VAGA, the Encinitas restaurant from chef Claudette Zepeda, is named to Esquire Magazine’s top 40 list

The dining room at VAGA Restaurant at the Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas in Leucadia.

VAGA, executive chef Claudette Zepeda’s globally inspired restaurant at the newly opened Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas, has been named to Esquire Magazine’s list of the “40 Best New Restaurants in America.”

VAGA ranked No. 34 on the list, which was compiled by four of the magazine’s editors, including culture and lifestyle director Kevin Sintumuang, who visited VAGA and chose it for the 2021 list. VAGA is the only San Diego County restaurant to make this year’s list. In 2019, Jeune et Jolie in Carlsbad made the list and this fall won a Michelin star.

Chef Claudette Zepeda photographed last year at El Jardin restaurant at Liberty Station in San Diego.
Chef Claudette Zepeda photographed in June 2018 in the vegetable garden at El Jardin restaurant at Liberty Station in San Diego.
(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Sintumuang praised the “curiosity” in Zepeda’s dishes, which she has said are her interpretations of food she grew up eating on both sides of the San Diego/Tijuana border. He singled out her octopus with pepita sauce, brisket-filled bao buns and wood-fired whole seabass. He also praised the restaurant’s view of the Pacific Ocean. On her Instagram page, Zepeda thanked Esquire and Sintumuang for the recognition, with the promise she will continue to work harder for her customers and her kitchen staff.

“After the last two years we’ve all had, waking up to this brought me to tears,” she wrote. “I love my VAGA restaurant team and this is definitely for them, us and North County San Diego.”

Pam Kragen writes about restaurants for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at