219 episodes

Troy Johnson, Marie Tutko, and David Martin talk dining out, drinking up and what’s making news on the restaurant scene.

San Diego Magazine's Happy Half Hou‪r‬ San Diego Magazine

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.8 • 143 Ratings

Troy Johnson, Marie Tutko, and David Martin talk dining out, drinking up and what’s making news on the restaurant scene.

    We Chat with Tommy Gomes about His New TV Show, The Fishmonger

    We Chat with Tommy Gomes about His New TV Show, The Fishmonger

    Welcome back to Happy Half Hour! This week, Tommy “The Fishmonger” Gomes, a local expert on all things seafood and spokesperson for San Diego's fishing industry, made his third appearance on the podcast. Since his last visit, Tommy’s become the star of his own national TV show, The Fishmonger, an eight-episode docuseries premiering March 1 at 4 p.m. on the Outdoor Channel.

    Tommy is from a Portuguese fishing family that has been in San Diego for generations—they settled in Point Loma in the 1890s. He’s using the show to spread awareness about the industry’s rich history and why it’s important to support local fishermen. Tommy talked about how when fishing was unregulated years ago, San Diego’s waters were overfished. Things have changed, and he says the US is now the most regulated and responsible country when it comes to fishing. For decades, fishermen have adapted to these new rules and now encourage people to buy American seafood. The issue with a lot of imported seafood is that while it may be cheaper, it’s also potentially mislabeled, chemically treated, or not sustainably harvested.

    He says fishermen in the US “just want a level playing field,” and he hopes that what The Fishmonger accomplishes is showing people the importance of knowing where your seafood is sourced. He encourages San Diegans to check out Tuna Harbor Dockside Market on Saturdays, where you can find all kinds of fresh seafood and chat with the people who caught it. Purchasing and using a whole fish is one way Tommy says you can support local fishermen and reduce food waste. Listen to hear his passionate explanation of why using the whole fish is so important.

    Tommy gave us a preview of what to expect from his show. Each episode has an appearance by a local chef who shows how to easily break down a fish and cook it. Tommy admitted to getting emotional on camera when visiting the San Diego Tunaman’s Memorial and seeing names of his friends and family who have died or been lost at sea.

    In Hot Plates, it appears that Biga, a favorite Italian food spot close to the San Diego Magazine office, has closed. CH Projects is buying the historic Lafayette Hotel in North Park and has plans to transform it into a community space over the next couple of years. A new ghost kitchen, Barrio Food Hub, has recently opened in Barrio Logan and is already hosting two dozen food businesses. CloudKitchens, a company started by the former CEO of Uber, is behind this new facility.

    In Two People for Takeout / Two People for $50, a listener recommended Enoteca Adriano in Pacific Beach, where the Wednesday night lasagna special is more than enough for two people and adding two glasses of wine still fits the $50 budget. Tommy’s pick was Volare, an Italian restaurant that’s been around since the late ’70s. To research his upcoming feature in the April issue of San Diego Magazine, Troy visited Mid-East Market in City Heights, which started as just a Middle Eastern grocery store but has since evolved into one of the international food hubs of San Diego. If you stop by, Troy says to buy the locally raised, grass-fed lamb, garlic confit, and some zuuk, a Mediterranean salsa. Island Life Foods, a prior first-place winner of the I Love Poke Festival, was Marie’s choice for poke and uni, served up at the OB Farmers Market and Tuna Dockside Market. David’s pick is Working Class, a modern sports bar/diner, where back in 2019 he went to watch baseball and enjoyed classics like Salisbury steak and Bavarian pretzels.

    Thank you for listening! As always, we want to hear from our listeners. Do you have a question for Troy? Need a recommendation for takeout? Is there a guest you want us to book on the show? Let us know! You can call us at 619-744-0535 and leave a voicemail, or if you’re too shy, you can email us at happyhalfhour@sdmag.com. See you next week!

    • 1 hr 8 min
    We Check in with Richard Blais about His Pandemic Projects and New Restaurant

    We Check in with Richard Blais about His Pandemic Projects and New Restaurant

    This week we chatted with chef Richard Blais, whom you may recognize as both a contestant and a judge on Top Chef, and as a judge on Guy’s Grocery Games and MasterChef. Richard came by to talk about his newest restaurant, Ember & Rye, a steak house opening soon at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort in Carlsbad.

