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Once overlooked, San Diego flourishes as a food destination

 June 6, 2023 at 12:59 PM PDT

S1: It's time for Midday Edition on Kpbs. Today , we are talking about San Diego food and culture. I'm Jade Hindman with conversations that keep you informed , inspired and make you think. Restaurants who used the popular phrase Taco Tuesday could face legal challenges.

S2: If a restaurant uses Taco Tuesday to promote something Taco Johns can and has sends them a cease and desist letter.

S1: Plus , we talked to one local chef who's putting a creative spin on tacos , and we explore the diverse cultures lifting San Diego's food scene into the spotlight. That's ahead on Midday Edition. Here in San Diego especially , you're not likely far from a bar or humble taqueria that celebrates everyone's favorite holiday. I'm talking , of course , about Taco Tuesday. But as you may or may not be aware , there's a bit of a legal drama surrounding the actual wording of the much beloved catchphrase. In fact , the actual trademark for the phrase Taco Tuesday has belonged to Wyoming based chain Taco Johns in 49 states since 1989. And now fast food giant Taco Bell is spearheading the fight to free this trademark with a series of rather pointed commercials. Take a listen.

S3: You know what it is ? It's Taco.

S4: Why did I get bleeped ? Because this is a commercial and there's a trademark on Taco. I mean , look at someone own taco. Come on , man. Everyone should be able to say and celebrate. Taco , Taco , Taco.


S4: No more trademark. No more bleeping. Starting right now. Taco Tuesday.

S1: If that voice sounds familiar to you , that's because it belongs to NBA superstar LeBron James. If you're a little confused , we're going to explain it to you. And here with more on this bizarre saga is Gustavo Arellano. He's an author and columnist for the LA Times. Gustavo , welcome back to the show.

S2: Gracias for having me again. Yes.

S1: Yes. So first things first. How can someone own the trademark to such a ubiquitous phrase ? There's got to be a thousand restaurants in San Diego alone that celebrate Taco Tuesday.

S2: The fact is , anyone can make a petition with the US Patent and Trademark Office to try to trademark anything , anything , any phrase , whatever it may be , mean infamously. Ohio State University actually got a trademark on thee because they call themselves the Ohio State University. You just have to make a good enough argument and you have to dupe the , you know , a bureaucrat to make you think that , no , you created something that's already out there. So that's exactly what happened with Taco Tuesday. Taco John's was a company in 49 states , smart enough to be able to do it. And then there was a restaurant in New Jersey that had been doing it since 1982. But both of the companies together said , all right , we'll just hold the trademark on Taco Tuesday and we'll just send cease and desist letters to anyone who dares use it without our permission.

S1: You know , I've got to be honest with you , I've never even seen a Taco John's in California.

S2: So Taco John's , it's around 400 outposts , so it's nowhere near Taco Bell , which has , what , 7000 across the world. But still , it's not a mom and pop operation as well. It has been over 400 and they focus specifically on the upper Midwest. So we're talking about North Dakota , South Dakota , Idaho , Colorado. I believe once you start going to New Mexico , that's already too south. Once you start going , it's not in Nevada because that would be too west. So they're very focused on that.

S1: And like I said before , I can't imagine how many local restaurants run a Taco Tuesday promotion.

S2: So if a restaurant uses Taco Tuesday to promote something Taco John's can and has sends them a cease and desist letter , now they are saying , oh , well , we've never actually sued a restaurant , so we're not the bad guys here. But come on , you're a mom and pop place. You're just trying to sell tacos on a Tuesday. This is something that in my search I've discovered that restaurants not even exclusively Mexican restaurants , by the way , but restaurants in the United States have been offering taco specials on Tuesdays since at least the 1930 , which is around the time when tacos started to become popular in the United States. And restaurants have been using that phrase Taco Tuesday since at least the early 1970s and way before Taco John's has ever claimed that they ever started to use it. And so , yeah , they have every right , though , since they owned the trademark to make these , you know , cease and desist letters. And that's a headache for any any restaurant who wants to be in business , you know.


