blckrdsh.com 619-269-1980

On the Web SanDiegoMagazine.com

Walk on the floor you want.

CIDER SECRETS Everything you thought you knew about cider is probably wrong, including what to call it.

VISION AND VOICE Artist and filmmaker Shinpei Takeda and the AjA Project empower refugee and immigrant youth through visual arts.

At Zelo Flooring , we have the foundation you deserve, from the support of lush carpeting to timeless hard wood to luxury vinyl and tile. Each will offer instant sophistication and comfort to any room in your home. Family run and operated in San Diego, we pride ourselves in offering naturally inspiring, elevated interiors through our craftsmanship and dedication, ultimately landing on the surface you desire.

A PEEK BEHIND THE WEED COUNTER We check in with three cannabis budtenders to learn some helpful weed shopping tips and find out what makes their jobs careers.



GET ACCESS TO INSIDER INFO EVERY WEEK! Sign up for our e-newsletters at sdmag.com/enewsletters


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JUNE 2023

Elisabeth Dawson, Author & CEO of Copia Wealth Managment

A NEW VIDEO SERIES FROM ELISABETH DAWSON Designing Retirement Income for Life Time is ticking away, and the future will be here before you know it — whether you’re ready or not. Should you have started investing in your retirement ten (or more) years ago? Certainly. But there’s a way to take control of your financial wish list and make up for lost time. Elisabeth Dawson, veteran fiduciary, financial educator, founder of Copia Wealth Management, and author of Retirement by Design , has the experience and tools to help you design and prepare for the retirement and wealth goals you desire—not just what you think you need. Elisabeth is launching a new video series highlighting key financial strategies for every type of lifestyle, whether you’re single, raising a family, running your own business, or looking at retirement on the horizon. In this six-part video series, you’ll learn ways to maximize the money you have today to grow your wealth and plan for the retirement lifestyle you deserve. Join Elisabeth on your path to financial freedom with this insightful and integral part of your retirement education.

Watch the video at SDM.com/Copia or scan the QR code.

Prioritize your financial and retirement plan by checking out Dawson’s new book, Retirement By Design . Learn how to structure your financial life with purpose, strategies to prevent income loss, and how to create financial abundance and live comfortably for the rest of your life. Visit retirementbydesignbook.com for more information.

LIC #0C72164, #0G81294 Copia Wealth Management & Insurance Services (619) 640-2622 | 2333 Camino Del Rio South, Suite 240, San Diego, CA 92108 - Investment advice offered through Copia Wealth Management Advisors, Inc. Copia Wealth Management Advisors, Inc. is a registered investment adviser.

Content Chief’s Note

The List of It All


eople keep lists of all sorts of things as they go through the world: wines, songs, birds, lovers, perceived slights. The art of food lists has deep roots, including great-grandma’s hallowed rolodex of recipes. The Michelin Guide started

District. For multiple generations of new Americans who started with a dream and a shingle in this neighborhood and kept at it until it became something special, getting street signs on the freeway directing drivers to what you’ve built is big. Huge. This year, Addison received three Michelin stars, the result of a long, obsessive march to a rarefied perch. Also this year, chef Brad Wise opened a steakhouse in Solana Beach and the line formed at about 3 p.m. somewhere in La Jolla. Now he’s opening them along the West Coast, taking San Diego on the road. The Fishery ascended in Pacific Beach under new ownership. Davin and Jessica Waite, two forces for good, are revolutionizing Oceanside as the de facto for regenerative food practices in the county. San Diego’s food and drink culture will never be perfect, but its accolades now outweigh its wanting. This Best Restaurants issue is our annual tribute to the people who make that culture hum. A friendly competition, where our readers—who eat and drink with zeal—name their favorites. And I also put out my list of the places that really blew me away in 2023. This is the list I send to friends when they ask, “Coming to your city, where should I eat?” Note: Transparency here. I’ve compiled this list as SDM ’s food editor for 14 years. What’s changed is that my wife and I now own the media company. It’s a valid concern that someone with a financial interest in SDM may be motivated to select its advertisers as winners. All I can say is: I didn’t and I won’t. I’ve spent a good portion of my life building trust in the food and drink world, and to sell that trust for parts would be a pretty terrible, short-sighted decision. Our hope is that our partners support us because they believe in the validity and honesty of what we do. Thanks for your faith in us.

