Six Restaurants Celebrities Rave About

-The most memorable food from culinary insiders-

(AKA GREAT CHEFS RAVE ABOUT OTHER GREAT CHEFS)

WRITTEN BY: EMILY VILLANUEVA

PHOTOGRAPHED BY: ANGELICA BONGIOANNI

 restaurants celebrities rave about

Famous food has been around for a long time, from literary gastronomy to food on film. There’s Proust’s memory-evoking madeleine and Narnia’s Turkish delights, Mia’s $5 milkshake in “Pulp Fiction” and the evasive lobsters of “Annie Hall.” And then, you’ve got The Food Network and the Travel Channel—24/7 Zagat guides to the best food in the world. That seems to be the magic of the food show genre: its ability to put a restaurant on the map (and make a viewer instantaneously hungry). I mean, come on, we can’t be the only ones who planned a cross-country road trip where all the stops revolved around the food mentioned on an episode of “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” or fallen asleep to an episode of “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,” dreamt about sizzling sandwich melts and mammoth pasta plates, and woken up in the middle of the night with a massive craving. Both shows, and plenty of others, have come to San Diego and subsequently boost our reputation as an up-and-coming foodie city. From a twelve-egg omelet to a Buddha’s Cobbler, a cognac infused cocktail, here are the local foods that had their 15 minutes of fame.

 restaurants celebrities rave about

Donovan’s Steak & Chop House  
- Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich
4340 La Jolla Village Dr, La Jolla, CA 92122
619.450.6666 | www.donovanssteakhouse.com

The minutes counting down to 4pm can be pretty torturous for those who know about Donovan’s Philly Cheese Steaks. Come 4pm, it’s happy hour, and come happy hour, it’s complimentary Philly Cheese Steak time! That’s right, complimentary. And these are no ordinary Philly’s: they are as mouth-watering as they are free (I know, totally free. I was in disbelief for a while too).

Donovan’s has been a premier steakhouse for many years, a mahogany pillar in the midst of a constantly revolving door of trendy restaurants. Padres have dined here; Chargers have dined here; Dennis Quaid has dined here as evident by the celeb-filled portrait wall in the entryway. But now, anyone with a working watch and a love for happy hour can dine here, and we highly advise it, if not just for a taste of the aforementioned Philly. Executive Chef Sal Reynoso, who has been with Donovan’s for almost 15 years, talked about the magnetic pull of the sandwich. “Four o’clock comes and everyone comes— people just come for the sandwich alone. When you got that quality of steak in your hands, you can’t go wrong!”

He showed us how to assemble the melt, which Troy Johnson called “definitely more refined… more of a steak sandwich with a little bit of a Philly attitude.” USDA prime tenderloin simmers for hours and is then sautéed with caramelized onions and button mushrooms for a few minutes. Topped with generous amounts of jack cheese, the gooey filling is poured into a toasted French roll, cut into sections, served with au jus and delivered on a silver platter to the hungry masses every 15-30 minutes.

donovans1 restaurants celebrities rave about

 restaurants celebrities rave about

 

El Indio
- Everything -
3695 India St, San Diego, CA 92103
619.299.0333 | www.el-indio.com

There are few things in life more exciting than watching hot, freshly made tortillas roll out of an oven conveyor belt by the dozen—it’s like manna fall from heaven. At El Indio Tortilleria and Mexican Restaurant, they make about 600 dozen tortillas a DAY. If you don’t have a calculator on hand, that is 7,200 tortillas, give or take, rolling down that conveyor belt that we only wish led straight to our stomachs.

