Chef Claudette Zepeda Debuts VAGA Restaurant & Bar at New Encinitas Resort

“Top Chef” alumna and San Diego native Claudette Zepeda has said this new project is her personal “love letter” to her hometown

Courtesy of VAGA/Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas

San Diego-based “Top Chef” alumna Claudette Zepeda officially debuted her restaurant Wednesday – a beachfront spot named VAGA at a new resort in Encinitas.

VAGA Restaurant & Bar is located at the Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas, a luxury resort that opened on March 17.

The debut of VAGA was a longtime coming for Zepeda, who joined our Scene in San Diego podcast at the end of 2020 to talk about her project and what it meant to her.

Known for her bold approach to regional Mexican cuisine, Zepeda said the menu at VAGA would be a departure from what she’s traditionally known for but that everything on the menu would be made from the heart. She called VAGA her “love letter to San Diego.”

You can listen to our podcast episode with Zepeda below or here.

The restaurant’s debut on May 5 marks a significant date for the chef: it’s the anniversary of her grandmother’s passing – a huge influence in Zepeda’s life.

It was her grandmother – a strong woman from Jalisco, Mexico -- who gave Zepeda the childhood nickname “Vaga,” as in vagabond, the inspiration for the restaurant’s name.

A rep for VAGA said a 14-piece mariachi band will perform at VAGA Wednesday night, in honor of Zepeda’s grandmother.

Courtesy of Chef Claudette Zepeda
San Diego-based Chef Claudette Zepeda.

The menu at VAGA focuses on California cooking and seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients from places like Chino Farms and Cyclops. The beverage program is led by Alexander Gregg, who also plans to include ingredients from the dining menu. The cocktails on the Spring 2021 menu include names with familiar, San Diego-centric references like “Convoy” and “Grandview.” There’s also a signature cocktail called “No Place Like Home.”

In addition to competing on the TV cooking competitions “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Mexico,” Zepeda garnered national acclaim for her work with El Jardin, a regional Mexican restaurant in San Diego that rebranded after parting ways with the chef in 2019.

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