as a list designed to market their tires (“great restaurants you can try while driving the road on our rubber”). There is a list kept in Hebrew traveler culture called simply “The Book,” as legendary as it is elusive. For nearly two decades, I’ve kept two lists that I update every week, almost every day. The first contains thousands of incredible phrases from writers—which I transcribe in the hopes that the glory of those great sentences will osmose into my own writing. And for my 16 years of covering San Diego’s food and drink culture, I’ve kept a list of my favorite dishes, drinks, and restaurants in the city. Running eyeball math, I’ve had the dumb luck of eating at least 1,664 restaurants and bars. (While I’ve averaged around two spots a week for that span, my personal record is 20 in a single week for special issues.) Seeing as I often order between four and six dishes each time to kick the tires on a large chunk of the menu, that’s anywhere from 6,000 t0 10,000 plates. I’ve eaten my way through entire food and drink cultural movements, trends, fads, booms, backslides, and fixations (I prefer the current birria movement to the foam movement, which was not kind—it made your mouth feel like one of those sudsy rave parties). When I started writing about San Diego’s food scene in 2007, there was more dream than gleam. Farm-to-table was a “new” idea for most places (that is, an old idea, reborn, after decades of subpar, shipped-in produce), and places like the mighty A.R. Valentien and Mister A’s were the only ones who knew prodigious farmer Tom Chino by name. Food trucks were unsexy, functional calorie dispensers at work sites. William Bradley had just opened Addison. Seemed the only fish sauce in restaurants was Worcestershire. In the hills to our north and east, some of the greatest soil and microclimates on earth grow some of the best food. In the ocean at our edge, a rare bounty. That famous dirt and water are arguably the top recruiting agents we have for chefs. (Being neighbors with Mexico also helps.) “When I was working at Boulud, I’d get the best produce, and all the boxes said ‘San Diego’ on the side,” chef Travis Swikard of Callie told me of why, after years as Daniel Boulud’s right-hand man, he decided to come back home. It was the food and drink culture that inspired the city to name Convoy an official Pan-Asian Cultural

TROY JOHNSON Chief Content Officer

20 JUNE 2023

There’s a New Spirit in Town



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SDMAG.COM hello@sdmag.com OWNERS Claire and Troy Johnson FOUNDERS AND PUBLISHERS Gloria and Ed Self

POSTMASTER Please send address changes to: San Diego Magazine, PO Box 460266 Escondido, CA 92046-9800 SUBSCRIPTIONS 888-350-0963 This magazine is printed on paper from sustainable source mills that support all credible forest-certification programs. Please recycle this magazine.


SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE (ISSN 0734-6727), June 2023, Vol. 75, No. 6. SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE is published 12 times a year (monthly) by San Diego Magazine LLC, 1230 Columbia Street, Suite 800, San Diego, CA, 92101. SUBSCRIPTION RATES: One year, $18; two years, $28; three years, $40. Subscriptions outside CA are $3 additional per year; outside the US, $80 additional per year. Back issues are $10 per issue and can be purchased at sandiegomagazine.com, if available. For change of address or customer service, write SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEPT., PO Box 460266 Escondido, CA 92046-9800 or email sandiegomagazine@pcspublink.com. Periodical postage paid at San Diego, CA, and additional mailing offices. San Diego Magazine is a registered trademark of San Diego Magazine LLC. Copyright © 2011 by San Diego Magazine LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited. POSTMASTER: PLEASE SEND ADDRESS CHANGES TO SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE, PO Box 460266 Escondido, CA 92046-9800

JUNE 2023 22



In a world full of Karens and Kens, “unreasonable” gets a bad rap. Unless they’re asking to speak with the manager, we’re actually fans of unreasonable people. They’re the people who strive for more and don’t accept the status quo. They’re people who write dreams on a cocktail napkin and change the world one reservation at a time. “Unreasonable” being uttered out of the mouth of, say, a Will has a much better ring to it. Like Will Guidara, the author of this month’s pick — and restaurateur behind one of the world’s best restaurants, Eleven Madison Park. His book, Unreasonable Hospitality , is an SOP of getting stoked, a how-to in exceeding expectations, no matter what industry you’re in. Time to get wildly demanding about giving our fellow man the superlative treatment. To join our book club, visit sdmag.com/bookclub. Then visit one of the participating local, indie bookstores to buy a copy of Unreasonable Hospitality . Email a photo of your receipt to books @ sdmag.com. We’ll randomly select one winner each month who will get $300 to any one of CH Projects Establishments (Neighborhood, Born and Raised, Craft & Commerce, Ironside).

No one ever died thinking, “I should’ve read less.”


