Terra American Bistro

7091 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego CA 92115
$$ American

Terra calls the East College District of La Mesa home. Chef and Owner Jeff Rossman brings quality to the table (literally) by stocking the Terra kitchen, bar, and menu with locally sourced and sustainable produce and ingredients. Brunch, lunch, dinner, and drinks reflect the best the seasons have to offer, and often highlight the rich bounty of San Diego and Riverside County agriculture. From the fresh fruit-infused libations to the “New American Cuisine” menu featuring preparation styles unique to the Americas, Terra serves up a thoughtful dining experience that celebrates the joy of community and communal eating.

Serving Up the Farm, One Plate at a Time

Review by

Thanks largely to Executive Chef and Owner Jeff Rossman, Terra has helped to define the Southern California dining culture and scene for 13 years now, serving as a key player in the region’s farm-to-table food movement. Sourced with local, organic produce and certified humane meats, Terra’s “New American” cuisine menu features classic comfort food favorites, Mediterranean-inspired cooking, refreshing seafood specialties, and healthful vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Until recently, Terra was a popular haunt for Hillcrest neighborhood locals and foodies in-the-know. And now the East College Area/La Mesa districts of San Diego are seeing for themselves what this notable eatery is all about, as it now calls the corner of El Cajon Blvd and 71st Street home (with easy access from the 8 East freeway). This particular stretch of El Cajon Blvd. may not seem like the obvious location for fine dining, with discreet privately owned shops and automotive service stations dominating the landscape, but area residents are quickly spreading the word that Terra is the place to go for thoughtfully flavorful fare served in an equally sophisticated and unpretentious setting. In fact, throngs of loyal patrons continue to fill Terra’s open dining room, proving that no love was lost in the move.

Upon parking in Terra’s convenient private lot, I survey the restaurant’s unassuming façade; the single story building is painted brick red with slatted wood siding. Large undressed windows line both of Terra’s outer walls, allowing for ample natural light to bathe the dining room during the day. The restaurant’s wood front door is inset with stained glass and is a welcoming clue into the familiar and approachable elegance that infuses the restaurant’s interior décor. 

A short hallway serves as the restaurant’s entryway that separates the restrooms from the large bar and dining area. Past the reception stand is the large, three-sided wooden bar to the left and an open dining room punctuated by multiple window-view tables. Seating for parties of two, four, and six is ample, while the far interior wall is dominated by a large table with accommodations for 10. This table is reminiscent of the iconic American family dining table reserved for holidays and large family functions. Similarly, high-backed chairs of varying design surround the table in a mix-matched fashion. The room’s signature design piece is the large chandelier above the table. Two rows of lights hang from an exposed wood base, with large Mason jars serving as clear shades for the bulbs. The fixture is both elegant and lighthearted, brilliantly encapsulating the theme and general vibe of Terra. Other unique design features include numerous antique pieces scattered around the room like a large oak china cabinet that doubles as the server station, along with the burlap coffee bean bags that ingeniously disguise soundboards mounted to the ceiling for noise control.

Terra’s variety of menus is just as welcoming and accommodating as its ambience. All gluten free and vegetarian items are clearly labeled to take the guesswork out of ordering. Sunday Brunch highlights the savory side of fine weekend dining: a large selection of eggs and omelets includes dishes like the Veg Bennies with caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, two poached eggs, and lemon thyme hollandaise on homemade biscuits. Enjoying the House Smoked Salmon Scramble with red onion, green onion, and goat cheese is another great way to bring the weekend to a satisfying close. The sweeter side of brunch can be found in the “Pancakes” portion of the brunch menu with fan favorites like the Terra’s Stuffed French Toast with cinnamon and corn flake crust, stuffed with homemade ricotta cheese and strawberries, accompanied by blueberry jam.

