Museum Café has contemporary dishes as hip as the art


By Kelley Carlson

It should come as no surprise that a restaurant at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is so picturesque, it could be the subject of a painting.

Located on the street side of the La Jolla museum — with the ocean just around the corner — the Museum Cafe’s patio is charming and framed by wisteria, with vines entwining white columns. Guests sit in orange and silver chairs underneath cream-colored umbrellas and dine on fresh, seasonal California cuisine, as the breeze periodically carries the notes of chimes from a nearby church bell.

Inside the cafe, the sleek decor is mirrored by the museum’s current exhibits with artwork gracing the white walls. Silver fans circulate the air; natural light filters in primarily through large, paned windows. “Artsy,” jazz-type music adds to the atmosphere at this European-inspired establishment.

Breakfast is served from 8 to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, with lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Brunch is available all day on the weekends.

A variety of fare is offered — from vegetarian to meat dishes —that incorporates organic ingredients from local farmers markets. The meats and poultry are all natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free; the burgers are 100-percent grass-fed beef. Breads are brought in from Bread & Cie in Hillcrest.

“(We offer a) nice combination of flavors,” said Giuseppe Ciuffa, owner/chef.

For breakfast, the Fried-Egg Ciabatta Sandwich is a popular selection, especially among local athletes who have just finished their morning workouts. It contains truffle aioli, Manchego cheese, wild arugula and applewood smoked bacon. Other a.m. offerings include housemade granola with seasonal berries and vanilla yogurt, several types of pancakes and homemade pastries.

A number of salads are featured on the menu, including Poached Chicken with Parmigiano, shaved fennel and citrus dressing; and Grilled Salmon, tossed with toasted sesame seeds, tropical fruit and coriander salsa. Along with its main ingredients, the Mexican Shrimp & Grilled Papaya Salad incorporates romaine hearts, baby greens, organic feta and salt roasted almonds, with a sweet and tangy citrus dressing.

The soups made from scratch, change daily. Choices may include Tomato Basil & Stilton Cheese, Chicken Tortilla, Cream of Asparagus or Roasted Corn Chowder without cream, among others. A Vegetarian Black Bean Soup topped with sour cream and cheddar is a standard option.

Along with the year-round core menu, there are seasonal specialties. For instance, in the fall, there is a Butternut Squash & Wild Mushroom Lasagna with truffle essence, thyme and imported cheese over a light Gorgonzola sauce; in the spring, the entree’s main ingredients shift to artichokes and spring peas.

The lasagnas come from a family recipe, Ciuffa revealed. “It’s a promise I made to my mother to keep them,” he said.

The café also has a kids’ menu with items like grilled cheese and sliders.

Ciuffa recommends dining al fresco and ordering a glass of wine, with selections from Italy, California and New Zealand.

“Don’t come in a hurry -- enjoy the environment,” he said. A 10 percent discount is available for MCASD members; it’s 15 percent for La Jolla Sports Club members during breakfast.

Villagers who are unable to get to the café can place an order that will be delivered via bicycle.

Museum Cafe

Address: 700 Prospect St., La Jolla

Phone: (858) 456-6427


The Vibe: Modern, casual, relaxed

Signature Dishes: Fried-Egg Ciabatta Sandwich, Vegetarian Black Bean Soup, Mexican Shrimp & Grilled Papaya Salad

Open Since: 2001

Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily

Reservations: Yes

Patio Seating: Yes

Take Out: Yes

Happy Hour: No

On The Menu Recipe

Each week you’ll find a recipe from the featured restaurant online at Just click Get The Recipe at the bottom of the story.

This week: Museum Café’s Mexican Shrimp & Grilled Papaya Salad