San Diego, the home of SoCal flavours and craft beer, may just be the USA’s most unassuming new destination for epicurean delights, says Shannon Harley, who also explores the city’s lively union of cultures.
San Diego’s culinary explosion.
HAS COME a long way from fish tacos and cheap beer. The laid-back harbour town – formerly known for its US Navy base and not much else – is, these days, giving nearby Los Angeles a run for its money with its golden beaches, craft-beer culture, energetic dining scene and proximity to the Mexican border, just a short drive away. San Diego’s position on the edge of the US makes it a melting pot of cultures, and distinctive hubs have cropped up across the city as a new wave of creatives and entrepreneurs moves in. The revival of downtown Little Italy into a buzzing eat-street lined with smart restaurants, hipster cafes and design stores, along with the transformation of North Park into a craft beer (and beard oil) corridor, and gritty Barrio Logan with its Latinx accent, are highlights around town. Or follow the curves of the Pacific Ocean coastline north to La Jolla, the cruisy beachside spot offering sun, surf and SoCal eating.
WHERE TO EAT
The menus might not be strictly Italian anymore, but Little Italy has plenty to offer for a rollicking night out. Ironside Fish
& Oyster is a great place to start with freshly shucked oysters and a glass of something celebratory. Sit at booth, bar or table in the cavernous space with theatrical decor straight out of a Baz Luhrmann film set. San Diego’s bounty of seafood is honoured here (fishermen deliver their catch to the kitchen each day), and the lobster roll with brownbutter mayo has gained instant notoriety.
From the same crack hospitality team led by executive chef Jason McLeod is
Born & Raised, an opulent steakhouse that evokes the grandeur of Art Deco New York. With its polished walnut panelling, swanky leather booths, green marble tables, sparkling chandeliers and brass detailing, the lavish interior is as much a feast for the senses as the menu of retro classics, from Steak Diane to Tournedos
Rossini. Meat is wet- and dry-aged on-site and waiters pushing carts offer dishes such as steak tartare and Shrimp Louie, prepared tableside. Round out one of the city’s most over-the-top dining experiences with a martini on the rooftop cocktail bar. Celebrity chef Richard Blais’ fine-diner,
Juniper & Ivy, is one of the city’s pioneers. The creative menu is ‘modern Left Coast’ – a term as ambiguous as ‘modern Australian’, but which denotes an unapologetic mash-up of cuisines and cultures in a series of bites, small plates and large plates all designed to share – think a Mexican-influenced steak tartare with quail egg, white cotija cheese and jalapeno. Next door is The Crack Shack, Blais’ relaxed bar-cum-canteen proffering fried chicken in all forms – straight up, and in towering burgers and salads. A selection of house-made hot sauces on tap is a highlight.
Still in Little Italy, Cloak & Petal is a sexy spot for cocktails and refined Japanese flavours. The minimalist polished concrete space is offset with a life-sized cherry blossom tree in the
The rugged coastline of La Jolla is known for its surf breaks and relaxed SoCal flflavours; (inset top) Shannon (right) and Jaime.