This New Year, I resolved to eat every day like it was my last. I’m doing a good job so far; no weight gain, hellacious heartburn or violent gas to speak of.
Crispy Fried Chicken on El Cajon Boulevard and 49th is a happening neighborhood spot. I know, because I waited an eon for my chicken and surveyed a large cross section of folks picking up their phone orders ( future insider tip). The half fried chicken with 2 sides for about $7 is an insane deal, however, I will likely get chicken only on my next visit. Dark meat, that is. The breast meat I tried was on the dry side, but the thigh and drumstick were juicy and pleasant squirted down with homemade vinegary hot sauce. I like the crunchy breading here, and its saltiness plus the vinegar based hot sauce made me think of salt and vinegar potato chips. Final: chicken was good, price made it better. Popeyes is still tastier!
One nite after pizza and beers at Blind Lady Ale House, something sweet sounded good. So we stopped at Churros El Tigre– my first time! The churros were off the chart and reminded me of TJ as a kid. No, I wasn’t a TJ orphan, my family used to enjoy going on regular eating trips down south. I never tried plantanos though, so I figured I’ve give ‘em a whirl for a whopping $3. Plantains are sliced and submerged into the hot fryer until they crisp to a golden brown (above).
Then comes the sweetened condensed milk.
Holy mother of food porno! These were more delicious than they look– hard to believe, I know. Caramelized bits and not too sweet, the soft plantain flesh coated in syrupy goodness melts in your mouth. Get this next time you’re around University and 36th.
Oh yeah, baby! Pan fried pork potstickers at The Dumpling Inn are some of my favorite food in San Diego, period. Fact: word has gotten out about our little secret, and table waits that used last 15-20 minutes long have doubled, tripled and are worse on the weekends. But when I have my mind set on these crispy, chewy, meaty delights, I’ll wait. I love the family that owns this place; they’re hard working and give to-the-point, fast service.
Thank you @jayhutch603, MAYOR of The Waffle Spot, for turning me onto this revolutionary concept: thick cut, meaty fried bacon cooked right inside a waffle. The joy I felt spreading whipped butter over a bacon waffle made my eyes roll back. Go try this immediately.
On the waffle subject: I like them. It’s been years since I had one of Cafe 222′s famed pumpkin waffles– too long! After a morning of beer drinking, this light, fluffy and perfect pumpkin flavor and spice waffle was one of the best I’ve ever mouthed. Skip subpar, costly Brian’s 24 and rediscover this consistently good addition to downtown’s breakfast options.
A salad beef bowl from Yakitori Yakudori is one of my favorite dinners, and I probably eat it on average twice a week. It’s quite simple; beef is cooked on sticks over special coals until medium, and placed atop salad which sits on a bed of rice. The whole bowl is topped with peppery tare, a Japanese basting sauce of sorts that’s sweet and syrupy. This bowl of goodness wouldn’t be complete without a squirt of the MSG-rich Japanese mayo, Kewpie, which I’ve said before, is a popular bedside refreshment in my household.
Sometimes I go a little overboard. For our last dish at Nobu, I ordered this whole lobster, which showed up looking a little better than road kill. The brown, mud-like sauce across the banana leaves was about as unappetizing as, well, mud, and asparagus and shitake looked like the guts you’d expect from a scary creature such as this. Thankfully it tasted better than it looked, but it wasn’t great. The soy sauce based seasoning was too salty and strong for the delicate lobster meat. Shame.
Another recent meal I could have done without was Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot. First, you choose the kind of stock you want; the waiter told us half spicy, half regular is the way to go, so we did. Then you choose vegetables and meat that you cook yourself in this boiling, spicy caldron. Sounds OK enough. We settled on pork belly and fatty beef, plus a bowl of vegetables. The server told us the cooking times for the meat and vegetables, which was around the same time I said ‘fuck this.’ With no drinks, the bill came to nearly $40. Regardless of price, the soup was underwhelming and the abundance of unknown pods of spices (that looked like turds) floating in mystery broth were unsettling; whatever they were, I felt high afterwards, and not in a good way.
Dining in La Jolla is no problem at all, if the meal is dinner and you’re willing to pay the price. However, lunch-time in this part of town is another story… one that’s a few cupcakes shy of a happy ending.
What are my expectations when it comes to lunching? Let me outline for thee:
1. Must taste good.
If the food tastes good and is well-executed, I will come, and even tell my friends about it!
2. Reasonable prices for reasonable portions.
I’m sick of gargantuan, cold sandwiches on un-toasted, overwhelming bread for 9-10 dollars. Same goes for sub par hot sandwiches for little under $15.
3. Expedient take-out or dine-in.
Recently a server asked me if I’d like a mimosa with my tuna melt. Besides the obvious, ill-sounding combo, it was a fucking Tuesday at noon. Does anyone work in this neighborhood?? The service ended up taking forever, so in the end, I realized I should have ordered the fucking mimosa.
I don’t believe my lunch criteria is out of whack. In fact, I’m demanding better for us all! Following is the (incomplete) list of places I’ve lunched in La Jolla. They aren’t ALL bad, just mostly.
