Over the past decade, San Diego has become home to dozens of quirky, trendy restaurants that offer a feast for the eyes. Many of these culinary jewels come from the creative brain trust at Paul Basile Studio.
1. Craft and Commerce & False Idol - Little Italy
Revamped restaurant and hidden tiki bar have a Prohibition inspiration
"When the new ground-floor space became available next to the original Craft & Commerce, our client decided to expand their Little Italy institution," Basile says. "By combining the more hunterly aspects of Teddy Roosevelt with the literary drive of Ernest Hemingway, we created a narrative that established our design's historical foundation where museum-quality taxidermy mixes with our client's large book collection. The expansion opened up enough space for our client to create a new world-class tiki bar, and its secret entrance is through the new Craft & Commerce working freezer, where you move from the freezing cold into a tropical oasis in just a few illicit steps." Opened in 2016.
Marinated in Aji Chili, the Spanish-influenced bone-in pork chop is served with a corn sauté, black beans and salsa verde.
675 West Beech St., Little Italy, 619.269.2202, craft-commerce.com
2. North Park Beer Co. - North Park
Craftsman meets Modernism in this beer tasting room
"Originally a department store, the 8,600-square-foot space has been reimagined as a community gathering place and craft beer mecca," Basile says. "Taking cues from the neighborhood's Arts and Crafts architectural aesthetic and the building's 1946 Mid-Century original shell, the design's standout feature is the Irving Gill-inspired, 43-foot stained white oak back bar, complete with hammered copper detailing, etched backlit mirrors, custom taps, and capped with wood tambour." Opened in 2016.
The Pork Nugs are bite-size flavor bombs of crispy pork belly, gochujang glaze, sesame seeds, peanuts, pineapple, jicama salad, fried potatoes, harissa aioli, cotija cheese and cilantro.
3038 University Ave., North Park, 619.255.2946, northparkbeerco.com
3. Kindred - South Park
Edgy vegan rock 'n' roll bar
"French Gothic details meet heavy-metal influences at this edgy vegan restaurant," Basile says. "Nearly every feature was custom-made for Kindred, including an LED backlit, mirrored, coffered ceiling; 10-foot arched flip windows; and a 900-pound, black, four-eyed wolf sculpture. But our take on the 19th Century French tête-à-tête (a classic S-shaped couch design that's used here for six one-person tables) rocks us just as much as the heavy metal." Opened in 2016.
Behold comfort and satiation on a plate. The Soul Crush is cornmeal-crusted Gardein (meat substitute) with celery root, parsnip truffle mash, grilled broccolini, creamy beer mac and tomato lemongrass velouté (cream sauce).
1503 30th St., South Park, 619.546.9653, barkindred.com
Four. Soda & Swine - Liberty Station
Family-friendly and playful
"Located in the historic Point Loma development previously used as a naval training base, our design for Soda & Swine Liberty Station balances references to the structure's history with a sense of family-friendly playfulness, epitomized by our 20-foot custom foosball table topped with brass and stainless steel tube light fixture," Basile says. Opened in 2015.
The menu is comprised of different types of meatballs. The meat, ground in an old-fashioned butcher shop setting, is available in basic or "smashed" meatball form. Flavors include chicken, pork, beef, chorizo and vegan alternatives. A variety of savory sauces, including marinara, mushroom cream, chipotle and primavera, are then added, with a finishing touch of cheese, if preferred.
Liberty Station, 2750 Dewey Rd., #104, Liberty Station, 619.501.9989, sodaandswine.com
5. Ironside Fish & Oyster - Little Italy
Where classic nautical décor and the 1920s meet
"Ironside's nautical design concept is a celebration of San Diego's history as a major U.S. seaport and fishing capital. A huge 1920s-era warehouse, originally home to Ironside Metal Works, provided a rich architectural canvas with which to work. We created four separate-yet-connected eating areas, each offering a new visual at every turn. With our design of the "Lovebird" plasma-cut swiveling seats, we hoped to encourage unexpected social interactions." Opened in 2014.
A play on the classic East Coast mainstay, Ironside's Lobster Roll boasts a unique, West Coast spin. With a large serving of lobster in every sandwich served in a soft, buttery, housemade roll, the Lobster Roll serves up a chunk of decadent goodness right on your plate.
1654 India St., Little Italy, 619.269.3033, ironsidefishandoyster.com
6. Underbelly - North Park
Streetside Japanese-inspired minimalism
"UnderBelly North Park's design installation seamlessly blends into the minimalist aesthetic of its home at the North Parker, a new mixed-use development in San Diego. Taken as a whole, the LED-backlit radiata pine panels, arranged in an intricate overlapping grid system, become a graphic representation guiding diners to and from the ramen and yakitori bars." Opened in 2014.
UnderBelly serves a beastly concoction that pays homage to the traditional Japanese ramen-ya. Topped with an oxtail dumpling, soy- and ginger-marinated smoked brisket, and a hoison-glazed short rib, the Belly of the Beast Ramen is garnished with a soft-boiled egg, bean sprouts, scallions, seaweed, sesame seeds and, of course, served sans spoon.
3000 Upas St., North Park, 619.487.9909, godblessunderbelly.com
7. Polite Provisions - North Park
Classic cocktails in a retro-chic environment
"When approached by our client with the concept of an intellectually stimulating, 1930s pharmacy- and soda-fountain-inspired bar in San Diego's University Heights neighborhood, we immediately went to work on reinforcing the site's neglected 1920 structure. Numerous custom details lend themselves to its vintage vibe, including the custom state-of-the-art 46-tap system that serves beer, wine, spirits and coffee." Opened in 2013.
The Mr. Brownstone combines Irish whiskey and Fat Bear's Cinnamon Soda for warm notes of caramel and oak accented by deep Indonesian cinnamon.
4696 30th St., North Park, 619.677.3784, politeprovisions.com
8. Tajima Ramen - East Village
Traditional Japanese aesthetic in a modern context
"Our design is our visual interpretation of Tajima's values: tradition and authenticity in a modern context. We achieved this by fusing traditional Japanese elements with modern overtures. The wallpaper's modern black background heightens the overlaid Japanese motif, while the bar and communal dining tables feature Carrara marble and blackened cedar interlocking in a repeating pattern inspired by classic Japanese woodworking techniques. Our favorite feature has to be the exterior storefront of the kitchen, which creates a series of peek-a-boo windows that offer a glimpse into the chef's artistry in action." Opened in 2016.
Tonkotsu soup base mixed with special sesame paste. Spicy ground pork, chives bean sprouts, pork chashu or chicken chashu, a half ramen egg and fried garlic.
901 E St., East Village, 619.431.5820, tajimasandiego.com