S2: It's one of those things and I know there's a legal term for it , but it's like at this point , even if even though , again , they do own the trademark to Taco Tuesday , but it's become part of the American lexicon , kind of like when you photocopy something , people still say you Xerox something , even though Xerox is technically a trademark or I remember one time I wrote , I was describing the vivid colors of something so said it was like a Technicolor tapestry. And we got a letter from the people who still owned the right to Technicolor saying , Hey , this is an officially trademarked , you know , trademark of blah , blah , blah. Don't use that again. And I also got in trouble once for Bondo , like in in Mexican , Spanish , Spanish when you want , or even just in English. Like when you want to put something together , like with a car trying to fix something up a patch , you'll say , Oh , I'm going to bondo it. Well , Bondo is a trademark because it's an actual product. And so Taco John's is desperately trying to say , Well , people still associate Taco Tuesday with us , folks. They no one ever associated Taco Tuesday with Taco John's ever.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. And we're talking about the ongoing trademark drama surrounding the Taco Tuesday catchphrase with author and columnist Gustavo Arellano. Let's take a step back here and acknowledge that Taco Bell , a massive multinational corporation , is taking the fight to Taco John's here. Taco Bell isn't exactly the underdog in this fight.

S2: Company in my book. I did give them credit for being a gateway , so to speak , for Americans who takes their tacos first and then realize , oh , there's way better out there. I'm not a fan of Taco Bell because I don't think their food is that good. And it's not a chain thing. By the way , I love Del Taco Del Taco , of course , the grand competitor in Southern California and Taco Bell. I feel their food is too salty. But in this case , they've always been very savvy about about marketing themselves. The infamous Taco Bell Chihuahua dog of the late 90s and early 2000. Even before then , Taco Bell did an April Fool's joke saying that they had bought the Liberty Bell , you know , the Liberty Bell out in Philadelphia , which angered so many people. So in this case , though , a great opportunity to make themselves seem a little bit better to the likes of people like myself , myself , who have called them out for now. Also , they have their own origin story that they have amassed with Glenn Bell in his biography , Taco Titan , the Glenn Bell Story , he admitted that he got his idea for selling tacos from a restaurant in San Bernardino , but didn't name it. The name of the restaurant is Meatless Cafe. And so Taco Bell has never really and now they do acknowledge that time they didn't do it. So they just want to buttress their reputation. But again , they're doing the right thing. And nowhere in a million years would they ever think , okay. And they're not asking , by the way , to get the taco , the Taco Tuesday trademark. They're just saying they're trying to invalidate it from Taco John's. And they have vowed that they're not going to try to make a petition to try to trademark it for themselves. Okay.

S1: Okay. And so LeBron James , who we heard in the Taco Bell commercial a little earlier , also tried to trademark Taco Tuesday in the past. I mean , because.

S2: So he got this whole get up and , you know , the audience , of course , for the Taco Bell commercial , they bleeped it Tuesday. But he goes Taco Tuesday stay which I appreciate it. But then he goes sometimes like oh yeah , yeah , yeah , yeah. Like just the stereotypical things which that to me wasn't cool. I'm a Lakers fan though , so I love LeBron and he tried to trademark it in 2019 , so I wrote about it at the time as well , saying like , All right , LeBron , like , what are you doing ? But if you're trying to fight Taco , you know , if you're trying to fight Taco John's on that , I support you. But the US Patent and Trademark Office , you want to talk about irony. He wanted to trademark it for the possibility of using on social media platforms or gosh , God knows what he wanted. But the US Patent and Trademark Office , they rejected his application for a trademark not because Taco John's already owned a trademark to it , but because they said the phrase was already in such such wide usage. It would be ridiculous to try to trademark it. So the US Patent and Trademark Office is already saying Taco Tuesday is used so much that there shouldn't be any trademarks on it , but yet they haven't yet tried to invalidate Taco John's thing. So the the , you know , the unity of LeBron James with I think it's a winning combination. It's sure better winning combination than what the Lakers were this season.

S1: There we go. Run it back for me again though. When did Taco John's trademark this 1989.

S2: And they said in their trademark petition that they first used it in 1979.

S1: In your column , you write that actually trademarking such a common phrase is something of a Trumpian move.