    Richard got his start working at The French Laundry, Chez Panisse, and El Bulli, then opened several of his own restaurants in Atlanta. After moving to San Diego, he opened Juniper and Ivy in 2014 and followed that with The Crack Shack in Little Italy. At the time of our recording, Richard was staying at the Aviara, working out the last few details for Ember & Rye to open.

    Over the past year, Richard says he’s taken advantage of the new circumstances to give his fans a more authentic virtual experience. One project he developed was to move his “stand-up cooking” performances, which he used to spend the bulk of his time traveling to do live, into the intimate setting of his backyard. (Unfortunately, the backyard show is currently on hiatus after Richard received a cease and desist order. Listen to find out what happened!)

    Ember & Rye is set to open on March 18, as long as the public health orders don’t change. Richard describes this new restaurant as a “steak house of sorts,” which will serve the kind of food that he would want to eat every day. He says a restaurant’s true identity isn’t formed until 90 days after opening, so he’s looking forward to seeing what growth will happen after the launch. He’d been considering opening a steak house for a while, and spending more time at home, burning wood and grilling food in his backyard, helped him fine-tune the concept: Namely, backyard-style grilling with lots of different grills (Santa Maria style), techniques, and tools to cook dry-aged meat and fresh seafood.

    But why put in all the work to open another restaurant, especially now? For Richard, part of it is a matter of remembering what got him where he is today. He just loves restaurants, great food, and making people happy. He talked about his plan to incorporate golf-inspired art and decor from the ’60s and ’70s at Ember & Rye, as well as classic dishes from that era, like prime rib. He’ll be bringing back old cooking techniques and tools, like a flambadou used to heat up and drip melted fat over the meat, alongside his more well-known trademarks, like liquid nitrogen.

    In Hot Plates, San Diego’s favorite fishmonger has his own TV show! Tommy Gomes, who was at Catalina Offshore for 15 years, is starring in a new docuseries called The Fishmonger on the Outdoor Channel premiering March 1. Vista will get a new beer hall next month called Co-Lab, which will feature booths from different breweries, food vendors, and outdoor seating. California state senator Bill Dodd introduced SB 389, which would legalize takeout cocktails permanently if it passes.

    In Two People for Takeout / Two People for $50, Richard recommended Alborz, a Persian restaurant in Del Mar. He enjoys the skewered meats, koobideh (kebab made from ground beef), and saffron rice, and his favorite dish is the fesenjon (pomegranate and walnut stew). Troy’s pick was Awash Ethiopian Restaurant in North Park for tibs, a spicy beef tenderloin stew, and the vegetarian sides that come with injera flatbread. Marie’s pick was the Lebanese restaurant Amardeen in UTC for their beef and lamb shawarma, lentil soup, and homemade baklava. David recommended the pizza at The Friendly, which has two locations in North Park.

    Thank you for listening! As always, we want to hear from our listeners. Do you have a question for Troy? Need a recommendation for takeout? Is there a guest you want us to book on the show? Let us know! You can call us at 619-744-0535 and leave a voicemail, or if you’re too shy, you can email us at happyhalfhour@sdmag.

    • 57 min
    Meet Tony Guan, Executive Chef at Fortunate Son

    Meet Tony Guan, Executive Chef at Fortunate Son

    Welcome back to Happy Half Hour! In celebration of the lunar new year on February 12 and the Year of the Ox, we chatted with Tony Guan, executive chef at Fortunate Son, the newest restaurant from CH Projects in Normal Heights. Fortunate Son replaced Soda & Swine last fall, and serves Tony’s spin on classic American Chinese dishes like General’s Tso’s chicken and sweet and sour pork.

    Tony was born and raised in Chula Vista and went to culinary school here. He worked the line at the Dana Hotel in Mission Bay and at The LAB: Dining Sessions, and then left San Diego for more training. He moved to San Francisco and worked as sous chef at the acclaimed Restaurant Gary Danko. Tony described the experience of being fresh out of culinary school and working at a high-end, professional, kitchen as a lot of pressure. It was the prospect of helping open Abnormal Wine Company (now called The Cork and Craft) with chef Phillip Esteban that brought Tony back to San Diego. He then became executive chef at Underbelly, and now at Fortunate Son.

