San Diego is a bit underappreciated as a culinary destination. There is the city itself, but also, just north up the I-5, the seaside community of La Jolla, where there are enough dining options to take you through a month without repeating any visits. But, repeat visits is assuredly what you will want to do.
But, as the song goes, let’s start at the very beginning. Brunch. Initiated as a way of fending off the previous night’s imbibing residue, otherwise known as a hangover, brunch is in most instances justifiably maligned. But if you head over the expansive bridge that leads to Coronado, it is not difficult to find the splendid hotel called “The Del” by locals, formally known as Hotel del Coronado. Built in 1888, home, at various times, to Frank L. Baum (who wrote three of the The Wizard of Oz series here), Wallis Simpson (her cottage is still intact, on the property), and the cast and crew of Some Like it Hot. The Del is one of North America’s finest beach resorts. But in the Crown Room, each Sunday, it is home to a staggeringly great brunch. There are multiple stations at brunch including compressed fruit, fresh seafood, international cuisine, made-to-order paninis, greens and grains, a carving station with meats smoked in-house, fresh fruit juices and a Bloody Mary bar, to name a few. The best strategy? Proceed with caution, do not overload the first plate or three. Plan ahead a little, scan the row upon row of food, and take it in stages. Fresh-made omelettes to order, pancakes and waffles made on the griddle right in front of you, a carving station with meats smoked in-house, it’s all there. And you can enjoy a walk on the beach afterwards, to settle it all in. A long walk.
For lunch, there is simply no better spot than the Ocean Terrace, an outdoor patio that is atop the legendary George’s at the Cove, so guests can have two distinct dining experiences, the other being George’s California Modern. George’s Bar, for those rare cloudy days, serves the same menu as the Terrace. The views of La Jolla Cove encompass a colony of sea lions, the occasional pod of dolphins, and the frequent flyers called pelicans. The food is classic, fresh fish caught that morning; George’s Famous smoked chicken, broccoli, and black bean soup; and a grilled white shrimp and tabbouleh salad. The view goes on forever, and you will wish the lunch could, too. Open for dinner, also.
Finally, a new kid in town, on La Jolla’s Herschel Avenue. It’s called Herringbone, and the star chef who launched this venture is Brian Malarkey, of “The Taste” television show, but more importantly, the chef of Searsucker, an instant, raving success, along with Burlap and Gabardine. In the kitchen at Herringbone is chef Amanda Baumgarten. There is an expansive lounge and bar at the front, and another huge bar facing the main dining room, towards the rear of a building that used to be an auto parts warehouse, and had lain in waiting until an estate sale made the place available. Six giant olive trees were transplanted in the restaurant, hoisted down through the roof, 100 feet above.
Fanny Bay and Hood Canal oysters from here in B.C., shrimp and grits, and a wonderful smoked haddock chowder all get things rolling. And then. A bone-in shortrib is reason alone to swoon. But the monkfish osso buco and line-caught hake fish and chips are simply stellar. The place is big, but it fills up, and then the experience takes hold. A bit noisy, but it therefore feels like you are in fact at the place to be in town.
There are many good reasons to visit San Diego, and La Jolla itself. But these three places stand right at the top of our list.