Johnston’s Neighborhood Restaurant And Bar In The Heart Of University Heights

  • Dinner Service Only
  • San Diego
  • $$

San Diego based ELE Collective (Park & Rec, former Waypoint Public) has opened doors today to Johnston’s restaurant and bar in University Heights. 

Located in one of the city’s oldest communities at 4628 Park Boulevard, the new neighborhood eatery is a nod to a unique piece of San Diego history: an original 1920s five-and-dime, “Johnston’s Variety Dept. Store,” which was unearthed during the restaurant’s renovations.

Johnston's Restaurant & Bar In University Heights

Johnston’s restaurant and bar, a community hub for hospitality

San Diego native and hospitality veteran, John Pani, brings every bit of his culinary, history-loving self to the restaurant. Today, under that original 100-year-old storefront sign which hangs proudly above its doors, Johnston’s is a community hub for hospitality in University Heights. 

“The vibe at Johnston’s is comfortingly familiar, and it extends throughout our causal setting and cocktails to a bar menu you could revisit time and time again,” says Pani. “If there’s anything upscale about this restaurant, it’s the careful attention paid to turning otherwise low-brow items like a fried chicken sandwich and fish and chips into the very best versions of themselves.”

Johnston's smash burger

FOOD | The Young Gun, Executive Chef Peter Ziegler

There is an effervescence to the dining room and bar that spills out to the streetside patio. The food is equally charming. Offering dinner service daily, Johnston’s kitchen is led by San Diego native, a 29-year-old chef-to-watch, Executive Chef Peter Ziegler (formerly executive chef of Pearl Hotel’s Charles + Dinorah and Wolfie’s Carousel Bar).

His warm and welcoming menus are shaped in part by global influences with dishes like the braised mojo pork Cubano and the smash burger with two wagyu patties to a rotating trio of sticks, yakitori cooked over a binchotan charcoal grill. Shareables like hummus with housemade za’atar naan and health-forward picks like the seasonally-inspired market salad, currently served on a bed of baby gem lettuce and loaded with pickled red onions, pomegranate, crispy quinoa, and a tahini vinaigrette, are also set to be cult favorites.

Market Salad at Johnston's Restaurant & Bar

BEVERAGE | A Dynamic Duo, Sonnie Smith & James Gomez

Johnston’s restaurant and bar employs the cocktail clout of its sister establishment two doors down, Park & Rec, to offer an inventive menu of classic riffs incorporating time-piece-inspired glassware, house infusions, and cocktail names that speak to the history of the neighborhood.

MC Gardens Margarita

Bar leads James Gomez (Social Syndicate and Karl Strauss; certified cicerone) and Sonnie Smith (Park & Rec and Waypoint Public) leverage four decades of combined beverage industry experience to shake up favorites such as the MC Gardens Margarita with ube-infused tequila; the dragon berry-infused Clare Rose, a classic sour with a tiki focus; or the Alonzo Horton featuring a housemade kalua whip over a horchata vodka and Dark Horse cold brew cocktail.

Alonzo Horton

A curated wine list offers a dozen or so organic wines, and taking pride in its tap list, Johnston’s will offer a rotating tap and bottle list curated by Adam Assad (Waypoint Public).

ART & DESIGN | Plus, Johnston’s Part Two, Coming Soon

The buildout of Johnston’s is a two-part endeavor. A 1,500 square-foot interior dining room and bar is now open, and later this summer, Johnston’s will debut its lush 2,000 square-foot garden patio for dining, drinking, and events. Pani worked with a familiar team of creatives to resurrect this new era for Johnston’s.

Renowned San Diego artist Christopher Konecki restored the storefront sign and will produce site-specific murals for Johnston’s future garden patio. Norway/California-based Marianne Berg of Mbee Studio led Johnston’s architectural and interior design and found inspiration in the neighborhood’s former Mission Cliff Gardens to create a space filled with earthy tones and ethereal shades of green.

Flanking one side of the room, a cozy garden motif-lined banquette sits below hanging greenery; on the other side, a 20 ft jade-topped bar with wood tambour paneling and gorgeous bronze mirrored backbar adds depth to the space. Both Konecki and Berg are long-time creative partners to Pani and lent their artistic vision at concepts including Park & Rec and the former Waypoint Public.

See you there

Johnston’s restaurant and bar is located at 4628 Park Boulevard, University Heights,San Diego, CA 92116.

Johnston’s is currently open for dinner daily and offers a weekday happy hour from 4PM to 5PM. A weekend brunch menu will debut by early April. 

For more information and hours of operation, please visit the website here, call Johnston’s at (619) 546-9187, and follow along on Instagram.

See you there, San Diego!

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