    Tony says a lot has changed in San Diego’s culinary scene since he first started, and that the city is now becoming a draw for the field—he attributes the non-competitive atmosphere. Chefs can come to San Diego and establish themselves fairly easily compared to other culinary destinations, like San Francisco, where Tony said had he stayed he may still be a line cook or sous chef. While working at Cork and Craft in Rancho Bernardo, Tony got the unique experience of taking higher end food and bringing it to people at a more affordable cost.

    Having opened a restaurant both before and during the pandemic, Tony was able to share the differences. While the remodeling of Fortunate Son went smoothly, opening up was naturally a more difficult experience. Tony said that takeout becoming the new way of plating food and the typical demographic expanding were a few challenges. What kept him going as a chef was being able to get up every day and work with his staff who all share the same passion for cooking food.

    In Hot Plates, a new shopping center called Tremont Collective is opening this summer in downtown Oceanside, bringing with it new locations for Bottlecraft and Communal Coffee.

    A food truck specializing in Lao and Khmer street food, The Sticky Rice Spot, has found a home at 16th and G streets in East Village and will be serving dishes like lemongrass chicken stir-fry daily from noon to 7 p.m. Also in East Village, it’s been confirmed that a new speakeasy will be built inside Neighborhood, but there’s still no word on the name or the concept. Troy discovered during his visit at Bowlegged BBQ in Oak Park that the owners are looking to open a second location in San Diego.

    In Two People for $50, Tony’s pick was Yakyudori on Convoy Street for the ramen and Japanese curry. Troy’s pick was Bowlegged BBQ for the pork ribs, mac and cheese, sweet collard greens, and dirty rice that can be enjoyed in the lively backyard. David’s go-to place for burritos and beer before a Padres Game is Lolita’s Mexican Food, where he recommends trying the 2 in 1 and Tsunami burritos.

    Thank you for listening! As always, we want to hear from our listeners. Do you have a question for Troy? Need a recommendation for takeout? Is there a guest you want us to book on the show? Let us know! You can call us at 619-744-0535 and leave a voicemail, or if you’re too shy, you can email us at happyhalfhour@sdmag.com. See you next week!

    • 31 min
    We Talk Tacos with Ernie Becerra, Founder of ¡Salud! in Barrio Logan

    We Talk Tacos with Ernie Becerra, Founder of ¡Salud! in Barrio Logan

    Welcome back to Happy Half Hour! This week we chat with Ernie Becerra, founder of San Diego Taco Company and ¡Salud! Tacos in Barrio Logan. Ernie is a fifth-generation San Diegan, and he worked as a banker before pursuing his passion and eventually opening a restaurant. ¡Salud! is one of 13 essential taco shops listed in this month’s cover story in San Diego Magazine, called “A Love Letter to Tacos!”

    Ernie’s family is deeply rooted in San Diego. He says they are “old-school Chicano,” having first settled in Barrio Logan in 1900 (that predates the Mexican Revolution). He began his career following in his father’s footsteps working in banking, but quickly realized that was not what he wanted to do and decided to take a chance. Armed with a recipe book and the knowledge from his grandmas and local taco shop owners, Ernie bought a taco cart. He started catering small events, but as he continued to work, his business grew. The fish and birria tacos were the foundational items of Ernie’s cart, and are still on the ¡Salud! menu to this day.

    Ernie talks about the opportunities he jumped on to successfully expand his business. He needed to stand out from other taquerias in the city, so he worked on branding: he discovered the business name San Diego Taco Company wasn’t already claimed, and filed for it right away. While looking for a permanent venue to showcase tacos for people to try before booking his catering company, he learned the old Porkyland space on Logan Avenue—a building he had spent a lot of time in while growing up—was available, so he swooped in and acquired it. After spending time cleaning and fixing up the building, Ernie finally opened ¡Salud! in 2015.

    The restaurant has been a huge success, and the colorful space is also known for showcasing graffiti art, murals, and other works by local artists. ¡Salud! has been featured in the Washington Post, New York Times, and on The Zimmern List. Ernie says he knew something was changing in the neighborhood with ¡Salud! as the anchor. While gentrification is an ongoing concern in Barrio Logan, Ernie felt it was important to not confuse success with gentrification, since many of the businesses that have revitalized the area are actually owned by locals. His hope is that Barrio Logan will grow to a point where the neighborhood can become more organized, and the city’s “Little Mexico.” Ernie also teased an upcoming expansion to the restaurant. Listen to find out!