Each category of Terra’s dinner menu presents guests with satisfying and healthful meal options built around seasonal ingredients and classic comfort food flavors. Mix and match any of the appetizers on the “Things to Share, Small Plates & Slates” list and savor tried favorites like the Cheddar Cheese and Scallion Tater Tots, the Salty Peppery Calamari, and the Skillet Mac n’ Cheese. With such a bounty of locally-sourced produce, Terra’s array of “Soups and Mixed Salads” change with the seasons to always serve of a crisp bite of freshness. Likewise, “Large Plate” dinners such as the Chicken and Sausage Pasta, the Fish and Chips, and the Grilled Hanger Steak are delightfully filling without being weighty. Diners are also welcoming the two newest additions to the menu: the “Flatbread Pizzas” and “Slider Bar.” Now with burgers and pizzas on the Terra menu scene, the rich heritage of Chef Rossman’s New American cuisine is on display for all to taste.

Terra is closed on Mondays, and offers lunch Tuesday-Friday. The weekday lunch menu lists many of the same items as the nightly dinner menu, providing mid-day diners with an assortment of appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, small plates, and large plates to choose from. For a touch of lunchtime decadence, try the Lobster Cobb with Maine lobster, field greens, goat cheese, avocado, tomato, applewood smoked bacon, and herb shallot vinaigrette. The Veggie Cobb Sliders with field greens, avocado, gorgonzola, red onion, sliced tomato, and chipotle aioli are one of Terra’s many satisfying and healthful options. Lunch also serves up three different sandwich combo specials that include a soup, and one iceberg salad or French fries.

Terra’s commitment to showcasing locally sourced items extends to its drink list as well. For example, a number of SoCal craft brews are on tap at all times—from Stone Brewing Co. to Ballast Point Brewing Co., some of the best in regional beer production can be found at Terra. The fine tuned wine list also sheds a light on quality California wineries and varietals. Over 80 California wine selections are continuously offered; Chef Rossman and the Terra team are always researching the best local wines to pair with their decidedly indigenous-rooted cuisine. While the wine list is in constant circulation, diners can expect a pleasantly priced variety of wines-by-the-glass (with most offered for less than $10) and a comprehensive assortment of bottles. 

My party and I are seated in the far corner of the dining room on this night. We gaze contently across the expanse of the calming dining room before settling our sights on our own table. Small Mason jars with shake-top tin lids hold the salt and pepper, while individually cut sheets of brown paper serve as our place mats. Jonathan quickly approaches and introduces himself as our server for the evening.

Before introducing us to Terra’s food menu, Jonathan recommends a few libations that the restaurant is especially known for. As it turns out, not only is Chef Rossman a wizard in the kitchen, but he also dabbles in the fine art of mixology. The Chef infuses his own liquors with tantalizing combinations of fresh fruit and herbs, creating well-balanced and exceptionally aromatic results. I choose to sample the Lemon and Basil Vodka served on the rocks with a splash of soda water. The first sip of this drink is a vibrant expression of the senses—the tangy, floral essence of the lemon consumes the nostrils and taste buds simultaneously as the slightly bitter and earthy undertones of the basil anchor and balance the intensity of the vodka’s own taste. By infusing the raw, authentic flavor of each element into the alcohol, Chef Rossman captures true flavors uncorrupted by unnecessary sweeteners or additives.

We happily leave our meal in the hands of Chef Rossman and Jonathan to pick the dishes we’ll try, confident that we can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. We are so right. Starting off, Jonathan presents us with three dishes that nicely represent the scope and breadth of Terra’s “Things to Share, Small Plates & Slates” dishes. The Pumpkin Raviolis topped with roasted corn cream and toasted hazelnuts is a popular vegetarian plate constructed around the delicate interplay of sweet and savory components. The house-made raviolis have that wholesome, slightly doughy texture one hopes for in homemade pasta. The deep ginger color of the pumpkin filling is stunning against the pale and creamy corn sauce, and the contrasting flavors are equally impressive. Boasting hints of hazelnut, cinnamon, and sweet corn, the sauce is rich and complex, while the naturally savory squash is a familiar reference point by which to explore the full profile of the dish.

