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Hear From the Top Chefs in San Diego’s Beloved Neighborhood

Written By: Jen Klotz Where to Eat in Hillcrest

Located near North/South Park and Balboa Park/Downtown, Hillcrest is home to many vintage clothing stores and shops, the largest farmers market on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the annual “CityFest” and San Diego Pride events, as well as numerous fine dining options. These offer a new modern feel in a very classic yet historic area of town. Hillcrest has some of the best restaurants; many of them have fresh menus, great craft cocktail options and awesome happy hour specials. In our recently released poll, readers voted for their favorite chefs. Here are your favorites:

Where to Eat in Hillcrest

Brad Wise, TRUST Restaurant

Q: Is there a story or idea behind the name of TRUST?

Brad Wise: Yes, Steve Schwob and I were focused on one thing, the overall guest experience. While we were putting on paper what we thought ‘our first restaurant’ was going to be. Trust just seemed to sum up what we wanted to do. We want our guests to trust us to deliver an exceptional dining experience from the second they walk in the door to the second they leave. We also offer a ‘Trust Dining Experience,’ which allows guests to put their trust in us to let us execute the dinner for the night.

Q: What is your favorite or recommended craft cocktail at TRUST?

BW: The mood I’m in dictates what cocktail I am going to choose. Our bar manager Juan Sanchez does a great job making sure there are diverse options to choose from. Right now, my favorite would definitely be the Paper Plane made with Evan Williams Bourbon, aperol, averna and lemon. This classic might be my favorite of all time.

Q: Who is your role model or who has helped you get to where you are today?

BW: I am inspired by everything including chefs, fellow cooks, books and magazines or others involved in the culinary worked. Whatever I can use that excites me or pushes me to try something new and learn I am all for it. I really enjoyed reading ‘Life, On The Line’ by Grant Achatz and ‘Restaurant Man’ by Joe Bastianich. They have been the most impactful on my life and career so far. I’ve also learned a lot from mistakes I’ve made over the years and am always striving to do better and be the best.

Q: Do you prefer cooking breakfast, lunch or dinner? Why?

BW: I would say dinner, because it’s the most regimented. It is exhilarating when I’m working with my team on a busy night and we are all on the same page and the food is coming out of the kitchen flawlessly.

Q: What does it mean to you to be voted as one of Hillcrest’s favorite chefs?

BW: Honored and humbled to be noticed among any fellow chefs. Every one of us work very hard to get where we are and it’s nice to be mentioned from time to time. It makes the long days worth it.

 

Carmine Lopez, Great Maple

Q: What few dishes do you recommend for a first timer at Great Maple?

Carmine Lopez: For a first timer, I would recommend the Salted Caramel Pork Ribs. They are literally finger licking good! They fall off the bone and has a great balance of salty, sticky and sweet

Q: What made you decide to become a chef?

CL: I enjoyed cooking at a young age and I was surrounded by amazing cooks in my family. I actually have two uncles who were chefs for hotels back in the ‘80s. I also realized that I liked cooking when I would pretend that I had my own cooking show when I was a kid.

Q: When you aren’t in the kitchen, what are you up to?

CL: I’m a mom to a 9-year-old, so my hands are full with school work and whatever he wants to do! But when I get the opportunity to do ‘adult’ things, I enjoy camping, catching up on sleep and eating out.

Q: Did you expect the maple bacon doughnuts to be such a hit?

CL: Oh for sure! Who turns down fried dough, bacon and sweet goodness?

Q: What does it mean to you to be voted as one of Hillcrest’s favorite chefs?

CL: It’s pretty amazing and an honor! The Hillcrest community has been welcoming since we opened four years ago. Hillcrest has such a big diversity in culture, food and people that, at Great Maple, we are able to do different kinds of food through our menu. There’s something for everyone!

Craig “Andy” Beardslee, Hash House a go go

Q: What is your favorite hash on the menu?

Craig Beardslee: Hard choice but I usually go for the Pork Tenderloin Hash or the Meatloaf Hash.

Q: What is meant by your slogan “twisted farm food”?

CB: It’s basically taking all the things you grew up with, especially from the Midwest, and bringing them up to date a little with some funness thrown in there.

Q: One of your “things” is having large/gigantic portions of food, where does this inspiration come from?

CB: The largeness of the food just kind of turned into its own thing. The menu was always written for the freshness of ingredients and its uniqueness in flavors. But everyone enjoys taking home their leftovers for the next day so everyone gets the best of both worlds.

Q: What sort of things are you passionate about outside of the kitchen?

CB: I enjoy trying to get back to Indiana where I still have a home where I grew up and get to see some old friends. The offsite events that we do and visiting the other Hash House a go go’s around the country. I also enjoy playing golf, cars and a good martini! Cheers!

Q: What does it mean to you to be voted as one of Hillcrest’s favorite chefs?

CB: It’s super freakin’ cool. And thank you to all that gave me a shout out! Makes me even appreciate what I do more each day.

 

Lety Gonzalez, Uptown Tavern

Q: How do you foster the “home away from home” feel at the restaurant?

Lety Gonzalez: I think we as a whole have a mi casa es su casa feel. The team is a family and it translates very well to the customer. Our style of comfort tavern food is the cherry on the cake. I always tell my kitchen never cook when you’re angry, as you can taste it. If you cook with love the people can feel it.  

Q: What are your favorite dishes/drinks on your menu?

LG: I’m very fond of our brunch menu. It doesn’t change much except for seasonal items, but for the most part the spicy chicken biscuits and gravy, our chilaquiles and French toast are my favorites. I can never keep a favorite on our dinner menu because of its constant rotation of fresh seasonal products. If I had to pick a few, I would say the ghost pepper chicken sandwich, steak and eggs and our seasonal salad because of all the amazing fruit and veggies I can get from the farmer’s market. As for drinks, the Lemongrass Collins is one of my fave drinks…and I’m not a vodka person. And our mules are outstanding—I’ll either do a whiskey mule or mezcal mule depending on my mood.  

Q: What are a few of your other favorite restaurants here in town?

LG: I love to eat around so in no particular order: The Balboa, Ceviche House, Carnitas Snack Shack, Saiko Sushi and Sake Bar, Great Maple, and my new love, Corazon de Torta!

Q: What/who inspired you to become a chef?

LG: I was inspired by home cooking. I have a family full of bakers, cooks and some of the best home cooks in my eyes. I learned so much from both of my grandmothers on my mom and dad’s side. My uncles taught me how to hunt and butcher, and my mother taught me the importance of tortilla making. I stay inspired by my friends and those I surround myself with. Lastly, meeting Chef René Redzepi during a recent trip to Noma was a big inspiration. It was a nostalgic experience and brought me back to where I came from. I’ve decided to travel to Mexico more often after that trip.

Q: What does it mean to you to be voted as one of Hillcrest’s favorite chefs?

LG: I think it’s pretty cool that people like my food. I’ve been in this community for so long that the recognition is nice. However, even if I wasn’t voted, I’d still do what I do—run a successful kitchen, teaching and giving opportunity to those that need it. Food brings people together in more ways than one; I am happy that I can do that. 

See What’s Cooking With These Top Hillcrest Chefs