If there’s a formula for snagging a Michelin star, chef Roberto Alcocer doesn’t know what it is. And yet his Oceanside restaurant, Valle (2023 critic’s choice for best Mexican), just received its first from the guide.On this episode of the Happy Half Hour podcast, Alcocer sits down with hosts Troy and David to discuss the achievement and the lengthy road he’s taken (passport required) to get to this point in his career.Here’s the Alcocer formula, though: Taking his staff to yoga so they can relax. Encouraging chefs that, while under him, mistakes made at his restaurant mean less slip ups when they have their own establishments. When customers are running late to Valle, he doesn’t throw out their reservation. He waits. It takes a while to get to Oceanside from San Diego, and he respects the fact that they’re making the trip to savor his food.Born in Mexico City, Alcocer grew up camping and cooking. He made his sandwiches with stinky cheese and prosciutto. “Since I was a young kid, I was a good eater,” Alcocer says.
In the household he grew up in, attending university was mandatory. And he did attend so, just after he crossed the ocean to spend some years in France learning to cook the cuisine. “I fell in love with the finesse,” he says. When he was 27, and after he had returned to the states, Alcocer was cooking for San Diego Gas and Electric’s board members. That’s when the thought hit: I didn’t go all the way to France as a teenager to just make grilled chicken salads. Dipping into the savings and encouraged by his wife, Alcocer opened a spot that started with chairs and a rented porta-potty. The restaurant’s name? Malva, now one of Ensenada’s finest.Similar to Malva, Valle is Alcocer’s reminder to diners that Mexican fare can be just as elegant as French and Japanese. And Mexican cuisine is woven into the fabric of San Diego. “Growing up here, I went straight from the breast to the hot sauce,” Troy jokes.On season nine of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain said he believed a re-evaluation of Mexican cooking was coming. Even with how delicious the cheaper options are, there’s another side to this cuisine—the side Alcocer specializes in—that many individuals are unaware of.Valle is an indicator that we’re no longer peering over the horizon; rather, this Oceanside restaurant has proven we’re starting to arrive at the final destination: a place where Mexican cuisine is as refined and respected as any other on the planet. Note: Californios in San Francisco is the only Mexican restaurant with two Michelin stars in the United States.When Alcocer came to Oceanside in 2021, he was hoping to claim a star. This month, he did just that. “I come from a country where hospitality is in our veins,” he says. If Alcocer sticks to his formula, that list of two-Michelin-starred Mexican restaurants just might get a little bigger. In Two People, Fifty Bucks, David recommends stopping for brunch at The Waverly for the Turkish poached eggs. Troy is all about the brown butter thyme sauce with ravioli at Civico 1845. And Roberto says the burgers served off the sizzling flat top at The Friendly are some of the city’s best.Listen to the full episode above, and stay tuned for next week’s episode of Happy Half Hour.