From Baja to Oceanside: Chef Roberto Alcocer’s Journey to a Michelin Star

Roberto Alcocer opened Valle with a specific goal in mind: a Michelin star.

Chef Roberto Alcocer. Jordan Younis

While it’s not exactly hard to find authentic Mexican cuisine in San Diego, fine dining restaurant Valle has still managed to make a name for itself within the city’s competitive culinary scene. This is largely due to the passion and creativity of chef Roberto Alcocer, who, in just a few short years, has turned the Oceanside restaurant into an acclaimed Michelin-starred dining experience.

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Alcocer might make it look easy, but in reality, Valle is the result of a 22-year culinary journey.

The Baja native’s first memory of cooking was a muffin-baking contest in the seventh grade. Admittedly, he entered the contest because it would get him out of taking a test, but after a surprise win, he kept making muffins until his family finally asked him to stop. Not to be dissuaded, it eventually led to him teaching himself how to cook other dishes. 

Valle. ©JASON DEWEY 2021

Alcocer kicked off his professional career in hospitality at Bordeaux’s Le Patio in 2001, and eventually made stops at Michelin-recognized La Broche in Madrid and Pujol in Mexico City along the way. He opened his first restaurant, Malva Cocina de Baja California, in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico in 2016. Though still involved with Malva on the operational side, in 2021, he moved his family to Oceanside to open a new restaurant, Valle, at the Mission Pacific Hotel with a very lofty goal in mind: a Michelin star. Less than two years after opening, he achieved that elusive honor. 

“We knew it would be a challenge opening Valle. We were focused on distinguishing ourselves with our tasting menu, and are humbled that, shortly after opening, we received Michelin recognition, and earned one Michelin star another year later,” he tells Observer. 

Incorporating the local food community in Oceanside was a high priority for Alcocer from the start. He forged a partnership with Harbor Pelican Fish Market after a chance encounter with a fishing family at the pier, lining up his source for fresh, seasonal catches for the restaurant. He is also a regular at the local farmers market, connecting with suppliers and staying on top of the produce inventory. 

The Aguachile at Valle. Jordan Younis

Valle’s eight-course seasonal dinner tasting menu, priced at $180, includes familiar staples of Mexican cuisine, such as moles and salsas, and employs traditional Mexican techniques like ash cooking, in which food is cooked directly in or near ashes. The charred onion tart, for example, features white onions that are caramelized and cooked with ash. 

The optional wine pairing will cost you an additional $150. For Alcocer, wine has been an integral part of elevating Oceanside to fine-dining status. “Our wine pairings contribute to Valle’s immersive dining experience, transporting guests to the region,” Alcocer, a winemaker and certified sommelier himself, says. “It’s like the saying, ‘What comes first, the chicken or the egg?’ In this case, the answer is easy—it’s the wine.” Wine is a prevalent part of Valle de Guadalupe, and Alcocer, who already had experience pairing Mexican dishes and vino at Malva, wanted to highlight Mexican wines at Valle. 

The Onion tart. Jordan Younis

Chef Alcocer often incorporates wine into elements of his dishes; he likes to include notes of wood, rosemary and dry fruits. For example, his Trucha, Nopal y Tuna (made with snake river trout, avocado, cactus, and prickly pear aguachile) was inspired by northern Mexican sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. “I was looking to spotlight the buttery flavor of the chardonnay and the brightness of the sauvignon, so I created a seafood dish that complements the aguachile’s freshness and trout’s fattiness,” Alcocer explains.

Alcocer wants the Valle dining experience to be a sensory journey for his patrons, and that’s reflected in the waterfront restaurant’s design: It’s a mix of open, sleek modernism with gorgeous ocean views. Alcocer worked closely with designers in Valle de Guadalupe; each element, from the vibrant wall colors down to the plates—made from the region’s clay—serves as an homage to this special area of Mexico. Before the opening, Alcocer took the restaurant’s designers on multiple trips to Valle de Guadalupe to take photos and sketch out ideas, getting inspiration from the beauty of modern Mexico to help them replicate it with Valle. The art, curated by Renata Petersen, also supports Mexican artists, including selections from local talents in Baja.

The setting is a huge part of the experience. ©JASON DEWEY 2021

Still, Alcocer’s culinary aspirations continue to evolve—and next up, he’s on a mission to secure a second Michelin star. “There will always be new dishes and ingredients to discover and create. Part of the fun is staying curious and keeping an open mind, both in and out of the kitchen,” he tells Observer. With Alcocer’s hands-on approach (you’ll find him at Valle most nights, running the kitchen and working the line alongside his dedicated team) and his commitment to innovation and culinary excellence, another Michelin star seems well within reach.

From Baja to Oceanside: Chef Roberto Alcocer’s Journey to a Michelin Star