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North Park, San Diego, is a vibrant neighborhood with diverse businesses and a strong sense of community. Among the myriad establishments dotting its streets, Black Radish stands out not just for its chef-driven culinary delights but also for the passionate duo behind its success—Chef Itze and her husband, architect John. Their journey to North Park and the evolution of Black Radish reflect their commitment to creativity, resilience, and community building.

Choosing North Park as the location for their restaurant was a challenging decision for Chef Itze. When faced with the choice between the bustling streets of Little Italy and the more intimate atmosphere of North Park, they listened to the advice of Chef Deborah from the Cohen group, “If you want to build community, I would choose North Park.” John recalls how the North Park location best fits their initial concept for this project, “We had visions of being in a very industrial area, where at night we would be this one little bright light. That was impractical, but when we saw Tobacco Rhoada’s space, it fit our vision closely enough. You have to remember North Park was different back then, too. The San Diego Reader called Rhoadas the worst bar in San Diego and not the good worst like some dive bars. But we loved everything about this corner. It’s close but not in the middle; it’s slightly remote and still a destination.” Their decision to choose North Park laid the foundation for Black Radish, a culinary beacon in the neighborhood.

That beacon was built and perfected by Chef Itze and John, who complement each other perfectly by bringing a balance of creativity and structure to their endeavors. Chef Itze describes herself as emotionally driven and thriving on creativity, while John approaches life with rationality and structure, drawing parallels between architecture and culinary arts. Their partnership transcends the kitchen, intertwining their strengths to create a harmonious blend of flavors and ideas at Black Radish. It took them time to find that balance as they navigated life.

The Journey

It was a long journey for the duo to reach the level of success this partnership has achieved. Chef Itze’s journey into the culinary world wasn’t a given. Growing up in Tijuana at the time, her family did not fully understand the concept of being a professional chef. “I did love cooking, but I don’t know that we ever thought of culinary school as an option,” Chef Itze recalls, “I do remember talking to my mom about it, and her response was ‘What is that, are you going to be selling tacos on the street?'” That was not her goal, and eventually, her love for cooking led her into a professional kitchen, where she got her first official start through a co-ownership opportunity at a restaurant.

The beginning of her professional culinary journey was far from smooth for Chef Itze. She recalls needing to repeatedly demonstrate her abilities to earn the respect of her male colleagues. “When I started, all the guys in the restaurant were taking bets on how long I’d last. One day, a week, two… and even though they knew I was part owner, they would give me the hardest jobs, like peeling buckets and buckets of shrimp. There were so many times I wanted to say no, but I knew I was going to do this. I knew I wanted to do this, so I went through everything they gave me until I was accepted. Soon, I was leading the line during busy nights, coming up with the specials of the day, cooking it all out, and changing the menu.” Even through the sexist scrutiny & heavy workload, Chef Itze found peace in the chaos of the kitchen. “I remember thinking, ‘I love everything about this.’ The sounds of the kitchen, the sounds of cooking, and even all the hectic parts of it are fun. When we were all done, I loved that tiredness you’d get. It’s a satisfying tiredness that gives you satisfaction.” 

Her passion and dedication enabled her to overcome the numerous challenges that female chefs often face. Chef Itze had to face them again as she started her family. “Our first restaurant sold, and I knew I wouldn’t be working when I had kids, so I stepped out of the culinary scene for 13 years. During that time, I did some catering and traveling, but mostly I studied. I would grab books, like Thomas Keller’s French Laundry (Chef Itze highly recommends this book for aspiring chefs), invite a group of friends over, and cook the recipes to the “T.” Throughout my time away, I knew it was going to be tough to come back, and I knew I couldn’t come back with the same knowledge and experience I had in the 90s.” When Chef Itze made her return, she faced many of the same challenges because she was a female, but now she also felt more scrutiny because of her age. “From vendors to staff, it was hard. To prove myself, I had to do recipes better, work the line better, and work harder than everyone.” Her advice to aspiring female chefs is simple yet powerful: believe in yourself, be resilient, and support each other in the face of adversity. “We are just as capable as male chefs. Don’t listen to others because if I had listened to them, I would not be here right now.” 

