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The Savory 60

Neighborhood scenes are booming. Our farms and purveyors are the toast of the country. Restaurant openings are coming fast and furiously. And a few intrepid chefs are venturing out of their (ahem) comfort zones to push our fair city to its next level in dining. With talent popping up all over the place, we went far and wide to bring you, S.D., the freshest take yet!

A far cry from its taco-shop beginnings, Bonita eatery TJ Oyster Bar tapped an all-star architect for its tropical-chic feel.

Baked California has lemon verbena fro-yo and blueberry sorbet sandwiched between delicate cake layers.

Strawberry-thyme cheesecake like you’ve never seen it before in North Park.

Pastry Chef Lori Sauer swings for the fences with her play on classic desserts at George’s California Modern.


1. J Oyster Bar 
Serene turquoise walls mimic the two-man fishing boats of Baja, an homage to the rustic coastal traditions that animate this stylish new Bonita spot. Architect Gregory De Peña orchestrated the upgrade (the original bustling taco shop location is down the street), with a poured concrete bar, micheladas and fresh shucked oysters. The stingray machaca tostadas, killer fish tacos and Veracruz-style fish with chicharrones shouldn’t be missed. It’s casual fare for the cosmopolitan crowd.

2. Great Maple
At this Hillcrest newcomer,  Johnny Rivera creates a diner-gone-dashing atmosphere that wouldn’t be out of place in a ’60s-era French caper flick. There’s a point of view at work here: that life can be both laid-back (Chicken croquettes! Poutine! Bratwurst and kraut on pretzel buns!) and stylish (a Modigliani-derived color scheme, refined Danish design details, hand-printed wallpapers). And a little a-go-go (cocktail carts, record players, doughnuts) certainly never hurt anybody.

3. Tadokoro Sushi
OK, no harikari for roll orderers. But edomae-style sushi is the star here at chef-owner “Take” Tadokoro’s pocket-sized sushi bar near Old Town. Inspired by the high-end restos of Tokyo’s Ginza district, his fish is of impeccable quality (much of it flown in from the Tskuji market) and best when enjoyed as sashimi or nigiri. Try the mackerel, served with its own crisp-fried skeleton, and for the love of Pete, make reservations.

4. Monello
If Bencotto next door embodies classic, buttoned-up Italian prep, then Monello is a ride on the back of a vacation Vespa, blowing kisses. The new offering from Valentina and Guido, two style-oozing Milanese, has hand-cut pastas by Fabrizio Cavallini like its sister eatery, but then veers into Italian street food with thin-crust pizzas, inspired cheese plates and a selection of house-cured salumi.

5. Veladora
Chef Eric Bauer might have been the greatest beneficiary of Rancho Valencia’s $30 million makeover. At Veladora, he has a suitably elegant setting for refined dishes like California lamb loin or pan-roasted scallops with a warm crab salad.


1. Herringbone 
Rachel King is the empress of the fabric empire, a pastry chef of such solid standing, she’s been handed the keys to the kingdom—O.C., Scottsdale, Austin, the world... Her Americana-with-a-wink desserts (like the Baked California at Herringbone, which visually riffs on the resto’s wall o’ pufferfish) is the stuff of childhood memories, like the cinnamon sugar doughnuts at downtown’s Searsucker. Look for them on the menu in July when Burlap gets a swatch switch (Searsucker Del Mar!).

2. George’s California Modern
Lori Sauer holds her own at the La Jolla icon. Example? Deconstructed peach melba: honey wafers, raspberries and white peach sorbet. And oh, those doughnuts!

3. A.R. Valentien
We’re digging Jennifer Costa’s buttery-crusted mulberry galette at A.R. Valentien, a delicacy whose short season is par for the course at the Lodge at Torrey Pines resto. Like chef Jeff Jackson, the talented Guy Savoy alum uses only market-fresh ingredients, changing her menu constantly. Reason enough to make this a standing date.

4. Swoon Dessert Bar
Apply a sushi bar’s showmanship and fine dining’s tweezers to a dessert-focused eatery and you get Swoon. Since its February opening, the North Park spot has developed a cult following, both in real life—packed seats, especially ringside watching Ian Smith work his magic with genre-bending ingredients like butter-braised radishes, bay leaf cheesecake or celery “dipping dots”—and on Instagram, where the Wine Vault & Bistro veteran’s picturesque desserts have a second life, passed along with many a #youhavetotrythis.

5. Cucina Urbana
Jack Fisher roasts peaches for goat’s milk panna cotta and tucks sweet Suzie’s Farm strawberries into tiramisu. When Cucina Enoteca opens in Flower Hill this summer, look out for his in-house cheese program. Remember when he was all about the molten chocolate cake? Neither do we.

Click here to read more of "The Savory 60" in the digital edition of Riviera!