Sirena Gourmet Latin Cuisine

The newly opened Sirena Cocina Latina restaurant offers a true gourmet Latin Cuisine inspired menu, with many dishes having roots in the food culture of South America.

Latin Cusine
Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

Located on the corner of Columbia and Fir Streets in San Diego’s Little Italy, the new Sirena restaurant boasts a neutral color palette accented with wooden walls and dark tables, making it the perfect spot for a romantic date or upscale business dinner.

The philosophy behind the menu at Sirena is to showcase fresh ingredients with simple flavors. “We wanted to bring San Diego a unique and unmatched culinary experience with a one-of-a-kind menu,” says Executive Chef Jaime Chavez.

Latin Cuisine
Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

Sirena stands out from other restaurants in the area by a few trademarks. First, Sirena is the only true Latin American-inspired restaurant, with many dishes having roots in the food culture of South America, while taking on a new life with modern and inventive preparations. Secondly, the caliber of their fresh, seasonal and sustainable ingredients is unmatched. “We do everything we can to feature only locally or regionally-caught seafood and in-season produce,” Chavez says. “We even grow some of the produce ourselves. The menu is creative and complex, while still allowing simple ingredients to shine through.”

Sirena utilizes a unique combination of ingredients for a distinct flavor and appearance. For example, their purple cauliflower is delicately pickled and prepared with oysters and a a fresh coconut-ginger sauce is paired with braised scallops. Additionally, even though Sirena is a seafood restaurant, they also cater to vegetarian and vegan diners. Chavez explains that several members of his kitchen team are not-meat eaters, so much time has been devoted to developing techniques to replicate some of their favorite dishes into vegan-approved options, including cauliflower that tastes like ceviche or mushrooms that imitate raw oysters. “Food can be very creative, which is our inspiration in the Sirena kitchen.”

Latin Cuisine
Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

A majority of the ingredients on the menu at Sirena are not only fresh, but sustainable. Born in Puerto Montt, one of the main cities in the south of Chile, Chavez liked to go to his grandfather’s house in a little fishermen’s city called Maullín, where they had a farm. At a very young age, he learned about fish and seafood. “I was able to open clams before reading,” he says. Chavez also says his first approach with cooking was during the holiday season. “It is common in my family to slow roast a half lamb with a chimichurri lacquer. So, while it was very annoying for adults to rotate the lamb for four hours, it was a very attractive job for a little kid.”

Latin Cuisine
Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

In the south of Chile, Chavez explains that there was a significant German influence, thus his family developed German pastry traditions. “I think cooking and baking is in my blood,” he says. “To be honest, while growing up, I never thought I wanted to cook for a living, but at some point what was in my blood was stronger than my own wishes.”

Chavez attended Inacap, in Santiago de Chile, the oldest culinary school in Chile. He started in 2004, studying in the daytime, and working in different places at night. From fast food to taco shops, Asian eateries to sushi restaurants, he’s worked all of them, gaining invaluable skills, techniques and experience.

Latin Cuisine
Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

In October 2006, Chavez moved for an internship to Peralada a little village in Alt Empurdá Barcelona in a little boutique hotel. He learned there the importance of respecting the ingredients. During his internship, he spent a couple of weeks at El Cingle, a Michelin star restaurant. It was there he received his training in contemporary Catalan cuisine with Montse Estruch; a revolutionary in the field.

Eventually, Chavez headed back to Chile to finish school. Looking for new experiences he moved to a restaurant called Emilio, the best Peruvian fine dining restaurant in Santiago. He started there as line cook and in less than three months, he was promoted to sous chef. He stayed there for a couple of months, until he received an offer to open a Peruvian restaurant in his home city. “It was a beautiful and hard experience, but it was there that I realized that I really loved this life,” he says.

Latin Cuisine
Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

One day, Chavez was in his office and received a call offering him a pastry position at El Cingle, the Michelin star restaurant he had trained at. It was an opportunity he could not turn down, pastry or not. When he arrived at the restaurant, he was informed that there was actually no chef de cuisine at the restaurant, so he jumped from pastry to chef de cuisine in a couple of minutes!

