San Diego Dining Guide

San Diego is one of those cities where buzz words like “farm to table, organic, locally sourced” are norms, not novelties. Southern California chefs use mostly seasonal ingredients, unless they source the very best (such as New England scallops or Maine lobsters) from another region. This is, of course quite evident in the healthy and wholesome dishes available on the menus.

Here are the top five restaurants (not according to any formal standards or classification) that we tried. All of them have very different ambiances and located in different neighborhoods across San Diego. If you are a tourist in the city, you definitely want to account for some extra time exploring the areas before dinner.

1. 1500 Ocean at Hotel Del Coronado. Located at the historic property where the famous Marilyn Monroe movie, Some Like It Hot was filmed, Hotel Del Coronado is must-see for any visitor to San Diego. Coronado Island is a short ride from downtown by way of ferry or drive across the bridge. Stay at the hotel if your wallet allows, but at least go for date night dinner to 1500 Ocean. Outdoor fireplaces, cool ocean breeze, classy interiors, make for an intimate ambiance. Enjoy delicately prepared bounties from the kitchen such as this melt-in-your-mouth yellowfin tuna sashimi with jalapeño and avocado mousse, tooth-picked by a dainty tangerine radish. Entree of perfectly grilled sea scallops with a medley of grapes, almonds, capers, green beans, Thai basil and pickled lemons is far from a “simple” recipe. For desert, don’t shy away from the molten chocolate cake with poached cherries, toasted almonds, and vanilla ice cream. Your taste buds will thank you! 1500 Ocean has a great selection of wines and cocktails as well. Make your reservation after sunset you can get a chance to stroll along the beach.

Yellowfin tuna sashimi with avocado mousse at 1500 Ocean

2. PrepKitchen in Little Italy. Not an Italian restaurant as suggested by its location. This is the latest globally inspired creation by the Whisk n Ladle group, which has three acclaimed locations across San Diego. The hip and trendy PrepKitchen believes in a lot of flavor, and simple presentations. Their original idea of selling food prepped and ready to go did not take off as clients demanded the sit-down restaurant experience. With an extensive handcrafted drinks menu , seasonally evolving dishes, and a variety of tapas, PrepKitchen is the watering hole/ late night hang out restaurant that is also popular with the locals.

Roasted beet, goat cheese & spinach salad at PrepKitchen

Warm chocolate Budino, Strawberry-rhubar crostata and Goat cheese torte

3. Cody’s in La Jolla is a cozy spot by the water, only walking distance from the seals. Hit any time of the day and get a table at the open air patio or the stylish interior. The food at Cody’s is fresh and delicious. Try the French toast for breakfast, and  lobster rolls for lunch. Even the pancakes are the most scrumptious you will ever have.

French toast with California strawberries

4. Amaya’s at Grand del Mar resort features a distinctive menu with Mediterranean influences. Set in a gorgeous countryside setting with Italian inspired architectures, a visit to Grand del Mar is worth alone the trip. Carefully appointed suites, infinity pools, manicured gardens, award winning spa, wooded quiet scenery and top notch service are some other reasons to stay overnight. Chef Matthew Sramek presents an array of tempting appetizers, pastas and risotto, and savory entrees, such as Grilled Garlic Prawns with a pistachio and sweet pepper romesco and Rotisserie Veal Chop with gratin of asparagus and prosciutto.

Poached Shrimp with garlic crostini

Peanut butter candy bar with banana gelato

5. NINE-TEN at the Grande Colonial Hotel in La Jolla is a popular destination among the local fashionable crowd and foodies in-the-know. Led by award-winning Chef Jason Knibb and Pastry Chef Rachel King, the restaurant offers the perfect combination of sophistication and casual elegance along downtown La Jolla’s historic Prospect Street. Evolving California Cuisine emphasizes a market-driven, farm-to-table philosophy with locally made cheeses, artisnal breads and an award winning wine cellar. Every dish is created with extra attention to wow the diners with visual and textual finesse.  Looks too good to eat?