The famous family business has been churning out Mexican food for over 70 years. Ralph Pesqueira who actually invented the first tortilla-making machine in his basement founded El Indio. He passed the reins down to his son, Ralph Jr., who currently runs the restaurant with the help of his daughter Jennifer. Everyday their staff works in its large, almost labyrinthine building, making everything from enchiladas to tamales to a crazy thing called “morditas” that consists of cut-up beef taquitos smothered in nacho cheese and jalapeños. But the most impressive part about the place is definitely the tortilleria, the heart of the operation and the foundation for all of its dishes. As they showed on “Diners, Drive- ins, and Dives,” making tortillas is a simple three-step process when your tortillas have only one ingredient— corn. Big vats are filled with fifty-pound bags of field grade, Los Manos, CA white corn, and mixed with water and a little lime juice. Cooked for 30-45 minutes and then soaked overnight, the corn is turned into masa when poured into a machine that uses lava rocks to grind it into two different mixtures—fine and play dough-y for tortillas or gritty and coarse for tamales. The third step is putting the masa into another machine that rolls and cuts it into circles and into the oven before plopping out as hot pillows of joy (quality tortillas puff up with steam so you know they’re evenly cooked). And I guess the fourth and easiest step would be to eat these gourmet tortillas without thought to the caloric consequences. As Ralph Jr. joked with us, “I haven’t seen a calorie yet, so I don’t believe in them.”  restaurants celebrities rave about

elindio1 restaurants celebrities rave about

 restaurants celebrities rave about

 

Devilicious
Butter Poached Lobster Grilled
- Cheese/Duck Confit Grilled Cheese/Pork Belly Melt -
Locations Vary
951.514.6332 | www.deviliciousfoodtruck.com

Succulent. Scrumptious. Titillating. Wicked. These are just some of the cheeky descriptors written on the Devilicious food truck, which was a contestant on Season 2 of “The Great Food Truck Race.” This mobile feast helmed by Kenneth, Daniel, and Robert twists comfort food classics by using fine-dining ingredients. Think Butter Poached Lobster Grilled Cheese with butter poached lobster, caramelized onions and tomatoes and jack and cheddar cheese on butter-toasted bread, which is the dish that brought them to “Eat St.,” and rightfully so. It’s not the only fancy grilled cheese on their menu, however; their Duck Confit Grilled Cheese with slow roasted duck confit, caramelized red onions, gruyere and mozzarella cheese and a honey port reduction is like eating an entree from a French restaurant stuffed between sourdough, while their Pork Belly Melt made of smoked pork belly, crispy fried Brussels sprouts, gruyere and mozzarella cheese and a fig and balsamic glaze makes my own belly so happy and warm.

With a tagline of “Food So Good, It’s Bad!” you really can’t expect anything less, even if it’s being made on a truck at the side of the road. The transient nature of a food truck actually allows for more spontaneity, geographical range and an egalitarian approach that regular restaurants sometimes don’t have. Food trucks have the power to turn empty parking lots into urban events, hungry individuals into a community and congregation and curbs and grassy medians into picnic spots. Food trucks are all about elevating street food, and elevation is what Devilicious is all about.

devilicious1 restaurants celebrities rave about

 restaurants celebrities rave about

 

Lucha Libre
- Surfin’ California Burrito -
1810 W Washington St, San Diego, CA 92110
619.296.8226 | www.tacosmackdown.com

It’s easy to mistake the Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop for some sort of shrine to the high-flying, melodramatic Mexican wrestler known as the “Luchador.” Colorful masks and posters of prized fighters crowd their colorful walls, while actual fights play on the TV screen. The kitchen and staff, especially Owner Jose Rojano, joke and interact with customers like ringside concession dudes at a match. For a tiny taco shop right off of the I-5, it’s got some big cojones.

Jose started Lucha Libre about six years ago, initially as a side project to accompany his background in fine dining and catering. “You had Albertos, Robertos, whatever Bertos, and those places are great… but I wanted to give something different to San Diego.” Different indeed, Lucha packs a lot of style and is the type of place that always has long lines wrapped around the block. Even actual wrestlers like Alberto De Rio (two-time World Heavyweight Champion) or Chula Vista-born WWE wrestler Rey Mysterio come after shows to hang out with Jose and the staff after hours. But the glowing spectacle and central talking piece of the place is not really the celeb sightings or even the bathroom walls that are adorned with hilarious art—it’s the golden champions booth (reservations required) where Adam Richman once sat to chow down on their infamous Surfin’ California burrito. Created by Jose’s brother Diego, it was a product of boredom and hunger, like most unapologetically delicious culinary creations are. It is a marriage between the classic surf-and-turf and the meat-cheese-and- fries California burrito, and makes up 30-35 percent of their total sales.