S2: Here you had a former janitor turned Frito-Lay Frito-Lay executive Richard Montanez , saying that he was the person who invented Flamin Hot Cheetos. Well , my colleague at the LA Times saying Sam Dean actually researched and cast a lot of doubt on it. And that's putting it very , very lightly to montanez's claims. But Montanez has not backed down. Eva Longoria , who directed this film , Flaming Hot , has not backed down , even though Frito-Lay themselves have kind of backed off off of this. So what you have with both Taco John's and Richard Montanez is people have created this myth about their , you know , something that they're associated with when they get called out and shown evidence that huge doubt on their own myths , they double down and then they start firing back and labeling the people who are criticizing them with the facts as haters , as other things as well. So who does that ? Who still does that a lot and who did that a lot during their administration ? Donald Trump.

S1: All right.

S2: Taco John's has swatted them all. And also Taco John's has gone after people who've done that. So there was a case and I'm not too familiar with. But here in Southern California , there was a rest. In Laguna Beach. In Orange County , there was a restaurant called Tortilla Flats and Tortilla Flats. According to them , they had filed a trademark only in California , which I don't know how that works out for Taco Tuesday. Taco John's , they find out about this isn't days before the Internet , which is just a mid 1990s tortilla flats had to lose their trademark on Taco Tuesday. So Taco John's has been successful in the past and defending it at least on the Patent Trademark Office. Taco John's. In a way it is David against the Goliath that is Taco Bell. But sometimes , you know , you have to root for a Goliath. You can't always root for David. David sometimes is a jerk.

S1: All right. You eat out quite a bit. What do the local taco shop owners and restaurants think about all this ? Need I ask.

S2: A lot of them don't even know about it. So I went to my wife and I go to a lot here in Santana. Chapter one , the Modern Bistro. Now it's mostly pub food , but they've had they sell great tacos , so we usually go on Tuesday. So I asked the owner , Jeff Jarvis , I'm like , Hey , what do you think about Taco Bell's fight to eliminate the trademark for Taco Tuesday ? He's like , Wait , Taco Tuesday is trademark. I'm like , Aha. And you could see what , you know , I talked about in my column. His eyes were just so bewildered , his face. And then he started joking and laughing and thinking like , How ridiculous is it for someone to try to trademark Taco Tuesday ? And he's been running his his special on Tuesdays as Taco Tuesday for about 11 years. So I would tell you know , it's ridiculous. Anyone who you tell to is ridiculous. They think it's ridiculous. On the other hand , those who have had cease and desist letters sent to them , they don't think it's ridiculous. They think it's a joke , a just absolute joke. And they like Taco John's. If there's fanboys out there of Taco John's , I would like to meet them because I would like to tell them , what on earth are you thinking ? And let me let me send you the Taco Bell , which has better food than Taco John's , but that's not saying much.

S1: All right. So as you said earlier , sometimes David is a jerk. Right ? Okay.

S2: But again , I think given that LeBron's petition to get his own trademark on Taco Tuesday was rejected because the Patent and Trademark Office said it's already a phrase in general use , I think that bodes very badly for Taco John's. And so , of course , this is a petition. This is going to take a couple of years to come to figure out. So maybe we come back in two years and we talk about what's going on or hopefully it'll come earlier. You never know When it comes to the Patent Trademark Office.

S1: I've been speaking with Gustavo Arellano , an author and columnist for the LA Times. Gustavo , it was really great talking to you.

S5: Gracias.

S1: We'd love to hear your thoughts about Taco Tuesday. Should one restaurant be able to own the phrase ? Give us a call. (619) 452-0228. You can leave a message or you can email us at midday at Coming up , a local chef is putting a creative spin on tacos.

S6: Authenticity is your base. That's your starting point. But like all cuisines around the world , they continue to evolve. Food is always changing.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. Welcome back. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. In our last segment , we explored the bizarre legal drama surrounding the trademark for the Taco Tuesday catchphrase. But our next guest built an entire career around tacos in a city already famous for them. Jerry Torres , founder of City Tacos , has expanded his iconic North Park taco joint to locations around the county. He joins us now to talk about his journey in San Diego's food scene. Jerry , great to have you.

