Part of the fun of traveling is discovering new places to eat, like Red O in La Jolla. Red O is James Beard award-winning chef Rick Bayless’ new restaurant in San Diego.
Disclosure: I and six San Diego influencers were lunch guests of Red O La Jolla. All opinions are 100% mine.
Red O in La Jolla, one of four Red O restaurants in Southern California, features Mexican food. But Red O is not your traditional Mexican restaurant. There is a sophistication and elegance to each dish. Treat yourself to a not-to-miss dining experience under the magic of Executive Chef Seth Vider, from Red O Santa Monica.
Occupying the former Donovan’s location, Red O is a welcome addition to the UTC area. Tucked away off La Jolla Village Drive and surrounded by financial institutions, once you step inside Red O you’ll be transported to a happy place of good food, good fun, and good cheer.
With seating for 500 people, you can choose to dine in one of the inside seating areas, outside on the patio, in the bar, or in the lounge.
You might not see Bayless at the San Diego location. But you will see his culinary influence, passion for sustainability and use of local ingredients evident in the menu.
We started with homemade chips, salsa, and guacamole. Guacamole is a staple in any Mexican restaurant. But the Classic Guacamole at Red O beckons you with creamy chunks of soft ripe avocados and hints of tomatoes and onions.
Almost daring you not to break your tortilla chip as you dip into its deliciousness. The serrano chile adds a bit of heat to tantalize your taste buds without destroying your palate.
Because no meal at a Mexican restaurant is complete without a margarita or two…
Casa Blanca Margarita
Want an Instagram-worthy photo? Try the Casa Blanca Margarita created by celebrity bartender Steve Calabro. Served in a martini glass with a half-salted rim the bubbling effect from the dry ice is mesmerizing.
Sun Burn Margarita
With a nod to summer and in-season watermelon, I chose the Sun Burn Margarita. An apropos name, the Tajin rim creates a sunburn effect on your lips. The Patron Silver Tequila, watermelon syrup, lime, and Tabasco go down smooth and act like a salve to your “burnt” lips.
Fresh Corn & Goat Cheese Tamales
I’m not a fan of tamales. They tend to be dry and heavy. It’s like eating a brick of masa. So I avoid them or only eat the inside.
But the Fresh Corn & Goat Cheese Tamales are light and airy. The Laura Chenel goat cheese contributes to the delicateness adding a unique flavor. Least you think this isn’t a tamale, they’re firm enough to pass as finger food yet soft enough to cut with a fork.
Mary’s Duck Taquitos
Duck Taquitos? Yes, yes, yes, yes! There is something about Mary’s Duck Taquitos that will have you rethinking taquitos are kids’ food.
If you can only try one thing from the appetizer menu, the Duck Taquitos are a must.
They were one of my favorite things on the menu. And I don’t even like duck. Okay, I take that back. It’s not that I don’t like duck, it’s too fatty and oily for my taste. Plus I prefer white meat.
The Duck Taquitos at Red O were none of that. The corn tortilla was hard enough to hold yet soft so as not to shred the roof of your mouth. The slow-cooked duck was tender, moist, and cooked to perfection.
The bursting with Shrimp Ceviche (no skimping at Red O) comes with plantain chips. The curve of the roasted plantains makes it easier to shovel the fresh ceviche into your mouth.
The combination of shrimp, pico de gallo, cucumbers, avocados, lime juice, and serrano create an explosion of flavor. The sweetness of plantain chips takes the edge off the heat from the serrano peppers.
With so many amazing choices on the menu, you’ll have a hard time deciding on your entree. When Chef Seth said the Alaskan Halibut is only offered at the La Jolla location, I chose the halibut. Despite the entire lunch menu at our disposal, half our group picked the Alaskan Halibut and the other half ordered the Mariscos Chile Relleno.
The golden sear on the Alaskan Halibut was crisp, without any burnt edges. Served on a bed of wild farro, pepitas, and pomegranate seeds, the halibut is a hearty lunch choice.
You may need a siesta after your meal. But leave room for dessert.
Passion Fruit Butter Cake
The Passion Fruit Butter Cake is a sweet, tarty version of a strawberry shortcake. It was dense like a traditional shortcake, yet light as an angel cake. Topped with Coconut Ice Cream the combination of flavors every spoonful will transport you to a tropical paradise.
One word: yum. Cake with cream cheese frosting, pepita-toffee crunch, and Mexican chocolate sauce, need I say more? Consider ordering the Mexican Coffee or Vanilla Sky along with a shot of insulin for the diabetic coma that’s sure to follow.
Least you forget Red O Mexican restaurant, the Tres Leches will bring you back to reality. Soaked in three kinds of milk, topped with fresh whipped cream and berries, the Tres Leches is surprisingly light.
But my favorite dessert at Red O was the Just-Made Churros. When you think churros, street food or dessert for kids come to mind.
I must be a kid at heart. Because when I saw those churros on the slate dessert plate, I tried those first. And I wasn’t shy about having seconds.
The Just-Made Churros are soft with a hint of crispiness on the outside. These Mexican crullers aren’t greasy. Served with chocolate and cajeta dipping sauces for a decadent end to a fabulous meal, it was all I could do not to eat every churro!
How to Save Money at Red O La Jolla
Parking in the UTC area is hard to find. And with the construction at the Westfield Mall (directly across the street), it’s almost impossible. The parking structure adjacent to the Red O charges by the hour with 2 hours free when you validate. But why bother when valet parking is a steal at $5.
Pro-tip: Use the handy app and get your car faster.
2. Taco Tuesday
Tacos are $3 each all day long on Tuesday.
3. Happy Hour
Red O La Jolla offers Happy Hour from 3 pm to 7 pm daily:
- $3 street tacos
- $5 draft craft beers
- $5 t0 $10 appetizers
- $7 wines and well drinks
- $20 carafe of wine
Red O La Jolla will delight and surprise you. One visit to this upscale Mexican restaurant and your tastebuds will thank you.
Serving up a variety of classic Mexican dishes, including several gluten-free options. Mary’s Duck Taquitos are the perfect start to a meal. Finish up with the Just-Made Churros, they’re a treat for big kids too!
If you bring the kids, Red O offers a children’s menu that will please even the pickiest eater.
Be sure to spring for the valet parking. It’s worth the $5 to avoid the hassle of finding a parking spot. Plus your car is delivered to you quickly and effectively.
4340 La Jolla Village Drive, San Diego, CA 92122
11 am to 10 pm Monday through Thursday
11 am to 11 pm Friday through Sunday
Bar closes late
Happy Hour daily from 3 pm to 7 pm
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