Trending Local Stokes

Lowriders Cruise Again Crank up the lowrider jams and rev those engines: Earlier this spring, National City ’s council voted to repeal a ban on cruising that was initially enacted in 1992. In recent years, many California cities lifted their lowriding bans—National City was the last in San Diego County to do so. Expect Highland Avenue to host its legendary vintage car parades again soon.

This month’s hot list celebrates the return of lowriding in National City, a different kind of boozy kombucha, a waterfront hotel refresh, and some truly gorgeous poetry



Buzzy New Booch Kombucha with a kick pops up again in San Diego—this time in a different form. Miixt launched its first-to-market canned vodka- kombucha drinks. They’re low-carb (no added sugar), high in antioxidants, and gluten-free. Initial flavors include strawberry lemonade, peach, mango, and tangerine, and each can holds a mixture of organic, raw kombucha brewed in San Diego, vodka, fruit juice, and sparkling water. The result is an incredibly sessionable drink that’s different from typical hard kombuchas since the alcohol is added rather than fermented. It clocks in at just 4.5% ABV, 110 calories, and five grams of sugar. miixt.com


Plucked from Memory UCSD PhD student Phuong T. Vuong just released A Plucked Zither , a beautiful and haunting collection of poems that spans space and time. In particular, she explores the dichotomy of making a home in the United States and Vietnam, two countries that have fraught war-torn histories with one another, and what that legacy means for the people left in the wake. In addition to her own observations of refugee migration and its aftermath, Vuong also leans on the anti-war Vietnamese singer and songwriter Trịnh Công Sơn, teasing out themes of grief, longing, and justice. redhen.org


Waterfront Upgrade Located right on the waterfront, the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina recently completed a multi-million- dollar renovation devised by Boston-based Parker Torres Design. Upgrades to the two-towered hotel include refreshed guest rooms and presidential suites with subtly nautical navy blues and wood; a Top Golf Swing Suite; and a brand-new lobby in the North Tower. Marriott members (and any guest willing to tack on the fee) have access to the lobby’s M Club Lounge, functionally a perk- filled coworking space offering continental breakfast, all-day snacks, and evening hors d’oeuvres and sweets.

24 JUNE 2023




JOIN SAN DIEGO’S NEWEST COASTAL CLUB when you become a founding member of The Oceanside Resorts Membership for year-round access to seaside amenities at The Seabird Resort and Mission Pacific Hotel. Enjoy access to two ocean view pool decks, daily wellness classes, state of the art fitness centers, entry to Sunny’s Spa & Beauty Lounge complete with a dry sauna and cool misting shower, and so much more. Resort life awaits you!

For a limited time only, founding members of The Oceanside Resorts Membership will receive a waived Initiation Fee! SCAN THE



Covering 75

“ S

ummer ’77 Superguide,” screamed the cover of the July 1977 issue of San Diego Magazine , splashed over a photo of a woman enjoying a multi-flavored, triple-scoop ice cream cone. And enjoying it she is, her tongue lapping at the highest scoop. Tongues might not be the most visually appealing body part to some, but they certainly conjure reactions. Magazine covers are meant to

spark conversation. They should be provocative, memorable, and get tongues wagging. This one certainly seemed to. Beneath the ’77 cover photo, which was shot by John Oldenkamp, is the explanation for the tongue-in-scoop shot: “The Scoop on the Yummiest Ice Cream in Town.” Vital information in sunny San Diego, whether it’s 1977 or 2023.

26 JUNE 2023

JUNE 2023 / $6.95


To commemorate 75 years of SDM , we’re taking inspiration from old covers and updating them with a contemporary spin. Paris Max, a local drag performer, embodies modern with a twist. You can catch her at her day job as manager and co-owner of InsideOUT, Hillcrest’s quirky indoor-outdoor (hence the name) restaurant, or at one of her many drag shows around town. For Paris, shot here by Hannah Bernabe, the whole

world is a stage from which she can entertain and share the art of drag. “My audience on one night might not be surrounded by drag or may have never seen drag, and then the next night, my audience is full of regulars who watch my shows every week. Everyone comes with an open mind and with the goal of being entertained,” she says. Entertainment with a dose of social awareness? Well, isn’t that the cherry on top. –JI