Making the Surfin’ California is like packing a suitcase—it’s a surprising show of finesse. A 14-inch tortilla is filled with grilled shrimp, a high-quality flat steak, fries, cheese, pico de gallo, avocado and “super secret chipotle sauce.” “A lot of people claim that they created the California burrito, you know, but nobody really knows who did,” says Jose. “We don’t claim that… we just perfected it.”

lucha1 restaurants celebrities rave about

 restaurants celebrities rave about

 

Broken Yolk Café
- Broken Yolk Special -
1851 Garnet Ave, San Diego, CA 92109
858.270.9655 | www.thebrokenyolkcafe.com

“They ate it all,” reads the golden plaque hanging on the Wall of Fame at Broken Yolk Café in Pacific Beach. They ate it all indeed, and by “all” we mean the Broken Yolk Special—a 12-egg omelet stuffed with mushrooms, onions, cheddar cheese, topped with chili and cheese, served with a hefty helping of home fried potatoes and two biscuits and served on a pizza pan. Those who ate it all in under an hour are forever immortalized on the Wall of Fame. And in the middle of the wall is a picture of a comatose Adam Richman, “Kid Brooklyn” who got his own huge plaque after defeating the challenge with trademark aplomb.

Since 1986 around 500 people have attempted the Broken Yolk Special and only about 10 percent have actually succeeded. The secret, according to Dimitra O’Rourke, whose family owns the original location, is to avoid compartmentalizing. “You have to crumble the biscuits on top of the omelet and just eat it all together, not separately. Or else you’ll get sick too quickly.” Of course, you can always order any one of the café’s other items, but where’s the fun in that? Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, after all.

The actual prize for this goliath feat is not a whole lot, substance-wise: your name on the Wall of Fame, a t-shirt (in a slightly larger size, most likely), a comped bill (even though the broken yolk special only costs $25.99), and company with the Man in “Man vs. Food” himself (who completed the challenge in under 30 minutes). But we all know what the real prize is with these types of things: the bragging rights and the unique kind of pride that comes with devouring an abnormally large amount of food in one sitting. Currently, there is room for approximately 57 more names on the Wall of Fame…. any takers?

brokenyolk1 restaurants celebrities rave about

 restaurants celebrities rave about

 

Grant Grill
- Buddha’s Cobbler -
326 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101
619.744.2077 | www.grantgrill.com

The Buddha’s Cobbler cocktail is a veritable witch’s brew if you’ve ever experienced one, from its exotic ingredients to the magical effect it has upon first sip. Featured on “Best Thing I Ever Ate” by local food writer Troy Johnson, the Grant Grill is a throwback to the three-o-clock power lunch and the after-work martini, a modern “Mad Men” bar with an award-winning seasonal cocktail menu. Jeff Josenhans is the Grill’s sommelier and mixologist who is responsible for helming drinks like the Smashing Pumpkin Martini, House Made Vermouth, and 100-Day Barrel-Aged Manhattan.

The Buddha’s Cobbler—a playful twist on the classic mint julep—is the current drink du jour, and its star is the odd-looking Buddha’s Hand. Hailing from China, the citron fruit looks like a shriveled hand and tastes like concentrated lemon rind, albeit less acidic and more floral. “It’s a little lemony, a little florally. Not as tart or sharp as a lemon,” says Josenhans. The zesty appendages steep in Remy V Un-aged Cognac from France, and a few of these creepy-cool cauldrons are even put on display at the bar for all to see. The infused cognac becomes smooth, rich and slightly tangy, like a candied kumquat. The other component—a smoky, sweet, anything-but- simple syrup—is made by grating palm sugar and smashing pink peppercorns, smoking the crumbly mixture with jasmine tea, and then dissolving into boiling water. The booze and syrup is finally topped with seltzer water, a splash of Meyer lemon juice, and a sprig of pink peppercorn for one of the most unique (yet unanimously delicious) drinks you’ve ever had. Now let’s all give Grant Grill a hand.

grantgrill2 restaurants celebrities rave about

 

About The Author

Emily Villanueva

Emily Villanueva is sensitive, superstitious, slightly scatterbrained and far too forthcoming. She is a wandering wordsmith who spends 90 percent of her time (and paychecks) on food. When she's not busy stuffing her face, she's stuffing her head with delicious literature, music and art, because brain food is important too, kids.

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