Everyone has a favorite chef, or a favorite dish prepared by a local restaurant chef. But what dishes do chefs crave when they go out to eat?
We’ve interviewed a lineup of local chefs and asked them their favorite dishes on other chefs’ menus. Their picks range from sushi to pasta, Asian to Latin food, barbecue to dessert.
Kicking things off is Daniela Martinez, a well-traveled San Diego chef who aims to open her first restaurant next year.

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Private chef, now cooking at the Del Mar Turf Club

Daniela Martinezis a second-generation chef, born in Argentina to parents of Argentinian and Italian heritage and raised among Puerto Ricans and Caribbeans in New York’s Queens and Brooklyn boroughs. Her cooking, she says, draws deeply on that rich cultural heritage.
A lifelong artist who studied photography and art at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, Martinez studied pastry in culinary school because of the artistic creativity it offered. After graduating in 2014, she was a pastry chef at Ironside Fish & Oyster and Bracero in Little Italy, Sugar and Scribe in La Jolla and Il Dandy/Arama in Bankers Hill. In 2019, she was crowned a Food Network “Chopped” Grand Champion, after competing on the series’ “Sweets Showdown Tournament.”
Last year, Martinez segued into savory cooking with an executive chef position at the global cuisine restaurant Semola in La Jolla. She left Semola in July, and is now doing private chef and collaboration events, teaching cooking classes and helping to manage the kitchen at the Del Mar Turf Club as she scouts locations for her own San Diego restaurant that she hopes to open in 2023.

The concept is an astrology-themed chef’s table-speakeasy restaurant with a menu highlighting herbs with healing properties. Because of her art background, Martinez always sketches out her visually arresting dishes in advance as a planning tool. These sketches, with dish descriptions on the back, will become souvenir cards that diners at her restaurant will take home with them to remember their meal. Follow her at instagram.com/dulceschef.
Martinez’s signature dish: A riff on Pernil with Arroz and Platanos, featuring mole-marinated pork belly, mofongo puree of plantains with chicharron and garlic, risotto concón a la pegao (burnt rice) and toston chips. “This dish is a fusion of the Italian, Argentinian, Puerto Rican and Caribbean aspects of my childhood,” she said.

Martinez’s favorite dish elsewhere: Pastry chef Gianna Buzzetta’s Kiwi dessert at Jeune et Jolie in Carlsbad.
“For me, it’s so much more creative when you blend the two worlds of sweet and savory together,” Martinez said.

Pastry chef at Jeune et Jolie in Carlsbad
Gianna Buzzettais only 23 years old, yet she’s already landed a coveted pastry chef position at a Michelin-starred restaurant, Carlsbad’s Jeune et Jolie. She credits her achievement to her inexhaustible work ethic, which was born when she started working for her mom’s event/florist business at age 12.
“I’m 100 percent a workaholic,” she said. “I have been working nonstop since 17 and have always had a job. At one time, I had three jobs at once.”

Born and raised in an Italian-Guatamalan household in Oceanside, Buzzetta learned to cook at home and gravitated toward baking because she loved the science of it and she didn’t eat meat. Her first restaurant job, in high school, was at Veggie Grill. When she graduated, she spent two years at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa. While there, she had externships at two Michelin-starred restaurants in Los Angeles: Spago and the now-closed Patina.
After her time at the institute, she returned home to work pastry at Herringbone in La Jolla, then double-timed working mornings at Dija Mara in Oceanside and afternoons/evenings at Wild Thyme Catering Co. in San Diego. Then she was a corporate pastry chef at Puesto. She joined Jeune et Jolie’s team this summer, and runs her own private specialty cake business on the side.
Her favorite style of plated desserts incorporate all-natural ingredients, both sweet and savory, with many components, including seasonal ingredients, herbs, micro flowers, textures and colors. “I don’t like super sweet stuff. It’s not about giving you sugar pow. It’s about simplicity.”

Follow her at instagram.com/ggbuzzetta
Buzzetta’s signature dish at Jeune et Jolie: Kiwi. The base is a yogurt mousse with fresh compressed kiwi in a coriander syrup, compressed green apple and coriander-candied cashews with kiwi sorbet and cilantro flowers.

Buzzetta’s favorite dish elsewhere: Barbara Zeiss’s Everything Bagel-spiced gluten-free bread at Plantiful Kitchen in Carlsbad.
“I try to eat gluten-free and dairy-free. Usually when you get gluten-free bread, it’s not good, but her bread is beautiful. It has a harder crust and with the seasoning it’s delicious,” Buzzetta said.