IT’S A WILD, BIRRIA-SCENTED WORLD out there. Dinner is not yet made by ChatGPT, but give it time. We’re finally feeling comfortable enough to eat with our hands (and with strangers) again. Our future robot overlords have begun delivering soup and bussing tables. The demand for that old restaurant magic is outstripping the available workforce, but moms and pops keep grinding, and culinary groups continue opening 200-plus-room hotels with bowling alleys inside. In honor of this year’s Best Restaurants issue, our writers deep-thought a few of the major storylines in local restaurant culture right now. We’re celebrating the quiet but mighty with unassuming strip mall joints and utensil-free dining. We’re tracking the progress of a bill that could shift the tide in the right direction for fast food workers. Staff writer (and lifelong server) Danielle Allaire is reminding the world that artificial intelligence can’t replace human connection, even if it can carry plates. And content chief Troy Johnson is countering the cry that CH Projects is devouring San Diego alive, arguing that, as the quirky restaurant group rises like a loaf of sourdough, it’s helping put the whole city on the culinary map. So, dig in. This is San Diego’s food scene.



fter Covid, I’m still a little squeamish about hitting a buffet with a hundred sneezing strangers, but I’m Eat With Your Hands At Villa Manila’s Kamayan Dinners A BY BETH DEMMON definitely ready for the resurgence of kamayan Thursday nights at National City’s Villa Manila (which is, naturally, in a strip mall). Kamayan, a precolonial Filipino method of eating with your hands, “is a great experience because it promotes community and togetherness,” says James Camanyag, PR marketing director at Villa Manila. Large banana leaves line the table, upon which communal dishes are dumped and devoured without utensils or pretension. It’s not a public buffet—just a way to eat favorites like adobo, daing na bangus (fried milkfish), lumpia, lechon kawali (pork belly), and more with friends and family. I like to make small rice balls with my right hand, add a bite of tender meat to it with my left, nom, and repeat. That’s the beauty of kamayan: There’s no wrong way to dig in. Understandably, the practice took a significant hit during the pandemic, but that’s not the first time kamayan has come under attack. “The practice was tolerated during the Spanish period, but it was suppressed during the American colonial period when Western dining etiquette and the use of spoons and forks were aggressively promoted,” Camanyag explains. Today, Villa Manila’s kamayan experience is the only one in San Diego that’s regularly available with a reservation. The food is always amazing, but there’s just something about eating with your hands that makes it taste that much better. Camanyag says first-timers are always welcome, recommending dishes like the spicy bicol express (stewed pork in coconut milk and shrimp paste with jalapeno), kare-kare (a thick peanut stew cooked with oxtail, tripe, beef shank, and more), Shanghai lumpia (Chinese- Filipino fusion pork egg rolls), or the “Sizzling Sisig” (crunchy pork belly and pork ears served on a sizzling plate, fajita-style). Come with clean hands, an empty belly, and a few friends.

MANY OF SAN DIEGO’S BEST EATS aren’t perched along the waterfront or atop high-rises with panoramic views. They’re nestled next to dry cleaners and convenience stores, sharing parking with nail salons and vape shops, overlooking car washes and drive-throughs instead of million-dollar views. But food fiends know behind every shabby doorway, underneath every fluorescent light, in every single strip mall across San Diego lies potential for a little ecstasy. Take Sushi Ota in Pacific Beach: The nondescript, bamboo-lined faÇade wedged between a 7-11, a Planned Parenthood, and a string of car dealerships disguises one of the best Japanese restaurants in the county (and my personal favorite sushi spot). Its omakase, a revelation. Standard menu, just as divine. It’s not flashy, but frankly, I’d love it less if it were. Hey, even the world-famous ramen joint Menya Ultra’s neighbors in Hillcrest include a tax preparer and a nutritional supplements shop. The same goes for the Rolando neighborhood’s Filipino favorite Adobo House (next to a real estate office), National City’s Poke Etc. (adjacent to a barber shop and a computer repair joint), Rancho Bernardo’s Burma Place (across from a Jack in the Box), or Miramar’s SMACK’N An ode to strip mall dining, where culinary wizardry remains in focus over flash Stripped Down BY BETH DEMMON

Guamanian Grill (where you can feast on Chamorro barbecue and then roast your own flesh at the tanning salon next door). Even San Diego’s food nirvana— Convoy District—prides itself on culinary delights over ambiance. Sichuan, Korean, Taiwanese, yangnyum galbi cooked over an open flame, bowls of boiling hot shabu shabu, face-numbingly spicy hand-pulled noodles, pleasure groan–inducing piles of soup dumplings served on chipped plates in dimly lit dining rooms: Here, the fine in “fine dining” refers to the food, not atmosphere. (Thank god for nonexistent dress codes, because these feet don’t do high heels.) Chefs at strip mall restaurants may not always be classically trained or, frankly, very good at social media. Instead, their legacy is often passed down through families, like at Phatties Vegan Mexican in Escondido (in the same strip as a liquor store, chiropractor, and nail salon, naturally). Phatties co-owner Olga Saldivar says the food-truck-turned- brick-and-mortar was originally inspired by her mother’s central Mexican style of cooking. She eventually pivoted to a completely vegan menu in 2018. Sharing space in a strip mall has its challenges, she admits, but it comes with benefits as well. “One of the good things about strip malls is that people find you because of the other businesses they tend to come to,” she explains. Patrons who accidentally find these places often return again. And again. And again. Come for a pedicure, stay for the pambazos. I’m a chronic multitasker and devoted student of global cuisine, so strip mall eateries check all my boxes. It’s time they get the respect they so richly deserve.

