— Brandon Hernández
5662 La Jolla Boulevard, La Jolla
It’s what every neighborhood needs — a comfy spot with friendly servers who remember your name and a bartender who’s at the ready with a Santa-like list of adult beverage concoctions. At last count, they had roughly 40 cocktails on the menu, few of which are standard fare. The selection of nine martinis includes the Kiwi Cosmopolitan, with Midori melon liqueur, white cranberry juice, lime, and fresh kiwi; and the Smokey Martini, with chipotle pepper–infused vodka, garnished with Gorgonzola-stuffed olives. Patrons can opt for indoor imbibing in the lively bar area or adjourn to the outdoor patio for some Bird Rock watching. Brunches are spirited affairs. With applewood smoked swine belly and an overflow of olives, the Bacon LOVE and Tomato Mary cocktail is hearty enough to serve as a brunch on its own. Of course, it’s probably best to order two…just to be sure.
— Brandon Hernández
7777 University Avenue, La Mesa
So here’s Matt, Ernesto, and me lined up at the bar, waiting on Ashley to deliver the goods. Strictly cocktails.
This being round one, we’ve decided we should each have something different. Me, it’s the Riviera Sangria; Matt, a Turquoise Sour; Ernesto, an Art Snob.
Blame Ernesto for this. “We’ve gotta go. It’s so Sinatra, it’s hip,” he said. He’s not kidding. Tuesday night, the place is packed like it was the weekend. And I totally get it. The Riviera hits all the notes. Cocktails, bar appetizers, live retro music, guys wearing porkpie hats, cook-your-own grill, rock walls, turquoise walls studded with big star shapes...what a package.
This is Sam Chammas’s baby. He helped restart the Turf Club in Golden Hill, with the same retro grill-your-own-steak heartbeat. When the lease ran out, he moved east to La Mesa, and, boy, looks like the world moved with him.
We have two cocktails each. Or was it three? Thank goodness for the bar food. Ernesto goes and grills a little rack of ribs and orders some onion rings and potato wedges.
We end up all having Infidels (rum, lime, syrup), Hemingway’s drink, in the hope it’ll make us better writers.
— Ed Bedford
1441 Highland Avenue, National City
I bet this is like doing lunch at Musso and Frank’s in Hollywood. You’re eating the legend as much as the steak. Marcel Lamaze, friend to the stars, built this in 1940 as a halfway house for Hollywood en route to TJ’s Caliente Racetrack. It still has a hidden gambling room upstairs.
Seventy years later, the classic steakhouse with its full cocktail bar and half-round red booths doing a waltz around the big room is intact and fashionable again.
Marcel’s friends — Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Jane Russell — watch you from the walls. Your cocktails are their cocktails: martinis, daiquiris, old-fashioneds, Manhattans. Judean the barista mixes me a sweet-and-dry vermouth martini with gin.
Steaks are staple, but there are also bar-top appetizers like jumbo shrimp cocktail, beef bones in barbecue sauce, prime rib bites.
I take the sautéed mushrooms ($6), then the petite cut prime rib (about $18) with baked potato, veggies, horseradish, albóndigas soup.
They have live jazz Thursdays onward, with a big following. Tonight, Monday, I sit back to soak up Ron Bell on the guitar. Only thing missing is Marcel, table-hopping, schmoozing with his French accent.
— Ed Bedford