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Little Italy's Celebrity Chefs

Culinary stars descend upon San Diego

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 and Michelin Star-winners have landed in San Diego and have set up culinary camp in Little Italy. Here is a guide to the celebrity chef dining scene in Little Italy.

San Diego CA Chef Brian Marlarkey

Herb & Wood / Herb & Eatery

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 in Little Italy. The restaurant 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. In 2019, Malarkey opened Animae, an Asian-inspired restaurant anchoring the ground floor of a new ultra-luxury high rise in downtown San Diego. Herb & Sea in Encinitas

Sam Zien

Not Not Tacos / Graze by Sam / Samburgers

Chef "Sam the Cooking Guy" Zien

With a popular TV show in 24 markets, 15 Emmys and three cookbooks, Sam "The Cooking Guy" Zien is a famous face in San Diego’s culinary scene. Sam left a career in biotech and became the "everyman" of cooking by combining an irreverent mix of humor with recipes that are 'big in taste but small in effort'. His popular Little Italy eateries, located in the Little Italy Food Hall and on the Piazza della Famiglia, include Not Not Tacos, Samburgers, and Graze by Sam. Not Not Tacos serves up genre-bending fare that pushes the envelope of culinary creativity. These aren't your typical Mexican-influenced tacos. No carnitas, pollo or carne asada found here but discover meatloaf, salmon and pastrami creations that are big, bold and full of flavor. Samburgers complements a popular Seaport Village location serving a menu that appeals to everyone in the family with items like the Blazing Saddles Burger, chili cheese tots and grilled cheese for kids. At Graze by Sam, diners enjoy a culturally wide mix of offerings, from sandwiches and salads to an array of "grazeable" items like charcuterie boards, flatbreads and beyond.

Chef Jason McLeod

Born & Raised / Morning Glory / Ironside / Craft & Commerce

Chef Jason McLeod

Earning two prestigious Michelin Stars in his illustrious 30-year culinary career, Chef Jason McLeod is the culinary director of CH Projects with a myriad of popular and award-winning venues scattered around Little Italy and San Diego. Born and Raised has become an iconic neighborhood restaurant for high-end steaks and cocktails with glitzy décor and a rooftop bar and patio overlooking Little Italy and San Diego Bay. Morning Glory, another iconic Little Italy restaurant, overlooks Piazza della Famiglia. Lines form early at this stylish breakfast spot for one-of-a-kind menu items like Morning Glory Fried Rice with pork belly, cheese, peas, spinach, scallion, and fried eggs. Ironside Fish and Oyster is dressed up with nautical décor, including mermaid sconces, porthole windows and sea foam green benches. Ironside is the spot for oysters and champagne, fresh fish and Chef McLeod's famous lobster roll. Craft and Commerce is equal parts restaurant and popular nightspot. Fashionable guests enjoy delicious food, creative cocktails and a unique aesthetic with century-old taxidermy mounted and displayed on the walls. Inside Craft and Commerce, guests can also find False Idol, a trendy tiki bar serving strong drinks in a fun tropical surrounding.

Richard Blais Headshot | San Diego Ca

Juniper & Ivy / The Crack Shack

Chef Richard Blais

Top Chef All-Stars winner and BRAVO regular, Richard Blais was the original culinary talent behind award-winning Juniper & Ivy and The Crack Shack, located on Kettner Boulevard. Blais helped raise the reputation of Little Italy's dining scene at Juniper & Ivy with his progressive American cuisine that was both artful and inventive with a dash of molecular gastronomy tossed in. Next door, his all-day chicken and egg concept—The Crack Shack—is another Little Italy hotspot with its packed patio deck, casual walk-up counter, sports bar, bocce ball court, and more. The popular eatery is known for fowl-centric dishes like the decadent Señor Croque with crispy chicken, bacon, fried egg, cheddar cheese, and miso maple butter tucked between a brioche. Both venues continue to provide celebrity-worthy meals under the helm of new Executive Chef Michael Wells.

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