6 Innovators of San Diego Dining and Drinking

By Darlene Horn  |  January 8, 2014

Depending on how you look at it, the food scene in San Diego is constantly changing or staying the same. Mexican food has always been popular in this border city, but it’s also growing up. And sweet endings usually mean dessert but even that has a new spin. Here’s a look at a few food-scene innovators and innovations.

Innovative Chef: Javier Placencia, Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro
4346 Bonita Rd., Bonita; 619-475-8627
Mexican food has always been a mainstay in the city but there are few chefs who have brought new respect to the cuisine. Chef Placencia recreated Latin favorites and made new fans with his popular pop-up dinner at the now-shuttered El Take It Easy. He currently hangs his toque at Bonita's Romesco.

Innovative Bartender: Jen Queen, Saltbox
1047 5th Ave.; 619-515-3003
Cocktail maestros are plentiful in San Diego, but Jen Queen stands above them all. La Puerta, El Zarape, Searsucker and Prepkitchen are only a few of the places that have benefited from her cocktail expertise. While she's currently found at Saltbox, her influence still remains in the other establishments.


Innovative Restaurant: Tender Greens
2400 Historic Decatur Rd.; 619-6254
110 W. Broadway; 619-226-6254
4545 La Jolla Village Dr.; 858-455-9395

Ever since childhood, the cafeteria model has been looked down upon. But patrons lining up to eat at Tender Greens knows that this isn’t anything like what was served at school. Their philosophy is “slow food done fast.” Tender Greens uses the best of local ingredients and elevates the cafeteria experience to a delicious and healthy level.

Innovative Desserts: Swoon Dessert Bar
3139 University Ave.; 619-528-0875
Dessert doesn’t only have to be relegated to sweets. The dessert tasting at Swoon Dessert Bar in North Park serves three courses with an option to stay on the sweet side of the spectrum or to do a hybrid of both sweet and savory. Pickled ramp froth, apples, shallots and cider-braised bacon for their sunchoke gelato is just one example of their unique lineup.


Innovative Restaurant Garden: The Red Door Restaurant & Wine Bar
741 W. Washington St.; 619-295-6000
While the farm-to-table concept isn’t a new thing, The Red Door Restaurant takes the idea further with their own year-round garden in the Mt. Helix area. Their half-acre garden provides squash, arugula, carrots, figs and lettuce, with other produce supplemented by local farmers markets when necessary. Their menu specials are built around whatever’s seasonally available. (Photo credit: The Red Door Restaurant & Wine Bar)

Innovative Ordering: Stacked
7007 Friars Rd.; 619-225-7900
This restaurant was among the first on the scene to replace printed menus with iPads. For years they've remained a fixture. Greasy fingerprints aside, customers use interactive technology first-hand to help the kitchen receive and serve orders error-free.