S6: Glad to be here.

S1: So , you know , our last guest explained some of the legal drama surrounding the phrase Taco Tuesday.


S1: Well , I guess you're right about that.

S6: I think it's kind of like a national holiday here in San Diego. Every Tuesday , I would say that our sales jump up maybe by 40 , 50% from Monday or a Wednesday just because it's Tuesday.

S1: So , you know , city Tacos , your restaurant , it's been a fixture here in San Diego's food scene for like a decade.

S6: I started at a sandwich shop over in Oceanside at the tender age of 16 or so , and I really enjoyed the hospitality. Hospitality industry that's love for the industry kind of grew into basically feeling every position within the industry. I mean , I did room service over in Hawaii. I did bar back , bartender , manager , waiter , busboy , you name it , front of the house , pretty much done it.

S1: You know , in San Diego has always been a destination for good tacos first.

S6: There is a tremendous influence from both sides of the border. And most San Diegans have been across the border and have had tacos there prior to there being tacos here in San Diego as we know them today. I think that the taco movement or Taco Revolution here in San Diego started somewhere around , I would say , 12 to 13 years ago. I believe that the El Gordo kind of opened up that channel for traditional ideas , but prior to that there were taco shops and the taco shops were Americanized versions of the taco concept , but not necessarily a taco per se.

S1: I grew up in the Midwest and spent many years working in the Southeast. Any time you order a taco in those parts of the country , it's a tortilla stuffed with ground beef , lettuce , tomato , kind of like a burger , then deep fried and smothered with cheese and half a tub of sour cream.

S6: If it's within a tortilla , I guess it is a taco , but it's it's more of an Americanized version of a taco. And and I think that Taco Bell , for example , that's that that's what they do. You know , they or at least that's what they did back then and that's what made them famous. Um , I think that those particular tacos were created for speed , for profits , for ease and preparation , not necessarily for taste and quality. So they have definitely evolved over the years. And , and now you actually see the taco in action and you see things happening right before your eyes. We're a little bit different with what we do. We actually aim to elevate the taco. Both the chef and I were from Mexico City and we grew up around tacos and we have a deep love for them. And so much , in fact , that instead of doing traditional tacos , we we have traditional tacos on the menu. But we we try to create tacos and have been creating tacos every month for the last nine years. So there's maybe 200 tacos that we've created and brought into the market.


S6: And nowadays they can actually bring a little bit more like my latest concept. I'm making a giant playground for families to enjoy their tacos and beer and and bring in their favorite pets and , you know , enhance the experience , even if we can buy a little bit.

S1: You're listening to Midday Edition here on Kpbs. I'm talking with San Diego chef and restaurateur Jerry Torres , founder of City Tacos. And Jerry , authenticity is something that always comes up when we talk about food.

S6: That's your starting point. But like all cuisines around the world , they continue to evolve to incorporate global techniques , global trends. Food is always changing. You know , what used to be good for you is no longer diets change , you know , from one day to the next. And you have to be able to adapt and you have to be able to also enhance , you know , if every burger was the same , what would make you go to another burger place ? Nothing , really. At the end of the day , you know , it's it's so you have to have a little extra something. You have to always continue to improve your product or improve your craft. So that people crave it.

S1: You know that in mind , I wanted to get your thoughts on a recent taco craze. It seems like overnight the entire country became obsessed with queso beef burrito tacos. These are those cheesy crispy beef tacos that you can find in just about every taco spot.

S6: It's more of an Americanized combination of a quesadilla and a taco. But they are delicious. And I have carried them in city tacos. I don't know if I currently have them in the menu. I believe I do. There's about 15 to 20 tacos on our menu , so I don't remember each and every one of them , but it's great. I think it enhances the product. I think it gives it a nice creaminess. And if the beauty is done well , it can be delicious.

S1: At one point , San Diego was only known as a taco city , but it seems in recent years it's really grown in stature.

S6: I think that over the last 15 to 20 years , it has definitely improved. And big name chefs like Bryan Malaki or Sam the cooking guy have really put it on the map , if you will. But there's always been great food here in San Diego. And we are so close to the coast and fresh seafood and we're close to Mexico and that Latin influence and San Diego is a tourist destination. And let's not forget , you know , America is a melting pot. So there are so many taste buds to to to cater to and to , you know , excite. So San Diego is blessed in so many.

