Tucked away from the bustle of La Jolla's village core is a tiny gem of a neighborhood known as "The Shores." The two commercial blocks of Avenida de la Playa dead end at the beach, where immediately to the left is the famed La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. There, at the renowned Marine Room, you can dine on Chef Bernard Guillas' inventive food and watch the waves hit the huge picture windows as the sun disappears into the Pacific Ocean. To the right of the Avenida is the Sea Lodge Hotel and The Shores restaurant that serves American coastal cuisine.
What I love about Avenida de la Playa is the mini United Nations of 10 eateries, where choices abound from steak and frites (French for fries), sushi and pizza to pasta, burgers and burritos. The feel of the neighborhood is beach-casual-almost quaint-and the commercial area caters to the locals. Peppered among the restaurants you'll find all manner of surfing and kayaking necessities, a cleaners, hair salons, nice women's apparel, small offices and the decades-old La Jolla Shores Market.
Three relative newcomers anchor one block of the street: Piatti Ristorante, Barbarella and Osteria Romantica. All three came to the area within the last 15 or so years (Osteria most recently, within the last year and a half). All three are casual and comfortable with menus of mostly lighter, Northern Italian dishes. I'll be talking about these well-known places in an upcoming column. For this week, however, I want to focus on a few of the smaller places, some of which have been on the avenue for more than 30 years.
Set back from the street and across from the La Jolla Shores Market is the 30-year-old Miss China Restaurant, offering classic Cantonese food. Though I've been going to the area for years, I only noticed Miss China a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised with the food when I met a friend there for dinner. This sleeper seats only about 30 and reminds me of the simply adorned rooms frequently found off the tourist routes in Hong Kong. Colored paper parasols hang upside down from the ceiling to add color to the cottage setting.
Owned by Kitty Tow, a Hong Kong native and San Diego cooking teacher, Miss China's food is fresh and flavorful. Cantonese cuisine is subtle and delicate; seasonings include light soy, dry sherry and chicken stock that marry with colorful vegetables, chicken, fish, mushrooms and nuts. This is the spot for barbecued spareribs, egg rolls, cashew chicken, wor won ton soup, oyster sauce beef, chicken chow mein and, most important, a good pot of tea with loose leaves, not bags.
Tow's egg rolls come filled with mostly cabbage (I prefer them made with a bit of ground pork and more vegetables) and the requisite hot mustard and sweet dipping sauces. Wor won ton soup arrives chock full of won tons, vegetables and sliced roasted pork (the addition of the vegetables and pork is what makes it "wor") in chicken broth. Hearty enough for two, you could practically make a meal of it.
We loved the pine nut chicken, stir fried and gently seasoned, served on a nest of crisp rice noodles that almost melt with the light sauce. Phoenix and dragon delights with sweet lychee nuts, boneless chicken and shrimp. You'll also find familiar chow meins, pork with water chestnuts and snow peas and many other well-known Cantonese dishes at reasonable prices for lunch and dinner. Dishes with shrimp run $12.50 while chicken and beef plates are a couple of dollars less. Your check arrives with the rarely found almond cookie and a fortune cookie. 2240 Avenida de la Playa, 858-454-2311. Closed Monday
Surfers and locals know Jeff's Burgers, a place that's been around since 1972. For a good charbroiled burger with everything on it, this is the place. What I like is that they, like Hodad's in Ocean Beach, have a small version, along with quarter-, double- and half-pounders. No, it's not the same as Hodad's, it's simply a good burger when you've come off the beach or don't feel like cooking. Just squishy enough with a soft bun, it's a satisfying mouthful. It's a no-frills place, where you order at the counter and then get the food when called. About $5 will get you a quarter-pound supercheeseburger and fries. They also have sandwiches, fish and chips and Dreyer's ice cream in a slew of flavors. 2152 Avenida de la Playa, 858-454-8038.
Across the street is the Cheese Shop that continues to be family-owned and -operated since 1972. No longer a solo cheese place, now sandwiches, domestic and imported candies and salads make up the menu. Big specialty sandwiches with roast pork, roast beef or spit-roasted leg of lamb make a meal, for just $7.50. Outside sidewalk seating is available, otherwise the place is chock a block with candies, crackers and lots of unusual edibles. 2165 Avenida de la Playa, 858-459-3921.Write to email@example.com.