South Bay native, celebrity chef, and former research and former research and development chef for CH Projects, Phillip Esteban has done stints in kitchens spanning from New York City to La Jolla. Today, he’s behind multiple restaurant concepts across San Diego, including White Rice, Weapon Ramen, and early for your next shindig—the forthcoming Wildflour Delicatessen at Liberty Station.
His approach to Filipino food has helped revolutionize the cuisine for new audiences, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) his ideal day in South Bay involves eating his way through the area. Here are his five favorite places to eat in South Bay:
In Chula Vista, The House of Cuban Flavor offers comforting dishes in place of pretentiousness, focusing on Cuban eats like empanadas, arroz con pollo, mixed bowls, and, of course, Cuban sandwiches. It’s affordable and delicious—the perfect combination, unassumingly nestled in the corner of a strip mall. La Bella Pizza Garden, situated a few miles north on the same street (Chula Vista’s famed Third Avenue), has been a South Bay institution since 1955. “La Bella’s … is where families and friends gather [for] birthday parties, sporting games, and celebrations,” Esteban says.
In his native National City, 8th and B Poke reminds Esteban of growing up nearby. In his younger years, Esteban frequented Zarlitos, a Filipino fusion restaurant owned by Chris “Toppie” Aure’s family until they retired. Aure decided to use the space as a launching pad for his poke business, which rapidly grew in popularity before the pandemic forced him to pause operations.
However, demand quickly grew to a fever pitch, according to Esteban, who says it’s now a staple of the Filipino community. Party trays go fast, so he recommends ordering early for your next shindig—and, if a birthday present is in order, Esteban points to the nearby Japanese market Kyoto Gift & Food as his go-to place for gifts and goodies.
Esteban’s day across South Bay wraps up at Ed Fernandez Restaurant Birrieria in the southern San Diego neighborhood of Nestor. Renowned for their birria, the low-key spot was named the number-one taco shop in America on Yelp last year. The secret is definitely out—their slow-cooked beef is the best in town, and that’s saying a lot in San Diego.