30 JUNE 2023

I GREW UP IN A CHRISTIAN HOME where my parents would always tell me I had “a servant’s heart,” which seemed a bit demeaning, like I didn’t have a purpose of my own. Then again, the meek are supposed to inherit the earth, so what do I know? In a twist of irony, I also grew up on a barstool. My father was a successful restaurateur in Hawai’i, so I became a seasoned diner at the tender age of always. The amount of restaurant meals I’ve had is obscene. This privilege is not lost on me, but I’ve made up for it on the other side. The number of tables I’ve served trumps the times someone has served me by many zeros. How? It’s simple. My degree is in theatre. But how does someone like me, with an academic foundation of human emotions and 25 years of experience in the service industry—or even a fledgling restaurant worker—compare with targeted technology in the form of robots that are designed to perform the functions of a server? Though personality pays on the restaurant floor (it’s true; engagement equals tips), the guest comes first. In this regard, robots are the ultimate food runner. They have no ego to get in the way, no livelihoods. They are perfunctory. Plus, this new fleet of robot servers from companies like Keenon and Daash Robotics have the bells and whistles to charm, with wide screens, language functions, and cute theme songs. If a sleekly designed brainchild of tech moguls can do the job, why not let them—especially if you don’t have to part with that extra 20 percent? Money is the crux of this debate. Robot servers save customers and restaurant owners money, since they don't request or require tips or hourly wages. A Daash XL robot, a shelf-like unit that features four stacked trays and carries a weight load of 80 pounds, costs $600 a month when rented from the company. If you buy it outright, the machine costs $20,000 (and you take on responsibility for any repairs). The company’s website boasts that one robot “replaces up to two staff members.” The typical hourly rate for a food runner in San Diego is $16.30, with five six-hour shifts a week being the industry standard. That comes out to $489 a week and $1,956 a month to pay the wages of one server, who performs a similar task to this set of shelves—but, if we’re playing devil’s advocate, robots never call out, take extended breaks, or check their A lifelong server’s thoughts on robots attempting to infiltrate the Apron Class The Artifice of Service BY DANIELLE ALLAIRE

phone while on the clock. However, this Daash XL couldn’t tell you if your allergy request has been accounted for, nor can it elegantly place the plate in front of you. Ultimately, no one can replace a server—not even a bad one. Engagement and community are at the core of this centuries-old ritual called hospitality. We don’t go to restaurants to eat. We dine. We experience. The service industry was disproportionately hit by Covid, so it’s no surprise that we’ve seen a mass exodus of employees from restaurants, leaving the door open for robots to roll right in. There are myriad reasons: low pay, low morale, and even low expectations of a life well-lived. There is a sliding scale of truth to these reasons. Some employers skim from the top. Some provide. Some instill aspiration and ambition. And, sometimes, it’s just a job. It’s a game of perspective, with a moving target of both monetary and spiritual fulfillment. Servers are allowed to have a change of heart, but they’ll always need to start with one.

Robots may be able to run plates, but their jokes are pretty weak.



Fast andFurious After unprecedented success, a San Diego-born law

benefitting fast-food restaurant wage workers is now on hold BY JESSE MARX

California Labor Federation leader Lorena Gonzalez rallies workers and union organizers as they call for minimum standards on wages, working conditions, and training in the fast-food industry.

