Nestled on cozy India Street in picturesque Little Italy, Indigo Grill has been a gem of
San Diego’s culinary scene for years. While many diners may be familiar with one of the
Cohn Family’s finest restaurants, they haven’t seen anything like the recent
transformation that has elevated the grill to the next plateau of dining experiences. Head
Chef Deborah Scott, one of the finest chefs in all of San Diego, finally has a spectacular
venue in which to showcase her phenomenal dishes that combine old world charm with
modern culinary flare. Close to the Gaslamp, Convention Center, Seaport Village, and the
train station, the Indigo Grill is a must-stop dining destination for anyone craving a
unique take on Latin and Mexican cuisine. Despite the many changes to Indigo Grill’s
interior, exterior, and menu, fans of the restaurant can still count on the same warm,
inviting environment they’ve enjoyed for years at this Little Italy mainstay. If the average
selection of San Diego’s Mexican fare has you searching for something more
adventurous, look no further than Indigo Grill.
Nestled on cozy India Street in Little Italy, Indigo Grill has been a gem of San Diego’s culinary scene for years. While many diners may be familiar with one of the Cohn Family’s finest restaurants, they haven’t seen anything like the recent transformation that has elevated the eatery to the next plateau of dining experiences on the eave of its 10th anniversary. San Diego icon and Head Chef Deborah Scott finally has a fitting space in which to showcase her phenomenal dishes that combine old world charm with modern culinary flare. Even with her recent creations like Vintana or the Chop Soo-ey food truck, Scott still dedicates much of her time to keep one of her very first San Diego restaurants the very best it can be. Despite the many changes to Indigo Grill’s interior, exterior, and latin-inspired menu, fans of the restaurant can still count on the same warm, inviting environment they’ve enjoyed for years at this Little Italy mainstay.
Indigo Grill’s recent renovation is noticeable from the moment I approach the restaurant. In addition to the vibrant neon sign outside the building, the patio has been extended out onto the sidewalk to include a spacious fire pit and small tables made from recycled oil drums. It is separated from the old patio by two large, ancient doors that looked like they once sat at the entrance of a hacienda or chapel. As I enter through the front doors just west of the sign, the light of dusk filters onto statues carved into a wall reminiscent of a Mayan temple. Vibrant reds and blues cover the walls, blending with earthy stone and aged wrought iron décor that lends an aurora of an authentic Latin kitchen. An enormous blue, vibrantly decorated stage curtain that once hung in some great hall now adorns the bar area and spacious stone oven, even stretching up to the ceiling. As dusk turns to night, hanging lamps cobbled together from scrap metal shine demure light from antique bulbs that barely reach the large wooden beams that crisscross the ceiling. Beneath those beams lies gorgeous sconce from a time long past. There are so many classic touches of old world décor and repurposed fixtures, I notice that even the air vents have been adorned with latticed, steel grates found in turn of the century buildings.
Aaron O’Marra, who is no stranger to the Cohn Family brand, manages the new Indigo Grill. He was previously the head chef at the Dakota Grill on 5th Avenue before relocating to Los Angeles to manage his own restaurant. It was while working there that he learned Indigo Grill’s manager had left just a month before the restaurant’s grand reopening. He was recommended for the position for the position by a very special Cohn Group employee – his wife – and was urged by the Cohns to take the helm. His knowledge of fine and fun dining, as well as the Cohn’s passion for family-inspired restaurants, made him an impeccable choice to manage this enchanting grill.
As I walk through the restaurant, I notice how many new seating options are available. In addition to traditional bar seating illuminated by sheer vintage silk screens and adorned with an antique sliding door, diners were also strewn about the adjacent bar overlooking the aromatic kitchen. Near the front of the restaurant there is communal seating at high, narrow tables made from recycled conveyor belts; perfect for enjoying Indigo Grill’s signature cocktails and small dishes. Unlike other restaurants that only offer happy hour a few days a week during obscure hours, guests of Indigo Grill can enjoy special offers from 5pm to 6pm every day in the picturesque bar area. In addition to great deals on some of the grill’s most popular Latin-inspired cocktails like the Tomas Colina and Piña Envy, the happy hour menu also features appetizers like Chef Deborah’s Pipian Crusted Brie and Baby Kale & Quinoa.
