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San Diego’s Callie restaurant named one of Esquire’s 40 best new restaurants in 2022

Spot prawns at Callie restaurant in East Village.
Spot prawns at Callie restaurant in East Village. Esquire dining critic Jeff Gordinier named this dish as one of the reasons he named Callie to the magazine’s list of the top 40 new restaurants in America for 2022.
(Courtesy of Lucianna McIntosh )

The East Village restaurant was praised for its bold blend of California and Mediterranean flavors and its warm, unpretentious service

Callie, chef Travis Swikard’s acclaimed 17-month-old restaurant in East Village, was named Thursday to Esquire Magazine’s list of the 40 Best New Restaurants in America, 2022.

Esquire critic Jeff Gordinier praised Swikard’s finesse at blending fresh California ingredients with the flavors and dishes of the Mediterranean, a cuisine Swikard mastered while running Boulud Sud in Manhattan. Gordinier also praised Callie general manager Ann Sim for helping to create the restaurant’s welcoming, unpretentious atmosphere.

Callie restaurant in East Village
Callie restaurant in East Village.
(Lucianna McIntosh )

In a phone interview Thursday morning, Swikard said he was very excited by the honor and especially grateful that Sim was singled out for praise. Swikard said she has been critically important from day one in crafting the restaurant’s friendly, laid-back environment. Swikard was born and raised in San Diego and wants Callie to reflect the sunny, carefree, optimistic outdoor lifestyle he enjoyed here as a boy.

This is the second time Esquire’s Gordinier has recognized a local restaurant to his “top new restaurants” list. In 2019, he named Carlsbad’s Jeune et Jolie to the magazine’s list of 22 best recently opened spots. Last year, Jeune et Jolie earned its first Michelin star. Callie was only three months old when Michelin announced its 2021 rankings last year, but in that short space of time, it picked up both Michelin Bib Gourmand and Plate awards. Michelin will announce its full list of 2022 honorees on Dec. 5, and many food industry insiders suspect a star is in Callie’s future.

Where to find and what to know about San Diego’s Michelin starred, Bib Gourmand and Plate restaurants

This past June, the luxury lifestyle magazine Robb Report named Callie to its list of the 10 Best New Restaurants in America. Robb Report also named Callie to its 2021 list of the 10 most beautiful U.S. restaurants. The 188-seat restaurant is at 1195 Island Ave.

Swikard said Gordinier reached out to him via social media over the summer because he wanted to dine at Callie with his teenage son but couldn’t get a reservation. They ordered a mix of regular items and nightly specials, like the spot prawns and uni toast. Swikard said he sent a couple more dishes out from the kitchen to ensure they got the full Callie experience, including the house-baked pita bread to accompany the avocado labneh and other spreads.

Chef Travis Swikard at his Callie restaurant in East Village.
(Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

In his remarks, Gordinier wrote: “The nod is right there in the name. ‘Callie’ may echo a Greek word for ‘most beautiful,’ but it’s really a reference to California. Chef Travis Swikard and manager Ann Sim have opened a welcoming, commodious restaurant that exists to celebrate the bounty of the Golden State as much as the Mediterranean.”

“Get whatever’s fresh (the phrase ‘spot prawns’ should be your cue). Get whatever’s spreadable (Swikard’s avocado labneh with nigella seeds, pistachios, and crunchy raw vegetables is a West-Coast-meets-Middle-East marvel). And get whatever’s luxurious (we’re looking at you, uni toast with jamón Ibérico) ... Blandness and pretension are the enemies here. Chill out and eat with your hands — after all, you’re in Cali,” Gordinier wrote.

Homegrown Travis Swikard moved back home from New York to open his dream restaurant in East Village

After culinary school, Swikard spent a decade working his way up in Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud’s Dinex restaurant group, serving both as executive chef for the Mediterranean-themed Boulud Sud and later as culinary director, overseeing 350 employees at Boulud’s three 64th Street restaurants in Manhattan.

But when it came time for Swikard to open his own restaurant, he wanted to come home to San Diego. Finding a location, the arrival of the pandemic, construction delays and labor shortages pushed back Callie’s opening by a couple years. But with the support of investors David Cohn and Deborah Scott of the Cohn Restaurant Group, he opened Callie in June 2021.

Fresh-baked pita and dips start most meals at Callie restaurant in East Village.
(Kimberly Motos )


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