“CORPORATE GREED HAS GONE FAR ENOUGH,” Lorena Gonzalez boomed into a microphone. The former assemblywoman (and current head of the California Labor Federation) was standing outside the San Diego headquarters of Jack in the Box last summer as dozens of fast-food workers and union organizers cheered her on. Moments later, the labor activists locked arms and walked onto a nearby roadway in Kearny Mesa to block traffic, putting their bodies in harm’s way. In both English and Spanish, a police officer declared the gathering illegal and threatened to use chemical agents. The protest ended peacefully, but, by then, the point had been made. Across the state, workers walked off the job and went to the media with grievances: They were overheating, always on call, forced to work while sick, being denied breaks. The point was to pull back the curtain on the true cost of fast food and push for changes at the state level rather than conduct wage battles at thousands of individual franchises. The modern fast-food restaurant, an invention of mid-20th- century car culture in Southern California, is an impressive feat of engineering and a wildly extractive enterprise. It is sustained by agricultural and infrastructure subsidies and low wages. A UCLA study released in early 2022 concluded that fast- food worker households are more likely than others to fall below the federal poverty line, and most need public assistance to survive. The workforce is made up predominantly of people of color, and many are immigrants increasingly at risk of losing their jobs to automation. Nevertheless, labor organizing in fast food is notoriously difficult because of the structure of the industry. The corporations operate more like real estate companies, leasing their land to the franchise owner responsible for the brand’s daily management.

While the corporations make healthy profits, franchise owners have long argued that they operate like any other small business on razor-thin margins. In normal times, the franchisee could easily replace an employee who spoke up, but the pandemic and a tight labor market created a new set of conditions. That gave the workers leverage. Weeks after the protest in San Diego, lawmakers in Sacramento established a new council within the California Department of Industrial Relations. Inspired by a European model of bargaining across an entire sector, the council is made up of workers and employers to collectively promulgate minimum standards on wages, working conditions, and training. The debates in the legislature broke down along partisan lines. Republicans argued in opposition, alleging that lawmakers were singling out one industry for special oversight and that the cost of higher wages would be passed down to consumers. Some ate up floor time by reciting lists of fast-food restaurants. After Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill, the corporations and franchise owners immediately sprang into action. They set up the Save Local Restaurants coalition—contending that the new law is “a solution in search of a problem”—and raised more than $21 million to successfully place a referendum on the statewide 2024 ballot successfully. Starbucks, In-N- Out, and Chipotle were among the largest contributors, with additional funding coming from other groups like the National Restaurant Association and the US Chamber of Commerce. Fast-food workers and their allies are now asking voters to intervene on their behalf. Until then, the new law is on hold.

32 JUNE 2023

taste better traditions

when bent

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Flavor Without Borders


First, acknowledgments: CH financially supports Claire and me in this San Diego Magazine venture. I consider owner Arsalun Tafazoli a dear friend. Tons of potential bias here. However, even a cursory look at the record will show I’ve been raving about the work and success of CH long before we had any inkling we’d be crazy enough to own a media company. And my personal feelings on the rise of CH are: Fly closer to the sun, weirdos. Go full Icarus. Buy the city government building, put a negroni in it. This is the kind of alien-brained hospitality group I’ve always wanted for the city I grew up in. Far from perfect, flawed in many ways they readily admit, openly borrowing ideas from restaurants and bars around the planet—and never, ever boring. In the 20- plus years I’ve written about local culture, I’ve seen so many creatives try out-there ideas and fail. They’d leave for LA or New York, mumbling, “San Diego’s just not ready for this.” Tafazoli, a La Jolla High grad, refused to join that creative exodus. “If you see me do something outside of San Diego,” he’s told me, “you’ll know I sold out.” I haven’t loved everything they’ve done (the enormous “SHIT HAPPENS” by the restrooms in Ironside always struck me as overcooked potty humor). But this is a group who refused to take on investors, because it’d be harder to get financial approval for a 1,000-pound octopus sculpture. So every time they open a new place, they risk just about everything. They refused to put TVs in their bars, because they believe it’s their obligation to foster human connection. For years, they’ve had an internal book club to infect their people with literature. As San Diegans, they’ve spent hard money preserving what’s important to neighborhoods (i.e. Folk Arts Rare Records, given a home in Part Time Lover) and then wilded out on the rest. They painfully give a damn, and they make fun of themselves at every turn. At the end of the day,

CH Projects is San Diego’s biggest restaurant success story, and I hope they put a speakeasy on the moon Pretty Little Hate Machine


