Luis Garcia grew up on the drinking-and-dining scene.
"I've truly been in or around hospitality my whole life," he says. "My mom worked in the heart of the house for about 30 years, and my dad was front-of-the-house, serving. I've been exposed to it forever, which is one of the reasons why it's probably my favorite thing to do in life."
Garcia moved to San Diego from Guanajuato, Mexico, at age 2. Today, he's continuing the family tradition as bar supervisor and bartender at Coasterra, Cohn Restaurant Group's waterfront landmark on the southern tip of Harbor Island.
PACIFIC: What's your greatest strength as a bartender?
My greatest strength is appreciating what we do, the simplicity of it and never forgetting that. Coming from my upbringing, hospitality literally put me through school and put a roof over my head. It provided that for me as a child and now it's providing the same thing for my children.
What distinguishes Coasterra from other local bars?
We provide phenomenal cocktails you would expect to get at a slower-pace location, and we do a tremendous amount of volume. We pump out cocktails and margaritas that take hours of effort to prep. We make it look effortless, but the work behind it is crazy.
What's one of the bar's signature drinks?
Deb's Coconut Margarita is our No. 1 seller. It's a citrus-forward, margarita-style cocktail with coconut cream, fresh lime juice, Olmeca Altos Reposado tequila and a coconut-salted rim. We sell so much of it, it's insane. Our shoulders hurt from all the shaking, but we're very proud of that.
What's your favorite thing on the menu?
I love the Mar y Tierra. It's a braised short rib with a lobster claw and a little risotto cake. I'm a big fan of mole, and this has a little drizzle of mole right on top of it. That keeps me grounded to San Diego, because, while you can expect to eat mole at a family dinner here, you don't expect to eat it at a restaurant on a super-nice cut of meat with a little claw.
What food + drink pairing do you recommend first-time visitors try?
The ahi tuna tostada is pretty delicious. That, paired with a Noble Margarita, which is our play on a Cadillac. You can't go wrong with it. We also have some pork belly on the menu that's really good, and we have mussels and chorizo.
What do you do when you're not working?
I kind of geek out on work and try to stay involved in the bartending community by doing competitions around town. I also love to hang out with my family, and my wife and kids. Plus, I'm on the PTA , so that takes up a little bit of my time.
What do you love about bartending competitions?
I think that bartending competitions keep you creative and engaged. When you're in a restaurant setting, you can kind of get stuck building your own menu's cocktails. Competitions keep you up to date on what everyone else is doing. I try to have all of my bartenders compete in competitions, because I think it gets those creative cells working.
How have you fared at these competitions?
I made it to the finals in the 2016 Tiki Oasis and competed in the Spirits Festival cocktail competition. I was also a finalist at the Tahona Society 2016.
What does the future hold for you?
Honestly, I'm a lifer. I definitely don't ever want to step away from bartending. I think that everyone in the industry who decides to stay in bartending for their whole lives has an aspiration to someday own a bar or start a brand. Tequila is my passion, and to be the owner or manager of a tequila bar or cocktail bar would be pretty cool.
Coasterra: 880 Harbor Island Dr., Harbor Island. 619.814.1300, coasterra.com