Season's eatings: A dashing list of 15 new restaurants, bars and distilleries is sure to make spirits bright

If you’re looking for culinary stocking-stuffers this holiday season, consider a gift card from one of these newly opened or soon-to-open restaurants about the county this month.

619 Spirits, North Park

San Diego distiller Nick Apostolopoulos has opened this 4,200-square-foot distillery and tasting room in a former industrial space at the corner of 30th Street and Lincoln Avenue. Named for San Diego’s area code, 619 features a 1,000-liter still, a dog-friendly patio and lunch, dinner and late-night food service.

Launched in 2012, 619 is known for its cane sugar-based vodka and its all-natural vodka infusions made with local ingredients, including scorpion peppers, coffee, pickles and rose petals. Customers can buy the housemade spirits by the bottle or sip them in vodka-focused cocktails at the bar. Its elevated bar menu features Mediterranean-inspired dishes like gyro and hummus, as well as steak frites and beef tartar. Brunch is served on weekends.

3015 Lincoln Ave., North Park, 619.269.2757, 619vodka.com

CHIKO, Encinitas

California native Drew Kim and his partners, chefs Danny Lee and Scott Drewno, bring to the shores of California their East Coast-born restaurant that mixes Chinese and Korean (get it, Chi-Ko?) flavors with modern cooking techniques. Start with wok-blistered Chinese broccoli or Korean fried chicken wings then turn to the orange-ish chicken or Korean sweet potato noodles for the main dishes of the night. For a uniquely SoCal dish, the Encinitas location has The San Diego Spice Bag complete with crispy shrimp, tater tots and chili miso aioli — a nod to nearby DB Hacker’s Seafood Café. For an interactive experience, groups of two or four people can sit at one of only a few available counter seats and watch the action in the kitchen.

101 N. Coast Hwy. 101, Encinitas, 760.230.1076, chikoca.com

Clara, Carlsbad

Carlsbad Village’s newest restaurant/cocktail bar isn’t named after a woman. Clara is the Spanish word for “clear,” which describes chef Alex Carballo’s straightforward approach to food at the 90-seat restaurant that opened Sept. 1. He aims for simplicity over heavy sauces in his dishes, which are made with locally sourced, seasonal and sustainable ingredients. The menu of shareable plates features a mix of animal protein and plant-based options. Specialties include flatbreads, chili-braised cauliflower tacos, salt-and-pepper-fried chicken and lettuce wraps with lemongrass tofu. 

300 Carlsbad Village Dr., Ste. 213, Carlsbad, 760.994.0699, claracarlsbad.com

Curbside Eatery & Drinkery, La Mesa

Open since early October, Curbside is a new 2,200-square-foot social restaurant and bar serving craft cocktails and elevated gastropub fare. It’s the dream project of La Mesa native Jonathan Baron, who also owns nearby Regal Bar. As part of downtown La Mesa’s vibrant revitalization, Curbside opens up to the street with roll-up garage door-style windows and wraparound curbside patios. Menu specialties include ahi poke, short rib nachos, corn bread calamari, entrée salads, gourmet burgers, tostadas and grilled steaks.

8353 La Mesa Blvd., La Mesa, 619.825.7759, curbsidelamesa.com

Curryosity, South Park

Raj Mutti opened this sunny Indian restaurant in October in the long-shuttered Fire Horse space at Juniper and Fern streets. Mutti owns the Spice Lounge space in Pacific Beach, and many of that restaurant’s menu items can be found at Curryosity. Specialties of the house are tikka masala, chicken vindaloo, Nirvana chicken, tandoori shrimp and housemade naan bread cooked in a clay oven. It’s now open for dinner. Lunch service is planned soon.

3023 Juniper St., South Park, 619.255.0660, curryositysd.com

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, downtown

Billed as America’s ultra-premium steakhouse, Texas-born Del Frisco’s opened its 16th — and first in California — location on Nov. 3 on the bottom two floors of the new InterContinental San Diego hotel. The $10 million, 480-seat restaurant, helmed by executive chef Brian Christman, is known for the exclusivity of its beef program, which includes a nightly selection of 12  to 15 prime cuts every night. Diners can choose from 21-day wet-aged steaks to steaks that have been dry-aged for 14 to 45 days. There are also Wagyu beef cuts from Japan, Australia and Texas. Its signature is the $140 Double Eagle, a 32-ounce, 45-day dry-aged double-bone prime rib-eye. The restaurant’s wine list boasts 1,400 labels.

900 Bayfront Ct., No. 105 (at the InterContinental San Diego Hotel), downtown, 619.272.5060, delfriscos.com/steakhouse/sandiego

Duck Donuts, Encinitas

One of the East Coast’s most beloved doughnut chains opened its first San Diego County store on Oct. 20 in Encinitas. Named for the North Carolina town where the first shop opened in 2007, Duck Donuts is famous for its unique style of service. Every $2.25 vanilla cake doughnut is cooked to order (in about five minutes), served warm and custom-topped to customers’ specifications with more than 40 choices of coatings, toppings and drizzle sauces. Top-selling flavors are maple bacon and sugar cinnamon. The Encinitas franchise is owned by Brad and Laura Aughinbaugh of San Marcos. They are looking to open two to three more San Diego County locations in the coming years.