HONESTLY, THROW FISTFULS OF shade their way. Catapult entire shadows. I mean, don’t use your best hate. Reserve that kind of emotional rocket fuel for dictators and people who suggest breathwork heals torn ACLs. But pile a reasonable amount of your grievances on their elaborately detailed restaurants, their tassel furniture, their wacky statuettes, their caviar bumps, their Moët vending machine, their toilets painted in gold sparkles, lowrider-style. This is the normal action of things. The toll road to American repute charges a pound of flesh, exacted in the public marketplaces where opinions are given, which is every square inch of the internet. And the claws are out for CH Projects, the group formerly known as Consortium Holdings. The San Diego-based restaurant group has risen from one single burger bar in East Village (Neighborhood, opened 2007) to about 20 concepts. They’ve gotten national and international attention for the wild, sacrosanct, semi-profane spaces they’ve built—Noble Experiment, Youngblood, Craft & Commerce, False Idol, Polite Provisions, Fortunate Son, Ironside, Born & Raised, Raised by Wolves, Underbelly, Part Time Lover, Seneca, Morning Glory, The Invigatorium, J & Tony’s, Starlite, the Lafayette Hotel... I’m sure I’m missing a few. They’ve taken over beloved landmarks that were either closing or needed help (Bar Pink, Starlite, Lafayette). More big projects are queued in the wings. At this point, they are San Diego’s answer to Danny Meyer, but with more weird art and a freakier Spotify search history. The city hasn’t seen a restaurant group boom this big since David and Lesley Cohn. So with that ascent, the drum circle of dissent is growing.

there are more than 5,000 restaurants in San Diego. CH owns around 20. Their 20 just inspire a lot of commotion, so it feels like they own a thousand. The haters are a lovely, natural

part of any growth process. At the end of the day, no one hates unremarkable things.


34 JUNE 2023

Food & Drink HOT PLATES

Eat It Forward BY DANIELLE ALLAIRE “See a penny, pick it up; all day long you’ll have good luck.” Bah . Twenty-four hours of good fortune is fleeting. Give that penny to someone else, and your luck will last until the next Best Restaurants issue, at least. To make this adage a reality, we asked local chefs to pass along the metaphorical penny to their real-life peers by naming their favorite local dishes. Our own Troy Johnson kicks off the chain of praise, highlighting Marisi’s pappardelle with duck ragu . According to Marisi’s chef, Chad Huff, this rich pasta plays with flavors and texture, topping things off with “pops of acidity and umami” thanks to shaved Piave Vecchio


JASON KNIBB’S PICK Japanese Lager @


Harland Brewing Co. Forget slipping the maitre’d a $20. Just bring everyone on the line a six-pack of something cold and you’ll be a VIP for life. Taking us from dinner out to post-work sips, chef Jason Knibb selects Harland Brewing Co.’s international take on the sudsy staple. “It's clean, sort of malty and rich, and just has a lot of flavor [and] body for a lager— [but it’s] not overpowering. It blends with the types of food I cook at home,” Knibb says.

DOP and preserved Meyer lemons. Alright, chef, it’s time to eat it forward...

MARK WELKER’S PICK Roasted Jerk Chicken @ Nine-Ten Saint Bourdain once said, “Everyone


should know how to roast a chicken.” If only they could do it like chef Jason Knibb. Chicken is Welker’s favorite ingredient, so this is saying something. Knibb infuses his Jamaican heritage into elegant yet unpretentious California cuisine to create a roasted


chicken that Knibb says is “true to its form,” with crispy baby Yukon potatoes, green garlic relish, sautéed spigarello, and jerk chicken jus.

CHAD HUFF’S PICK Beef Tartare @ Paradisaea


“I always order beef tartare when I see it on the menu,” Huff says. And La Jolla’s Paradisaea does not disappoint. He says, “I love the crispy sunchokes and garlic, the herbaceous [note] from the shiso, and the umami and acidity from the ponzu.” Drawing inspiration from Japanese flavors and local ingredients, Paradisaea’s culinary director Mark Welker, formerly of Eleven Madison Park in New York City, employs West Coast Koji’s local miso and California’s nearly perennial sunchoke.

36 JUNE 2023

ELYSSE VALDEZ’S PICK Saigon Dreamer @ Realm of the 52 Remedies Picking up on the after-hours cues, Harland Brewing Co.’s chef at the South Park tasting room offers up a libation packed with power. “When I think of the perfect cocktail, it is easily the Saigon Dreamer,” Valdez says. It’s a whiskey-coffee cocktail that hits citrusy notes and, according to Valdez, that “not-too- sweet” bullseye. Espresso martini, who?

PERFECTE ROCHER’S PICK Aleppo Chicken @ Callie

“Usually, if I go out, I try to go to Thai or Chinese or Ethiopian places—not places everybody goes,” Perfecte Rocher says. But who can deny the call of Callie when it beckons with its unique (and Michelin-recognized) take on Mediterranean flavors? Callie’s chef and owner Travis Swikard says, “The Aleppo Chicken is our marathoner.” The team makes 50 or 60 plates of the dish per night. Swikard gets succinct with it: “[It’s] juicy, crunchy, salty, spicy, sweet, and [an] umami bomb. What more could you ask for?” Um... a fork and knife, please?



