Chef Brian Malarkey Shares His Favorite Food Experiences In San Diego

Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef, celebrity, or local hero.

Saddle up, because this week we’re off to sunny San Diego, home to fish tacos, miles of surf, and the famous Del Mar race track. Guiding us is none other than Brian Malarkey, Top Chef finalist, regular guest on the Today Show, mentor on ABC’s The Taste, and wildly successful restaurateur. In an industry known for its extraordinary difficulty and long odds, Malarkey has created fifteen acclaimed restaurants, including Herringbone, Searsucker, and his latest venture, Herb & Wood — which opened in 2016 to more than a little fanfare.

How much fanfare? Zagat named it one of the country’s biggest restaurant openings of the year. USA Today called it one of the country’s best restaurants. Eater San Diego awarded it with the title of Best Restaurant of the Year, calling it a “bonafide blockbuster.”

Take a look at the bright, energy-filled dishes; it’s easy to see why!

Hungry? Great! Now we’re off to see Chef Malarkey’s favorite food experiences in San Diego!


Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria

When I’m not eating my pizza at Herb & Wood, I love to take my family and kids to Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria in Encinitas where Chef Wade Hageman always puts out the best pies like their signature wood-fired Blue Ribbon Classic. If you don’t get the Blue Ribbon Butterscotch Pudding with sea salted caramel and fresh whipped cream, you’ve missed half the experience.



I love good Mexican food and especially love the Maine Lobster Taco from Puesto with black beans, crispy onions, avocado, crema de cilantro, jalapeño pico. It has both heat and personality. The cocktails are amazing, I love the open air feeling of the place it’s a great environment that’s a perfect spot for any type of occasion like dinner with your kids, visitors from out-of-town and big group dinners.


Wrench & Rodent

I love Japanese food, especially Wrench and Rodent in Oceanside. Chef Davin Waite is playing with Asian flavors and it works. They serve inventive sushi and seafood dishes with local fish and produce. It has a melting pot environment and is one of the best places for high quality fish in town, the oysters are a personal favorite.


Carnitas’ Snack Shack

I think my friend Chef Hanis over at Carnitas’ Snack Shack has elevated the fast casual and his restaurant is really reflective of greatness in San Diego. The Triple Threat Pork Sandwich is a meal to remember with pork loin schnitzel and mouth-watering pulled pork.


Extraordinary Desserts

If you’re looking for an over the top experience and have a sweet tooth, Extraordinary Desserts is the place to go. I’m old school and this place is the OG legit sweet tooth stop in San Diego. If you really want to seal the deal take your significant other here and enjoy some of the most creative, luxurious and sexy desserts from Le Cordon Bleu graduate Karen Krasne including her decadent Dulce de Leche Cake.


Pamplemousse Grille

For fine dining head to Pamplemousse Grill in Solana Beach. Chef Jeffrey Strauss is a dear friend and has been my mentor over the years. It is an institution in San Diego for fine dining, casual yet elegant. His cuisine is French inspired with contemporary American flare and he constantly wows with dishes like his Crispy Half Duck with sweet white corn, porcini mushrooms, sautéed gnocchi and cherry balsamic reduction. With the location being across the street from the Del Mar racetrack, it’s a great place to walk to for dinner. Jeffrey and I, along with a few others, even own a race horse together.


Searsucker Del Mar

After a day at the track, I love to go to one of my own restaurants, Searsucker Del Mar for dinner and drinks. The social dining concept is especially great for larger groups and is perfect if you want you to come and hang out, have some drinks, appetizers and stay beyond dinner. They have a great selection of shared plates, my favorites include the tuna poke, duck wings, and shrimp & grits. Serving up a reimagined twist on classic new American dishes. If you go, get the hot new Flank Steak with a chiles toreados purée, fingerlings and roasted cherry tomatoes.


Cafe Gratitude

I don’t eat vegetarian often but when I do, I like to go visit my friends down at Cafe Gratitude. It’s cute, airy and has great flavors and I really love what they’ve done there. If you’re looking for somewhere that supports health and sustainability, this menu has it all, including a great selection of juices, wellness shots and interesting non-alcoholic beverages.


Taste of the Turf Club

Every Sunday, the best brunch in town is at the Taste of the Turf Club during Del Mar’s summer racing season. Each week features a new menu to choose from, designed by myself. It’s $150 per person and includes Turf Club admission and seating for the race day, your choice of appetizer, entrée, dessert and bottomless mimosas or Bloody Marys. Everyone can come out and play the ponies, watch the action unfold on the track, and enjoy one of the best and most thrilling brunches in town.


Sea Urchin at Catalina Offshore Products

I’m going to change this question and give you the iconic ingredient of our city. Something I think is better here than anywhere else as far as I’ve ever tasted, is the sea urchin. Found off Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma and harvested by Catalina Offshore Products and shipped around the world it is the greatest uni of all time. Catalina sells the highest quality seafood and if you’re ever in San Diego stop by and visit their Seafood Education and Nutrition Center, led by Tommy Gomes.


Little Italy Mercato

One of the coolest things to do in San Diego is to go to the Little Italy Mercato on Saturdays and enjoy a fresh cracked sea urchin with lime and soy from Island Life Foods. Visitors come from all over the world to enjoy this Farmers’ Market. You get to enjoy the always great San Diego weather while walking around with your dish still crawling around in front of you. If that’s not odd I don’t know what is.


Buona Forchetta

When I’m not eating pasta or pizza at Herb & Wood, I have a new favorite spot in town, Buona Forchetta in Liberty Station. Fresh, simple and delicious, they have the best pasta, pizza, great wine, cheese and ambiance. It’s like I’m in Italy but I’m hanging out at one of San Diego’s coolest public markets in Liberty Station. This place has limitless opportunities, you have to try the Sergio with mozzarella di bufala, prosciutto di parma, arugula and parmesan.


Flower Child

My favorite place to hit up the morning after a day at the races is Flower Child in Del Mar. Right across the street at the Flower Hill Promenade, the best cure for a hangover is to grab a bit of health. Try the Mother Earth bowl, it is the perfect combination of tasty health foods and it brings me back to life every time.



Trust Restaurant in Hillcrest is hands-down the best place for a date night. When I want a night out with my wife Chantelle this is our go-to spot. Chef Brad Wise is one of the great young up-and-coming chefs who will help us evolve to the next level. Try the Dungness Crab Pasta with calabrian chiles, sweet garlic, thai basil and shiitake mushrooms.



If you’re heading north after the racetrack, from the moment you walk into this Carlsbad hotspot, Andrew Bachelier and John Resnick take Campfire to the next level. They have North County’s best food and it’s an honor to have them in our city. They are leading the culinary way with wood-fired dishes. Everything is amazing, from the cocktails to the food, try the roasted broccoli and for an inventive cocktail, their Strike Anywhere has white rum, matcha, cacao, lime and black sesame.

Thank you Chef Malarkey, for taking us on a culinary tour of San Diego!

Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out , Cambridge, Hoboken, Hollywood, Return to Miami, Return to Las Vegas, Manhattan, Oakland, Paris, Portland, Tampa, Durham, Toronto, Baltimore, Monterey, Vail, Lexington, Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans,Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.

See you next week!