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Mexican Chefs in San Diego: Cuisine Without Borders

Chefs from Tijuana to Veracruz bring regional Mexican flavors to San Diego’s Dining Scene

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – When many think of Mexican food in San Diego, the ubiquitous fish taco, California burritos, loaded nachos and – gah! – stomach-busting chimichangas spring to mind. But with the rising global popularity of Mexican cuisine, a growing number of chefs from Baja California and other points in Mexico are preparing dishes north of the border with south of the border flair. Here are a few of the restaurants with chefs hailing from Veracruz to Tijuana who call San Diego’s restaurant scene “home”. And are probably cooking something really delicious right now…

Finch’s Bistro & Wine Bar
Mario Medina

With one parent from Puebla and the other from his hometown of Mexico City, chef Mario Medina was born with a an inherent love of Mexican cuisine. Finch’s Bistro & Wine Bar’s sun-dappled patio and elegant dining room are tucked away from the street on La Jolla’s charming Gerard Avenue. At Finch’s, Mario prepares his European Bistro menu with more than just a touch of Mexican influence. A trio of starters including stuffed flor de calabazas (squash blossoms), octopus with fingerling potatoes and crab avocado sopes showcase Mario’s blend of European sensibility and Mexican adventurism.

Finch’s Bistro & Wine Bar is located at 7644 Girard Avenue, La Jolla, California. (858) 456-4056.

Mexican Chefs in San Diego

Chef Mario Medina in the kitchen at Finch’s Bistro & Wine Bar.

Mexican Chefs in San Diego

From left: Stuffed squash blossoms, octopus with potato fingerlings, crab avocado sopes.

Flor Franco

Chef Flor Franco, originally from Veracruz, has lived in San Diego most of her adult life. With two restaurants – Convivia in the Valle de Guadalupe and Zarco in Chula Vista – Flor exemplifies the current wave of Mexican and US chefs who are blurring culinary borders. Zarco showcases the cuisine and wine of the Valle de Guadalupe. Working with Fernando Gaxiola of Baja Wine + Food, the bar boasts around 100 different bottles of Valle wine – all available by the glass. The food transports one not only to the Valle, but to the Baja coast as well. El Gringo enjoyed the perfectly grilled huachinango (red snapper) with cauliflower, sweet potato and parsley.

Zarco is located at 277 3rd Avenue, Chula Vista, California. (619) 934-5700.

Mexican Chefs in San Diego

Chef Flor Franco with Fernando Gaxiola and representatives of Baja Tourism at Zarco.

Mexican Chefs in San Diego

Chef Flor Franco’s grilled red snapper with cauliflower, parsley & sweet potato.

Dobson’s Bar & Restaurant
Martin San Roman

When not at his Valle de Guadalupe restaurant La Terrasse San Roman at Alximia, acclaimed chef Martin San Roman can usually be found in downtown San Diego at the helm of the venerable Dobson’s Bar & Restaurant. Though the restaurant and its Paris-trained chef are known for French fare such as mussel bisque en croute and duck a’ l’Orange, San Roman hosts regular Baja-themed dinners at Dobson’s with pairings from LMA Wines and Baja Wine + Food. During these events, his “Baja Provençale” fusion of country French and Baja is highlighted in dishes such as the beef oxtail on puff pastry with red wine Pasilla chile sauce.

Dobson’s Bar & Restaurant is located at 956 Broadway Circle, San Diego. (619) 231-6771.

Mexican Chefs in San Diego

Chef Martin San Roman with Baja California wines at Dobson’s.

Mexican Chefs in San Diego

Beef oxtail on puff pastry with red wine Pasilla chile sauce.

Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro
Javier Plascencia

Grupo Plascencia’s Romesco restaurant was born from the family’s temporary exodus from Tijuana to Bonita in 2005. Though you won’t find busy chef Javier Plascencia in the kitchen most days, the restaurant’s capable and friendly staff – some who have been with the family 20+ years – competently prepare the chef’s “Mexiterranean” menu. Their mouthwateringly-good bone marrow sopes are an El Gringo favorite and go great with a pinch of sea salt and a bit of Romesco’s tangy salsa. Stop by on Tapas Tuesday for half price tapas from their extensive hot and cold selection. Chef Plascencia opens new restaurant Bracero in Little Italy this spring.

Romesco is located at 4346 Bonita Road (between Bonita Road & Billy Casper Way), Bonita, California. (619) 475-8627.

Mexican Chefs in San Diego

Chef Javier Plascencia at the Baja California Culinary Fest press conference in San Diego in 2013.

Mexican Chefs in San Diego

Savory and satisfying. Bone marrow sopes at Romesco.

El Agave Old Town
Mario Montes

El Agave Old Town is an oasis of authentic regional Mexican cuisine in the middle of the Tex/Cali-Mex predominant in Old Town. Here, chef Mario Montes and his staff prepare traditional dishes from Oaxaca, Puebla, the Yucatan and other regions where Mexican food has pre-hispanic roots. Their moles are extensive and adherent to traditional preparation methods and ingredients. Nouvelle Mexican options are also on the menu, such as the succulent camaron al tequila with citrus. Speaking of tequila, the restaurant houses over 2,000 bottles of the stuff – the largest collection in North America and all available to order.

El Agave is located at 2304 San Diego Avenue, Old Town, California. (619) 220-0692.

Mexican Chefs in San Diego

El Agave houses over 2,000 bottles of tequila, all available to order.

Mexican Chefs in San Diego

Camaron al tequila at El Agave, Old Town.

Allure Restaurant
Melissa Magallon

A San Diego native born of Tijuanense parents, chef Melissa Magallon started her career at chef Brian Malarkey’s Oceanaire and grew with him into new restaurants HerringboneBurlap and Searsucker – where she became their first female sous chef. Her parents partnered with her to open Allure Restaurant in 2014 in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. The restaurant features hearty plates of New American cuisine using fresh, organic, sustainable local ingredients. Pork belly seemed to be a thing in 2014, and chef Melissa’s with compressed apples, maple glaze, candied chiles and cilantro pickled shallot melts in your mouth and is just the right balance of sweet and savory.

Allure Restaurant is located in the Gaslamp Quarter at 825 Fourth Avenue, San Diego, California. (619) 236-0800.

Mexican Chefs in San Diego

Chef Melissa Magallon in her kitchen at Allure Restaurant.

Mexican Chefs in San Diego

Pork belly with compressed apples, maple glaze, candied chilies and cilantro pickled shallot.

Did we miss any of your favorite San Diego based Mexican chefs here? Feel free to let us know in our comments section, below.

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About Scott Koenig

W. Scott Koenig has traveled throughout Baja and Mexico since he moved to San Diego during the 90's. He has been called "guerolito" by Purépechan women in Michoacan, and "muchacho" and "amigo" by many friendly, warm and welcoming locals throughout the country. Scott is the owner of Koenig Creative LLC in San Diego and author of the blog, A Gringo In Mexico, Cultural Exploits, Tall Tequila Tales and Trip Reports.

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