S1: Ways in our proximity to the ocean , like you mentioned. You know , it garners a lot of fresh seafood. We're all so close to the border.

S6: They're willing to play with food. I think that the average diner is more interested in having that diversity and having that next great bite than perhaps other communities around the states because they've been introduced to different things. And the more that you change things , the more that you push that envelope , the more that people are going to respond to that and really crave it.

S1: When you're not eating some of your own food.

S6: I've been dining there since they open. I believe I've been there maybe like ten times and I don't get bored of it. I find his food to be fresh , you know , innovative , refreshing. I also like anemia from Molokai. I like traditional places like the Oyster Bar. They make a great smoked tuna taco. I like my recycle places , basically. Anything that's that , it's hot. And people tell me it's good. I'm going to go try it. My wife kind of yells at me because she says that I spend a fortune on food. But you know , that's what I love.

S1: And you are expanding here in San Diego and experimenting with a with something a little different. And I'd love to hear about that.

S6: Well , yes , we have six locations here in San Diego. We're also at the USC village at USC campus over in Los Angeles. We are adding a new location to our San Diego County locations , which is going to be. Opening up at 4896 Voltaire Street in Ocean Beach. I actually live many years in Ocean Beach and love the community and actually had a restaurant plan for this community about four years ago and it fell through and I was so saddened. But finally we got the opportunity to lease this great corner space. And when I looked at it , I saw it as an opportunity to do everything that I've always wanted to do within a space , but didn't have the space to do it. So basically covered all of the ground with Astroturf and have a playful areas , whether it's with separate merchants like coffee , a coffee operation by Mike's Brewing or my new little venture , which is the crib. The crib is a collaborative retail incubation biz. So basically out of a 1972 Kombi van , I'm going to have a storefront for artisans and merchants to have a taste of retail at an affordable price. I intend to rent it out for $20 a day for all those who want to sell to public in a actual storefront. There's also going to be a little doggie park within the space. I just purchased the the fitness equipment for the dogs. There's a double jump loop jump. There's some staircases. There's like a little tunnel that they go through. And of course , the fire hydrant. I've been buying a lot of games like giant Kinect for giant Jenga , giant chess , giant checkers. And this is kind of my effort to turn back the clock. I have a 13 year old son who is glued to the computer and I can't understand it. I mean , I grew up in the age of computers. I think , you know , the Commodore 64 and and the floppies and all of that. But we didn't really pay so much attention to it. And I wish my son did it. So I'm creating a space to maybe alleviate some other parents concerns and create a little bit more of that bonding experience bonding environment.

S1: Jerry Torres is a San Diego restaurateur and founder of City Tacos. Jerry , thanks for the conversation and happy Taco Tuesday.

S6: Thank you. Likewise. I'll say likewise because I might get charged for it.

S1: Fair enough.

S6: Jade , a pleasure. Thank you very much for having us.

S1: Coming up , how so many cultures are putting our local food scene in the spotlight.

S7: When somebody comes to San Diego , they're not just coming here for the food scene itself , but is a jumping off point to real , authentic Mexican experience in Tijuana and Baja by Guadalupe.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. Welcome back. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. San Diego has always been known for its sand , surf and sea , but not so much for its food. But in recent years , however , the stature of America's finest city as a food destination has risen sharply. So much so , in fact , that Food and Wine magazine recently named San Diego , one of the top ten food cities in the country , someone who's documented much of that food evolution is Troy Johnson , a food writer and chief content officer for San Diego magazine , and he joins us now. Troy , welcome back.

S7: Thank you for having me. Yeah , it was a barren desert like few decades for San Diego food , and that's no longer the case.