Chavez explains that managing a Michelin star-awarded restaurant was very different than managing other any of the other restaurants he had worked for at that time. At El Cingle, there was no space for mistakes and the place was very demanding. We worked eighteen hours a day, almost every day. “There are so many details to take care of, that you can’t even imagine,” he says. “I had so much to read about, invested several hours in research, practiced my plating skills, and developed a creative process for making new dishes. That place made me who I am now.”

Eventually, Chavez left Spain to follow his wife to Tijuana, Mexico. There he was an instructor at a cooking school, teaching students how to experience food and cooking. From Tijuana, Chavez and his wife came to San Diego, where they have worked in several hotels and restaurants in the city, finally bringing him me to Sirena as the new Executive Chef. “Now, I wish to provide a way for anyone to enjoy and experience those possibilities through my culinary creations,” he says.

Latin Cuisine
Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

The menu at Sirena is inspired by Chavez’s background and by the food culture of South America. Many of the dishes are inspired by things his mother would make, but with a special spin. “I love simple, clean flavors with a complex preparation,” he says. “But, there are also other menu items that play up the quality of seafood we are able to get here in San Diego. Nekkei, our take on a “sushi-style” dish, spotlights how fresh and flavorful our seafood is, even when served raw.”

One of Chavez’s favorite dishes on the menu is the Peruvian Ceviche where the flavors are very fresh and clean with a hint of spice. The fresh oysters are also a favorite, offering a unique presentation, served with pickled vegetables and toasted squid-inked black bread. As a main dish, the braised scallops set atop a fresh coconut-ginger sauce, mirasol chili oil and a cauliflower puree is absolute perfection. “I love every dish we have on the menu,” says Chavez. “When I started, I was convinced about the flavors but I had to test the textures. I especially love the scallops because it’s a simple dish and the flavors are amazing. There are so many textures, that every bite is a difference experience.”

©Written by Maria Desiderata Montana

Sirena Gourmet Latin Seafood Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The New Yorker Comes To Town

The New YorkerOver 2000 miles from the rumbling subways, honking taxi horns and bright lights of the Big Apple, there’s a San Diego spot that’s tossing something special into the local dining scene. The New Yorker brings the flavors of New York-style fare to the heart of the Gaslamp.

The eatery found its home within the historic Chinese Laundry building, built in 1923. Since then, The New Yorker has reinvented the space with red brick walls, graffiti art, penny-covered floors and a balcony mimicking the exterior of a New York City building. Born with the intention of providing a slice of the Big Apple on the West Coast, the restaurant and bar certainly delivers. It goes beyond the typical pizza joint—with a vibrant bar program and fare including Duck Rolls, a Yankee Stadium Pretzel, specialty pastas, loaded artisan sandwiches and authentic thin crust pies.

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Actor Opens Trejo’s Tacos In Los Angeles

Trejos Tacos
Photo by Derrick Strickland

Danny Trejo’s New Family Friendly Restaurant Opens on La Brea

Everything about Trejo’s Tacos – the Food, the Ambience, the Décor –Is the Actor’s Vision, Come to Life!

Actor Danny Trejo, who loves playing the bad guy in movies, he says, “because the bad guy always dies…the bad guy always loses and the good guy always wins. It’s the one thing movies and real life see eye-to-eye on.”

Dying in movies takes a certain kind of skill. Having food that kills takes a completely different kind of skill to pull off. Early indications are that Trejo and his business partner Ash Shah have indeed pulled it off with Trejo’s Tacos, at 1048 South La Brea, which celebrates its opening. Jeff Georgino is also a partner in Trejo’s Tacos.

“Ash produced all of my movies in the Bad Ass film franchise. On set, we always ate and talked about great food,” says Trejo. “Working on Ash’s set meant you never went hungry.”

Trejos Tacos
Photo by Jim Busfield

Nor will one go hungry at Trejo’s Tacos with food that is locally sourced, fresh, and made to order. The signature menu items are the Fried Chicken Tacos, Street Corn and Rancho Gordo heirloom beans. Also the vegan friendly black pepper tofu tacos, seasonal farmer’s market salad, wild shrimp tostada and the BCR burrito.

“The menu is my vision,” says Trejo, “I have tasted and approved all the food.

