“See a penny, pick it up; all day long you’ll have good luck.” Bah. Twenty-four hours of good fortune is fleeting. Give that penny to someone else, and your luck will last until the next Best Restaurants issue, at least.
To make this adage a reality, we asked local chefs to pass along the metaphorical penny to their real-life peers by naming their favorite local dishes. Our own Troy Johnson kicks off the chain of praise, highlighting Marisi’s pappardelle with duck ragu. According to Marisi’s chef, Chad Huff, this rich pasta plays with flavors and texture, topping things off with “pops of acidity and umami” thanks to shaved Piave Vecchio DOP and preserved Meyer lemons. Alright, chef, it’s time to eat it forward…
Chad Huff’s Pick
Beef Tartar @ Paradisaea
“I always order beef tartare when I see it on the menu,” Huff says. And La Jolla’s Paradisaea does not disappoint. He says, “I love the crispy sunchokes and garlic, the herbaceous [note] from the shiso, and the umami and acidity from the ponzu.” Drawing inspiration from Japanese flavors and local ingredients, Paradisaea’s culinary director Mark Welker, formerly of Eleven Madison Park in New York City, employs West Coast Koji’s local miso and California’s nearly perennial sunchoke.
Mark Welker’s Pick
Roasted Jerk Chicken @ Nine-Ten
Saint Bourdain once said, “Everyone should know how to roast a chicken.” If only they could do it like chef Jason Knibb. Chicken is Welker’s favorite ingredient, so this is saying something. Knibb infuses his Jamaican heritage into elegant yet unpretentious California cuisine to create a roasted chicken that Knibb says is “true to its form,” with crispy baby Yukon potatoes, green garlic relish, sautéed spigarello, and jerk chicken jus.
Jason Knibb’s Pick
Japanese Lager @ Harland Brewing Co.
Forget slipping the maitre’d a $20. Just bring everyone on the line a six-pack of something cold and you’ll be a VIP for life. Taking us from dinner out to post-work sips, chef Jason Knibb selects Harland Brewing Co.’s international take on the sudsy staple. “It’s clean, sort of malty and rich, and just has a lot of flavor [and] body for a lager—not overpowering. It blends with the types of food I cook at home,” Knibb says.
Elysee Valdez’s Pick
Saigon Dreamer @ Realm of the 52 Remedies
Picking up on the after-hours cues, Harland Brewing Co.’s chef at the South Park tasting room offers up a libation packed with power. “When I think of the perfect cocktail, it is easily the Saigon Dreamer,” Valdez says. It’s a whiskey-coffee cocktail that hits citrusy notes and, according to Valdez, that “not-too- sweet” bullseye. Espresso martini, who?
Chris Lee’s Pick
Baja Striped Seabass @ Kingfisher
“It [is] super well-balanced, crispy, and juicy,” Lee says. Based on chef David Sim’s mother’s caramelized catfish, it’s a glow-up of the traditional, opting for fattier sea bass with caramelized fish sauce, while staying rooted in tradition with the classic combination of rice and mustard greens—but it’s not just any rice. “The butter rice is another umami factor in the dish,” Sim adds. Balance, indeed.
David Sim’s Pick
Spaghetti & Clams @ Catania
“I love the Whisknladle group,” Sim says. His “favorite bite is at Catania,” Whisknladle’s La Jolla perch full of Mediterranean swagger. Using fresh pasta (of course), this dish belies its simplicity with the addition of “white wine, chili flakes, garlic, Manila clams, butter, and spaghetti made in-house,” says corporate chef de cuisine Vincent Schofield, adding, “People enjoy its simplicity, and we love it.”
Vincent Scholfield’s Pick
Mapo Tofu @ Fortunate Son
A man of the people, Schofield says, “I love what all the chefs are doing, and I try to support them as much as possible when it comes to really satisfying my craving for something.” And what is more satiating than unfolding the lapels of a white take-out box full of a chili-bathed protein of your choice? “I think they do a fantastic job on the mapo tofu, in particular,” Schofield says. CH Projects’ culinary director Perfecte Rocher notes that the tofu—swathed in black vinegar, garlic, soy, ginger, chilis, and green onions—is a stab at tradition. “It’s a very classical Chinese dish, but Fortunate Son does it a little more Americanized,” he says.
Perfecte Rocher’s Pick
Aleppo Chicken @ Callie
“Usually, if I go out, I try to go to Thai or Chinese or Ethiopian places—not places everybody goes,” Perfecte Rocher says. “But who can deny the call of Callie when it beckons with its unique (and Michelin-recognized) take on Mediterranean flavors? Callie’s chef and owner Travis Swikard says, “The Aleppo Chicken is our marathoner.” The team makes 50 or 60 plates of the dish per night. Swikard gets succinct with it: “[It’s] juicy, crunchy, salty, spicy, sweet, and [an] umami bomb. What more could you ask for?” Um… a fork and knife, please?