S7: And there's a national audience that will look at that national media as a totemic , as a biblical script of sorts , you know , for their gustatory , you know , delights. And they will come here and it's fantastic. You know , it's really at the end of the day , it's an evolution. It's just a continuation of what was happening in 2019. For decades , San Diego was mostly a tourist destination that didn't have to invest in its food because its sunlight was ever present , you know ? And as long as you were eating those mozzarella sticks somewhere near Del Mar Beach or somewhere near Coronado or , you know , somewhere within a roller coaster ride of the , you know , sun , it was it was okay. And in the last I would say , 2019 was the first time that we saw all these national outlets start to send their people out. You know , Michelin started kicking tires on San Diego , recognizing its existence. James beard was spending more time down here l.a. Times was spending review sending reviewers down and Esquire came vogue did something on San Diego for the first time i think ever. You know , and we saw that San Diego was just about to arrive and then obviously the world broke. So it took us a little bit of time to resume the ride. But it's definitely I would never have said that San Diego had arrived as a food scene. I never did until 2019 , and that was the first time I said no. I've been to every almost every other major food city in the country through my job. And it was as just on that cusp of really being the most exciting city. Not New York , not LA , because we don't want to be arrived. The most exciting place to be is where it's almost there , you know ? And that's for me , that's what I love about San Diego. It's it's got enough to be interesting and good and in a top ten list , but it's not perfectly there and set in stone and getting sterile. Nice.

S1: Nice. All right.

S7: Right , and just hastened with the pandemic because then people are working halfway remote and figured they might as well do it somewhere nice. So I think you're going to see a lot more people come to San Diego for sure. I mean , we're seeing obviously an influx of population. I have a lot of friends in national media and a lot of friends on Food Network who , you know , are are suddenly finding themselves with a vacation plan for San Diego. And I think part of that I mean , there's so many reasons for that. But I mean , part of that really is the evolution of Baja is the evolution of Tijuana as a real cultural destination and its culinary scene , its chefs down there. Amazing. And that the influence of ash and lime and wood fired smoke and spices and long stewed meats and vedere is really come up through San Diego. And so when somebody comes to San Diego , they're not just coming here for the food scene itself , but as a jumping off point to real , authentic Mexican experience in Tijuana and Baja and by Guadalupe , you know , so you kind of get a two for one. And yeah , I think it's just going to get more and more.

S1: You know , earlier you mentioned that San Diego really wasn't so much concerned about food because we had , you know , continuous sunlight. But in recent years , San Diego has really stepped up its food game.

S7: And that's not jingoistic. That is not , you know , me just saying , go , go , rah rah , San Diego. Any chef that you talk to that has worked in New York , that has worked in Chicago , LA , anywhere else will say San Diego , those local farms that soil is has the best produce , whether you're talking about Chino or organics or a bunch of these other local farms. We have more small farms per capita in the United States of any county , right ? Sure. Half of those are decorative flowers , but the rest are growing the world class food. I talked to Travis Schweikert , who was the right hand man of one of the best chefs in the world , Daniel Boulud , for ten years. And so Daniel Boulud would let him by the best produce in the country. He did spend any amount of dollar because that would make his food better , you know , And every time Travis said every time he got a box into his kitchen at Bar Boulud , it would say San Diego on the side of the box. And so chefs know that once you have pure great the best ingredients , you're going to have a better food. Just like if you have better parts , you can have a better car. You know , that's one part. You know , beer culture had a lot to do with it , too. You talk about at the Great American Beer Festival every year , San Diego breweries win thousands and thousands of awards. It's just craft and culture , craft and maker culture , you know , and that sort of pairing with food , they they really posited themselves as a complement to food. So in their gospel , they would say , Oh , this pairs well food. They're going up against wine. Well , what food are they talking about ? They were talking about San Diego. They were talking about a Mexican food or seafood.

S1: And you mentioned food culture. You know , for a while , San Diego was pretty much only known as a place for good Mexican food when it comes to food.