1452 Encinitas Blvd., Encinitas, 760.452.6849, duckdonuts.com/location/encinitas-ca

Farmer’s Table, Bay Park

Farmer’s Table, the rustic Italian restaurant company founded in La Mesa in 2017 by Alberto Morreale and Vincenzo Lo Verso, opened its second location in Bay Park’s Clairemont Village shopping center in October. The 3,500-square-foot location serves updated versions of Sicilian-style housemade pastas and Neopolitan-style pizzas baked in a Stefano Ferrara oven imported from Italy. Still to come, a third location planned in Little Italy.

3055 Clairemont Dr., Bay Park, 619.359.4485, myfarmerstable.com

Ketch Grill and Taps, Shelter Island

The Brigantine restaurant chain opened this $3.5 million restaurant, beer and gelato venue in October in the former Red Sails Inn location on Shelter Island. Ketch is a 203-seat indoor/outdoor eatery featuring a mix of seafood and American pub fare, plus 18 craft beers on tap. The restaurant/bar joins the previously opened sister eatery Portside Gelato & Coffee. Ketch is now open for dinner daily, weekend brunch and breakfast service is available Wednesdays through Fridays.

2614 Shelter Island Dr., Shelter Island, 619.814.8080, ketchgrillandtaps.com

La Catrina Tapas & Cantina, North Park

This modern-casual Baja-style Mexican bistro opened Oct. 19 in North Park in the former Tostadas restaurant space. Co-owner Roger Canez said the restaurant celebrates the culinary expertise of Mexican-born chefs Brandon Rodriguez and Omar Ramirez and the wines of Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe. The menu features a variety of ceviches, shareable plates, two-taco plates and more substantial entrees.   Specialties include rib-eye and bone marrow tacos, aguachile shrimp and carnitas and octopus sopes.

3139 University Ave., North Park, 619.436.0060, facebook.com/lacatrinasd

Mattarello Cooking Lab, Gaslamp  

This 25-seat Italian bistro is the brainchild of Italian ex-patriates Lucia Celi and Francesco Guardini. The menu features fresh-made pasta, soups, salads, pizzas, focaccia and desserts. Diners can eat in-house or dine at home. The house specialties are meatballs, lasagna, ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta and ravioli stuffed with bacon, potato and nutmeg with butter and sage sauce. There’s also fresh Italian pastries and breakfast served all day.

518 Sixth Ave., downtown, 619.722.9110, mattarellocooking.com

North Italia, Fashion Valley

Phoenix-based Fox Restaurant Concepts opens the latest branch of its North Italia brand, a modern Italian restaurant chain with 15 locations nationwide. The 8,500-square-foot restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating for 295 diners. San Diego chef and former Top Chef contestant Rich Sweeney oversees the menu of antipasti, pizzas, entrée salads, seafood, steaks and grilled breads. The restaurant is open for dinner nightly, weekday lunch and weekend brunch service. A second San Diego County location is planned in 2019 in the One Paseo project in Del Mar Heights.

7055 Friars Rd. (at Fashion Valley mall), Mission Valley, 619.343.2301, northitaliarestaurant.com/locations/san-diego-ca-fashion-valley

Side Bar, Gaslamp  

RMD Group’s 15-year-old nightclub/bar recently emerged from a major renovation by Davis Ink that added a new lounge area with a chic new bar including eye-popping sunburst-style lighting design. The new lounge offers a menu of elevated bites, such as a poke-style jackfruit and Tokyo Bites made with mushroom, ahi and crab. The new Side Bar Lounge is now open at 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. On Side Bar’s nightclub side is a new custom-designed LED lighting sculpture designed by SJ Lighting of Los Angeles. The club side is open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights.

S536 Market St., downtown, 619.696.0946, sidebarsd.com

Stella Jean’s Ice Cream, University Heights

From the creators of the hipster coffee and pie joint Pop Pie Co. comes this new artisan small-batch ice cream shop right next door. Chef Gan Suebsarakham and business partner Steven Torres opened Stella Jean in mid-October. Suebsarakham is creating all of the gourmet flavors in-house using ingredients from Scott Brothers Dairy, Specialty Produce, Nibble Chocolate, Mizuba Tea Co., Good Taste Farms, Heart Roasters and many more. Recent flavor concoctions include Thai tea with black caramel; chocolate with spiced pecans; mango sticky rice; cold brew coffee; and mint chocolate chunk. The bite-size pies from next door are also available for a la mode treatment. Vegan, gluten-free waffle cones are made fresh, as well as brioche buns for gourmet ice cream sandwiches.

4404 Park Blvd., University Heights , 619.501.8252, stellajeans.com

Vistal, downtown

Located on the third floor of the new InterContinental San Diego Hotel (just above the new Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House), this new seafood-centric restaurant overlooking San Diego Bay is overseen by two of San Diego’s best-known chefs, Amy DiBiase (formerly of Tidal) and Paul McCabe (most recently of the Town & Country Resort). Open since mid-September, Vistal’s menu is sourced almost entirely from local fisherman, local produce farms and regional chicken and pork ranches. Specialties include sheep’s milk ricotta gnudi dumplings, crispy skin white sea bass and coriander cider-glazed pork cheeks.  

901 Bayfront Ct., Ste. 1 (at the InterContinental San Diego Hotel), downtown, 619.501.9400, vistalsd.com

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