By Frank Sabatini Jr.
With the recent arrival of El Charko Grill & Bar’s progressive street tacos to Old Town, the long-established El Agave Restaurant & Tequileria located a block away is matching the competition with its own gourmet creations.
New to the menu are duck tacos with cactus and fig jelly; crispy ahi tuna tacos served over Mexican rice; and salmon burritos wrapped in tomato tortillas. 2304 San Diego Ave., 619-220-0692.
Restaurateur Johan Engman purchased Western Steakburger in North Park nearly a year ago to eventually bring an “Instagram-worthy” eatery to the neighborhood. His vision for Breakfast Republic will finally materialize in late June, now that the original owner of Western has ceased operations and entered into retirement.
“We’re doing a thorough remodel,” Engman said, revealing that the restaurant will serve both classic and uncommon breakfast fare from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. The redesign will feature front and back patios, an entrance wrapped in galvanized metal, and restrooms rigged with recordings of jokes and quotes that break randomly into songs. He’s also installing a 20-tap chrome beer tower, assuring that the suds will pair swimmingly to dishes such as s’mores french toast, Vietnamese chicken wing breakfast bowls and standard egg dishes.
“I want a restaurant that stands out for photo ops on Instagram and other social media,” Engman said, referring also to an exterior painting that will depict roosters escaping from a henhouse.
Engman’s portfolio consists of Fig Tree Cafes in three locations, including Hillcrest, plus Café Cantata in Del Mar. He said a lease has already been secured for a second Breakfast Republic in metro San Diego, but can’t reveal the details just yet. 2730 University Ave.
Nearly 30 restaurants located largely along India and Kettner streets will swing open their doors and offer samples of their latest and greatest dishes at this year’s Taste of Little Italy, which runs from 5 to 9 p.m., July 17. Foodies can choose from full or partial routes, with the north and south ends each priced at $30. Or for hearty grazers, the full shebang costs $45. Among the restaurants taking part are Davanti Enoteca, Ironside Fish & Oyster, Kettner Exchange, M Winehouse, NaPizza, Queenstown Public House, the new Pan Bon and more. littleitalysd.com.
Construction is underway to the space that formerly gave reign to R Gang Eatery in Hillcrest. Its new tenants, beer consultant Beau Schmitt of The Brew Project and Mike Sill, who previously managed Quality Social, will open The Brew Project House in July.
“We’re pushing to be open before Pride, which is July 18,” said Schmitt, adding that he’s aiming for the style of “an old Victorian country house.”
The establishment will feature 28 handles devoted exclusively to San Diego craft beers. A cocktail program is also in the works along with a food menu flaunting salads, tortas and shareable plates. 3683 Fifth Ave., thebrewproject.com.
The new Burnside in Normal Heights is a quaint sandwich shop with a big imagination. Launched recently by the owners of Sycamore Den two doors away, the menu takes on cosmopolitan flair with sandwiches such as Korean rib eye with kimchi; a Cubano made with pork belly; and the French-inspired “stinky grilled cheese” accented with braised leeks. Of the American-style offerings, there is buttermilk chicken or braised pot roast tucked into bread as well. The sandwiches can be consumed inside the eatery or while imbibing at Sycamore. 3373 Adams Ave.
Soon to replace the long-running Royal Thai Cuisine in the Gaslamp District is the highly anticipated Sovereign Kitchen & Bar, a modern Vietnamese restaurant headed by Michelin-starred chef Michael Bao Huynh and San Diego-based restaurateur Alex Thao, who also owns Rama and Lucky Liu’s.
Huynh, a native of Saigon, previously opened a series of restaurants in New York City that earned him glowing accolades by New York’s top food critics and celebrity chefs.
Sovereign is due to launch in early June with a menu focusing on pho and other signature dishes. Until then, the restaurant has been giving consumers a casual primer via the adjacent Food Shop, which the team opened recently with a selection of banh mi sandwiches, noodle bowls and Vietnamese coffees. 467 Fifth Ave., 619-888-4829.
After a few postponements, Bracero Cocina de Raiz in Little Italy is now due to open in late June by whiz-chef Javier Plascencia, who owns the lauded Romesco’s in Bonita along with several restaurants in Tijuana. His latest venture in a two-level 4,500-square-foot structure promises authentic south-of-the-border food involving spit-roasted meats, house-made tortillas and Baja-inspired ceviches. The restaurant was originally slated to open in March. 1490 Kettner Blvd.
—Frank Sabatini Jr can be reached at email@example.com.