Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern offers comfort food with a twist in San Diego


What started out as a marina owner’s desire to have a restaurant as an amenity on Harbor Drive in Point Loma has grown into a small chain that is expanding throughout Southern California and beyond.

Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern is a concept developed by David Wilhelm, a former chef who’s worked in the restaurant industry for more than 40 years. The late John Grimstad, Wilhelm’s original business partner in the concept, was introduced to Wilhelm by a mutual friend, who wanted someone to manage and operate the restaurant. Grimstad’s son, Johnny, now serves as Wilhelm’s managing partner.

The Jimmy’s in Point Loma was opened in the summer of 2010, and, “the public response was really great, so we decided we were going to slowly expand,” Wilhelm told Point Loma-OB Monthly.

They brought in a consulting firm who gave the restaurant an evaluation, which came back “great, loving the brand,” and after that, they drew up a plan to open a new restaurant every year or two.

The second Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern was in Dana Point, which has consistently proven to be the chain’s most successful. It’s near the harbor and surrounded by affluent communities, as well as high-end hotels. “It has performed beyond my expectations,” Wilhelm said.

Third to open, in the L.A. area was the Woodland Hills spot, followed by Brea; and two years ago, Santa Monica on Ocean Avenue.

The name, Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern, is based off a semi-fictitious character. Wilhelm explained that his friend, Jimmy Duval, works in the fashion industry but is also a backyard cook. Jimmy always has a bunch of “famous” dishes he makes for his friends and family. So when the restaurant was in its conception mode in 2010, the “gastropub” was big and Wilhem decided he wanted to make his restaurant a “celebration of American comfort food” with dishes from around the country. “Jimmy’s Famous” just stuck.

“I also like the name ‘tavern’ because it is a community meeting place,” Wilhelm added. “I wanted it to represent a modern day version of ‘Cheers.’ ”

Jimmy’s has since become a go-to place, a watering hole, and a setting for celebrations and holidays. The menu, décor and seating is geared toward attracting a broad audience, whether families, retirees, locals, military, or birthday parties. “People use us in a lot of different ways,” Wilhelm laughed.

One thing that sets Jimmy’s apart, is its dedication to being a certified “Green” restaurant committed to using sustainable food and resources. “We felt that was important,” Wilhelm said. Going through the process of becoming “Green certified,” meant, for example, purifying their water onsite, using all recycled materials — no Styrofoam — and, of course, no straws. “It’s worth it,” Wilhelm insisted.

In addition to its “Green” certification, Jimmy’s has taken it a step further and joined the “Seafood for the Future” program, serving only sustainable seafood. “The major seafood vendors say aquafarming is the future of seafood, since the oceans are being fished out,” Wilhelm added.

While Jimmy’s serves “classic American comfort food,” it is comfort food with a twist. The Caesar Salad, for instance, is made with grilled lettuce, has poblano peppers, and is topped with toasted pumpkin seeds.

“We have a great, great burger, too,” Wilhelm said, pointing out it’s their most popular item. The “signature” burger is made with Mishima Wagyu beef, one of four strains of Kobe beef that is supposed to higher in omega-3s and lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. “People love burgers, and if they can feel better about the quality of the burger, then it’s a big win-win,” Wilhelm said.

Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern, 4990 N. Harbor Drive, San Diego, is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch Monday-Friday; 3-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday for dinner (to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday); and serves brunch 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Happy Hour is 3-6 p.m. Monday-Friday. (619) 226-2103.