S7: You know this. In the last year , the convoy getting pan-Asian cultural destination is was phenomenal. You had first generation Americans who came over with nothing but a recipe from their family , and they started selling it to friends as a way to make a living in a new country that they were just learning. And they hung a shingle in what was really an aeronautical and industrial part of town. And that grew by another shingle , grew by another shingle and grew by another shingle , and then finally just created this oasis of pan-Asian , you know , food and cuisines that we were seeing on Food Network. You were seeing Anthony Bourdain go to these random places , you know , these far flung places excuse me. You see Ranthambore dango , these far flung places and wanting to try those cuisines in convoy , was it you know , they had some of those old recipes that people were bringing over from Vietnam , from Thailand , everything else. And our Filipino food. Filipino culture in San Diego is massive. We have one of the strongest communities in the country , but for years we didn't have it in the restaurants. You know , we had a lot of Filipino chefs who were cooking California cuisine. They were working at , you know , French restaurants and learning all those techniques. Well , those kids that grew up in those French restaurants and learned those really fancy techniques then finally turned their attention to the food that they and the cuisines that they grew up with. You look at them on to anime. You look at Filipe Esteban , who's got his white Rice concept , which is a Filipino concept , and he's going to be opening up a bigger Filipino concept in his native national city. You know , it's the cultural expansion of our food scene has been remarkable and a big part of it.

S1: And I've even noticed , you know , East African restaurants popping up as well. Oh.

S7: Oh , yeah. Any time you can eat with injera , you know , which is that , you know , the Ethiopian , you know , or Abyssinian flatbread that you just , you know , pinch and you get your stews is such a tactile , beautiful experience. Musica You know , it is a classic restaurant in San Diego that's been doing it. And you look over northpark , there's a great Nigerian population and you can get a lot of , you know , African , you know , influences. So you have , you know , you have African restaurants like Musica Abyssinian Bistro has been doing it for years. Beautiful old Craftsman home , really , you know , great cultural hangout spot , you know , for expats , you know , who can find a bit of home and culture in a restaurant itself , a wash Ethiopian restaurant over North Park , because North Park has a great , huge Nigerian community. You know , it's it's definitely it's no longer just Mexican. You know , we've really , you know , all the cultures that we're here in San Diego maybe didn't have a place within the business structure over the last 15 years have made their ways into actual restaurants and community centers.

S1: You're listening to Midday Edition on Kpbs. I'm talking with food writer Troy Johnson.

S7: And , you know , having got its third Michelin star this year , you know , Addison was a three Michelin star ten years ago , but Michelin wasn't here , you know , And Chef William Bradley , who's from San Diego , he's from El Cajon. You know , he could have gone elsewhere. He could have gone to New York. He could have gone to Chicago or one of the fancier places with a established food scheme. But he stayed here. And , you know , obviously he's at a big resort. And this is a very high , high dollar meal. You know , Addison getting a third star means now San Diego is a destination for a very rare breed of of food people. If David Bowie was your end all be all , you would spend $900 to get up close and watch that concert. There are people who love food so much that they spend that much money to get up close to some of the best food in the world. And now Addison has been recognized as that. And what the fallout of that is , is that when those people come and there are people that travel exclusively for Michelin star restaurants , when they come to San Diego , you know , they're going to find two Tano Taqueria , They're going to find all these little restaurants. They're going to go into convoy. They're going to go into North Park , They're going to go into Barrio Logan. You know , that trickle down effect. Somebody who is traveling for food is is huge. You look at Carly , Carly , I have to mention , because that was Travis Schweikert who came over from Daniel Ballard. He trained under the best French chef in the country. He was going to open his restaurant in 2020. Then the pandemic hit. Well , that was one of the best things to happen for our food scene because Travis Schweikert started meeting all of our chefs , all of our local purveyors , all of our small makers. He gets his lamb from a place in City Heights called City Market. He really made all these little connections , these people doing beautiful small production food. And then he really immersed it into his restaurant. When he finally opened up after the bad part of the pandemic really subsided. So that has moved our needle intensely. Then. Consortium Holdings San Diego now is known as a theme park for restaurants , and I don't say that in a negative way. Some people might , but you look at Consortium Holdings , which has born and raised , they have craft and commerce , they have polite revisions , they have all these speakeasies. They were one of the first in San Diego to do speakeasies , and they just went for a kid. I mean , wild restaurants. It looked like you walked into Etsy and , you know , our Etsy just , you know , lost its lunch in this space. But it's so inspiring and cool and interesting. You know , they've been on every national radar for media companies of the best designs in the country. And again , that's a La Hoya High grad who stayed in San Diego and said , If I ever leave San Diego , have you ever seen me open up a concept ? And any other city you will know that I have sold out.

