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New Hillcrest Restaurant Jumps on the Hyper-Local Trend

Cellar Hand's fully local menu will also showcase a who's who of California wine brands
Photo Credit: Kimberly Motos

Restaurants have officially transcended the term “local.” Now, they’re hyper-local, and Cellar Hand in Hillcrest is the latest to embrace it fully. 

“We think the ‘farm-to-table’ moniker has gotten a little played out,” explains Carmen Perr, Cellar Hand’s managing partner, along with her husband Nick (Pali Wine Co.) and executive chef Logan Kendall (Freshman Year, Pali Wine Co. Little Italy). To achieve a hyper-local menu and stay sustainable, Kendall says they’re committed to using 100 percent local produce, which is “a really tough feat.”

“But it’s available,” adds Nick. “There are an abundance of incredible people in San Diego who are farmers or fishermen or ranchers… It feels like a wasted opportunity not to take advantage of that.”

A seafood dish from Hillcrest winebar and restaurant Cellar Hand on a table
Photo Credit: Kimberly Motos

Local sourcing isn’t a new concept—especially considering San Diego’s year-round growing season—but Cellar Hand pushes it as far as they can, getting fish from Tommy “The Fishmonger” Gomes, pork and beef from Thompson Heritage Ranch, and produce from Chino Farms, Cyclops Farms, Stehly Family Farms, Hakuma Produce, and more. With such an emphasis on seasonal sourcing, Logan says they utilize lots of fermentation in the kitchen to minimize food waste, going so far as to hire a dedicated fermentation chef, Chris Ruhl (Trust). Even their food scraps get collected for compost—the ones they aren’t using for other experiments.

“Chris is turning our egg whites into liquid aminos, fermenting them for three weeks,” laughs Kendall. “It’s getting really weird back there.”

A seafood dish, bread, and wine from Hillcrest winebar and restaurant Cellar Hand
Photo Credit: Kimberly Motos

Considering the Perrs hail from the family behind Pali Wine Company, fermentation already falls well within their wheelhouse. “Fermentation is important to us, and we feel comfortable around it. So it only makes sense that our food should also reflect that,” says Carmen. They broke the menu into four sections: Raw, Conserva, For Dipping, and Dinner. Kendall says conservas, which means tinned seafood, has been getting more popular than ever, showing up on menus at Mabel’s Gone Fishing and Oslo’s Sardine Bar pop-ups. Still he hadn’t seen a fully San Diego-sourced seafood preservation program, so he decided to build one himself. 

“I wondered why nobody was doing their own conservas and own tinning,” explains Kendall. Then, he tried it for himself. “The process for processing [fish like] mackerel and sardines is insane. We have to have a team of seven people to [do it],” he laughs. 

A loaf of local-sourced bread enters the oven at Hillcrest winebar and restaurant Cellar Hand
Photo Credit: Kimberly Motos

The For Dipping section centers around head baker Max Sun’s specialty—house-fermented and wood-fired rye-based pita, which Carmen calls a focal point of the menu. “It’s between a 24- and 48-hour ferment,” says Kendall, adding that Wildwood Flour Bakery in Pacific Beach is grinding the grains for all their bread. Dips accompanying the soft, chewy, delectable pita (seriously, it’s that good) currently include a whipped tahini, Chino Farms tomato and fennel matbucha, and housemade labneh. 

Keeping things local on the menu sounds like a lot of work. But Carmen says every detail is kept as close to home as possible, from the artwork made by Nick to the wine list centered solely around California wine. “We go to farm-to-table or ‘local’ restaurants and it seems like it stops at the food,” she points out. “There might be two California wines. Why is it stopping there?”

Wine selection from Hillcrest winebar and restaurant Cellar Hand featuring Lady of the Sunshine, Auteur, Lo-Fi, and various other wine bottles
Photo Credit: Kimberly Motos

The wine list reads as a Who’s Who in California winemaking, with bottles from Pali Wine and Lady of the Sunshine, Auteur, Lo-Fi, and more. Even the artwork stays close to home, with the paintings and cyanotypes made by Nick himself. But despite the constraints they’ve put on themselves, keeping it hyper-local hasn’t been a burden. Instead, Kendall says, it’s a rare opportunity that isn’t available anywhere.

“I’ve had the best of the best in Michelin restaurants in New York. And I really, honestly, truly believe that San Diego produces the best,” he says. Our arugula is spicier, our tomatoes are brighter, cleaner… I think the complexity of California produce—especially the citrus and everything out here—makes it a lot easier to cook this style of food. If I were in Montana, we’d have a lot harder time.”

Cellar Hand officially opens on June 6 in Hillcrest and will launch a brunch program in July. Reservations are available on OpenTable.

Exterior of Bahn Thai restaurant in University Heights, San Diego planning on expanding into a new location this year
Courtesy of Bahn Thai

San Diego Restaurant News & Food Events

Bahn Thai Shares New Details On Upcoming New Location

Bahn Thai has been a culinary cornerstone in University Heights for 12 years, dishing out tons of delicious Thai favorites from a tiny storefront on Park Boulevard. But owner Paul Srimuang is really looking forward to moving, even if it is just a few doors down. The family-run restaurant purchased 4628 Park Blvd., formerly Small Bar and Johnston’s, and is working to rebuild and expand the much larger space. Srimuang estimates they’ll be able to move over in eight or nine months (putting the timeline into early 2025) while keeping the original location at 4646 Park Blvd. open until then. 

In the meantime, Srimuang says they’ve been waiting almost a year for the proper permits to rebuild their other location in Hillcrest, which has been closed since May 2023 due to a fire. He hopes to reopen in August.

Four bowls of ramen from Ramen Nagi in UTC Westfield La Jolla, San Diego featuring a new Limited King food dish series
Courtesy of Ramen Nagi USA

Beth’s Bites

Ramen just tastes better on a drizzly day, so I wasn’t too bummed when I had to dodge raindrops on my way to Ramen Nagi at Westfield UTC to try a bowl of their Genki Curry King. The huge bowl of rich curry blended with their signature tonkatsu broth and topped with crispy onions, minced pork, bell peppers, and a yogurt drizzle is part of their Limited King series and may be gone before you get a chance to try it. But don’t fret—they keep rolling out new releases for the series, and I plan to keep my eyes open for the next iteration before June Gloom lifts. 

I have thoughts on tip culture, hidden surcharges, and other hospitality industry standards that we, as Americans (inexplicably), think are normal and acceptable. But starting July 1, at least one of these will change. All surcharges that unavoidably appear on your bill (like service fees or local mandate fees) will now simply be bundled into the menu price rather than be added later, a move that has restaurateurs worried and consumer transparency activists cheering. Times are tough for small businesses, that’s for sure. But having a clear idea of what your final bill will be before it comes seems like a step towards clarity, albeit somewhat painful for business owners. 

A strange little building next to The Salvation Army Kroc Center has sat vacant for quite some time but may be getting new life as a new Señor Taquero. If they play their cards right and open once the dispensary at the end of the block is complete, I’m betting it’ll be a smash hit.

Have breaking news, exciting scoops, or great stories about new San Diego restaurants or the city’s food scene? Send your pitches to [email protected].

By Beth Demmon

Beth Demmon is an award-winning writer and podcaster whose work regularly appears in national outlets and San Diego Magazine. Her first book, The Beer Lover's Guide to Cider, is now available. Find out more on

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