If prepared foods served cafeteria-style, reheated to order in a microwave is considered ‘gourmet’, then Girard’s is hittin’ it out of the cove. Good looking/tasting quiche goes soggy in the micro so any chance of mouthing tender, flaky pastry is lost in the ozone somewhere. I do enjoy the flavors of the veggie lasagna and ricotta-stuffed eggplant, but too often I’ve sent food back for another round of heating because of its tepid nature. Counter attendants will ask if you’d like marinara with each of these; if you say yes, you’re guaranteed an un-warmed serving atop the hot-around-the-edges entree. I couldn’t make this shit up.
There’s several soups available each day, all except one (cauliflower) are close to inedible. Where tomato basil is usually a safe bet, Girard manages to screw it; watery, lacking flavor and true to the out-of-season fruits you’ll find at the grocery store.
There’s a sandwich counter at Girard Gourmet, and unless you’re sharing, order the half, not whole. There’s 2 choices for bread: multigrain and Italian. The multi-grain does not taste good, and could be considered as dry as the pits of hell. The Italian, which resembles French, is so ridiculous to get your mouth around you’ll likely end up eating it open faced like I have. The tuna salad on Italian is among the stupidest sandwiches I’ve ever eaten; chewy, crusty, too-tall bread that when bit into propels tuna and contents out the roll’s back end. Shit! This place is out of chances at an average price of $12 per lunch.
A few months ago I decided to give Prep Kitchen a try, figuring, like a dumb ass, that I would love it just like everyone else. For 15 bucks I got the lunch ‘special’ of soup and half a steak sandwich. I’m not looking for large portions, but this half sammie was puny to-the-max, a few bites at best and nothing memorable. The soup was a tomato bisque of sorts that had orange and coriander, and I wasn’t a fan. It was nice to dip in, but as a soup that I’d want to ladle spoon after spoon into my mouth, not so much. I’m finding more and more that soups are either bland and lack salt, or are way too rich and more like a side-sauce. A blast of sweet citrus in tomato soup is not my idea of a good time.
I enjoyed the house-made pickles and potato chips best; proof that simplicity tastes better than a poorly executed concept. I appreciate the farm-to-table, artisanal themes at work here, but for the price, miniscule portions and ‘eh’ flavors, I’m not opening my (lunch) wallet to these (albeit hottie) restaurateurs again.
As I stood reading the menu posted near the patio, a young man approached me and asked if anything piqued my interest. It was cold and I wanted soup, so I inquired about the fish stew ($12). I followed his motion to come inside, where he proceeded to tell me the French Onion was better. I didn’t see how the two could really compare, and insisted on the former. They were out (go figure) so the worm talked me into ‘the best’ French onion soup he’s ‘ever had’– for 8 bucks! At this point I was an intrigued passenger on the trainwreck express, which ended about as badly as predicted. A few onions, lumps of cheese that had gathered on the bottom (?!), and broth that was hardly beefy and lacking thyme altogether made for a dismal lunch. Every time I walk by, I can’t help but judge the al fresco diners seemingly enjoying themselves at this dump.
After months of overpriced, underwhelming La Jolla lunches, I said fuck it. Just give me a fucking quesidilla. The first one I got, with chicken, was a greasy yet tasty mess impossible to eat without a fork and knife. Lesson learned. I went back for the plain cheese, and my debit card ‘didn’t work’ and was handed back to me. ‘Can you run it again?’ I asked, and was told no, and that if she tried running it again the ‘machine would break.’ What the fuck does this mean and what planet am I on right now?? I left, and got lunch somewhere else.
On another visit, I finally got a plain quesadilla, which tasted exactly as I expected: like cheese and flour tortilla, so thank you. I ordered a Coke as well, but it wasn’t handed to me and I forgot to ask, so I figured it a 50-50 snafu. The following day I returned and reminded the comatose looking guy at the counter, who really wasn’t thrilled to give me my Coke from the day before. I PAID FOR IT and you remembered, Asshole! The last straw was the last time I went in and waited at the counter for just under 5 minutes while the woman back yonder flat out ignored me. Finally I asked ‘can I order?’ and she went and got someone else to do it. In the time it took me to cross the street and return to the office, somehow, my beef taquitos weren’t even warm when they met my lips. I do not know how this happened, other than my food not being prepared to order. Porkyland La Jolla has the laziest, most unhelpful, incompetent service workers in all of food’s history. I hate this place, but at least the price is right. I won’t be back.
I’m not a huge fan of grass fed beef burgers. Call the farm-to-table police! This said, when I visit BL, I typically order the turkey burger. I absolutely love the Russian dressing here, probably more s0 than the turkey-basil patty itself, because lord knows I drench it with that zesty sauce. I appreciate that Burger Lounge’s namesake stays intact from start to finish, and is served hot in a reasonable amount of time– more than I can say about 90% of La Jolla lunches I’ve munched.
The veggie salad with avocado ranch dressing is fresh and delicious with romaine, baby spinach, cucumber, tomato, roasted corn, red onion, jicama, daikon sprouts and aged ricotta. However, it is asinine to serve a salad that must be cut with knife before eating. I’ll work for a fat steak, cutting cold vegetables, no way.
I wish the average cost of a meal at BL was under $17 bucks, but for a turkey burger, side salad (instead of fries) and small drink, that’s usually the damage.
The list continues soon with: Come on In, El Pescador, Marketplace Grille, Harry’s Coffee Shop.