With its incomprehensible maze of buildings and thoughts behind their creation, El Cajon Boulevard is arguably the rough to San Diego's diamond. Boxy malls and condos share the road with shabby fixer-uppers, primeval Laundromats and faceless secondhand stores, with a crazy-quilt of name franchises and service stations filling in the gaps. The odd mom-'n'-pop flower shops and fashion boutiques are woefully few and far between, and if you're behind the wheel, you'll never remember where they are anyway—such are the demands on your attention as you swerve to avoid the helmetless, snot-nosed 12-year-old whose bike thinks it's a car.
But if you look long enough, you'll find that this iconic street features its fair share of charms, some of which make you suspect there are actual neighborhoods nearby. Take The Living Room Cafe, whose designers bridged the gap between the boulevard's grit and the tastier side of your busy day's affairs. Slap a little cream cheese on your smoked salmon and bagel and add a soy chai latte and fresh blueberry scone. The only way to make this a better breakfast is to eat it on the patio, lined with stately wrought iron and about a million trees. Lunch and dinner, too, are as satisfying as they are cheap—in no case will you pay more than $7 for your meal, and you'll eat it in immaculate surroundings. Tidy side-street houses weigh in with their genteel take on urban solace; hard to fathom that the infernal thoroughfare is probably 25 feet away.
But it is, replete with its cadre of snot-nosed 12-year-olds. And, magically, it, and they, are no match for you. That's because you were smart enough to refuel at 5900 El Cajon Blvd. between 6 a.m. and 2 a.m. every day or to order ahead at 619-286-8434 (there are also locations in National City, La Jolla, Old Town and Point Loma). El Cajon may be a patchwork thoroughfare, but that doesn't make it an altogether bad one.