by Andy Hayler
San Diego is just 23 miles from Tijuana in Mexico, and the influence of its southern neighbour is evident in a city that actually only became part of the USA in 1850.
This can be seen in its architecture and extends to its restaurant scene, which has no shortage of good value Mexican restaurants such as Candelas by the Bay.
San Diego boasts arguably the best climate of any US city, but has not been particularly noted for its high-end dining scene, as I discovered over my many visits to it over the years. However in recent times there have been a few interesting restaurants that have sprung up and challenged the perception of San Diego as a culinary desert.
For the best of San Diego dining, skip the overrated Gaslamp district, set up to lure in convention attendees on expenses. Instead venture into the suburbs and discover the charming WineSellar and Brasserie. This, as its name hints, is really a wine shop with a restaurant attached. Indeed if you dine there you can choose from the bottles of wine in the shop to accompany your dinner. The cooking is more serious than the setting suggests, with dishes that are not particularly elaborate but are carefully made and have plenty of flavour. This comes across in a rich gazpacho, or venison with Brussels sprouts and black cherry reduction with bean ragout.
On one of San Diego’s many clear days (on average it is sunny 263 days a year) then pop up to La Jolla to enjoy the ocean view from George’s at the Cove. Chef Trey Foshee makes the most of the abundant seafood available nearby, his fish tacos being an upmarket take on the popular street food dish. Another example is a dish of “Mano de Leon” scallops, hand-dived from the Baja California coast; their name is because their large orange shell resembles a lion paw.
My favourite spot is a short drive north of the city, up in the beach town Del Mar in a hotel resort called Grand Del Mar. Here William Bradley works skilfully with luxury ingredients, such as in a langoustine dish with Oscietra caviar and a tuile biscuit, or superbly tender short-rib of Australian wagyu beef. Your meal might finish with chocolate gateau with sour cherry marmalade and pistachio. This is serious cooking, and for me is clearly the best restaurant in the area.