El Jardin chef and partner Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins starred on Top Chef and Top Chef Mexico, but this is far from a vanity project. The regional Mexican restaurant in Arts District Liberty Station is deeply personal. The chef grew up in Tijuana and San Diego
and traveled frequently to Guadalajara
where her aunt owned a restaurant. The menu pays homage to the dishes she grew up eating such as albondigas en chipotle and pozole rojo with heirloom corn, pork broth and a flourish of preserved lemon gelée for brightness. El Jardin is decorated almost exclusively with Mexican goods such as white bull skulls branded with Huichol-beaded art in the Wixarika-style. A patio features bougainvillea, custom wrought iron fixtures and a 12-person table hidden within a 2,000-square-foot vegetable garden. The restaurant’s namesake supplies much of the produce used in the menu.