San Diego–A Hot Restaurant Town = By Dina Eliash Robinson

Celebrity chefs, food writers and sophisticated travelers have been aware for years that San Diego was rapidly catching up to leading restaurant cities—even leaving a few in the dust, in spite of its late entry in the competition for culinary stardom. Whether or not this once laid-back Navy town with its perfect climate, sunset beach walks, surfer dudes and world-class Zoo ever aspired to be anointed as America’s Finest City, it seemed have been pushed into the big time by a construction boom that changed its landscape with a sail-topped Convention Center and enough world-class hotels, resorts, spas, parks and cultural attractions to fill a city twice its size. Completing this metropolitan transformation, powerhouse restaurateurs such as Sami Ladeki (a Wolfgang Puck alum), David and Leslie Cohn (owners of the Cohn Restaurant Group) and Brian Malarkey (a culinary rock star) set up shop throughout the County, adding gastronomic fame to San Diego’s allure. As the hub of an international region sharing economic and cultural interests with Mexico across its southern border and Pacific Rim countries off its coastline, San Diego is rushing to feed and amaze its multi-cultural residents and visitors by opening one multi-star restaurant after another. If anyone doubts that this impatiently growing Southern California upstart is muscling in on the culinary fame of New York and San Francisco, all the doubter needs is to peruse the menus of its proliferating, high-value restaurants. Not only those run by famous chefs, but even a good number of mid-range establishments. The secret of San Diego’s culinary successes is its close proximity to first class ingredients, grown with expertise, great care and dedication by surrounding farms (mostly of the small, family owned, organic kind) and purchased fresh, daily by local chefs. Not surprisingly, the region’s abundance of farm-to-table foods has inspired a slow food and whole food philosophy, which, in turn, has evolved into the richly flavored and nutritious California Cuisine. Rounding out the area’s gastronomic riches are the vineyards tucked into its hilly coastal and inland corners, where wines can be tasted, purchased and accompanied by tasty morsels in some vineyards’ own, or nearby restaurants and pubs. And speaking of pubs, San Diego is also climbing the ladder of national fame as a hub of microbreweries and the award-winning private label beers they produce. While San Diego restaurants cater to a wide range of foodies, from carnivores to vegans, most of them include in their menus dishes preferred by health-conscious diners. What’s more, local restaurant staffs are quite accustomed to patrons’ requests for substitutions and omissions of certain ingredients. In fact, some chefs even welcome the challenge to create tasty dishes that incorporate these requests. With gastronomic tourism added to its many attractions, San Diego has recently been ranked by Automobile Club travel agents as the region’s number one destination (topping Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco and the Central Coast from Santa Barbara to Monterey). It is a magnet for day-trippers and weekend visitors who drive in from Mexico, Orange County, Los Angeles, Arizona and even from parts of Nevada. The area is also attracting a growing number of international travelers from Pacific Rim countries, South Africa and Europe. Dining out in San Diego amidst their lively polyglot conversations, conjures up a Paris bistro or United Nations conference. Disclaimer Notes: (1) This San Diego Restaurant Guide is merely a sampler, which will be expanded as additional restaurants catering to health-conscious diners come to our attention. (2) New restaurants open and existing ones close faster than we will probably be able to list or remove from this Guide. So check their status before you go. (3) Menu items listed here change with the seasons and sometimes with changes in restaurant ownership, chefs and diners’ tastes. (4) We gather our information from various sources—seldom from our personal dining experience. Because of this, we appreciate your dropping us an email ([email protected]) about any restaurants known for healthy fare and pleasant interiors that you have come across.


Corvette Diner

Liberty Station

2965 Historic Decatur Road

San Diego, CA (619) 542-1476

Cohn Restaurant Group

The Cohn Restaurant Group’s first full-service eatery, opened by David and Lesley Cohn at its original Hillcrest location in 1987—was focused on 1950s nostalgia in both its décor and menu. While the latter paid tribute to the era with burgers, fries and shakes, the former evoked it with visual cues that included staff attire and interior furnishings—the most striking of which was the Corvette Diner’s namesake and ‘50s iconic car, which seemed to be bursting from the back wall. ..…more>>


Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza and Grill

Liberty Station

2401 Truxtun Suite 102 (Between Worden Rd & Roosevelt Rd)

San Diego, CA 92106

(619) 222-3111

Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza and Grill

Adding a Liberty Station presence to his other proliferating restaurants throughout San Diego County, Sami Ladeki brought new flavors and the same easy going ambience his California-style establishments are known for. Since practically his entire menu is designed for health-conscious diners, we have selected dishes from various types of foods represented in the restaurant’s daily offerings:…more >>


