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With our country’s obsession with food shows, chefs have become modern day rock stars, catapulted into fame by shows like BRAVO’s Top Chef, Gordon Ramsey’s MasterChef and more. A slew of these camera-ready alums have landed in San Diego and have set up culinary camp in Little Italy. Kettner Boulevard, a main artery in Little Italy, has an impressive line-up of star power helming the kitchens, earning it the nickname Top Chef Alley. Here’s a guide to the celebrity chef dining scene in Little Italy.
Chef Brian Malarkey
Chef Brian Malarkey is San Diego’s original Top Chef as he’s been a compelling force in the local dining scene for years. His stint on season 3 of Top Chef boosted his trajectory and acclaim, leading him to create a culinary empire including the stylish Herb & Wood and adjacent casual café and market Herb & Eatery in Little Italy, Green Acre and The Farmer & The Seahorse in San Diego, and two new restaurants opening in 2019 in downtown San Diego and Encinitas. Swanky Herb & Wood mixes Paris 1920s flair with Cape Cod cool, offering an open-air patio with flickering lanterns, wooden canoe planters, a lavender lounge with a dual-sided fireplace and tons of flamboyance, along with a high energy main dining room and massive bar. The rustic wood-fired menu features roasted meats, veggies, flatbreads and soufflés. It’s a pulsing scene in Little Italy, not to be missed. Herb & Eatery, the 50-seat, airy bright café next door, is a great spot for fresh pastries and Copa Vida coffee, and also offers gourmet grab-n-go deli items like chicken curry, fresh poke, fruit salad, vegan dishes, sandwiches and more. Its gourmet marketplace sports retail goodies like flowers, wine, beer, home décor items, cookbooks, homemade snacks and cold pressed juices. In 2019, Malarkey will open Animae, an Asian-inspired restaurant anchoring the ground floor of a new ultra-luxury high rise in downtown San Diego, and Herb & Sea in Encinitas, a sibling restaurant to Herb & Wood, which will focus primarily on seafood.
Chef Richard Blais
Top Chef All-Stars winner and BRAVO regular, Richard Blais traded Atlanta for San Diego and has been part of the town’s culinary revolution ever since. His stunning Juniper & Ivy sits in a 90-year-old converted warehouse, a true standout with its mod artwork, oversized curvaceous booths, an exhibition kitchen, upscale counter dining and a lively bar scene for craft cocktails. Blais’ progressive American cuisine is both artful and inventive with a dash of molecular gastronomy tossed in. Exciting edibles may include pot pie bites with red eye gravy, foie gras cookies, carne asada toast with quail egg, or prawn and pork Bolognese comfort food. Next door, his all-day chicken and egg concept—The Crack Shack—is another hotspot on Kettner Boulevard with its packed patio deck, casual walk up counter, sports bar, bocce ball court and more. Blais riffs on fowl-centric dishes like his decadent Señor Croque with crispy chicken, bacon, fried egg, cheddar cheese and miso maple butter tucked between brioche. Beyond the massive sandwiches look for chicken oysters, slaw, deviled eggs and fried chicken. A second San Diego location can be found up the coast in Encinitas.
Chef Deborah Scott
One of San Diego’s most famous chefs, Deborah Scott has worked with the Cohen Group restaurant empire for more than 20 years. Her first major project with them was Indigo Grill back in 1994 and this Little Italy staple remains a beloved culinary destination today for Modern Latin cuisine. The eatery’s colorful design plays off the creativity found on her artful plates. Diners dig into ceviche, Peruvian street food, tacos, flatbreads, hickory-smoked ribs, Alder plank salmon and more, while sipping pomegranate-jalapeño margaritas. Not to be missed is her signature dish, Skirt on Fire, a marinated spicy skirt steak with a chili azucar glazed quesadilla, black beans and mandarin-pineapple salsa.
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