Trejo’s Tacos also offers a variety of tacos that include steak, achiote chicken, pork shoulder, brisket, Baja fish and vegan options such as Austin style avocado and roasted cauliflower. The tacos can be rolled, bowled or machete style (served in a lettuce cup).

The signature dessert is the Trejo’s Ice Cream sandwich, which is a Mexican hot chocolate chip cookie with McConnell’s ice cream.

Beer and wine will be offered on tap. The signature beer, “Trejo’s Cerveca”, is a Mexican style craft lager brewed in Los Angeles’ Arts District along with five other rotating local craft beers. Non-Alcoholic beverages consist of a date sweetened housemade Horchata, Kombucha on tap, (fermented tea and very healthy), Trejo’s own signature blended coffee which will be available either as a drip or nitro cold brew and two housemade Agua Fresca’s.

The restaurant was designed by Kristofer Keith of Spacecraft Design Group, and includes an outdoor patio with custom picnic tables with built-in heaters, power outlets and phone charging stations. There’s a kids play area with books, giant blocks and a Connect 4 game.  Local Boyle Heights street artist Ernesto Yerena created the murals that decorate the restaurant and add a pop of color to the muted palette.

The capacity of the La Brea location is 62. For the first month, Trejo’s Tacos will only be serving a limited menu with full service expected a few weeks later. A second Trejo’s Tacos location, in Hollywood, will open this spring.

Trejo's Tacos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Liberty Public Market Opens Today

Liberty Public MarketIntroducing San Diego’s First-Ever Public Artisan Market: Liberty Public Market Opens In Liberty Station 

25,000 Sq. Ft. Culinary Mecca Showcases the City’s Finest Local Purveyors and Market-to-Menu Restaurant in Historic Neighborhood Location, Which Once Existed as a Former U.S. Naval Base 

In a move that solidifies San Diego’s status as an emerging culinary hotbed, local hospitality veteran David Spatafore, principal of Blue Bridge Hospitality (Stake Chophouse & Bar, Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge), introduces the city’s first artisan hall with the launch of Liberty Public Market. Located in Point Loma’s historic Liberty Station neighborhood, the communal marketplace brings together a curated mix of experienced retailers, farmers market vendors, food truck operators and home-grown kitchen concepts, each hand-selected for their passionate support and ardent commitment to San Diego’s culture.

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New Flour and Barley Pizza

New Pizza Concept Will Offer Innovative Pizzas, Italian Entrees and Wide Selection of Craft Cocktails and Local San Diego Beers 

Block 16 Hospitality, the creative team behind Flour & Barley – Brick Oven Pizza Las Vegas, has opened at The Headquarters at Seaport. Flour & Barley San Diego will be open for lunch and dinner, bringing an exceptional selection of brick oven pizzas, entrees and more to the historic, waterfront complex.

“The Headquarters at Seaport was an ideal location for us and our growing brand as it’s within walking distance to major downtown businesses and landmarks all along the waterfront,” said Block 16 Hospitality Partner Billy Richardson. “Flour & Barley will serve the kind of food and drink locals and visitors enjoy eating, in a comfortable, family friendly, accessible atmosphere.”

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Roasted Tomato Bruschetta Recipe

Roasted Tomato Bruschetta Recipe
Photo and recipe by Maria Desiderata Montana

Roasted Tomato and Mascarpone Bruschetta


6 Roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise, cores and seeds removed
Extra–virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 teaspoon sea salt
Black pepper, to taste
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 baguette
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons chopped pistachios
Handful of pea tendrils

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We Love Native Foods Cafe

The first Native Foods Cafe was opened in 1994 by a vegan pioneer in Palm Springs, California. To date, they have fourteen locations nationwide, with more locations opening this year, including San Diego.

Native Food Cafe
Roasted Corn & Basil Polenta Bites
Pesto baked polenta topped with fresh roasted corn, basil, red pepper, onion and a touch of Native Cheese. $5.95 Gluten-Free (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

Nationwide Executive chef Kendall Huff believes Native Foods Cafe is the fastest growing 100% plant-based fast casual concept out there. “Not only do we make chef crafted food from scratch daily, we also give back to each community,” she says. “We are passionate about the environment and the health of our guests. We also offer free monthly cooking demos to spread the plant-based love.”