Chef/owner of Plantiful Kitchen in Carlsbad
In Barbara Zeiss’s native Germany, bread is so central to the national diet that it has its own mealtime called “brotzeit” (meaning “bread time”). But by the time she was in her teens, Zeiss stopped eating most baked goods because they made her feel bloated and caused indigestion.
Then, while living in Australia in her late 20s, she discovered cafes devoted to healthy and nutritious breads and desserts and started experimenting with her own recipes, because she’s vegan and was eating gluten-free at the time.
Six years ago, she moved to the United States and began bringing some of her healthy desserts to friends’ parties and they suggested she start selling these treats. That was the beginning of Plantiful Kitchen, a vegan and gluten-free bakery business which she launched in her home in 2017 and moved into a bakery-store in Carlsbad in May 2020.

Plantiful’s signature product is her crumble-free bread, which has no refined sugars, vegetable oils, processed ingredients, starches or fillers. She also makes gluten-free vegan cookies and truffles. And her grab-and-go store is also a market offering healthy snacks, vegan cheeses and other items made by other artisan foodmakers.
Opening in the pandemic was a huge risk, but a San Francisco-based company used her breads for its national meal-shipping business and that kept her afloat and built a national customer base. Meanwhile she built a wholesale business for her breads and pastries that are now sold at Jimbo’s, Frazier Farms, Erewhon and other healthy supermarkets, coffeehouses and restaurants.
Follow her at instagram.com/plantiful.kitchen

Zeiss’s signature item at Plantiful Kitchen: Vegan and gluten-free Everything Bagel-spiced bread.
Zeiss’s favorite dish elsewhere: Chef Jason Ambacher’s Tofu Rendang at Dija Mara in Oceanside.

“It’s such a flavor explosion. There are so many things in that bowl that are delicious. I always try to take the perfect bite with all the accouterments and it’s just so good,” Zeiss said.

Executive chef at Dija Mara in Oceanside

Oceanside has been Jason Ambacher’s home for most of his life. And since 2018, his culinary home has been Oceanside’s Dija Mara, a Balinese-inspired restaurant that last year earned a coveted Michelin Bib Gourmand honor.
Ambacher started out in Dija Mara’s kitchen as a line cook, then worked his way up to executive chef within a year. He gradually made the menu his own, dish by dish, with a focus on authentic regional recipes and a multilayered mélange of ingredients.
After graduating from culinary school, Ambacher worked as a lead line cook at 333 Pacific in Oceanside and at Mille Fleurs in Oceanside. Then he worked his way up to sous chef at the Flying Pig in Oceanside and was kitchen manager at Harney Sushi in Oceanside. Then, with a former girlfriend, he moved to South Africa, where he cooked at restaurants for two years, and then traveled and ate his way around Thailand before returning home to Oceanside and a job at Dija Mara.

Follow him at instagram.com/jasonjars
Ambacher’s selected dish by Zeiss: Tofu Rendang. Pan-fried tofu and tempeh are marinated in Indonesian curry sauce, and served with rice, peanut sauce, pickles, cucumbers, raw shallots, lemongrass and kaffir leaves with fried shallots and green onions.

Ambacher’s favorite dish elsewhere: Chef Davin Waite’s swordfish nigiri with swordfish bone marrow shot.
“It’s such a simple dish but perfectly executed. The bone marrow shot has a fresh oceany flavor and it’s a perfect demonstration of Davin’s philosophy of minimizing waste,” Ambacher said.

Executive chef and co-founder of Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub, The Plot and Shootz Fish & Beer restaurants in Oceanside
Ever since Davin Waite opened his Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub in Oceanside in 2013, the hyper-creative sushi chef has relished pushing the boundaries of sushi cuisine and finding creative ways to use every part of the fish.
Waite’s zero-waste ethos earned him the prestigious 2022 Sustainability Advocate Award last month from the California Travel Association, and his sometimes kooky culinary ideas have attracted a legion of fans from throughout the Southwest.