True Food Kitchen

7007 Friars Road (Fashion Valley #394)

San Diego, CA 92108

(619) 810-2929

True Food Kitchen

By Dina Eliash Robinson & Catharine L. Kaufman

The story goes that Dr. Andrew Weil, pioneer of healthy lifestyle—the cornerstone of his integrative medicine concept—suggested to Sam Fox, CEO of Fox Restaurant Concepts (FRC), that they open restaurants serving wholesome, farm-to-table fare. To attract a wider market, however, these restaurants would highlight the wide variety and rich flavors of dishes and drinks prepared by master chefs and mixologists, while understating the fresh and nutritious ingredients they use. The goal was to create menus that satisfy different preferences and thus attract both health-conscious gourmets and those who tend to avoid places suspected of serving “health food”—including even fast food aficionados. When Sam Fox—whose company had by that time launched more than 30 special concept restaurants—showed no interest in the project, Dr. Weil invited him for a home-cooked meal for a taste of menu items he had in mind. It’s a good bet that Fox’s decision to go for the restaurant idea was due in large part to Dr. Weil’s kitchen virtuosity and the flavors he coaxed from ingredients that included fresh-picked organic veggies and herbs from his own garden.…more>>

Tender Greens ––––Two locations:

2400 Historic Decatur Road

Liberty Station—

San Diego, CA 92106

Tel: (619) 226-6254

Tender Greens

Open daily: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.


San Diego: University Town Center

4545 La Jolla Village Drive (on the main plaza next to the clock tower)

San Diego CA 92122

Tel: 858 455-9395

Casual, family-friendly interiors, patrons order off chalk-boards listing daily changing menus, as well as by selecting from dishes displayed on behind glass on prep-counter. Orders and dessert and beverage selections are made, paid and picked up at the next station—or delivered from by wait-staff. Seasonal menus, prepared with mostly organic ingredients and priced from low to moderate, feature locally sourced produce and ingredients in salads, roasted veggies and mushrooms; grass-fed beef, dairy and chicken (free of antibiotics and hormones). Dishes are flavored with organic herbs and condiments; cold pressed olive oils, mustards, vinegars, assorted nuts and ground spices. Also served are artisan breads and desserts, beverages including home-blended organic teas, wines from local boutique wineries and private label beers from local microbreweries. Among dishes preferred by health-conscious diners are:

Tender Greens’ signature soups: Roasted Roma tomato soup with basil oil; and Rustic Chicken with lemon thyme.

• Salads of various sizes and compositions range from leafy greens with tarragon and other tasty dressings, to seasonal veggies with grilled prawns, Chinese chicken and sesame dressing; Cobb salad with tuna, Niçoise, with grilled ‘flat iron’ steak and the restaurant’s signature “Happy Vegan Salad.”

• Hot dishes range from chicken, steak and fish to vegetarian and vegan combinations.


The Prado at Balboa Park

1549 El Prado Balboa Park

San Diego, CA

Tel: (619) 557-9441

Cohn Restaurant Group

Dinner: Tue-Sun at 5pm Lunch: Mon-Fri: 11:30am-3pm Sat-Sun: 11am-3pm With its art-filled interiors and scenic location in Balboa Park’s historic House of Hospitality, The Prado is one of the award-winning Cohn Restaurant Group’s crown jewels and has been one of San Diego’s most popular attraction since its opening in 2000. A top-tier restaurant within walking distance of Balboa Park’s museums and The Old Globe Theatres’ three-venue complex, The Prado is as adept at serving leisure visitors, as it is to provide comfortably paced meals that help theatre ticket-holders and museum goers get to their events on time. more


Claire’s on Cedros
Bakery and Café
246 North Cedros
Solana Beach, CA 92075
Phone: 858-259-8597
Claires on Cedros

Serves Breakfast, Brunch and Lunch
Hours: Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.;
Saturday, Sunday and Holidays, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Located in a charming bungalow within a block of colorful shops known for some of the region’s most versatile designs in clothes and home furnishings, Claire’s on Cedros offers a homey ambiance and a rich menu that proves healthy and mouthwatering delicious belongs on the same plate. more..


12995 El Camino Real—Suite 21
Del Mar, CA 92130
Tel: (858) 369-5700
Lunch, Dinner, Brunch

Executive Chef Brian Malarkey spices up each of his growing number of restaurants with fabric names and such attention-getting fare as Burlap’s “Asian Cowboy” cuisine—which he playfully describes as the place where “West Eats Meat.”
The menu is big, varied and divided in categories with such highlights as:
∞ Oysters on the half-shelf with Asian pear mignonette
∞ Hamachi & jalapeno with onion ponzu sauce; beef tartar with yuzu, mustard green, quail egg and chive.
∞ Prosciutto-wrapped albacore with Asian pesto & balsamic teriyaki
∞ Whole fish, 1/5 lbs “angry” Serrano with orange, garlic and basil
∞ Chamomille roasted Alaskan halibut with elderflower ponzu, summer squash & squash blossom
Street Food
∞ Vietnamese tofu with mushroom, hot basil and mint
∞ Lamb pot-stickers with chicken soy and mint
∞ Mussels Filipino style adobo, coconut, crispy garlic and onion
∞ Suzie’s farm beets and radishes with Thai basil pistachio puree and brie
∞ Field greens with pear, 7-spice walnuts, goat cheese and plum vinaigrette
∞ Sirloin au poivre with romaine and maitake
∞ Lamb loin with peach mostarda, baby celery and peach
∞ Chicken breast with artichoke, tomato, baguette and egg
∞ Duck breast with black plum, black radish and black kale
∞ Char siu pork tenderloin with collard greens and shishito pepper cornbread.
∞ Truffled miso with wakame, shroom and tofu
∞ Asian roasted tomato soup with grilled cheese and steamed bun

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