In mid-June, the former Dolce at the Highlands restaurant in Carmel Valley reopened with a new name and menu. Friends (amici in Italian) of former owner Tony Smith, who died unexpectedly last fall at age 57, bought the upscale Italian restaurant from Smith’s widow and refreshed it with a new name, less-formal décor and a lower-priced, more family-friendly menu. Chef Rhoelle Gabriel’s new menu focuses on shareable plates inspired by the cuisine of Southern Italy, including eggplant parmigiana in a jar. There’s also a new children’s menu. It’s open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Read more about the restaurant here.
Pacific Highlands Ranch, 5980 Village Way, Ste. B106, Carmel Valley, 858.847.2740, amicisristobar.com
Blanco Tacos + Tequila
Slated for a late September opening, this Phoenix-based restaurant/bar takes over the former California Pizza Kitchen space at Fashion Valley. Blanco specializes in fresh Mexican food served in a modern, al fresco setting with a selection of tequila, mezcal, cocktails and margaritas. The menu will feature 11 varieties of tacos, including grilled avocado, braised short rib, machaca and crispy shrimp.
Fashion Valley: 7007 Friars Rd., Ste. 901, Mission Valley, 619.810.2931, blancotacostequila.com
A new concept from San Diego restaurateur Johan Engman’s Rise and Shine Restaurant Group is this moderately priced Mexican restaurant that opened in late June in the former Crudo by Pascal Lorange space in the Ranch at Pacific Highlands shopping center. Casa Rústica’s theme is “fun Mex,” serving the traditional Baja-inspired dishes found at restaurants in Old Town San Diego and elsewhere. The menu offers items including fajitas, enchiladas and taco plates and specialties like nopales salad and molé chilaquiles. It offers an in-house wine shop and cocktail program, as well as nightly dinner and drink specials. Weekend brunch service is coming soon. Read more about the restaurant here.
13490 Pacific Highlands Ranch Pkwy., Carmel Valley, 858.356.9915, casarusticasd.com
Chinatown Bar & Grill
Despite its name, this newly-opened neighborhood bar and grill isn’t in Chinatown and doesn’t serve Chinese food. From the owner of Aero Club, Chinatown specializes in gourmet ½-pound Angus beef and veggie burgers, buffalo chicken wings, brioche grilled cheese sandwiches, salads and sides. There’s a full bar with 16 beers on tap. The recently renovated building has a new rooftop patio dining deck.
4727 University Ave., City Heights, 619.795.4478, chinatownbarandgrill.com
Death by Tequila
Open since mid-July and taking its inspiration from the beachy, local vibe of Encinitas and the fresh, coastal cuisine of Baja, Death by Tequila’s menu was created, in part, by celebrity chef and Top Chef alum Angelo Sosa. Accompanying the menu is more than 100 tequila and 30 mezcal selections, along with Tijuana beers, Valle de Guadalupe wines and a cocktail menu that features drinks like the Los Muertos, made with Milagro Silver tequila, lime, mango and chile ash, served on the rocks.
569 S. Coast Hwy. 101, Encinitas, 760.230.6108, deathbytequila.com
Din Tai Fung
This wildly popular Taiwan-based mega-chain’s San Diego location was originally scheduled to open in late 2017. It’s now scheduled for a September opening. Din Tai Fung offers a variety of dumplings and noodles at locations in China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Malaysia, as well as Dubai, Sydney, Seattle, Los Angeles and Orange County.
Grand Ole BBQ Flinn Springs
With a late-August opening, this old-fashioned Central Texas-style barbecue eatery comes from the founder of North Park’s Grand Ole BBQ y Asado. The project is a partnership between Grand Ole owner Andy Harris and the Social Syndicate hospitality group, which operates several restaurants and bars in Ocean Beach. The menu will include barbecued meats, steaks, chili, burgers and sides. Its barbecue smoker was custom-built in Texas. Also expect lots of live music at the venue’s large outdoor space. Check out the July Dish It Up podcast featuring Harris here or wherever you listen to podcasts.
15505 Olde Highway 80, El Cajon, facebook.com/grandolebbqflinnsprings
Juan Tequila Bar & Restaurant
Juan Tequila opened Aug. 3 in the combined spaces of a former bar and pizzeria in the Gaslamp Quarter. The upscale Baja Med-inspired restaurant and bar is owned by Maritza and Daniel Briceño, co-founders of the quick-service El Zarape restaurant brand. The restaurant/lounge is lushly decorated with black brick and wood panel walls, black leather couches and banquettes, chandeliers and rustic tables.
