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Park & Rec Owner Opens Another Neighborhood Hangout in University Heights

Johnston’s lands on Park Boulevard

A restaurant with a front patio. Harrison Photographic

A space that’s been a fixture on Park Boulevard for at least a century — most recently the longtime home of Small Bar — has now reopened as Johnston’s, the second neighborhood establishment operated by John Pani, who also owns Park & Rec just two doors down. While renovating the building, Pani’s crew discovered original signage, first hung in the 1920s when it functioned as a local five-and-dime. Adopting the name of the old general store, the University Heights restaurant is serving weekday happy hour and daily dinner, with a weekend brunch on the way.

Executive chef Peter Ziegler (Wolfie’s Carousel Bar, Charles + Dinorah) menu is streamlined yet eclectic, ranging from skewers grilled over binchotan (a rotating selection that could salt and pepper chicken and black garlic steak) to Cuban sandwiches, wagyu smashburgers, salads, and snacks that include a German pretzel with beer cheese and Jamaican jerk chicken wings.

Besides organic wine and a mostly-local beer list, drinks from bar leads James Gomez and Sonnie Smith (Park & Rec and Waypoint Public) include cocktails like a margarita made with ube-infused tequila and a coffee martini made with Dark Horse cold brew, horchata vodka, and Kahlua whip.

Though its dining room and bar are open for business, Johnston’s 2,000-square-foot garden patio, geared for everyday use as well as events, won’t be activated until later this summer.

A colorful salad.
Market salad.
Kimberly Motos
Grilled skewers of food.
Grilled skewers.
Kimberly Motos
A purple cocktail.
MC Gardens Margarita
Kimberly Motos

Johnston's Menu


4628 Park Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92116