While there are no private rooms in the restaurant, there are many tables that can provide a more private dining experience for larger parties. Tucked into a cozy enclave, the “white table” provides seating for medium parties in the light of an elegant, mounted chandelier. On the opposite side of the restaurant against a warm red wall, a plush couch lined with soft pillows allows diners to cozy up to friends or family. A large, family-sized table sits on a sunken floor by the slatted windows, providing a touch of privacy, a breeze, and a view of the brilliantly lit street. Any of these tables are available by request when making your reservations.
Even if you’re out for an impromptu rendezvous with friends, there are plenty of atmospheric seating options that require no prior notice. Outside, the patio is now covered with corrugated tin, lit by hanging lamps with long cords insulated with reused fire hoses. The many windows that now surround the patio are reminiscent of a greenhouse wall, allowing light to into the dining area. A newly poured fire pit is lined with couches, making it a sublime spot for date night.
I choose the more traditional seating option: a heavy wooden table with wrought iron chairs with plush leather cushions. I’m adjacent to the patio, separated by a rounded wooden door paned with tiny windows that allowed light to filter through. My waitress arrives with a smile and suggests a signature cocktail. I select the Oaxaca Old Fashioned; a refreshing take on an Old Fashioned that replaces bourbon with smoky tequila and mescal and adds sweet agave nectar. Indigo Grill’s cocktail menu features many traditional drinks made unique by mixing in a dash of Latin flair. In addition to signature cocktails, the drink menu boasts a wide selection of superb wines. Sparkling wines and California whites are well represented, but the collection of Spanish and South American reds is certainly the most impressive.
The most interesting change to the menu at Indigo Grill is not the dishes themselves, but the types of dishes. Keeping in line with the restaurant’s commitment to intimate, communal dining, the menu is now largely composed of smaller dishes meant to be shared with friends and family. Even the many new, tantalizing entrees come in such large portions that you can’t help but share with everyone at the table. As I scan the menu, I have to remind myself to start at the beginning.
There are many tempting starters to choose from: the many kinds of ceviche sound refreshing, and the Pozole Rojo at the table next to me looks hearty. However, for my first dish I choose something that I’ve heard recommended by word of mouth: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. Served in a wide brimmed white bowl, it is topped with roasted corn salsa, a sprinkling of pepitas, and swirls of cilantro pesto and crème fraiche. I immediately taste the corn salsa, its sweetness complementing the robust butternut squash and the dash of creme. The pepitas add to the robust flavor, and their delightful crunch contrasts the creamy texture of the soup nicely. The cilantro pesto is a masterful touch, adding just the right amount of spice to the creamy concoction. It is the ideal dish to whet my appetite.
With the warmth of the soup still lingering, the next tapa arrives. Many of the seafood appetizers like Oven Roasted Mussels & Clams and the Ahi Tostada are prepared simply, letting the quality of the seafood speak volumes. The Salt & Pepper Shrimp is no exception, and is among the most flavorful and savory shrimp that I’ve ever tasted. Coated in a light, yet crunchy layer of panko breadcrumbs, the salt and pepper in which it is seasoned accentuates the rich flavor of the fresh shrimp. While there is a slight crisp with each bite, the coating melts in my mouth in no time at all. It is served with cups of two truly unique condiments: lime fish sauce and jalapeno “tartar sauce”. While the lime fish sauce provides a tang of citrus to the salty shrimp, the creamy tartar sauce plays well with the richness of the panko crust. On the recommendation of my waitress, I try to the two sauces together. Lime, tartar sauce, jalapeno, salt and pepper make my mouth water as their bold flavors envelop my mouth in rich collusion. It is surely a dish that should not be passed over.