 The House Smoked Salmon and Avocado Toast is finished off with pickled red onions and crème fraiche, and served with field greens and a Kaffir lime vinaigrette. Four crostini are served beside a salad of mixed greens on a gleaming white plate. Each toast is artfully constructed with a spread of vibrant green avocado; a generous helping of flaky, pink smoked salmon; long, glossy tendrils of purple pickled red onion; and an artful drizzling of white crème fraiche. I am at once captivated by the intricacies of the first bite—the salty and smoky essence of the fish is steadied by the smooth subtlety of the avocado, while the tart and sweet pickled onion is a high note flavor complemented by the slightly sour tone of the cream. With the crunch of the toast, the creaminess of the avocado, the course flakiness of the salmon, and the moist silkiness of the onion, the full composition of the dish is thoughtful and creative.

The next dish we sample is a house special not currently on the menu. The House Made Gnocchi is served in a tomato basil cream sauce, with speck, lanza, grilled Brussel sprouts, and asparagus. A large banana leaf sits beneath the dumplings and is a brushstroke of bright color against the white palette of the bowl.  Also handmade, the bite size potato dumplings are warm, firm, and hearty in the slightly creamy tomato basil sauce. Once bitten into, however, their texture changes into the light and fluffy consistency of mashed potatoes, melding seamlessly into the silky sauce. Small cubes of speck (Italian cured ham) and lanza (marinated Berkshire pork loin) punctuate the dish with their smoky and salty taste, which is accentuated by the subtly bitter and sweet notes of the Brussels sprouts. The bites of asparagus throughout also have a firm texture that contrasts nicely with the overall creaminess of the dish.

For our next course Jonathan recommends that we try Terra’s Organic Farmer’s salad: it’s a very popular menu item that is altered daily according to seasonal availability and the Chef’s whims. Tonight’s variation is a bed of mixed field greens, mizuna, and escarole topped with bites of three different citrus fruits—blood orange, oroblanco grapefruit, and mandarin orange. The salad is drizzled lightly with the restaurant’s own Kaffir Lime Vinaigrette and accompanied by a hardboiled egg. The crisp leaves vary in texture from delicate to speared, making for hearty bites of freshness. Coupled by the bright acidity of the lime dressing, the morsels of citrus fruit are an enticing combination of bitter, sweet, sour, and even salty. Bringing all of these transcendent flavors back down to Earth is the hardboiled egg, which serves as a cooling base flavor.

Following the salad are two dishes chosen to highlight the newest additions to the Terra menu. The first is the Caramelized Onion and Tomato flat bread pizza—guests can now savor a number of options from the “Flatbread Pizza” section of the menu. This particular vegetarian pie is topped with Asiago cheese, thin slices of tomato, basil, caramelized onion, and roasted garlic oil. After picking my slice and taking my first bite, I understand why each ingredient is used. The crust is very thin and crisp and acts as a tasty vehicle for the other more prominent elements. The Asiago cheese is slightly salty and soft without losing its form when melted. The sweet acidity of the tomato cuts through the weight of the cheese and is accented by the similarly sweet onion. An undertone of fragrant basil engages my sense of smell and I linger over the almost buttery presence of the garlic oil. Satisfying to the last slice, the pizza is filling without ever threatening to become heavy.

From the new “Slider Bar” portion of the menu comes three Bistro Beef sliders made with a tantalizing blend of Meyer Angus beef and Kobe fat. Each expertly charred patty is topped with gorgonzola cheese, truffle aioli, and caramelized onions placed between two petite buns. Individually, these sliders are a savory treat, and together they are a gratifying indulgence. The meat patties retain the unmistakable scent of the grill and have an intensely beefy flavor that can only be augmented by the Kobe fat. Unobtrusive, but present, is the aromatic creaminess of the truffle aioli that is complemented by the pungent and rich gorgonzola cheese. The caramelized onions are more discreet in this dish, but perform well in marrying the concentrated flavor of the beef with the more whimsical notes of the cheese.