    In Hot Plates, Restaurant Week has been rescheduled from its usual date in January to April 11-18. Pure Project is opening a new brewery next month in Vista, taking over the location vacated by Iron Fist Brewery. Two restaurant owners are in need of help: The owner of Sushi Yaro in Kearny Mesa is recovering from a stroke, and is unable to work and needs assistance with medical expenses. A Go Fund Me page has been created where donations are accepted. The owner of Suzy Q’s Diner in Escondido says she’s used up nearly all of her savings, and is asking for help with back rent and bills, and has created a Go Fund Me page. If you’re able to assist with even a small donation, it can help these restaurants continue to bring life into their neighborhoods.

    In Two People for Takeout/Two People for $50, Ernie’s pick was Napoleon's Pizza House in National City for their torpedo sandwiches and pizza. Troy’s pick was Flavors of East Africa in University Heights for their ndengu, a Kenyan-style stew of lentils in curry sauce, and the jungle fries covered in braised meats and sauce. Marie’s pick was the beef chow mein noodles with black pepper sauce and grilled pork buns from Tasty Noodle House. In celebration of our recent Road Trips issue, David’s recommendation is outside of San Diego this week: His favorite spot to eat at after hitting the slopes in Big Bear is

    • 42 min
    Meet Starr Edwards, the Founder of Bitchin’ Sauce

    Meet Starr Edwards, the Founder of Bitchin’ Sauce

    Welcome back to the Happy Half Hour! This week, we chat with Starr Edwards, founder of Bitchin’ Sauce, a popular almond dip that is vegan-friendly. You may have it seen at local farmers’ markets (and mistaken it for hummus) or at the grocery store. The company started in Carlsbad and is still headquartered there, but has increased distribution to nearly 7,000 stores nationwide, including Costco, Target, and Whole Foods. In episode 210, William Bradley, executive chef at Michelin-starred restaurant Addison, said that Bitchin’s chipotle flavor is one of his favorite things to eat. Starr explained that the almond dip started with three flavors and is now available in 13; she highly recommends trying it as a sauce on fish tacos.

    Starr moved to San Diego from Oregon with her family when she was 15, and her parents were hippies—there were always ingredients like Bragg’s liquid aminos and almonds in the kitchen, at a time when they weren’t mainstream. She graduated high school early; at 16 she started working at a mortgage company and took night classes at a local college—that same year she came up with the recipe for Bitchin’ Sauce.

    Years later, when Starr met her husband, musician L. A. Edwards, got married, and had their first child, Skip, she went into business as a personal chef and promoted it with a stand at a local farmers’ market. She used Bitchin’ Sauce to attract visitors to the stand—and the sauce became so popular she decided to rethink her business plan. She says with just $200 and a blender, she started making more of it to sell at the farmers’ markets, and the company grew to the point where she needed to secure a commercial kitchen. A buyer for Costco discovered the brand, which opened the door for national distribution.

    Starr says ramping up production for Bitchin’ Sauce to this level meant she had to figure out a new world of regulations for packaging, labeling, and UPCs, and she credits local stores Cardiff Seaside Market and Cream of the Crop for helping her. We also learned who inspired the logo, how she grew the company to nearly 80 employees, and most importantly, how she came up with the name—listen to find out!
    To this day, the company hasn’t received any outside funding, and during the pandemic, they launched a music label and a charity. They even have the Bitchin’ Beach Club at Carlsbad Lagoon. The company doesn’t ship their sauce directly, but it’s available through Amazon Fresh.

    In Hot Plates, we talked about Governor Newsom lifting the regional stay-home order and returning all counties in California to the colored tier system, allowing for outdoor dining at restaurants. Puesto, which temporarily had to close all of their restaurants last week and furlough a majority of their staff, announced their plans to reopen soon. More details are in about celebrity chef Richard Blais’s new restaurant, Ember & Rye, that will open at the Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad. We end on some good news: A new Italian restaurant, Allegro, will open in Little Italy, where Indigo Grill had been for more than 20 years before closing last year.

