From a legend’s second location to a French gem, fresh menus and an old favorite’s return to form, here are five places to try.
Why: The darling distillery finally serves food.
Laura Johnson’s creative and stylish East Village distillery You & Yours has been one of my favorite places to get an after-work Sunday Gin cocktail since it opened in 2017, with one exception — no food. That changed last month,when Johnson, a Texas native, introduced a Southern-inspired, small-plate menu, in collaboration with Kettner Exchange chef Brian Redzikowski (Y&Y’s chef is Kettner alum Cecilia Valencia). Three of us celebrated a friend’s birthday there recently and tried six of the 10 dishes. So much for small plates: We were plenty full after devouring the sizable portions. Five of the choices were excellent; my only disappointment was the somewhat bland, crispy eggplant stack. The birthday girl, however, loved it and was happy to not share. The absolute standout was the Benton’s country ham and biscuit plate, thanks to arguably the most tender, flaky buttermilk biscuits in San Diego. We also loved the extra crispy, moderately spicy fried chicken with Buffalo drizzle, the perfectly executed patatas bravas and the innovative carrot tartare with pecorino, arugula and flavorful Texas toast points. We’ll toast to all of that. 1495 G St., East Village. (619) 955-8755. youandyours.com
Why: Sui-Mei Yu’s classic dishes are now available in La Jolla.
As if living in La Jolla wasn’t fabulous enough, now there’s a Saffron located there. Legions of fans of the venerable Thai restaurant on India Street in Mission Hills know that since 1985, there’s been no better place in town to get Thai grill chicken, salad rolls, stir-fried noodles, curries and more. Su-Mei Yu, a local treasure, cookbook author, television chef and nationally heralded culinary figure, may have stepped away from the eatery’s day-to-day operations but her carefully crafted recipes and commitment to premium, fresh, local ingredients are still at the core of Saffron. A recent meal at the restaurant, now owned by Karina’s Group, tasted as if Yu herself was in the kitchen. The curried Panang beef had deep layers of flavor, the drunken noodles with chili paste and Thai basil were vibrant, and the ethereally light salad rolls found a rich foil in Yu’s famous peanut sauce. Most importantly, the signature grilled chicken is just as juicy and flavorful at the La Jolla outpost. Along with the new, nearby Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, Saffron’s opening is the best thing to happen to lucky La Jollans in a while. 1055 Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla. (858) 263-4324. saffronthai.com
Why: A menu refresh has done this local charmer good.
Plenty of first -time diners will be checking out Cucina Sorella now that it has earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand designation as an affordable “hidden gem,” along with seven other San Diego restaurants, including big sister Cucina Urbana. Sorella regulars, however, will notice some changes to the Kensington Italian eatery that went into effect in April. Owner Tracy Borkum said quiet weeknights and feedback from neighborhood residents drove her decision to streamline the menu and shift to a more casual dining experience. A new pasta-your-way program lets customers choose their favorite sauce with their preferred pasta shape, kid-friendly dishes were added and pizza — a staple of all Cucina locations — is finally available there. Cucina Sorella’s 7-inch, deep-dish pies are a refreshing departure: The crust is a marvel of crunch and flavor, making it more like a masterful Italian vegetable tart than a pizza. We had the roasted chicken bianca, with spinach, sweet red onion, mozzarella and heavenly bechamel sauce. My sorella and I each had a satisfying, superbly al dente bowl of pasta: spaghetti with mushrooms, mustard greens and pecorino crema and bucatini with delectable cashew and basil-based pesto, with a touch of lemon that livened up the whole plate. The changes are welcome. 4055 Adams Ave., Kensington. (619) 281-4014. www.urbankitchengroup.com/cucina-sorella-kensington
Why: A once-great restaurant is great again.
When the Tower23 hotel opened on the beach at Pacific Beach, it ushered in a new level of luxury to the area. JRDN, its signature fine-dining restaurant, featured a contemporary meat and seafood menu. The restaurant got off to a rocky start but when talented executive chef David Warner landed in the kitchen, it quickly became a stable critical darling. For years, it was a personal favorite — who could resist such a stylish place, with all that exciting food, those fun vibes and gorgeous sunsets to boot? Not me. Until Warner left (to, among other things, open the late, lamented Bottega Americano). A succession of chefs seemed to each chip away at JRDN’s kitchen capabilities. I finally stopped going, as did many of my food-loving friends. Until Warner came back. Early last year, the restaurant closed down for a two-month renovation and Warner revamped the menu, broadening the flavor profiles and cooking preparations to include Japanese and Baja inspired shareable dishes. Today, JRDN has regained its place as one of San Diego’s restaurants to recommend. From the delicate charred octopus to the meltingly tender braised short ribs, pristine yellowtail hamachi to soulful smoked carrot risotto, expertly prepared roasted duck breast and craveable lamb chops with chimichurri and smoked yogurt, there doesn’t seem to be a clunker on the menu. Even the non-jiggly green tea panna cotta is a revelation. Only our service, while friendly and well-meaning, was unpolished. A little front-of-the-house spiffing up should bring JRDN back to its full glory. 723 Felspar St., Pacific Beach. (858) 270-2323. t23hotel.com/jrdn
Why: An authentic French bakery, from an A-list French baker — need we say more?
When a friend who’s married to a French chef told us we had to try The French Oven, we were there that weekend. Sure enough, fifth-generation French baker Yves Fournier has captured the spirit and flavor of a true boulangerie and patisserie and transported it to a Scripps Ranch shopping center. Sweet and savory pastries, supremely flaky, buttery croissants, pain au chocolat, brioche, fruit tarts, quiche and array of baguettes, boules and other hand-made, artisan breads, are divine. The oh-so-petit breakfast and lunch cafe serves a scrambled egg, bacon and cheddar croissant, soup, salad and sandwiches (try the brie with fig jam on a baguette and request it heated up). Fournier, who is from a village at the foot of the Alps, is a classically trained, former high-end hotel pastry chef and culinary instructor. His shop is lined with artifacts from his family’s long history of baking and this neighborhood gem is destined to continue the tradition for a long time. 10299 Scripps Trail, Scripps Ranch. (858) 536-8706. thefrenchovenbakery.com