San Diego

Liberty Station's El Jardin Restaurant to Close, Will Reopen as Cantina – Without ‘Top Chef'

El Jardin debuted at Liberty Station in June 2018 to rave reviews, with its kitchen led by standout “Top Chef” alumna, Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins

A much-buzzed-about, one-year-old restaurant in San Diego’s Liberty Station will close this month for a sudden overhaul that includes transforming the eatery into a cantina and parting ways with the brand’s standout chef.

Rise & Shine Hospitality Group announced Wednesday that El Jardin would temporarily shutter its doors, effective immediately. The closure will last four weeks as the group revamps the business into El Jardin Cantina, a more casual approach to Mexican food.

The biggest shake-up, however, is that El Jardin’s renowned chef, Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins, "will not be a part of this new concept," a rep for Rise & Shine told NBC 7. The rep said she had no further details on Zepeda-Wilkins’ next culinary move.

Eater San Diego editor Candice Woo said El Jardin’s loss of the high-profile chef will certainly be felt by the San Diego culinary industry and foodies who appreciate all that Zepeda-Wilkins has contributed to our food scene via the Liberty Station restaurant.

"El Jardin helped to bring national attention to San Diego," said Woo. "Claudette is a talented, creative chef; hopefully she can use that spotlight to fuel another concept."

Claudette Studio-13 (1)
Courtesy of Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins
San Diego-based El Jardin chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins has made quite a name for herself in the culinary world.

Zepeda-Wilkins was formerly the chef de cuisine at Javier Plascencia’s now-shuttered Bracero in Little Italy. She also competed on the 15th season of TV’s "Top Chef" before opening El Jardin in June 2018.

During her short time heading El Jardin, Zepeda-Wilkins earned a James Beard Awards semifinalist nod for her work there. Eater San Diego has more details on that here.

According to Rise & Shine, El Jardin Cantina’s new kitchen will be helmed by three yet-to-be named chefs. Eater San Diego reports that Zepeda-Wilkins’ "grandma-chic" regional Mexican menu will be completely replaced.

Rise & Shine said the new menu will be "brimming with fresh, authentic flavors," while the bar menu focuses on "margarita-forward" cocktail selections, beer and wine. The goal, the hospitality group said, is to make this a go-to spot for good Mexican food in San Diego.

El Jardin Cantina, located at 2885 Perry Rd., will reopen on Aug. 28 with a fresh look. The cantina will offer dinner, as well as daily Happy Hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Other details appear to be under wraps; a check of the restaurant’s website Wednesday revealed only a short announcement about the revamp but nothing more on the menu or the chefs stepping into the kitchen.

Eater San Diego has reached out to Zepeda-Wilkins for comment; we will update this article.

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