Outdoor dining and drinking isn’t going anywhere. Del Mar Highlands’ sprawling new Sky Deck brings 26,700 square feet of dynamic leisure space to the upscale shopping center, creating an unparalleled outdoor entertainment destination that offers a little something for everyone.
Seeing as this is San Diego, craft brews get prominent billing. Three local breweries — Northern Pine, Rough Draft, and Boochcraft (organic hard kombucha) — are housed under a glass canopy that offers an elevated point from which imbibers can view the rest of the deck.
Cocktail drinkers will be delighted to encounter Understory, which takes its cues from the “understory layer of the forest,” says Graham Kemp, public relations representative for the Sky Deck. “The understory of the forest is where the party is,” he says. “Between the canopy and the forest floor, this layer, although devoid of much light, hosts an array of plant and animal life.”
Created by Scott Slater of beloved burger chain Slater’s 50/50, his wife, Thai, as well as Guillaume and Ludivine Ryon of local French bakery mini-chain Le Parfait Paris, Understory is the central cocktail bar for the entire Sky Deck, though individual restaurants may also have their own cocktail program.
The menu is filled with many original cocktails — more than at most bars, to be honest — in addition to a list of classics with Understory twists, like the “Sage Old Fashioned.” Take the “Understory Sour,” which combines Old Forester rye, honey ginger syrup, lemon, egg white, and cardamom bitters. The result is a tart-but-not-too-sweet sour drink that can hold its own with food, if needed.
The “Satanic Nightjar” is an exciting option for those who like bold flavors — the Southeast Asian-inspired tipple is a loaded version of a gin and tonic. Mixing Ford’s gin (which in my opinion is one of the best mixing gins), Curious Juniper’s locally made artisanal turmeric and ginger syrup, chili-tamarind lemongrass, and club soda, the result is a savory and effervescent pick-me-up that’s perfect for a digestif after heavier appetizers or dinner.
One of the options with the strongest bite also features local spirits. The “Cock of the Rock” boasts Cutwater Rayador reposado tequila, Curious Juniper turmeric and ginger syrup once again, fresh lime juice, orange bitters, and club soda, and though it resembles the “Satanic Nightjar,” it comes off much bolder as a result of the barrel-aged tequila.
Mezcal lovers will dig the “Spring Pepper,” which is a fiery mix of 400 Conejos mezcal, St. George green chile vodka, chartreuse, watermelon, fresh lime, and sal de gusano, which is a tart, umami-laden salt made from dried and ground up gusano worms. It’s delicious and a traditional accompaniment to mezcal, so I urge you to not knock it until you’ve tried it.
Also in the Sky Deck mix are nine culinary destinations: Glass Box, Ambrogio15, Craft House Sky Deck, J at the Sky Deck, Kiin Extraordinary Thai, Marufuku Ramen, Urbana Mexican Gastronomy, Zizikis Street Food, and Le Parfait Paris. There’s truly something for every palate. delmarhighlandstowncenter.com