San Diego - looking for chefs cooking as San Diegans.....
My friends and I are looking for 1-2 great San Diego restaurants. We live in San Francisco and are hoping to find something unique to San Diego's culinary talents and advantages. At least one meal will be "dinner out" - so slightly upscale, if deserved, is preferred.
Given San Diego's promimity to Mexico, we'd have a bias towards any Mexican-oriented alta cocina chefs who are doing interesting things. With that said, we will have just spent a few days at the best of Tijuana/Ensenada (Cien Anos, Laja, Manzanillo, etc) - so we won't want inferior versions of what we've just had.
Otherwise...who are best San Diego chefs who are cooking as San Diegans...? Really appreciate any help and we can't wait to be in that beautiful city.
I've gotten shot down on here before for trying to discuss San Diego cuisine-- as in who's doing it and what it might be. (Please note key word: "might") When my NYC or London friends (aka non-southern californians who think "it's all good") come to visit, that's what they ask me for. That said, here's my reply. Chef Aaron LaMonica did some amazing mex-french-ital-so.cal fusion cooking at Delirios, which closed. He's now making pizza (including one with homemade chorizo) at Blind Lady Ale House-- but not worth a SFer's special trip unless you're a beer hound.
What I'd recommend is the Thursday night, on the terrace, Artisan Table (communal style) at the Lodge at Torrey Pine's A.R.Valentien, which was voted one of top ten locavore restaurants in the US by Epicurious. Phone ahead and ask what they're doing. Sometimes it's a wine or beer dinner, other times to celebrate a seasonal food item. You can also eat in the regular dining room. Their website sucks, so don't judge what they're doing by that. Chef Jeff Jackson is a food force in SD (slow food member and mentor to all who come to cook in SD) who has had staying power and great influence on the local food scene. Young chefs come and go. But the older ones, like Trey Foushee at George's and (sorry to call you "old") Jason Knibb at 910 are the ones with technique, talent, outstanding kitchen staff-- and an understanding of this strange place in which they live and cook.
We have amazing fish and few great places to eat it. We have amazing food influences from all over the world. We have great farms providing produce. (Chino's is just the tip of the iceberg.) But some indescribable force has held SD cuisine-- whatever it may be-- hostage.
Oh, yeah. Where do I take my out-of-town sophisticated food friends? Besides the places named above, tacos in the barrio, El Pescador for fish sandwiches, Bahia Don Bravo for lobster burritos.
Paul McCabe at Kitchen 1540 and Carl Schroeder at Market are two local chefs who come to mind when I think of sophisticated preparations with mostly local, mostly sustainable ingredients. Both are creative chefs with top skills. Carl is actually a native San Diegan while Paul is originally from Arizona, but learned how to cook in southern California. The only problem: both restaurants are in Del Mar and it's horse race season now (until September 7th or so) and both places will be absolutely jammed every night except Mon and Tues when the races are dark.
I would recommend El Vitral near Petco Park for an upscale Mexican food experience. (And really, perhaps sadly, when most people think of " San Diego" cuisine, they think Mexican). It might be fun to compare and contrast some of their dishes with those you get in Mexico. El Vitral is brand new, very large and comfortable, and they're currently trying very hard to please. Unfortunately, they're so new that their website isn't up yet.
For Alta Cocina we don't have a ton of options (that I know of) and will probably pale in comparison to what you'll have at Laja. The only one I know if Romesco in Bonita and it's good but not quite Laja.
For cooking as San Diegans, I'd probably go with one of the restaurants that puts an emphasis on local produce (Chino Farms esp.) and local seafood. A lot of that is probably going to be similar to what you get in SF but not much you can do about that. I'd look into Market, George's, and Kitchen 1540 for nicer restaurants that use a lot of local food. For local seafood you might want to try Sea Rocket Bistro which uses pretty much only local and sustainable seafood. The Linkery is another great option for sustainable and local meats/produce.
If one of your meals is more downscale (i.e. lunch) I suggest you try one of the better hole in the Mexican restaurants: Super Cocina, Aqui es Texcoco, Tacos El Paisa, Mariscos German or Mariscos Godoy.