My appetite now fully engaged, larger and larger dishes began to arrive. An order of tacos arrived next, where diners are allowed to choose any three mouthwatering selections. I’m drawn to the Carnitas, Crispy Jalapeno Chicken, and the Tempura Mahi Mahi Cheek. All three are served on golden corn tortillas with black beans topped with cotija cheese and a stripe of crème fraîche, shredded lettuce, and spicy pickled vegetables like you’d find in most taco shops. The tacos are also placed in a slotted taco holders, keeping them upright and preventing the contents from spilling out. The carnitas are incredibly tender, its saltiness contrasted by the subtle sweetness of pickled onions and charred orange braise. Knowing that fresh corn tortillas and well-cooked carnitas already complement each other, this taco is kept relatively simple. The Crispy Jalapeno Chicken is encrusted with panko breadcrumbs; but unlike the shrimp, it is pan-cooked with a bit of sugar that creates a slightly thicker crust and seals in the flavor of the chicken. It is topped with a chili aioli, blending classic American fair with spicy Latin flavor in true Southern California fashion. Though not the most traditional item on the men, the inventiveness of the Crispy Jalapeno Chicken taco delivers real flavor. If you think Mahi Mahi is already one of the most flavorful and succulent fish in the ocean, you need to try the cheek. The most tender part of the fish, Indigo Grill surrounds it in a light tempura that accentuates the almost buttery natural flavor. I think about how any other breading than tempura would likely overwhelm the flavor of the fish, or make it too greasy. With a drizzle of the jalapeno tartar sauce and a touch of lime, the Tempura Mahi Mahi Cheek taco is one of the finest fish tacos in the city.
The next dish to arrive is the Pork Belly Flatbread, served on a rustic wooden cutting board. While other flatbreads like the Potatoes & Peppers and the Serrano Ham looked amazing, it was the promise of tender pork belly that enticed me into ordering this flavorful dish. The flatbread itself is visually stunning with its many colorful ingredients, including succulent pork belly smothered in dark hoisin sauce, bright yellow pineapple, vibrant red onion slivers, smoked gouda toasted slightly brown, lush green peanut-jalapeno slaw, and brilliant red slivers of Fresno pepper. Even cutting into this dish is a treat as it flakes beautifully under my knife with a small, satisfying crunch. At first bite, the many flavors blend as harmoniously to the palate as they do to the eye. Sweet hoisin finds a counterpart in juicy pineapple; salty pork belly, garlic olive oil, and sea salt melt in my mouth; peanut-jalapeno slaw and moderate portions of Fresno pepper add both a bold kick and touch of sweetness that completes a flavor trifecta. One might expect so many competing flavors to overwhelm the taste buds, but the complicated tastes of each ingredient instead achieve true chemistry together.
After many fantastic small and medium sized dishes, it is time for the main course. Much like the dishes that populate it, the Grande Platos section is by far the biggest section of the menu. My eyes desperately scan mouthwatering Braised Pork Shank, savory Mushroom Papardelle Pasta, and flavorful Alderwood Plank Salmon in a cucumber-dill moleto, but one dish stands out on name alone: Skirts on Fire. Served on a large plate fit for two, the marinated skirt steak is flanked by a kiwi and tangerine medley, arugula salad with a cilantro dressing and carrot shavings, and two triangles of chili acuzar glazed quesadilla. The fruit medley serves as a respite from the other spicy components of the dish, as does the crisp and mild flavor of the salad with cilantro dressing. The quesadilla is a curious one; unlike many you’re likely to find in San Diego. While it’s drizzled in a fair amount of smoky chili sauce, it’s pan fried in a sugary glaze that complements the sweetness of the cheese within. The chef recommends ordering the skirt steak cooked medium, leaving the meat tender and juicy on the inside and grilled to perfection on the outside. It is served in strips still drizzled in a spicy and roasted chili sauce, adding a demure piquancy that lingers just a second or two. I can still taste a hint of tangy, salty soy sauce used in the marinade, and the flavors of this simply seasoned dish play wonderfully on my palette. The meat is cooked so well it practically melts in my mouth, and the next bite can’t come soon enough. Even sharing the dish, it quickly fills me to my brim.