Beet salad at Nine Ten Restaurant La Jolla

Halibut with vegetables at Nine-Ten Restaurant San Diego

Nine Ten Restaurant La Jolla San Diego

More on what to see and eat in San Diego

Some Like It Hot at The Del Coronado

Regarded by critics as one of the finest American movies ever made, Some Like It Hot continues to delight audiences 50 years after it debuted in 1959; in fact, the American Film Institute named it No. 1 on their list of the 100 best comedies of all time.

Filmed in 1958, the United Artists movie was shot on location at the Hotel del Coronado, Southern California’s landmark Pacific resort. The Del’s iconic Victorian architecture made it the perfect backdrop for the film’s 1929 setting, along with acting icons Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.

Marilyn Monroe at the Del Coronado

Says author and scholar Laurence Maslon, who released Some Like It Hot: The Official 50th Anniversary Companion in September 2009 during the 50th anniversary celebration at the Hotel del Coronado (published by Collins Design, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers in the US and Anova Books in the UK), “There have been a lot of movies shot on a lot of locations, but only a few marriages of celluloid and place can be considered truly legendary. Chief among those magical moments is the sight of Marilyn Monroe cavorting on the beautiful beach at the footsteps of the Hotel del Coronado.”

Plot

The Prohibition-era story follows the exploits of Lemmon and Curtis, out-of-work Chicago musicians who accidentally witness a gangland slaying. Making a run for their lives, the men disguise themselves as women and join an all-girl band traveling by train to Florida. Here, a ukulele-strumming singer, played by Monroe, catches the eyes of both men, but it is Curtis’ character who assumes still another identity – an unlucky-in-love millionaire – to successfully woo and win Monroe.

Lemmon’s cross-dressed character, meanwhile, is vigorously pursued by a bona fide millionaire, played by Joe E. Brown. The hilarious gender-shifting romantic romp is played out at California’s famed Hotel del Coronado, which director Billy Wilder found to be the perfect substitute for Florida in the Roaring Twenties.

Sunshine … California-Style

At least one Floridian was less than happy about Wilder’s decision to shoot the movie in San Diego. Miami Mayor Robert King High reportedly said it was “a sacrilege” to let Southern California play the role of Florida’s “Sunshine State.” This sour criticism was ably met by Coronado’s mayor, who wired back, “Some like it hot, but not as hot as Miami in September.” The mayor’s rebuttal also referenced Florida’s gnats, mosquitoes and hurricanes, none of which plagued the temperate island of Coronado.

Marilyn Monroe & Tony Curtis

An “Uproariously Improbable Set”

Like all American resorts, the Hotel del Coronado had endured some tough years during the Depression and World War II, but it was this period of benign neglect that helped preserve the resort, making it the perfect setting for Wilder’s 1929 story, which he co-wrote with I.A. Diamond. Said Wilder, “We looked far and wide, but this was the only place we could find that hadn’t changed in thirty years. People who have never see this beautiful hotel will never believe we didn’t make these scenes on a movie lot. It’s like the past come to life.”

Although at least one critic didn’t believe the hotel was real, describing The Del as “an uproariously improbable set.” The hotel’s 1888 Queen Anne Revival-style architecture does tend toward the fanciful, with rambling white clapboard, lazy verandas and red-turreted roofs, which an earlier writer had characterized as a cross between an ornate wedding cake and a well-trimmed ship.

Although only exterior scenes were filmed at hotel, the interior scenes do look very Del-like (right down to the placement of the lobby elevator and stairs). This probably explains why so many Some Like It Hot devotees – even after seeing the Hotel del Coronado for themselves – absolutely refuse to believe that the movie’s interior scenes were not filmed at The Del.

Favored by the Fans, Overlooked by the Oscars

The movie was a box office success, grossing over $8 million initially and earning several million more over the next few years – somewhere between $10 and $15 million.

Monroe’s financial deal – she received between $100,000 and $300,000, as well as 10 percent of the film’s gross profits – was a very lucrative arrangement in its day, and Some Like It Hot turned out to be her most profitable venture.

