The story of chef Javier Plascencia is a tale of two cities: his hometown of Tijuana, Mexico, and the city of San Diego, California. He and his family have restaurants in both cities, featuring the cooking of Baja California, and he is widely know as one of the region’s greatest promoters.
Tijuana has gone through major peaks and valleys, and the Plascencia family has been there through both. The early years of their Tijuana restaurants, Giuseppi’s, Villa Saverios, and Caesar’s (famous with 1920s Hollywood types), were followed by a move to San Diego when Tijuana was becoming more dangerous because of drug-related violence. Javier went to high school and culinary school in San Diego, followed by travel and stints in kitchens around the world.
But in the end it was Tijuana and a group of fellow businesspeople who wanted to bring the city back from the brink that gave Javier Plascencia a stage for his most distinctive work. At Mision 19, which opened in 2011, and in 2012 won Travel + Leisure magazine’s Best New Restaurant award, all the ingredients (including wine) come from within a 120-mile radius of the restaurant, which means not only Tijuana markets and local Baja farms and vineyards in the Guadalupe Valley but also farmers’ markets in San Diego. On the menu are combinations of foods that exemplify Plascencia’s “Baja Mediterranean” thinking: a dish of fresh local (and sustainably caught) tuna with the cactus fruit xoconoxtle, a black mole caramel, pickled shimeji mushrooms, mashed charred cauliflower, and short rib chicharron. And there’s a risotto with heirloom beans, huitlacoche, wild mushrooms, and epazote,
Mision 19 is now one of several Javier Plascencia restaurants, along with Tijuana’s Erizo, in the Plaza Rio Food Garden; the Guadalupe Valley’s rustic Finca Altozano; and San Diego’s Bracero. He’s cooked for Mexico’s former Presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, and has been named by Wildcoast as a defender of the ocean and marine life, and as Eater San Diego’s Best Chef of the Year.