Gema Is Our 2023 Restaurant of the Year

”San Clemente’s Gema is the most ambitious Mexican arrival we’ve seen in years.”

Restaurant of the Year: Gema

110 S. El Camino Real, San Clemente, 714-640-9371

San Clemente’s Gema is the most ambitious Mexican arrival we’ve seen in years. The open-air dinner house stars the singular gastronomy of executive chef Juan Pablo Cruz. His Mexico City roots and five-star culinary credentials inspired owner Sarah Resendiz to create a top tier for Mexican foodways in O.C. Don’t fear the menu’s unfamiliar dishes and obscure ingredients because a patient, conversant waitstaff explains it all—right down to the dazzling mezcal cocktails that suit an amuse-bouche of crisp tostadas upright in a small bowl of intricate mole, revealing the soul of this scratch kitchen.

Photographs by Emily J. Davis

Urbane small plates include oysters fundidos with chile mora, delicate lengua de res in avocado broth, and six duck chalupas under chopped chard dressed with vinaigrette made with tart Yucatan honey from stingless bees. Hyperseasonal salads such as the pear with hibiscus cheese and walnuts are spellbinding but balanced. Braised veal cheeks with chickpeas can pass as a light entree. Entrees veer from a vegan-friendly Oaxacan tamal to sliced A-7 wagyu filet with robust tamarindo adobo and alluring scalloped potatoes. Cruz’s deeply considered cuisine plus Resendiz’s simpatico hospitality also fuel their sensational library of artisan mezcals, 100-plus and growing.

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