After 13 years away from the culinary scene, Chef Itze was brought back into the fold through a collaboration with John. That collaboration is the Tavern at Coronado, and it provided a launching pad for their future success at Black Radish. Chef Itze has put in the work to build her culinary skills. She has faced adversity at different levels and has always found a way to persevere and stay true to herself. Her work and her journey are a testament to the strength found in all women leaders.

The Seasons

Chef Itze’s fantastic journey in the kitchen has come with many experiences, both good and bad. When asked about what life lessons the kitchen has taught her, she spoke about being present and having the space to connect with your purpose. “I have a mantra of appreciating quietness. In my kitchen, we don’t have a radio booming or a lot of chatter. We are focused. We need that stillness to think about food and what we want to do with it.” 


In that stillness, Chef Itze’s culinary prowess shines through, creating dishes that are not just meals but expressions of artistry and passion. Her dedication to her craft is evident in every plate served, with flavors that tantalize the taste buds and leave a lasting impression on patrons. It’s important to note that each dish is an ephemeral experience because the menu changes with the seasons. North Park is in for a turn of the leaf at Black Radish as we enter Spring, and it’s easy to get excited when listening to Chef Itze share her thoughts on the new season. “I am always pushing myself, thinking about what I can do for this new season. Spring is coming. I want fresh things, newness. I am waiting for the morels to come in so I can do something with morels and black cod. There is also this delicious cut of pork called Sagrado, similar to the ribeye cap, that I’ve been reading about, and I found a source for it. I want to go a little Mexican with an adobo or similar rub. That is what direction I think Spring is taking.” The excitement emanates from the Chef as she taps into her creativity for the seasons. 


Chef Itze leverages her creativity as the seasons turn to tell new stories and create new experiences. One part of what makes each season unique is the Chef driving the change. Chef Itze is a firm believer in the Chef-Driven movement. “I would love to see more chef-driven restaurants. You (the Chef) are there cooking, paying attention to every detail, checking everything as it goes out.” True to her word, you can watch Chef Itze hard at work crafting plates and managing the service from your table at Black Radish. The second part is the Black Radish community.

The Community

Beyond crafting exquisite dishes, Chef Itze and John actively build community with their team and patrons. The duo is quick to highlight their front & back house team as a primary reason they’ve achieved their goals. “Because we are only open for dinner and only open Wednesday through Saturday, we operate with just one crew.” Operating with one crew is rare, and it’s even rarer how little turnover they’ve seen. The stability and inclusiveness of this one group have allowed Black Radish to focus on being the best version of itself. Their team truly has the synergy of a family, and Chef Itze underscored how lucky she has been to work with them. Their team cohesion is part of what makes Black Radish a wonderful place to dine.

However, their restaurant isn’t just a place to dine; it’s a hub where neighbors gather, friendships form, and memories are made. “We feel very fortunate because the community and the neighborhood have been gracious and generous in bringing people in and wanting it. We have become part of the neighborhood. Now, we have people coming from all over the world & people who come from one or two blocks away. I think that creates community.” Black Radish’s ethos is an ode to many small, refined dining establishments that you can find in New York, San Francisco, or Paris. John remarks, “It’s harder to do little neighborhood restaurants that are sophisticated but don’t need 500 seats. We like being neighborhoo-y.” Through their dedication to quality, creativity, and community, Chef Itze and John have transformed Black Radish into more than just a restaurant; it’s a cornerstone of North Park’s vibrant culinary scene.

As Chef Itze and John continue to navigate the ever-changing landscape of the restaurant industry, one thing remains constant – their commitment to serving food and experiences that nourish the body and soul. In a world where culinary trends come and go, Black Radish stands as a beacon of authenticity, creativity, and community, a testament to the enduring power of passion and perseverance.