The sun has set and the streetlights awakened by the time I finish my meal. I’m so full, I’m glad for the support the thick wooden arms of my seat provide as I rise. The restaurant is much more crowded than when I arrived, locals strewn about as they enjoy one last drink and appetizer before they walk home. After thanking the manager, waitress, and hostess for their stupendous hospitality, I linger in the cool night air and the glow of the Indigo Grill’s beckoning sign as I reflect on the many delicious ingredients and flavors I’ve encountered on my stay here. I immediately reach one conclusion that seems fairly obvious to any of the diners: I wouldn’t change a thing for a very long time.
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The Indigo Grill was a few minutes from our hotel, and on the trolley line, which made it convenient choice among many possibilities. However, after dining at the Indigo we realized it would have been worth it to go more out of our way because the food and service were top notch. A fine selection for anyone looking for a casual, delightful dining experience. What impressed me the most, aside from our great food and service, was the staff, from bus boy to bartender, making it a point to bid us a good farewell as we left the restaurant. They obviously appreciated our patronage. If we're ever back in San Diego we definitely will return to the Indigo Grill.
Our waitress Amy was incredible, and she kept us laughing and having such a fun time. My husband loved his birthday night out. Thanks Indigo we love you.
This place was amazing! New and exciting combinations of flavors and foods. The presentation was perfection! Go have lunch or dinner or both! You won't be disappointed.
The food is creative, attractive and extremely flavorful. The butternut squash soup bowl was huge! It could have been a meal in itself. Order any dish that includes their corn pudding. It is killer good!! The atmosphere, the service, the location all added to a fabulous evening. The only thing we didn't experience was the dessert- only because we were so stuffed we couldn't even look at the menu. We will definitely return to Indigo Grill.
Very happy with the food and service here (dinner). Patio seating was warm, even though it was raining. Menu items were detailed on the menu and the waitstaff was very knowledgeable. Everyone was very friendly, and the ambiance was great. Food choices were not your usual fare - made for an interesting and unique dining experience. Try it out!
The food was delicious and creative and the presentations were very nice. Service was very good and the waiter was attentive and informative. The portions were very ample, the corn Tamale was the best I have ever had, very flavorful but really light- a total hit!. Even though we were overfull, we finished every bite of everything.
I was lucky to be on holiday from New Zealand during Restarant Week. I booked before coming over to San Diego for a conference. I had a roasted butternut pumpkin soup, followed by Hickory & Apple Smoked Pork Ribs. I loved the indian corn pudding and pear salad.I finished with the chocolate pistachio torte, excellent! Great meal.
I loved our experience. The occasion was my husbands birthday. He is a very good cook, so it's challenging to find a restaurant that serves unique dishes. This restaurant serves unique food, and has a great presentation of the food! We all had a great experience! (Written by Mel's wife)
Super restaurant with excellent food and drinks. Sangria very nice. However drink prices are steep.
I was dining with 3 guests from Sweden: "This is my definite goal if I come back to San Diego"
I can't say enough about this place. The Food the people the atmosphere. The Best Food I Ever Ate should be the name of this restaurant! My Lips thought my tongue was having a party for the roof of my mouth! Soooooooooooooooooo Good!
My husband and I both felt like this was the best "dinner out" meal that we'd had in a long time!
Outstanding use of flavors and amazing presentations.
We had the BEST experience of all our Sunday Meals here. So far of the 4 months we have been going to different resturants after church on Sunday this one is the Best. The best food, the best service, the best presentation.. The BEST. If you have a large family and you want to enjoy a great meal... Go to Indo Grill....