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Biga Handcrafted Coffee Specialties

Biga Handcrafted Coffee SpecialtiesWhen you’re in the Gaslamp and in need of a pick-me-up, Biga is ready to serve! The Italian-influenced artisan eatery recently opened on the corner of 6th and Broadway. Whether you’re on the go or taking a seat among the morning hustle and bustle, your day will be made better with a buzz from Biga’s coffee creations. The brews are brought to life on a state-of-the art Italian espresso machine. Featuring coffee beans from local, award-winning Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, Biga promises to grind out some of the best coffee drinks in San Diego, an affordable price.

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Dine Fireside By The Patio

Fireside By The Patio

Fireside by The Patio brings elevated, wood-fired and smoked globally inspired cuisine to Liberty Station, under Consulting Chef Antonio Friscia’s Legal Restaurants team.  Located in the historic Naval Training Center’s former firehouse, Fireside by the Patio brings the same level of sophistication and timeless design that The Patio restaurant patrons have come to love, but with an original, rich bohemian flare influenced by the world’s cultures.

“We could not be more excited to bring Fireside by The Patio to Point Loma and Liberty Station,” said Gina Champion-Cain, chief executive officer, American National Investments and The Patio Restaurant Group. “The concept is unlike any other in Liberty Station and will be a destination for beautiful, fire-infused food, served in an equally beautiful environment—a place where our guests can relax, enjoy and share.”

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Classic Tijuana Original Caesar Salad Recipe

Caesar Salad RecipeHonoring the rich culinary history of Tijuana’s restaurateurs, Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro crafts the Classic Tijuana Original Caesar Salad tableside.

This dish originated in Tijuana as the culinary creation of namesake Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant living in Mexico during the 1920s. The Bonita restaurant has continued the tradition of serving the salad, and now you can create the taste from the comfort of your own home.

Often touted as the first successful culinary export from Tijuana, the Caesar salad is infused with the fresh and zesty flavors of lime, anchovies, olive oil, egg and garlic. Whether enjoying the legendary dish during a lunch break or family dinner, it does not disappoint.

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Southern Style Italian Meatballs

Italian Meatballs
Recipe and Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

My Italian upbringing meant meatballs in the house—meatballs covered with marinara, fried meatballs, baked meatballs, meatball sandwiches—you name it. These meatballs are easy to prepare, the ingredients are affordable, and it’s the ideal meal for lunch or dinner. Your family will love it so much that you’ll want to make these often.

Southern Style Italian Meatballs

Serves 4

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • ½ cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 (24-ounce) jar marinara sauce (or Maria’s Marinara Sauce; see recipe)

Preheat oven to broil. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl; incorporate thoroughly. Roll the meat between the palms of your hands to desired size. Place meatballs on a broiling pan, and cook in the oven, turning often, until brown and cooked through. Serve with marinara sauce.

Maria’s Marinara Sauce

It was my father who started his own slow-food revolution in our family, a revolution I carry on in my family today. He picked olives and tended his large organic garden of fruits and vegetables, including fava beans, escarole, rapini and broccoli, he cherished the Roma and plum tomatoes as his most prized possession. Buy some organic tomatoes at the farmers’ market and make this sauce. Serve it over pasta, over your favorite vegetables or simply for dipping with a crusty Italian baguette. I guarantee you and your family will love it.

Serves 8-10

  • 12 medium-size ripe tomatoes
  • 2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste
  • Red wine (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons dried basil
  • 3 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • Chicken bouillon, to taste
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Arrange the tomatoes on the sheet pan and roast for 30–35 minutes. When tomatoes have cooled, remove peel and core. Place in a blender, in small batches, and puree until smooth. Transfer tomato puree to a large saucepot; bring to a slow boil and add tomato paste. Using a whisk, add water until you reach desired consistency (You can substitute a bit of red wine for some of the water). Add remaining ingredients; cover and simmer over low heat for about 25–30 minutes.

For the pasta:

  • 1 (16-ounce) package whole wheat spaghetti, cooked according to package instructions
  • 1 small block Parmesan Cheese, grated, for garnish

Place the pasta in a large bowl. Ladle some sauce over pasta and toss gently. Garnish with Parmesan.

Recipes by Maria Desiderata Montana