“It’s eclectic,” said owner Nanci Kirk of the homemade cuisine she serves at her restaurant, now open for dinner, as well as lunch and breakfast starting at 7 a.m. at 2168 Avenida de la Playa.
“We’re a bit of Mexico, a bit of Hawaii, a bit of Southern California — it’s the beach with twists,” she said.
One of Kirk’s culinary creations is a Thai dish that she calls Thai crusted chili salmon.
“It’s sweet Thai and chili sauce — it’s awesome,” Kirk said. “I can cook a great dish.”
Kirk boasts that the meat served in her restaurant is higher quality, coming all the way from Niman Ranch in central California.
“It’s grass-fed, no hormones, just better for you,” she said.
A longtime La Jolla restaurateur, Kirk previously ran The Cottage, known for its outdoor patio dining, in the Village.
Dining outdoors at the Shores is still the trademark of a Kirk restaurant, as Papalulu’s is situated in a courtyard.
Just like her recipes, Kirk started completely from scratch when she opened Papalulu’s five years ago.
“There was nothing in here — there wasn’t even a kitchen,” she said of her eatery space, which previously had been Rudy’s Cafe but was vacant when she took over. She has built it, quite literally, from the ground up.
Kirk named her second La Jolla restaurant in honor of her parents, Papa and Lulu, whom she said came out of retirement in Mexico to be her first two employees at The Cottage.
“I had a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old when I started the business back in 1985,” Kirk said. “Papa was the first cook at The Cottage and Lulu was the first waitress.”
Kirk was retired all of six months between her stints as owner/operator of The Cottage and Papalulu’s.
“I did catering and then this [Avenida de la Playa] space came up and I just fell in love with it,” she said.
Kirk felt something was missing from the area’s restaurant scene, and she thought she could broaden the mix of La Jolla Shores restaurants where Piatti’s and Babarella’s have been standouts for years.
“There was no place for families with kids that was not just burgers,” she said, adding, “You can still get a burger here.”
The combination of outdoor café patio dining and eclectic beach cuisine makes Papalulu’s what it is — a fresh, cooling ocean breeze on a summer day down at the beach.
“I now have a little tiki bar with beer and wine and some specialty drinks nobody knows about yet,” said Kirk.
The atmosphere, she said, is “casual, flip-flops, dress-as-you-want outdoors.”
Her cuisine, meanwhile, is always fresh, and could be described, she said, as “a lot of healthy stuff, gluten-free, American with a tropical twist.”
Delectables on Kirk’s daily menu include Jamaican coconut shrimp appetizers, Caribbean jerk shrimp salad and her Papa Dilla specialty: two seasoned, mashed potatoes between two flour tortillas topped with barbecued chicken and chipotle pork with a dash of basil.
“It’s different,” she said of her signature dish.
Kirk also runs a full-service catering company, which has been serving San Diego for more than 15 years.
Dinner is served at Papalulu’s daily from 5 to 9:30 p.m., except Sundays and Mondays.
For more information call (858) 459-3131 or visit www.papaluluslajolla.com.