Iris Food & Spirits is Focused in Carmel Valley

July 13, 2012

By Sean Jackson | SanDiegoVille Contributing Writer

One of the great things about San Diego is that you never know where you'll end up finding a culinary gem.  My parents recently ventured south from the OC to check out the San Diego Fair and wanted to meet up for dinner afterward.  Though I usually pick the restaurant, this time I passed that duty along to my dad and was rewarded with one of the better meals I've had in quite a while.  Iris Food & Spirits, located on Carmel Valley road in Del Mar/Carmel Valley, offers noteworthy new American cuisine with amazingly tranquil views overlooking Los Penasquitos marsh and Torrey Pines State Park. 

We were running late for our reservation, but Iris was perfectly accommodating, kindly pushing back the reservation to allow everyone time to arrive without rushing. After being seated, I had a chance to peruse the extensive beer selection and ended up going with the special, a local staple: Stone IPA. The one disappointment of the entire night was that Iris does not serve Canadian Club, my father's go-to cocktail, but that brief spell of disappointment was quickly allayed with a generously poured Maker’s Mark - an ideal substitution.

Tempura Firecracker Shrimp
The new American menu at Iris makes your mouth water as you decide your order and plan your next meal simultaneously.  Initially I wanted to sample one of the appetizers, such as the pan-fried duck pot stickers, the tempura firecracker shrimp,  or the pan roasted mussels, but we couldn't gauge how hungry we were and so decided against it.  Thank goodness we did, because each of the meals we received were enough for two.

I ordered the Cabernet-braised boneless beef short rib stew which fell apart when meeting my fork.  The rib meat was so infused with the flavors of the sauce that it was almost candied yet still provided a perfect texture to mix with the parsnips and Shiitake mushrooms. The pan scraping sauce was such a delicious mix of the wine, meat, and garlic flavor that I couldn’t help but ask for extra bread to soak up every drop on the enormous plate.

Interior of Iris
My mother chose well: the evening's special, a sea bass with spicy blue crab stuffing, perfectly prepared.  The fish melted in your mouth and was complimented well by the flavor of the crab stuffing's underlying heat. The Iris cassoulet with chicken and sausage was yet another highlight: the sauce was herb-y and flavorful and the beans delicious.  Each of the dishes came out beautifully presented which didn’t stop us as we quickly demolished our meal.  Overall, we all had an amazing time and I will definitely venture back to try the crispy skinned duck leg confit or lamb meatloaf, each of which had tempted me earlier in the night.

Being that it is in my backyard, I am disappointed that I didn’t know about Iris until now, as it has all of the hallmarks that I look for in great food: owned by San Diego natives, mostly locally sourced ingredients, great and beautifully plated food, and polished service.  I am glad that I now know about this gem in Carmel Valley/Del Mar and look forward to my next meal at Iris food and spirits.  Iris is very easy to find and parking no problem even though the location feels like its off the beaten path.

For more information visit Iris Food & Spirits online at, and be sure to follow Iris on Facebook.

2334 Carmel Valley Road, Del Mar
(858) 259-5878


Lunch served Mon - Fri, 11am - 2pm
Dinner served Mon - Sun, from 5pm
Happy Hour 4-6pm Mon - Fri - 1/2 Price Select wines by the glass and select beers.  20% off all premium drinks and appetizers.

Iris Food and Spirits on Urbanspoon