1. The Hake
1250 Prospect Street, La Jolla
A dynamic renovation of La Jolla’s 1250 Prospect Street building, a multilevel center for upscale restaurants and galleries, offered The Hake an unexpected and irresistible opportunity. Previously housed in relatively small and viewless premises, the international-themed restaurant expanded into gracious quarters that share grand Pacific views with noted neighbors George’s at the Cove and Donovan’s.
Ask for window-side seating when reserving. If successful, prepare to negotiate with your dining partner over who sits looking over La Jolla Cove and waaay up the coast, and who regards the ocean horizon. The cove itself is so close you may imagine dipping your hand in the gentle waves. Inside the room are fine artworks, music with a hipster vibe that plays above conversations, and tables variously topped with marble or wood.
Executive Chef Aarti Sanghavi, who was born near Chicago to parents from India, weaves Indian, Mexican, and European flavors into a nicely varied mostly seafood menu.
Try this: Lobster masala, a spiced appetizer with shellfish, eggplant, and saffron aioli.
2. Maretalia Ristorante
1300 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Maretalia Ristorante, which combines the names for the sea and Italy, gives you another reason to glide over the Coronado Bridge. The coastal Italian restaurant occupies a series of spaces on the second floor of a building two blocks from Hotel del Coronado and the Pacific Ocean. The windows in a quiet back room frame an ocean vista decorated with palm trees. It’s pleasant, but the spacious terrace above Orange Avenue is livelier and boasts sweet breezes. Chef Tim Kolanko, well-known for the menus of several upscale Coronado restaurants, conducts such DIY projects as baking excellent focaccia and ciabatta breads and crafting all pastas.
Try this: Veal parmigiana, which is done Milan-style by crisping a pounded, crumb-coated chop in a hot pan and adding toppings of arugula and grated grana padano cheese. (pictured above).
3. Carnitas' Snack Shack
1004 N. Harbor Drive
Married restaurateurs Hanis Cavin and Sara Stroud named their first and second eateries Carnitas’ Snack Shack, after their pet pig Carnitas. So it wasn’t a stretch that they kept the name for their third location at downtown San Diego’s spectacular North Embarcadero promenade.
The food is excellent, but the setting around a sculpture-like structure on 10,000 square feet near the edge of San Diego Bay is even more delicious. The clever, colorful building houses only the kitchen and ordering window; seating is 100 percent open-air on either side, one of which includes a busy bar. When bay breezes turn cold, heaters keep diners warmish (if you’re chilly, the staff will furnish a blanket even bluer than the bay). And during the spring bloom, the flowers of neighboring jacaranda groves spiral down in this city’s version of purple rain. Near the foot of the main cruise terminal, Carnitas’ greets visitors with a distinctly local combination of cuisine and conviviality.
Try this: Triple Threat Pork Sandwich, a mouth-busting construction of pulled pork, plenty of bacon, a big, crispy pork loin “schnitzel,” and pepperoncini relish between slabs of brioche spread with aioli.
4. Decoy Dockside Dining Lakehouse Hotel and Resort
1035 La Bonita Drive, San Marcos
Decoy Dockside Dining presents a pair of venues in a stunning, two-story pavilion washed by Lake San Marcos. The finely designed Lakehouse Hotel and Resort exploits the notion that it re-creates a “luxurious Montana hunting lodge” by offering Decoy upstairs and Dock Bar downstairs, both with menus by talented chef David Warner, who focuses his cuisine in Southern California.
Decoy serves dinner commencing at 5 p.m., under dark-wood cathedral ceilings supported by magnificent glass walls. Perhaps 50 yards away, colorful LED lights illuminate a soaring fountain when darkness overtakes the scenery. Dock Bar, built over the water, devoted to daylight meals, and often surrounded by ducks and swans, does seem rustic, even when bartenders pour frothy mimosas.
Try this: Rigatoni in a bold, wild boar Bolognese sauce (pictured above).
Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.