535 Fourth Ave., downtown, 619.458.9455, juantequila.net
j/wata Temaki Bar
The latest restaurant concept from Junya Watanabe (RakiRaki Ramen), j/wata is a 22-seat sushi bar specializing in sushi hand rolls. The ingredients are made and served one at a time for peak freshness and feature high-quality ingredients like locally sourced fish, specially harvested seaweed, house craft sauces and Watanabe’s signature sushi rice. The 1,500-square-foot restaurant, which opened in late July, is decorated with custom murals by artist Erwin Papa.
4646 Convoy St., Ste. 103, Kearny Mesa, 858.251.4071, j-wata.com
Little Italy Food Hall
In mid-July, this $2.3 million food hall opened on Little Italy’s new Piazza della Famiglia public square, featuring six quick-service dining stands, a bar and an outdoor beer and wine cart. Tenants include Ambrogio 15, a Milanese-style pizzeria; Sam “The Cooking Guy” Zien’s Not Not Tacos, serving tortillas stuffed with nontraditional fare like pastrami and meatloaf; Roast Meat & Sandwich Shop serving roasted proteins with veggies; Wicked! Maine Lobster serving lobster and crab rolls; Mein St. Asian Kitchen serving ramen and Asian-style chicken wings; and Single Fin Kitchen, serving ceviche, poke and sushi from Catalina Offshore Products fishmonger Tommy Gomes.
550 W. Date St., Little Italy, 619.269.7187, littleitalyfoodhall.com
This fast-casual restaurant concept, which opened Aug. 22, is the brainchild of restaurateur Frank Vizcarra (Tender Greens) and chef Drew Bent (Puesto, Carnitas’ Snack Shack). Lola 55 offers an elevated spin on tacos, including mesquite-grilled carne asada, fish, birria and soyrizo/sweet potato. The 3,200-square-foot restaurant was designed by Bells & Whistles and is located in the new IDEA 1 building.
1290 F St., East Village, 619.727.9282, lola55catering.com
Nomad Coffee Bar
From the owner of North Park’s Nomad Donuts come this new lobby coffee bar and take-out café, which opened July 16. The new location serves house-made gourmet, globally inspired doughnuts, bagels, bagel sandwiches, cookies and pastries and gourmet coffee drinks. Service is from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.
701 B St., downtown, 619.431.5000, nomaddonuts.com
The Patio on 101
On June 20, San Diego’s The Patio Group restaurant company expanded its footprint into North County with this indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar in the former Open House Food + Drink location in Encinitas. The family- and dog-friendly patio restaurant serves an American comfort food menu with specialty dishes such as daily seafood specials, ahi poke tacos and happy hour bao bun specials. One of the restaurant’s two bars, Himmelberg’s, is named for owner Gina Champion-Cain’s late friend Joey Himmelberg. A custom-brewed IPA beer named Himmelbrew is on tap inside.
345 S. Coast Hwy. 101, Encinitas, 760.209.1274, thepatioon101.com
San Diego’s newest poke restaurant, which opened in June, takes the Hawaiian raw seafood salad known as poke and gives it a Mexican twist. Mexican dishes like tacos, burritos, tostadas and bowls have been adapted with elements of Japanese cuisine by chef Julio Rodriguez. The Chipotle-style build-your-own bar offers options like tuna and octopus burritos, spicy tuna “ricetadas,” chicken teriyaki “riceburgers” (meat sandwiched between compressed rice buns) and more.
690 University Ave., Hillcrest, 619.773.6486, pokeitsd.com
The Golden State is known for its fresh produce, hormone-free farmed meats and award-winning wines. You can get all three at Route 29, so named for the two-lane highway that winds through Napa Valley. The restaurant, which opened in mid-July, serves than 150 mostly California wines, including 30-plus by the glass. The seasonal and sustainable menu offers vegetable-rich entrees, vegan dishes and specialties like roasted duck confit wings, shiitake-rubbed ribeye and crispy California halibut.
644 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp, 619.235.8144, route29restaurant.com
Gaslamp Quarter and Westfield UTC
This two-year-old L.A.-based organic Mexican restaurant chain opened its first San Diego location July 2 in the Gaslamp, with another scheduled to open in the coming months at Westfield UTC. The Gaslamp location’s two-story, 6,000-square-foot restaurant’s menu, described as a vegan-forward creative twist on Mexican, uses all organic, locally sourced ingredients for its salads, tacos, bowls and burritos. Non-vegans can dress up their dishes with grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and fresh fish. Tocaya serves house-made aguas frescas, as well as margaritas, beer and wine.
Gaslamp: 755 Fifth Ave., 619.343.2898; Westfield UTC: 4545 La Jolla Village Dr., Ste. 2003, tocayaorganica.com