I took my mom to the Indigo Grill and afterward to watch B.B.King play at the Balboa Theater. My mom, who tends not to venture out to different restaurants(prior to this experience, thought Vigilucci's was the best place on earth); she absolutely LOVED the Indigo Grill. The food was great, the staff was great, our waiter "Dante" was friendly and charismatic. I must say taking my mom here helped me win the "Son of the Year Award." My mom has now denounced Vidilucci's and promoted the Indigo Grill to her favorite place to eat in San Diego
The "Good Things Growing" dinner is my favorite. It's unique and delicious! The service is wonderful.
Not only is the menu 'out of the ordinary', it is unique food that is very tasty. If you are vegetarian or not the food is excellent.
This may sound like hyperbole but it's the greatest food I have ever had! I devoured the encrusted Brie dipped into the jalapeño jelly oil...and then I had the pork porterhouse steak, which was insanely juicy. the service was very friendly and prompt.No draftiness and temperature was perfect. I am going back for my BDay. SvK
What a find! Checked out this menu on line and decided to give it a try based on menu items and price. We ordered the Rib Eye and Hanger Steak; when our orders arrived we were blown away by the presentation and food variety given us, most of which was not included on the menu description. A wide variety of tastes, textures and colors including a small salad, veggies and great sauces complemented the perfectly cooked meat. I will tell all my friends about this place and return again and again to sample everything on the menu!
The exquisite food presentation absolutely matches the flavor! T.Hutchens, Dallas
This restaurant is a must for anyone in the area. The atmosphere was cozy but not too fancy. The food was almost indescribable; large portions with very distinctive flavors. The service was perfect from the hostess to meeting the manager, who felt our short wait was inexcusable and bought us one of our dinners. I ordered the pork porterhouse which was perfectly cooked with sauces and sides that had unusual combinations of flavors that I doubt I will every find again. The presentation of the food was wonderful. The noise level was a bit high but the place was packed with several parties standing in line for a table. I was glad we had made reservations. It was truly a unique dining experience and we will go back if ever in the San Diego area again.
Indigo Grill has a great atmosphere with a variety of delicious food that is unique. Although located in Little Italy it is a bit off the beaten path. The presentation of the food is outstanding and shows great effort in the kitchen. I am going back to try other dishes and would recommend it to others who like great food in a cozy setting. Great place for a date.
Unique and delicious menu. Enjoyable and interesting ambiance.
The food was very good, with interesting flavor combinations. But the service was very slow and we were left without any word on our meal for more than a half hour. Still, because the food was good, I'd recommend it. Perhaps it was an off night.
Went here because we had a gift certificate. This place wouldn't have been on the radar without it because it's fairly expensive, but I do think they offer some value. The food was excellent and they serve large portions so if you're looking for a nice, classy meal you'll get your money's worth. A second glass of wine for 10 cents off of their Wine & Dime list is awesome, and they serve great bread with an amazing jalepeno jelly for starters. The theme and decor is pretty cool and the vibe inside on a Tuesday night was great. I'd definitely recommend Indigo Grill.
Indigo Grill offers an amazing and creative dinner alternative! I love their interesting entree selections and they are generous with their portions. Their food presentation is as artistic as their entrees! It's like a visual and taste party. The ambience is eclectic and the staff really knows the menu. If you want to try something deliciously different, Indigo Grill provides you with the opportunity! It's a great place to bring out of town guests for an enjoyable and different food experience.
Great food, service and atmosphere.
The servers all worked together to make sure my mother and i enjoyed ourselves. Our server alone was lacking. The food was great, a bit on the sweet side, but the veggies were fresh and delicious. I work in a restaurant so I know this happens all the time, but I found it a bit weird that the manager continually tasted the drinks from the service bar area. I know it's for quality control, and he did not contaminate anything, but it's still odd to see when you are trying to enjoy your dinner.