When Jonathan recommends dessert we are hardly in the mindset to refuse. He soon places two very different but equally ravishing plates before us. The Ricotta Cheese Cake is beautiful in its simplicity—a large slice of moist and thick ricotta is served with a generous drizzling of strawberry basil compote on top, beside a crunchy homemade biscotti. The cheese is decadent in both its texture and taste, as it fills the mouth with its full-bodied and softly sweet flavor. Countering the richness of the ricotta is the tartness of the strawberries, which is refreshing and light. Strands of basil accompany each forkful of cake and strawberry, offering an ever so subtle herbal undertone that connects all the right dots.

Perhaps the most visually stunning dish of the night, the Chocolate Cigar comes to us on what first appears to be a large block of ice. Atop a clear plastic cube sits a phyllo dough pastry wrapped in the form of a crisp and flaky cigar. And at one end of the cigar sits a healthy dollop of Tuaca whipped cream. Jonathan cautions us to first dig in from the end with the whipped cream and we soon understand why. Upon cutting into the pastry with my fork a thick fountain of melted dark chocolate ganache escapes. Similar to the interior of a lava cake, the chocolate is syrupy, silky, and seductively sweet. Combined with the airy crispness of the phyllo dough and the cream, each bite engages the senses and tickles the sweet tooth.

Executive Chef Jeff Rossman’s SoCal-centric farm-to-table cuisine menu at Terra encapsulates what it means to eat right. With a thoughtful and conscientious eye for quality ingredients and satisfying flavors, the Chef constructs dishes that speak to the palate as well as the imagination. And savoring such fare in the comforting and subtly nostalgic atmosphere of the dining room goes a long way in instilling guests with the feeling of being well fed and taken care of.

Insider Tip: Terra’s menu changes with the seasons and availability, so you can always expect to try new dishes and drinks. From Tuesday-Friday each week, Terra offers nightly dinner specials like their Tuesday “Burger + Brewski Night” for $14, or their Friday “Lobster Fest” dinner for $19.95. Similarly, Terra also features a nightly “Early Dining Three Course Tasting Menu” for $19.95, which is served from 4:30pm-6:00pm. The dining room fills up quick on any night, so we recommend making reservations and/or visiting for lunch Tuesday-Friday, from 11:30am-2:00pm.


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Business Info

  • Address: 7091 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego CA 92115
  • Cross Street: 71st Street
  • Location: East County | La Mesa
  • Cuisine: American | California |
  • Cost: | Inexpensive
  • Category: Casual Dining
  • Star Rating:
  • Reservations: Recommended
  • Dress Code: Casual
  • Meals Served: Brunch | Lunch | Dinner |
  • Parking: Street | Public Lot |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | MasterCard | Discover |
  • Corkage Fee: 18.00 | Limit 2 bottles. Fee waived with bottle purchase
  • Staff: Jeff Rossman | Executive Chef
  • Phone: (619) 293-7088
  • Features: Sunday Brunch, Catering Services, Organic Ingredients, Private Room, Prix Fixe Menu, Takeout Available, Wheelchair Access,
  • Occasion: Romantic Dining, Dining Alone, Business Dining, People Watching, Quiet Conversation, Special Occasion, Dog Friendly,


Terra American Bistro - Grilled Flank Steak
Terra American Bistro - Warm Chocolate Cigar Terra American Bistro - Grilled Flat Iron Steak Terra American Bistro - Lobster Macaroni 'n Cheese Terra American Bistro - Chef & Owner Jeff Rossman

Business Hours

Reservations Available
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 4:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 4:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 4:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 4:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 4:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Brunch - Main Dining Room 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 4:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.


Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, Terra’s main dining room is available for buy-outs for parties of 30-80.
Terra has a private parking lot with ample parking.
Terra opened in its original location in 1998. The restaurant relocated in 2010.
The restaurant only serves lunch on Mondays from 11:30am-2:00pm. Terra is closed for dinner service on Mondays.
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Customer Reviews & Ratings

4.5 out of 5 stars based on 1 votes