CHRIS LEE’S PICK Baja Striped Seabass @ Kingfisher

“It [is] super well-balanced, crispy, and juicy,” says Lee, lead bartender at Realm of the 52 Remedies. Based on chef David Sim’s mother’s caramelized catfish, it’s a glow-up of the traditional, opting for fattier sea bass with caramelized fish sauce, while staying rooted in tradition with the classic combination of rice and mustard greens—but it’s not just any rice. “The butter rice is another umami factor in the dish,” Sim adds. Balance, indeed.


VINCENT SCHOFIELD’S PICK Mapo Tofu @ Fortunate Son

A man of the people, Schofield says, “I love what all the chefs are doing, and I try to support them as much as possible when it comes to really satisfying my craving for something.” And what is more satiating than unfolding the lapels of a white take-out box full of a chili-bathed protein of your choice? “I think they do a fantastic job on the mapo tofu, in particular,” Schofield says. CH Projects’ culinary director Perfecte Rocher notes that the tofu— swathed in black vinegar, garlic, soy, ginger, chilis, and green onions—is a stab at tradition. “It’s a very classical Chinese dish, but Fortunate Son does it a little more Americanized,” he says.


DAVID SIM’S PICK Spaghetti & Clams @ Catania

“I love the Whisknladle group,” Sim says. His “favorite bite is at Catania,” Whisknladle’s La Jolla perch full of Mediterranean swagger. Using fresh pasta (of course), this dish belies its simplicity with the addition of “white wine, chili flakes, garlic, Manila clams, butter, and spaghetti made in-house,” says corporate chef de cuisine Vincent Schofield, adding, “People enjoy its simplicity, and we love it.”


Food & Drink DRINK

Yes, You Can Bring Your Kids to the Bar (Sort Of)

Best practices for venturing out with the entire family



y son was one week old the first time I took him to a brewery. Anyone who has birthed a child can relate to my precarious condition at the time: a maelstrom of hormones swirling around

At My Yard Live Beer Co. in San Marcos, kids can aim for the high score on the brewery’s arcade games while grown-ups sit back with a cold one.

my brain, significantly impaired physical mobility (I’ll spare readers my gruesome birth story that left me hobbling), and a heaping scoop of new parental responsibility, a field in which I had zero experience. I’ve never deserved a beer more than at that moment, and it never tasted so good. In the years since, my son has accompanied me to myriad breweries, cideries, and restaurants. He’s gotten to see firsthand how to act in adult-oriented spaces, and we’ve made thousands of happy memories together, none of which involve anyone getting drunk or him running amok. (I promise, it can be done!) That hasn’t stopped certain people from insisting that parents shouldn’t bring kids anywhere where there’s alcohol present or, god forbid, just other people. Kids on airplanes? The horror! Kids in restaurants? Let me clutch my pearls! Kids in 21-plus bars? Okay, that’s a legitimate line in the sand. But the debate rages: Is it ever wise, acceptable, or responsible to bring a child to an alcohol-centric space, like a brewery? (One might ask the same about dogs, but some people aren’t ready to hear it.) Rick Moreno, founder of Newtopia Cyder in Scripps Ranch, answers with a resounding yes. “Kids are an amenity to our life,” he says. He started Newtopia with his wife around the same time they had a child. Knowing the challenges and time it takes to start a new business, neither of them wanted to sacrifice one for the other. “[I wanted my daughter] to come onsite and see what Dad spends his time doing,” he explains. “It came from my sole desire to see my own child and not miss a day in her life as she grows.”

With baby changing tables and wipes provided in both restrooms and an outdoor space where Moreno stresses “it’s okay for babies to cry and kids to run around,” Newtopia doesn’t just tolerate the owners’ own children. The cidery welcomes everyone’s. Those are the types of touches local parenting blogger Sandra Page looks for when planning an excursion with her two sets of twin girls. “Outdoor space is number one for me,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be much—even something like picnic tables where my kids can lay their coloring books out, instead of just high tops.” Moreno believes it’s not just merely business practice to embrace entire families. It strengthens the bonds of entire communities. “If the kids are having fun, it gives the parents the time to sit back and meet their neighbors over a cup of something wonderful,” he says. “Everyone’s winning.” A FEW FAMILY-FRIENDLY FAVORITES • CIDERIES: Newtopia Cyder, Calico Cidery, Serpentine Cider • BREWERIES: My Yard Live, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Viewpoint Brewing, Gravity Heights • WINERIES: Bernardo Winery, Principe di Tricase Winery, Orfila Vineyards See more of Sandra’s recommendations on playdatesandpints.com.

JUNE 2023 38

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