He credits his nose-to-tail cooking style to longtime local fishmonger Tommy Gomes, who always challenged Waite’s creativity by popping strange sea creatures into the boxes of fish Waite purchased for his restaurants. The trick to get the squeamish to try new things, he said, is attaching food names that are familiar, like crispy fish “wings,” fish “bacon” and even fish sperm chowder.
Waite grew up bouncing between Oceanside and his parents’ native England. While studying psychology at a college in Santa Barbara, he got a job making California rolls and ended up dropping out of school in 1996 to study full time with a Japanese sushi master. From 1999 to 2004, he honed his sushi skills at Café Japengo in La Jolla, then opened the short-lived Fish Joint with his brother, Loren, and friends in Oceanside. After a lucrative but dull gig as a cooking consultant, he opened Wrench & Rodent with his wife, Jessica. Its name is a cheeky homage to the wacky pub names in England.
Today, he also co-owns the The Plot, a plant-based, zero-waste restaurant, and Shootz & Beer, a fish taco joint with creative seafood specials. At each, his overriding passion is sustainability, and teaching diners to appreciate every part of the animal proteins and veggies they consume.

Follow him at instagram.com/davinwaite
Waite’s selected dish by Ambacher: The swordfish nigiri with swordfish bone marrow shot is a play on words. The swordfish is seared with a seasonal fruit or miso truffle sauce and the shot isn’t actually marrow but the the clear, jellylike discs between the swordfish’s vertebrae. One of the vertebrae is tossed in wing sauce and fried.

Waite’s favorite dish elsewhere: Chef William Eick’s cabbage and caviar course on the omakase menu at Matsu restaurant in Oceanside.
“I love the complex simplicity of it. There are multiple layers of flavor and each layer you taste is the perfect showcase of William’s skill. It’s a culinary sucker punch,” Waite said.

Chef/owner of Matsu restaurant in Oceanside
William Eick was raised in a mostly Asian section of San Jose where, as a latchkey kid, he grew up cooking all the family meals and on weekends they splurged on takeout sushi and Vietnamese food. After cooking for 12 years at Bistro West in Carlsbad, George’s at the Cove in La Jolla, Real Bar & Bistro in Solana Beach and his own short-lived Oceanside restaurant 608, he embraced his passion for Japanese cuisine.
After some research trips to Japan and several years of testing his recipes with pop-up dinners, he launched three concepts in South Oceanside: Matsu, a fine-dining, omakase-only Japanese-inspired restaurant; Hokkaido, a Japanese milk bread wholesale bakery; and Naegi, a Japanese fried chicken (karaage) outlet that moved from a food truck into a brick and mortar location this week.

Matsu was named after matsutake mushrooms, which are pine mushrooms that are native to Japan but grow wild in Southern California forests. Eick, an avid herb, flower and mushroom forager, said he thought the binational fungi best represents the Matsu concept, which is a mix of Japanese and California ingredients prepared in the Japanese style. Eick’s goal is to earn Matsu a Michelin star.
Colleagues say Eick is known for his devotion to every detail, even designing and building the kitchens and dining rooms himself. His cabbage dish — so popular it’s become a permanent fixture on the omakase menu — takes two days to make.
Follow him at instagram.com/chefwilliameick

Eick’s signature dish at Matsu: Cabbage. Accented with Kaluga caviar, it’s a mix of grilled cabbage gyoza (dumpling) stuffed with seasoned and sautéed cabbage and served with cabbage dashi.
“It’s one of the most talked about dishes with our guests because it’s such an unassuming dish, it’s just a bowl of cabbbage with the caviar, but it has so much flavor and it’s really just about the cabbage,” Eick said.

Eick’s favorite restaurants: Eick was a fan of chef Beau Bonham’s Capricious pizza at Allmine Pizza in Oceanside. Bonham left Allmine in August and the menu has since changed. But, before he left, Bonham picked as his favorite dish Felix Berry’s beef brisket at Felix’s BBQ with Soul.

Owner and founding chef at Felix’s BBQ With Soul

Felix Berry is often asked how his four-store barbecue chain got its name. He said it’s all about the love and care he puts into his made-from-scratch food and his relationship with customers.
“Barbecue is what we do but soul food is who we are,” said Berry, who launched his first restaurant in Oceanside at the dawn of the recession in 2008. In 2015, he acquired a catering business and, more recently, he has opened more locations in Carlsbad, San Marcos and Lake Elsinore. He also runs a pandemic-born ghost kitchen Mexican food concept called Felix’s Casa.
The Alabama-born Berry discovered his passion for barbecue at age 12, while busing tables at the famed Mitchell’s BBQ in Ohio, where he learned the secrets of smoking meats and making sauces and seasoning rubs from the pitmaster. He got into the restaurant business first as a waiter, then in the early 1980s joined Continental Restaurant Systems’ Foodmaker division, which brought him to San Diego. One of the executives who trained him to run a restaurant was George Hauer, founder of George’s at the Cove in La Jolla.

