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The Story Behind San Diego’s Hottest Backyard Restaurant

The owners of Warung RieRie stop by to chat about their movie-worthy love story, journey from Bali to the US, and cooking meals out of their kitchen
Exterior of Indonesian backyard hut restaurant (MEHKO) Warung RieRie in Sera Mesa, San Diego
Photo Credit: James Tran

If you received this month’s San Diego Magazine, you already know about Warung RieRie. Happy Half Hour host and food critic Troy Johnson dubbed it “the star of the city’s thrilling backyard restaurant scene.”

Wait. There’s a thrilling backyard restaurant scene in San Diego? Indeed, there is, and the individual restaurants are formally dubbed MEHKOs—Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations.

Warung RieRie founder and head chef Rie Sims in her backyard garden in Sera Mesa, San Diego
Photo Credit: James Tran

We had Chef Rie Sims and her right hand—husband, sous chef, host, and marketing manager Dave Sims—in to talk about their Sumatran hut that they transported via Bali to their Serra Mesa backyard. In that hut is Warung RieRie, a fine dining restaurant operated out of their home kitchen.

“For chefs like Rie, MEHKOs are a way in, or just a different way,” writes Johnson in this month’s review. “Few people can afford to open a restaurant, which can run (at the very lowest end) tens of thousands to millions of dollars and lock dreamers into long-term leases. In 2013, California implemented the Homemade Food Act, allowing anyone to make and sell low-risk foods (granola, jam, the like) out of their homes. Hot meals were a no-go, deemed too dangerous.”

“But on Jan. 1, 2019, AB 626 allowed cooks in California to run restaurants out of their homes, serving all but the most notorious get-sick foods (like oysters and tartare). The new restaurants were called MEHKOs.”

Salad from Indonesian backyard hut restaurant (MEHKO) Warung RieRie in Sera Mesa, San Diego
Photo Credit: James Tran

With a year-long waitlist, Warung RieRie is undoubtedly the city’s most famous backyard joint. We hear about the couple’s movie-worthy love story, their journey from Bali to the US, Rie’s former career as one of the most prominent film directors in Indonesia, and that time she cooked traditional Indonesian food for the Indonesian Prime Minister.

As for news, we discuss LA-based Brewjeria Company opening in Chula Vista; Padres will re-debut their “Clara” beer at Petco Park; and Vega Caffe will open just next to the park, as well. 

By Jackie Bryant

Jackie is San Diego Magazine's content strategist. Prior to that, she was its managing editor. Before her SDM career, she was a long-time freelance journalist covering cannabis, food/restaurants, travel, labor, wine, spirits, arts & culture, design, and other topics. Her work has been selected twice for Best American Travel Writing, and she has won a variety of national and local awards for her writing and reporting.

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