If you’ve ever wanted a meal under the stars without the outdoor commitment, look no further than San Diego’s Starlite restaurant. Hidden within the suburb of Mission Hills and Middletown, Starlite displays stylish decor alongside their craft cocktail selection. It also elevates American comfort food and offers an outdoor patio to enjoy your experience as well.
With an unbeatable architectural space and an intimate feeling inside, Starlite has brought life to the restaurant scene for over fifteen years. A hexagonal glass door opens up the gateway into a sunken bar lit up underneath a chandelier created by stainless steel tubing and angled to reveal the embedded lights, which twinkle and reflect in the mirrored ceiling. Keeping with the natural elements is the stacked stone walls, walnut paneling, and cork tiles.
On top of the unique setting, the food and drinks have also won them a number of awards and garnered them one of the most popular restaurants in the area.
Starlite has maintained its status as a hidden gem in the Middletown/Mission Hills district since it opened in 2007. Tim Mays, owner of the Casbah nightclub downtown, paired up with
musician Steve Poltz and local filmmaker/director Matt Hoyt to create Starlite, which helped establish the craft cocktail scene in San Diego.
Although Starlite has stayed on top of the must-visit lists and survived the global pandemic, recent times have seen a big change after Hoyt, who oversaw most of the day-to-day operations, passed away from a rare and aggressive cancer toward the end of 2021. After that, the family rallied together to be led by director of operations Jack Reynolds and Hoyt’s wife, Allison Bell Hoyt.
Despite the ongoing success of the restaurant, Bell Hoyt made the decision to sell the business, which came under the stewardship of CH Projects in October 2022. Mays and Bell Hoyt will carry on as ambassadors for the restaurant, which will run as it is until March 2023. After that, the original design team, Bells & Whistles, will shut it down for a month-long, bigger-budget refresh. CH Projects maintains that they’ll keep the soul of Starlite intact and are even working with former Starlite chefs to review prior menus and develop new dishes.
With a year-round temperate climate in San Diego, Starlite makes the most of the local produce to go into their handmade cuisine. With the freshest ingredients sourced from Southern California, their menu frequently changes to accommodate the seasonality provided by the local
products. According to their website, Executive Chef Joshua Meyer believes in “slow food,” which means natural, local, and sustainably sourced as much as possible. Their mission is to use 90% of produce from the local markets. They also use as much sensibly raised and/or harvested proteins as possible. Around 60% of the animal-based products (meat, dairy, egg, and seafood) come from businesses that don’t engage in typical factory farming methods. Either that, or it’s harvested from sustainable sources.
Walking into Starlite was like walking into a dream. The hexagonal door is a nice touch that leads to the gentle downward ramp, where we were greeted by a lovely host. At the time of our visit, the restaurant had just undergone a week-long closure to transfer the partnership to the new management, but everything ran smoothly, and the change is unnoticeable if you didn’t already know about it.
To eat, we shared an Anjou Pear and Gorgonzola Salad with organic arugula, toasted pecans, and a red wine vinaigrette. The pear was a nice touch for a salad that would usually come with an apple, and the vinaigrette had a healthy portion without being too overbearing. The toasted pecans were also used sparingly without overtaking anything, and the salad as a whole was delightful and fresh. We also ordered the Pan Roasted Jidori Chicken, and our version that day (since it changes frequently) was accompanied with roasted butternut squash, orzo pasta, toasted pepitas, organic arugula, and a lemon caper butter sauce. I could have lived off of this meal for the rest of my life and had no complaints about it. The lower cooking temperature for the chicken being pan-roasted made for a flavorful chicken that wasn’t dry and gave it the fall-off-the-bone texture.
Alongside the chicken came the Baked Rigatoni, complete with confit fennel and leeks, house-made ricotta, Pecorino Romano, vodka sauce, and garlic bread. I’m a sucker for some good cheese, and that house-made ricotta really hit the spot. The salty taste from the Romano, which is made from sheep’s milk, also helped round out the flavor and mixed well with the vodka sauce.
We paired our meal with a bottle of the Chateau Ducasse Bordeaux Blanc, which is a light Sauvignon Blanc using Muscadelle vines planted in soils of clay and limestone on fissured rock. The bone-dry wine has tropical notes on the nose and went well with everything we ordered.
To finish off, we got the Signature Starlite Ice Cream Sandwich, made with toffee chip cookies, pistachios, and vanilla ice cream. There are four little quarters of the sandwich already cut up, and it made for an unbeatable ending to the meal.
Reservations are highly recommended, especially on the weekends and during peak times. You can sign up for a reservation directly through their website. They’re open Tuesday-Saturday from 5 pm-12 am and are closed on Sundays and Mondays. There is a small parking lot by Starlite, but parking can be harder to find during peak hours.
However, it’s nestled quietly in the neighborhood, so some street parking nearby should be easy to find. They are also a 21 and over the establishment, and a valid ID is required for entry. Additionally, business casual attire is recommended.
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