    In Two People for Takeout / Two People for $50, Starr’s pick is Sushi Ota in Mission Bay, which was also the Readers’ Choice in our 2020 Best Restaurants feature. Troy’s pick is the Vaquero hot dog from Barrio Dogg in Barrio Logan, and David likes the cold vegetable sandwich from Clem’s Bottle House in Kensington. My pick is the chicken-fried steak biscuit at Sonnyboy Biscuit Co. in University Heights.

    Thank you for listening and starting the new year with us! As always, we want to hear from our listeners. Do you have a question for Troy? Need a recommendation for takeout? Is there a guest you want us to book on the show? Let us know! You can call us at 619-744-0535 and leave a voicemail, or if you’re too shy, you can email us at

    • 52 min
    How Maya Madsen’s Vegan Cookies Went From Farmers’ Markets to the National Spotlight Overnight

    How Maya Madsen’s Vegan Cookies Went From Farmers’ Markets to the National Spotlight Overnight

    We’re excited to have Maya Madsen, the founder of Maya's Cookies, on the show this week. Maya’s Cookies is a line of soft-baked cookies that are completely vegan but also popular with non-vegans. Maya founded the company in 2015 when she couldn't find any vegan cookies that she liked, so she started baking her own. Today, her company is the No. 1 Black-owned gourmet vegan cookie company in the country. The cookies are available online and ship nationally, and she opened her first retail store location last fall in Grantville.

    Maya says she has a sweet tooth and that cookies have been one of her favorite indulgences, but for years she couldn’t find any vegan cookies that did the trick. In 2015 she started making her own, and soon she was baking by the dozen for her friends and clients. Non-vegans also praised the cookies, and the hobby turned into a business as she started selling them at the Little Italy and Pacific Beach farmers’ markets. Since both markets attract a large number of tourists, out-of-town visitors often asked if they could buy her cookies online, so she set up an online shop.
    In 2020, Maya saw her business shrink at the beginning of the pandemic—then in the summer, the nationwide movement to support Black-owned businesses gave her a boost and national exposure, and she was caught off-guard by the outpouring of support. She says they would get maybe 20 online orders a day at first—then after June 2, 2020, that number shot up to 600, and kept increasing to as high as 3,000 orders a day. At one point, Maya had 10,000 orders waiting in the queue, and she didn’t have enough boxes to package and ship them, nor a big enough space to make all the cookies, which are scooped by hand.
    But she was determined to do it, and she did, calling on support from staff, family, and friends. Listen in to find out more about how Maya successfully fulfilled all those orders, how she expanded the business, and what drives her as a business owner.

    In Hot Plates, we’re relieved to report that we didn’t have any closures to discuss this week! The owner of China Max, a local institution that was destroyed by a fire last spring, said plans are in the works to rebuild. Juniper and Ivy launched new meal kits for two to four people where you can virtually cook alongside executive chef Anthony Wells. The Hello Kitty Cafe truck is back: It kicked off its West Coast tour in Carlsbad earlier this month, and its next stop is Otay Ranch Town Center on February 6.

    In Two People for Takeout, Maya’s picks are the vegan ramen and sushi at The Yasai (Convoy and Little Italy), and the vegetarian Thai food at Plumeria in University Heights. David seconded Plumeria and recommends the tom kah (coconut milk soup). Troy’s pick this week is Indian food from Sundara in Ocean Beach, and my pick is the barbecue chicken and chicken kelaguen (a Guamanian chilled chicken dish) from Chamorro Grill in Grantville.

    Thank you for listening and starting the new year with us! As always, we want to hear from our listeners. Do you have a question for Troy? Need a recommendation for takeout? Is there a guest you want us to book on the show? Let us know! You can call us at 619-744-0535 and leave a voicemail, or if you’re too shy, you can email us at happyhalfhour@sdmag.com.

    • 53 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
143 Ratings

143 Ratings

Northrunner_mc ,

Amazing San Diego food podcast!!

These guys have such a great pulse of the food scene in SD! Keep up the awesome work!!

plantsanimalsfoodtv ,

I find Troy to be an annoying bro

Hard to listen to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Bucko2017 ,

ALCE 101-Kitchen + Tequileria

Great listen! Funny, fun time spent with great content and guests. Keep up the awesomeness... Brad 👍🏻

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