Berry’s menu is an amalgam of dishes and barbecue styles from throughout the South, including Louisiana, Tennessee and Ohio. Some of the recipes are old family favorites or ones he has adapted from his early training at Mitchell’s. But a few, like the cornbread and barbecue sauce, are his own secret recipes.
Felix’s signature dish: Beef brisket, brined then seasoned and slow-smoked over apple and hickory wood for no more than eight hours.

Felix’s favorite dish elsewhere: Chef Trey Foshee’s spaghetti and clams at George’s at the Cove.
“It’s my favorite dish to order at restaurants, but the one I ordered at George’s was particularly exceptional,” Berry said.

Chef-owner of George’s at the Cove, La Jolla
Since 1999, Trey Foshee has been chef-owner, with founder George Hauer, at George’s at the Cove. Since the pandemic began, the indoor fine-dining half of the George’s business has been on hiatus until Foshee feels confident he can staff it properly to deliver the high-end, upscale cuisine he has long been known for.
Born in Hawaii and raised in Ojai, Foshee graduated from culinary school at 19. He quickly cooked his way through so many prestigious kitchens — L’Orangerie in Los Angeles, La Folie in San Francisco, two Hawaii resort restaurants and the Sundance Resort in Utah — that “Food and Wine” magazine named him one of the “Best New Chefs in America” in 1998.

Today, the Encinitas resident oversees culinary operations for George’s, which for now is just the 31-year-old outdoor space George’s Ocean Terrace, and newly opened Sandpiper Fish & Oyster, which he and Hauer opened in July in La Jolla Shores.
Under Foshee’s guidance, George’s has continued to win accolades for its innovative cuisine and farm-to-table ethos. Masa Kojima, who rejoined George’s recently after six years away at Juniper & Ivy, was promoted to George’s executive chef about six months ago. Meanwhile, until it can fully reopen, the George’s indoor dining room is being used for special events like a Chino Farms summer produce dinner and winter wine dinners.

Foshee’s selected dish by Berry: Spaghetti and clams. This dish is not on the menu at present but Foshee said he keeps it simple with clams cooked in white wine and garlic and parsley over cooked spaghetti. Options include adding pancetta or roasted cherry tomatoes.
Foshee’s favorite dish elsewhere: Chef Mike Reidy’s local sanddab with smoked paprika butter at the Fishery.
“He keeps it super simple. A good flavored butter is all he needs. He knows how much to add and how much to take away, which is the real calling card of a good chef,” Foshee said.

Executive chef at The Fishery in Pacific Beach
From an early age, restaurants and local seafood have been constants in the life of Bird Rock resident Mike Reidy, who was hired as executive chef at The Fishery in March 2020.

Raised in Poway, Reidy was busing tables at his uncle’s Temecula barbecue restaurant at age 10, and by high school, was working on sportsfishing boats out of Point Loma. After six years working at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, he went to culinary school in New York, then returned home to the R.B. Inn, and next at Bellamy’s in Escondido, where he was chef de cuisine.
For three and a half years, he trained under Josiah Citrin at Michelin two-star Melisse in L.A., then returned home again in 2017 to work at Ironside Fish & Oyster and as a R&D chef for CH Projects.
Reidy’s passion is introducing to diners the more than 200 indigenous fish and sea creatures found in the waters within 30 miles of San Diego. He’s thrilled to have found a new culinary home at the Fishery, which shares his devotion to local sea life and his style of cooking.

“It takes a special restaurant just to put a fish on a plate with no sauce,” he said. “The Fishery is a really special place. It’s been around for 25 years almost and we just pride ourselves on having the top-quality seafood.”
Reidy’s selected dish by Foshee: Local sanddab (a shallow water flat fish) with smoked paprika butter. “I went to London in November and had a similar fish, slip sole. They prepared it like that and I fell in love with it, so that’s where this setup originated,” Reidy said.

Reidy’s favorite dish of his own: Grilled local market squid prepared Vietnamese-style in a warm salad with fish sauce vinaigrette, Chino Farm melon, sweet Italian peppers, lemon cucumber, cilantro basil, mint and lime.
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