Hot Haute Trends

Local chefs weigh in on culinary trends for 2016, and what’s hot now

By Wendy Lemlin | Photography By Noushin Nourizadeh

Happy 2016! We’ve dined our way through another half-decade, one that has seen phenomenal growth in the creativity and sophistication of San Diego’s gastronomic culture. What better time to check in with some of our top chefs and restaurateurs to get their takes on what’s trending in today’s culinary scene?

Sustainable Seafood

Going beyond “farm-to-table”, “ocean-to-table” is an important focus in our coastal city. Look for increasing interest on what The Marine Room’s Executive Chef Bernard Guillas deems “responsible management of all global ocean species, from wild to farmed, and how that impacts the quality and availability of seafood in our markets.”

James Montejano, Executive Chef at La Valencia Hotel, concurs, “I see a growing emphasis on locally-sourced, sustainable seafood. Chefs—and therefore diners—are expanding their culinary horizons, giving increased attention to lesser known species, such as steelhead and hiramasa, or clams and oysters from Baja.”

This ties into The Fishery’s Executive Chef Paul Arias’s assessment that “there is a growing preference for domestic and local varieties of fish, particularly those caught in nearby Baja waters, and utilizing all parts of the fish.”

DIY Delicacies

It’s no secret that chefs like to play with their food, and more artisanal products are being created in restaurant kitchens. Nathan Lingle, Executive Chef at L’Auberge Del Mar, has been pickling fruits and vegetables, creating his own pistachio miso to be used in broths and sauces, and making yogurt. “Fermented and cultured foods are a hot health trend, and we will see more house-made items, such as kombucha, savory yogurts, pickles, sauerkraut, vinegars, miso and other sauces as ingredients in dishes,” Lingle explains. Bella Vista Social Club & Caffé will soon bottle their homemade creamy balsamic dressing and will donate a portion of the profits to a charitable foundation. “This ties into another current trend,” co-owner Amanda Caniglia points out, “I call it Cuisine with a Cause. Food has become such an effective vehicle for fundraising.”

Chef-created artisanal spice blends, to be used in applications from proteins to desserts, are enjoying a revival according to Bernard Guillas who terms this “spice mixology.”

House-cured charcuterie and meats, such as beer-brined corned beef, made by Executive Chef Mareyja Sisbarro at Brockton Villa show up as artisanal ingredients in dishes and as stars of their own plates.

Baja, Baby

Probably one of the hottest culinary movements sweeping the nation is Latin-influenced cuisine, and San Diego is leading the trend with a Baja foodie love-fest. Paul Arias points out that “there is some serious cooking going on in Tijuana, the Valle de Guadalupe, and Ensenada, and it’s making a huge splash in San Diego. We’re seeing authentic Mexican techniques elevated with upgraded, high-quality ingredients, sustainable seafood and organic produce, resulting in more refined dishes. We’ve gone beyond the 99 cent tacos and are relishing seared ahi tostadas, swordfish taquitos, all types of ceviches, tiraditos, and aguachiles, grilled octopus, and other Baja-style preparations. We’re spicing it up with handcrafted hot sauces and roasted peppers. Fish tacos still rule, but we’re seeing them with house-made tortillas and high-quality fish.”

Interest in Ingredients

Ingredient-driven cuisine is a trend that shows no sign of abating. Restaurateur Fabio Speziali of Osteria Romantica welcomes the renewed emphasis on authentic flavors and ingredients, noting that “We serve genuine Italian fare because we import our crucial ingredients directly from my native Italy. I can immediately taste the difference when a product is truly Italian, or produced commercially elsewhere. Even if the recipe is exactly the same, the end result will taste very different if the components aren’t authentic.” 

Bernard Guillas sees the trend as celebrating the flavor profile of each individual ingredient with a synergy, balance and harmony of complements on the plate.

This will particularly extend to meatless dishes, according to Nathan Lingle, who says, “Upscale vegan and vegetarian creations will be celebrated on restaurant menus. Beautiful, high-quality fruits and vegetables are becoming the showplace ingredients.”

James Montejano features varieties of legumes and “ancient” grains in the more heart-healthy cuisine that is trending. “On the other hand,” he mentions, “Foie is back and in high demand.”

Chic Casual Cuisine

Dinner is becoming more eclectic. Amanda Caniglia notices a shift towards tapas-style dining. “At Bella Vista, we’re seeing more casual, social dining, with multiple small-plate dishes shared among companions. I think this goes along with a preference for owner-operated restaurants, where the proprietors and diners get to know each other and build a personal connection. It’s all a way of building community through dining.”

Mareyja Sisbarro says, “Seriously good food doesn’t have to be so serious. Why not breakfast for dinner?  I love the term ‘brinner,’ now featured in the Urban Dictionary, and turning up on food trend lists and blogs everywhere. There’s a nostalgia component that makes it so appealing. When I was a kid, eating breakfast at night was a big treat, and today, chefs are incorporating breakfast-style foods into their lunch and dinner menus more creatively. Brockton Villa is widely known for our hearty breakfasts, and ‘brinner’ is a trend we happily embrace.”

Trending Terrific

Although there were some shining exceptions, a decade ago San Diego’s culinary scene was disparaged as uninspired and pedestrian. Today, it sparkles with innovation and creativity, and is attracting national attention from well-known food culture insiders. We are so happy with this trend, we could just eat it up! And we do. 


The Marine Room
Diver Scallop and Foie Rossini, a modern, ocean-to-table interpretation of a classic, features opulent scallops and foie gras,

with an updated elderberry reduction in the sauce. Celery root, crabapple, pain d’épices and truffle all provide complementary elements.

KITCHEN 1540 at L’Auberge Del Mar

Black Salsify Chawan Mushi with Pistachio Miso showcases the trend for fermented and pickled food with an updated classic savory Japanese egg custard. Featuring puréed, poached and fried salsify root and house-crafted miso broth, the appetizer zings alongside homemade pickled fruits and vegetables.



THE MED Ocean View Restaurant at La Valencia Hotel
Sugar Spiced Loch Etive Steelhead stars richly flavored, sustainably harvested steelhead  that pairs with heirloom beans cooked with ham hock, guanciale, roasted tomatoes and lemon confit. Venus clams from Baja add local excitement.

The Fishery
Baja-style cuisine, emphasizing local seafood and produce, is dramatically demonstrated in Whole Fried Huachinango. The fresh-caught red snapper is enhanced with a deep-flavored guajillo pepper sauce and a salad of shaved red cabbage and radish.



Osteria Romantica
Authentic pasta, extra virgin olive oil, cheese and sausage (all imported from Italy!) impart bona fide flavor and quality to Orecchiette Puliesi. The combination of white wine sauce, redolent of garlic and herbs, with local rapini and tomatoes, creates international intrigue.


Bella Vista Social Club & Caffe
Crab Cake Lollipops are perfect for sharing with friends at happy hour, or you might just want to keep them all for yourself. Paired with creamy red pepper aioli, they are a favorite for tapas-style dining.



Brockton Villa
Skillet Hash and Eggs are a “brinner” favorite: house-made beer-brined corned beef hash atop tangy horseradish mashed potatoes with chive crème fraîche and eggs. To kick-start your evening, pair it with a “Hot Apple Pie” cocktail.