Breakfast is a big deal in San Diego. Whether it's the weekend splurge or a weekday routine, choices abound for the first meal of the day, which can be anything from coffee and a muffin or bacon and eggs to something more exotic.
With so many places scattered around San Diego that serve breakfast-cafés, traditional restaurants and coffeehouses-it's impossible to note them in just one take, so today begins a series of occasional columns to highlight the county's bonanza of breakfast eateries.
Cafés usually open daily at 6 or 7 a.m. and close at 2 or 3 p.m. Weekends tend to have line-out-the-door waits, especially at the peak time of 9 to 11 a.m. Most cafés have reasonable prices, efficient service, unique ambience and loyal customers. Menus are similar, with eggs done a million ways and generally accompanied by hashed, home or cottage-fried potatoes in varied interpretations.
One of my breakfast gurus recently introduced me to Perry's Café in a stand-alone building at the corner of Taylor and Pacific Highway near Old Town. He's been a regular there for years-and for good reason. Owner .Perry greets and seats customers with a warm smile, and friendly servers bring solid coffee-shop food and readily refill coffee cups. It's a large, comfy place with Naugahyde booths, a counter and big windows.
Perry's large menu dishes up egg creations in the form of Italian-style frittatas (open-face omelets) with familiar fillings such as spinach, cheese, onions, shredded beef and more. South-of-the-border egg specialties, standard omelets and pancakes and waffles galore offer something for even a cranky child. Low prices (everything's less than $7) and generous portions of fresh food make the place a local favorite. Forego the usual toast or English muffin for a feather-light, house-made biscuit with whipped butter. It was terrific with my frittata of shredded beef, cheese and onions. The home fries are the mashed-chunked variety and can be ordered extra crispy. 4620 Pacific Highway. 619-291-7121. Open daily.
Terryl Gavre's downtown Café 222 is a favorite of another breakfast pal of mine. Gavre's award-winning “quirky American cuisine,” as the website notes, is a whimsically decorated, down-to-earth hangout for locals and conventioneers. Gavre opened in 1991, and there's always a short wait for a table in the small dining room or on the patio or for one of the two counter stools. The menu says “no smoking, no choking, no crybabies,” so if you can't avoid smoking, choking or whining, this might not be your place. But if you can refrain from those activities, you'll find the food is consistently good. The selection isn't huge, but we love The 222-two each of buttermilk pancakes, eggs and either turkey bacon or sausage for $8.50. The joint serves pancakes galore-granola, orange-pecan, banana-oat-and specialties include my favorite: the Benedict Arnold with English muffins, spinach, tomatoes, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce (I like it on the side). 222 Island Ave. at Second Avenue. 619-236-9902. www.cafe222.com.
Big Kitchen, a community institution in Golden Hill, is a quirky joint that reminds me of a '60s hippie eatery. (Ah, those college days.) Here you'll find wholesome food, liberal politics, Jerry Garcia pictures and posters, Rod Stewart's more recent signed album cover and accolades for owner Judy the Beauty on Duty, as customers, friends and neighbors know her.
I'd never been there before one of my breakfast mavens told me it was a definite must. We went on a Friday, to avoid the weekend crowds. This place redefines funky. There are two seating areas: the counter with the old, wooden and very wobbly stools and a small dining room you enter via the kitchen. After the wobbly stools nearly sent us flying, we headed to the dining room for our meal. There, among the dark walls plastered with pictures and local art, we ate omelets and listened in as a table of six near us discussed circumcision during their Friday morning Torah study group. Honest. It was a hoot.
I had an omelet with some bland veggies (no added seasonings) and home fries that tasted vaguely of Indian spices, maybe cumin or coriander-the server wasn't sure as he explained that the seasoning depends on who's cooking. Expect variables here along with laid-back, friendly service. 3003 Grape St. between 30th and Fern streets, South Park. 619-234-5789. ,
Look for Dobson's Bar & Restaurant, the 22-year-old downtown favorite of hobnobbing City Hall types, to update its menu now that executive chef Kurt Metzger is on board. He's a southern California native who studied at the Culinary Institute of America and recently left Just Fabulous Kensington. 956 Broadway Circle, Downtown. 619-231-6771. www.dobsonsrestaurant.com.
Encinitas' Steakhouse 66 reopens at the end of the month as Firefly Grill & Wine Bar, with a 30-seat wine bar and separate dining room, in the same shopping center as Savory. 251 North El Camino Real, Encinitas.
Tioli's in North Park, under new owners, is now Tioli's Crazy Burger, with all manner of hamburgers, including a farm-raised Florida gator burger and similarly raised Mojave rattlesnake burger ($19.95). Can't say either makes me hungry. Also featured are draft beers and wine for the 3 to 6 p.m. happy hour. 4201 30th St. at Howard Avenue, North Park. 619-282-6044.
The recently sold Trattoria Positano in Hillcrest has morphed into soon-to-open Brazil by the Hill, also in Hillcrest. According to the sign out front, the menu will be Brazilian-American fusion. 142 University Ave., Hillcrest.