New classic diner only one of its kind in Del Mar

By Claire Harlin

There’s a major element of communities on the East Coast that hardly exists on the West Coast — classic neighborhood diners.

That’s something Unal Samanci noticed when he moved to San Diego from Boston two years ago, and being a restaurateur himself, he decided to change all that. The 34-year-old recently opened Del Mar Diner, the city’s only classic ‘50s-style diner, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mimicking the retro red barstools and chairs you’d see in a mid-century movie and serving up a traditional menu, Samanci isn’t trying to offer something you’ve never had before.

“It’s what you would expect from a classic northeast diner,” said Samanci. “Our specialties are hamburgers and sandwiches. The corned beef sandwich is really good.”

While you may know what to expect from a neighborhood diner that serves breakfast all day, there is something Samanci said sets his restaurant apart from many others — everything is homemade and he orders ingredients fresh daily.

“In my 10 years in the restaurant business, I haven’t seen a place that orders daily,” he said. “We even make our own bread.”

Samanci started working as a dishwasher in a café when he moved to Boston from Kurdistan about a decade ago, and within only 18 months he assumed a managerial position and bought the restaurant, which he owned for eight years.

He sold the restaurant to relocate with his family, but having worked for eight years without much travel, he wasn’t sure exactly where he wanted to land.

“We drove south to Florida and we decided we would stay a little bit in each state and see which one we liked, but we didn’t see anything we liked,” he said. “My wife said California was nice, so I went to L.A. and didn’t like it. Then I went to La Jolla and the ocean and mountains were so beautiful. I knew that was where we were going to be.”

In Kurdistan, Samanci earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and worked as a history teacher. Now that his business is up and running in Del Mar, he hopes to go back to school and earn a Ph.D.

His interest in politics and history stems from the political climate in his home country — Kurdistan was split between Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey after World War I and there is a political movement that supports a sovereign nation for the Kurdish people.

“As a person we are part of everything in the world and I want to understand the world around me,” he said.

In the meantime, Samanci is putting all his effort into Del Mar Diner, located at 2638 Del Mar Heights Road, and if things go well he may consider making it even more like diners in the northeast — by staying open late at night or even 24 hours.

“We’ll see how things go,” he said. “If that’s what the community wants, we may do that.”