By Frank Sabatini Jr.
The cell block that once housed thieves, drunks and prostitutes at the former San Diego Police Department headquarters on West Harbor Drive will soon become a sideline attraction to several restaurants opening within the restored Spanish Colonial Revival plaza on November 18.
Built in 1939, the 100,000-square-foot complex sat vacant for nearly 30 years until Terramar Retail Centers of Carlsbad (which secured the lease from the San Diego Unified Port District) began sinking $40 million into its overhaul. When complete, The Headquarters at Seaport District ("The Headquarters," for short) will satisfy visitors' appetites with offerings from Eddie V's Prime Seafood, Pizzeria Mozza , Puesto, Seasons 52, The Cheesecake Factory and a few smaller eateries scattered among more than a dozen fashion, art and gift shops.
The three-building property used to house five courtrooms, an indoor shooting range and a law library, all wrapped around a spacious courtyard. Original ironwork, ornate wooden doors and skylights remain throughout many areas.
A prisoner tunnel, less foreboding today than it was decades ago, leads to eight jail cells that have been restored to their original condition.
"They'll be displayed like a museum for public viewing," says Alex Liftis, senior vice president of development for Terramar.
Seizing the largest dining spaces are The Cheesecake Factory and Seasons 52, with the former doling out calories rather lawlessly, and the latter policing them at 475 or fewer per meal.
A green-certified hospitality group comprised of celebrity chefs Mario Batali, Joseph Bastianich and Nancy Silverton brings Pizzeria Mozza to the lineup. Lauded for artisan pies crowned with far-out ingredients like squash blossoms, Ipswich clams and stinging nettles, the restaurant first debuted in Los Angeles. Reserve the private dining room upstairs to dine in what was once the police chief 's office.
In the plaza's former courthouse section, a two-level wine tower will complement fresh seafood and premium steaks at Eddie V's, which nudges into the honorable chambers old Hollywood swank
and a cocktail lounge for live jazz.
Look for a riot of graffiti art inside Puesto, a La Jolla-based Mexican kitchen praised for its house-made marinades and sustainable-meat tacos, including chicken breast with fruity al pastor sauce. The splashy visuals were created by acclaimed spray-paint artist Chor Boogie, while the cocktail program earns merit under the direction of San Diego's esteemed mixologist trio, the Queen-Conner-Ward Collective (Jen Queen, Lucien Conner, Ian Ward).
Other local food vendors booked into The Headquarters are Dallmann Fine Chocolates and the fourth San Diego County location of Venissimo Cheese. The owner of the latter, Gina Freize, plans to utilize her cozy 800-square-foot space for stretching mozzarella and aging a variety of tempting curds. She'll also sell picnic plates, grab-n-go sandwiches and cheeses off the wheel.
Most of the restaurants will feature additional patio dining, while the central garden courtyard provides ample communal seating for absorbing the detailed architecture.
"We were very selective in putting in a mix of tenants that are tops in their categories," says Liftis, adding that good ol' Starbucks wasn't excluded.
Restaurants set to step forward at The Headquarters
The Cheesecake Factory
Delicious variety of creative entrées and desserts in an imaginative setting.
Fresh-grill restaurant offering upscale, healthy-lifestyle cuisine.
Gourmet Mexican dishes, plus an innovative and exotic cocktail menu of handcrafted creations derived from Mexico's best flavors.
Premium aged steaks and fresh seafood in a comfortable, elegant and historic setting reminiscent of old Hollywood's glamorous dining.
Hand-crafted pies, pastas and desserts prepared with sustainable ingredients.
As if you haven't bean...
Featuring gelato, sorbetto and cakes, all made with ingredients imported from Italy.
All the best cheese from all over the world.
Dallmann Fine Chocolate Boutique
Specializing in exquisite artisan chocolates.