S8: So then what's one or even a.


S7: It is. It's another world out of body food experience where you didn't know food could do certain things. It's like watching Cirque du Soleil happen in front of your eyes , except for it's on the plate. Ali would be another one simply because give you an example of this When most people serve spot prawns , they get them already dead and put them in their walk in refrigerator under a damp cloth. Well , that turns a mealy when Travis Schweikert gets spot prawns and it's very seasonal because they're locally caught. He goes up to Scripps Aquarium and gets saltwater and brings it back to his restaurant because it's perfectly calibrated to have the prawns live and thrive right up until dinnertime. And he keeps them , you know , swimming right up until dinner service. So it's fresh and great. I realize that might be a little McCaw , but those are the details , you know that , that make a good restaurant. Kingfisher is another one. Kingfisher over in in Golden Hill they have a congee that is basically rice porridge with , you know , sauteed mushrooms and spices and fish sauce. And it is one of the most comforting bowls of food in San Diego. I do love the reinvention of Mr. A's because handing that off to the new generation who's kind of , you know , taking it a little bit more modern and taking a classic room and giving it new life and making the locals feel welcome in it , you know , is really for me. I love institutions that are preserved , but also evolved. So that's got to be one as well. Born and raised , the steakhouse , it's like eating inside Great Gatsby , the novel , you know it's it's downstairs is you know made have these ornate pillars made of wood and they're all made from one felled oak tree. They have photos of famous rappers that are in these ornate art frames , just like the old steakhouses would have an oil painting of a very refined human being , stuffy as all heck. You know , they have the rappers there. It's just , you know , there's got to be some of my favorites. And then I do have to throw this out. Some of my favorites are the tiny ones , too , like Las Quatro , Mopar , Las Quatro , Mopar is , you know , that is like now 4 or 5 generations of a Mexican family down in the barrio. It just using lard to fry their. Tortillas live. And when you get like that real lard , fried tortilla and a taco , when that taco grease is dripping down your arm , you know , making a raceway , you know , it is unbelievable. You realize you never had a taco before this moment in time.

S1: So before we go , I wanted to ask you about an upcoming food and wine festival that you're involved in.

S7: I have covered this food scene , and I figured that if I could put all of my favorite local restaurants and chefs and I'm talking from Mona Lisa up to , you know , the best restaurants in San Diego put them all in the same stage as my Food Network friends and have a big party that's both national and to celebrate local food and drink culture. I thought that would be one of the greatest experiences that I could build for the city , because doing media , it's all about creating experience. Whether you read a story , you see a video or you're experiencing it live , or for me , the live is where you really build a community anyways. More wine and food festival. It's in September , you know , we have already Sakura is coming down from Food Network. Antonia Lofaso Macmillan A bunch of my Food Network friends are coming in. We're doing a taste dinner , mezcal cooking dinner with Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul , the stars of Breaking Bad at the Laboratory Pines with Drew Dickman , who's a VR chef. You know , we're doing it's it's just an experience of San Diego's food scene with that big spotlight of some of my , you know , famous chef friends. Any time they bring their spotlight to any place , it helps illuminate where they're around. And that's the idea is illuminate San Diego's food culture.

S8: I've been speaking with.

S1: Troy Johnson , a food writer and chief content. Officer.

S8: Officer.

S1: For San Diego magazine. Troy , thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.

S7: I'm hungry. Jade , Thank you so much.

S1: We'd love to hear your thoughts on our show. Give us a call at (619) 452-0228. Leave a message or you can email us at midday at And if you ever miss a show , you can find the Midday Edition podcast on all platforms. I'm Jade Hindman. Thanks for listening.

Photo of San Diego skyline on Feb. 21, 2021
Alex Nguyen
Photo of San Diego skyline on Feb. 21, 2021

A recent designation from Food & Wine Magazine has named San Diego one of the top food cities in the nation. The recognition highlights how far America's Finest City has come as a food destination.

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Troy Johnson, food writer and Chief Content Officer for San Diego Magazine