Bracero Cocina De Raiz Brings Mexican Fusion To Little Italy | Take A Peek Inside San Diego's Most Anticipated Restaurant Of 2015

Bracero's wood-grilled octopus
August 30, 2015

It received more hype than any San Diego restaurant over the course of the year-plus leading up to its opening. Baja star chef Javier Plascencia's second U.S. and most northerly eatery Bracero Cocina de Raiz has been open for a little over a month in Little Italy, but OpenTable reservations have been booked up since before its debut. We had the inside scoop that bar and patio seating was first-come-first-serve, so we cozied up to a table on the first floor patio for dinner on a quiet weekday evening, and after our al fresco meal, we must say that the potential is there for Bracero to live up to the hype and become San Diego's top destination for upscale, modern Mexican cuisine.

Chef Javier Plascencia is the biggest name in Baja's culinary community since Caesar Cardini invented his namesake salad in 1924 at Caesar's Restaurant in Tijuana, which Plascencia and family now own. We have been to many of his restaurants on both sides of the border, including Romesco Mexiterranean (Bonita), Mision 19 (Tijuana), Erizo (Tijuana), Caesar's, and Finca Altozano (Valle de Guadalupe) and found Bracero on par with the best of the other Grupo Plascencia eateries. Plascencia's menus always offer a rustic elegance, likely a reflection of a humble upbringing that launched him into the restaurant industry with his father's opening of one of Mexico's first pizzerias.
Chef Javier Plascencia
Bracero occupies two stories within the Ariel Suites building on the corner of Kettner Boulevard and Beech Street at the southern end of San Diego's ever-expanding Little Italy neighborhood. The restaurant is beautifully designed, paying homage to the bracero program that brought Mexican laborers to the United States during the heart of WWII until the mid-1960s. The restaurant includes two open kitchens - the more casual first-floor kitchen, which pumps out offerings from the raw bar and taco portion of the menu, and the reservation-only upstairs dining room kitchen that is responsible for the restaurant's main courses and hot tapas.
First floor bar/dining room at Bracero
We began with the ambitious surf & turf oysters ($12), a pair of gigantic mollusks topped with beef tartare, serrano pepper, spiced verdolaga juice and crispy beef. Upon slurping it down in a single bite, we realized that the undertaking was more than a mouthful, and not a particularly pleasant one, as the brininess of the oyster took over the flavors of everything else. While this dish has potential, it would benefit from scaling back the size of the oysters.
On our server's recommendation, we ordered the carrot aguachile special from the raw bar, which included local tuna and Baja luna scallops in a carrot-ginger juice with ghost chilis, cucumber, cashews, carrot slivers and smoked Steelhead roe. The dish presented an adventure as we skipped around the plate, forking uniquely delicious bites with each of the diverse yet complimentary ingredients. The light and refreshing carrot-ginger gazpacho presented a nice zing that allowed us to overlook the uneven knife work on the crudo.
We've eaten Plascencia's famed bone marrow sopes at Romesco so knew we had to try Bracero's surf and turf version. The shrimp and bone marrow sopes (2 for $14) with fried parsley and chile de árbol were absolutely delicious, although a big unsymmetrical, as one was heavy on the marrow and the other more plentiful on the shrimp. Once consistency is reigned in, this rich dish will be a definite mainstay on the tapas menu.
I think of Chef Javier Plascencia as the 'Prince of Pulpo', and I never miss an opportunity to indulge in his versions of the oceanic delicacy. Bracero's wood-grilled octopus with black bean and squid ink sauce, achiote, jalapeno, green garbanzo and habanero-peanut salsa ($15) is, alone, worth the visit, whether you're venturing from near or far. Tender and filled with intense flavor and texture, this dish was everything we expected and more.

We were excited to try one of the entrée options, as they are all cooked in part using a specially designed Caja China-type roasting box made by our friend and colleague Gustav Anders Rooth of Planet Rooth Design Haus. We loved the albondigas, crispy brisket and short rib ($24) with ayocote beans caldillo, chochoyones, avocado leaf and pickled chayote squash, and although the meatballs were a bit on the dry side, the flavors were all there to make this dish exceptional and home-y in all the right ways.
Bracero Cocina de Raiz is located at 1490 Kettner Boulevard and is certainly worth the wait. The lively yet relaxed atmosphere and beautiful adornments make this place ideal for romantic dates or cocktails and tapas with friends. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily and can accommodate walk-ins during the afternoons and on most evenings. For more information and to make reservations, visit or call (619) 756-7864, and be sure to check out the photos below.

Chocolate dessert special
Carrot special dessert
Seasonal Flan
Grouper Taco
Hiramasa Crudo
Huitlacoche Tamal
Shrimp Tostada
Vuelva a La Vida
Callo de Hacha (Scallop)
Beef tongue
Bean Tostada