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From beer to seafood, new restaurants to play to San Diego’s strengths

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Don Chido, a Mexican seafood eatery on Fifth Avenue, is one of several new restaurants set to open this summer. Photo courtesy J Public Relations

The San Diego restaurant scene seems to be in a continual state of renewal, with several new venues slated to replace old favorites.

Longtime locals will remember Cane’s Bar & Grill in Mission Beach, a concert and restaurant venue that closed several years ago. The Belmont Park space at 3105 Ocean Front Walk is now being re-imagined as a beer-centric restaurant called Draft.

Belmont Park spokeswoman Asiyih Linz said a soft opening is possible May 22, just before Memorial Day weekend, but construction is still underway.

The casual beachfront location is being designed by Mauricio Couturier and Hollis Brand Culture, with Brad Wise as executive chef and Justin Lopez as the director of operations.

There will be more than 60 beers on tap, and a “bottle share” program for craft beer tasting. Menu items will include pork belly corndogs with truffled mustard, pistachio-crusted salmon sandwiches and barbecued baby back ribs. The restaurant’s enviable locale and extensive beer list are being promoted with the tag line “brews and views.”

The concept for Draft, a new beer-centric restaurant that will take over oceanfront space in Belmont Park. Courtesy image

Don Chido is taking over the 527 Fifth Avenue space formerly occupied by Fred’s Mexican Café. The opening date will likely be in early June, not in May as previously estimated, according to Don Chido’s spokeswoman Lauren Kita.

The new Gaslamp Quarter restaurant is being described as a stylish Mexican eatery with local, handcrafted dishes including tacos, enchiladas and steak, and a drink list with Mexican and Spanish wines, tequila and mezcals. Kita said a taqueria stand will offer house-made tortillas and late-night tacos in the lounge.

Don Chido is being developed by RMD Group, better known for the nightclubs FLUXX and Side Bar, along with Knotty Barrel Gastropub CEO Ken Lovi and chef Antonio Friscia, whose credits include the nightclub Stingaree and the former Gaijin Noodle + Sake House.

The redesign of the 4,000-square-foot former Fred’s space is being done by interior design firm Davis Ink Ltd. The new upscale design will reportedly include reclaimed wood, exposed steel and stone, and an art wall made from Mexican blankets.

OCIO Design Group is serving as the project’s architect, alongside RMD Group’s construction division, RMD Development.

RMD Group and Ken Lovi will next revamp the adjacent Marble Room, with plans to open this summer.

Entrepreneur Tony Wang has raised less than $3,000 of his $50,000 crowdfunding goal on fundraising website Indiegogo, but said he’ll go ahead with the July 1 opening of San Diego’s first Cat Café regardless.

“I have backup capital, but it’s easier to run an operation if you don’t have to pay back a loan every month,” Wang explained.

The Cat Café, to be located in a former dry-cleaning store at Third and Island avenues in the Marina District, will be a coffee shop with a partitioned area where patrons can interact with cats that Wang will foster from the San Diego Humane Society. Pastries and coffee drinks will have cute names like the “purrfect latte,” he said.

Wang, who sells software by day but worked in the Washington, D.C., restaurant industry before moving to downtown San Diego, is borrowing the cat-themed café concept from similar operations in Japan, Europe and Canada.

Wang said he’s consulted extensively with county health officials about the types of barriers he needs to construct between the food service area and the cat enclosure to pass code.

“Of course I want to make money, but my big emphasis is finding homes for animals,” Wang said.

The new Water Grill in San Diego is slated to open in November 2014. An executive chef will be hired soon, according to King’s Seafood representative Suzanne Davis.

Los Angeles-based Water Grill is taking over the space on J Street that was occupied by Palm Restaurant. Courtesy image

This will be the third Water Grill, joining the downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica locations. Costa Mesa-based King’s Seafood Co. is the parent company, which also operates King’s Seafood in Mission Valley and Carlsbad, and Lou & Mickey’s in downtown San Diego.

The menu at the new San Diego restaurant will be very similar to that at the Santa Monica location, Davis said, including a signature seafood platter and entrees such as a crudo (as in, raw) sampler and cod fish tacos.

Water Grill will be at 615 J Street, in the Gaslamp Quarter space formerly occupied by the Italian-style Palm Restaurant, which closed last December after eight years of business.

Over in South Park, Scot Blair of Hamilton's Tavern on 30th Street is working on a new, adjacent boutique brewpub to open sometime before year-end. Demo has just begun, he said.

South Park Brewing Company will focus on "everything we’ve done well to date. Great environment, great beer," Blair said.

"We’re going to restore the storefront to the way it would have looked, which is a major improvement for how it’s looked over the past decade-plus," he said. "We plan on giving South Park their own local brewpub and one [that] is family-friendly and focuses on quality in an unpretentious fashion."

Construction is being overseen by Terry Dickson of All Phases and Trades Construction Inc.

-McEntee is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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