El Jardin | Cocina Regional Tequila Bar
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In late spring 2018, chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins and Rise & Shine Restaurant Group open El Jardín at Liberty Station in the Point Loma community. Inspired by the flavors Zepeda experienced growing up between San Diego, Tijuana and Guadalajara, as well as during her travels throughout Mexico, the menu at El Jardín spotlights Zepeda’s nuanced approach to regional Mexican cuisine, refined and reinterpreted with local ingredients. Rise & Shine founder Johan Engman and Zepeda collaborated closely on the restaurant’s design to bring their shared vision of El Jardín to life through bold pieces and accents throughout the expansive indoor and outdoor spaces that recall the restaurant’s culinary heritage.

El Jardín strives to honor both the diverse cultures that have lent a hand in shaping the seven regions of Mexican cuisine, as well as the ancestral recipes created and shared by matriarchs throughout history.


Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins

Executive Chef/Partner

Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins is the executive chef/partner at El Jardín, a regional Mexican restaurant in San Diego, California. Inspired by the diversity of cuisine in Mexico, where her passion for food was first cultivated, El Jardín is an expression of Zepeda’s culinary journey as a chef. Born in the U.S. and ​raised between Tijuana and San Diego, Zepeda credits the confluence of flavors and ingredients she was exposed to while spending time with family in Tijuana and Guadalajara, including her aunt Lorenza​ who owned her own restaurant, as paving the way for her eventual career.

Prior to El Jardín, Zepeda was chef de cuisine at Javier Plascencia’s celebrated Bracero in San Diego’s Little Italy. During her tenure, Bracero was recognized as a 2016 James Beard Best New Restaurant semifinalist and included on Eater’s 2016 Best New Restaurants in America list. Zepeda’s culinary resume also includes time spent alongside chef Gavin Kaysen at his former San Diego restaurant, El Bizcocho.

In January 2017, Zepeda joined the San Diego-based Rise & Shine Restaurant Group, lending her expertise to the development of the group’s new concepts in her role as consulting chef, while paving the way for El Jardín.

A contestant on Top Chef Mexico Season 2 and a recent competitor on Top Chef Season 15, Zepeda continues to find inspiration from her frequent visits to Mexico, as well as her husband and teenage son and daughter whom she resides with in San Diego’s Bonita neighborhood.

Johan Engman


Born and raised in northern Sweden until he was 16 years old, Johan Engman first came to the United States with his mother, planning only to stay for one year. A year in San Diego turned into three and then Southern California became their permanent home. Engman entered the restaurant industry after high school as a dish washer in a small Italian restaurant. He moved on to bussing tables at a local hotel before working as a server at a number of local restaurants. Harboring an affinity for the industry, Engman made it his goal to open a restaurant of his own. Nurturing his desire to offer a homestyle, friendly breakfast option for local dinners, Engman conceptualized the original Fig Tree Café in Pacific Beach as a prime morning-time destination. He made his dream into a reality in October 2008.

Eight years later, Engman now oversees operations and owns three successful branches of Fig Tree Café in Pacific Beach, Hillcrest and Liberty Station along with Breakfast Republic in North Park, Liberty Station, Encinitas, East Village, Ocean Beach and Carmel Valley, Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach.

El Jardin will be Johan’s largest restaurant at 3100 square feet with a 5500 square foot patio. The concept is modern Mexican inspired by Executive Chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins’ (Top Chef) heritage and the regional cuisine in Guadalajara, Jalisco where her passion for food was first cultivated, El Jardín is an expression of Zepeda’s culinary journey as a chef. The restaurant will feature a large selection of Tequila and Mescal.

Being an experienced traveler having visited 64 countries to date, in his free time Johan enjoys exploring new countries, cultures and cuisines along with scuba diving and motorcycle riding.

When asked about his secret to success, according to Engman it’s all about believing in yourself and “Knowing that you’ll get knocked down but always getting back up no matter what the naysayers say”, along with employee high emphasis on morale. He says, “If you have your staff behind you 100%, then you’re leaps and bounds ahead of any competition.”



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