The movie was also a critical success. Variety called it the biggest hit of 1959; Monroe received a Golden Globe for her performance, as did Jack Lemmon. The film itself also won a Golden Globe for “best comedy.”

In spite of its financial success and public accolades, the film received only one minor Academy Award for “Best Black and White Costume Design.” Today it is thought that Some Like It Hot was just too risqué for 1959, when the big winner that year was Ben-Hur (also in the running for various Academy Awards were the likes of Diary of Anne Frank, Room at the Top, Pillow Talk and Porgy and Bess).

The Some Like It Hot story line is racy, and Monroe’s costumes are incredibly revealing, even by today’s standards (though, according to Wilder, Marilyn was not interested in fashion … as long as the costumes revealed “something,” she was satisfied). Ahead of its time perhaps, present-day reviewers marvel that the movie still comes across as such a wholesome film; this was Monroe’s forte: she was sexy, but childlike.

Although this is the Monroe film most shown on television today, the actress reportedly never liked her performance.

~ Story and photos courtesy of Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego. 

Book your stay at The Del now with TripAdvisor

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San Diego’s Obsession With The Beet Salad

During my recent visit to San Diego for the Travel and Adventure Show, I dined at some of the most reputable restaurants in the city. I was delighted to find that many of the places cooked with fresh, high quality, farm to table ingredients that included locally sourced vegetables and meat.

San Diego is blessed with temperate climate, abundant sunshine and varied topography that allows for a variety of foods to grow year-round. Beets are in season during the winter and spring, although the chefs I inquired told me, “San Diego folks ask for it year round” and every restaurant is unofficially required to have beets on their menu. Apparently, the locals complain when they don’t see “beet salad.” Nothing wrong with that since beets are one of the healthiest vegetables out there. They are rich in antioxidants, folic acid, fiber, anti-inflammatory properties and cancer-fighting agents.

Trust me, after 5 days of noticing the beet salad at every venue, I started to think that all the chefs in San Diego area must have received some sort of a memo about it. Here are some of the variations I discovered…

Hotel del Coronado‘s flagship ocean front seafood restaurant, 1500 Ocean served homemade burrata (Italian cheese made with mozzarella and cream), with heirloom beets and valencia oranges, tossed in Temecula (a city in California) balsamic.

beet salad with goat cheese
beet salad with goat cheese

Prep Kitchen in Little Italy’s version included fresh baby spinach, satsuma (Japanese mandarin), avocado, goat cheese, whole pistachios, with a gentle dressing of balsamic vinaigrette. It tasted more like a salad with beet as an important ingredient hiding below the spinach leaves.

Amaya, the Mediterranean restaurant at Grand Del Mar, took a slight twist on the classic recipe. Their Roasted Beet Salad was a simple concoction of pickled shallots, tangerine, goat cheese, molasses-candied walnuts and mache (French name of the edible salad green Valerianella locusta).

My favorite was this elegant creation by Chef Jason Knibb of Nine-Ten Restaurant, located at at Grande Colonial Hotel in La Jolla. Red and yellow baby beets were adorned with a light goat cheese pudding, shaved fennel, smoked oranges, drizzled with citrusy beet vinaigrette, and sprinkled with pistachio and cacao crumble. I would have never thought of using cacao dust for garnish but its an ingenious idea. The dish was a symphony for all the senses.

nine ten la jolla

The chefs in San Diego have inspired me to cook Beet Salad at home more often. Here is a simple recipe that I have created using all that my tastebuds have guided me from this trip.

Easy Beet Salad Recipe:

Soak the beets in water with a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, then scrub them well. Cut them into quarters and boil in water for 15-20 minutes until fully cooked but not too tender. If a sharp knife can go through easily, the beets are good enough to use in salad. Drain water and cool. You can also use them raw if you like.

In a large bowl, combine any greens (Boston lettuce, Bibb lettuce, Baby spinach), with fresh chopped oranges, diced avocados, crumbled goat cheese and roasted pistachios. Add good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar, toss gently and serve immediately.