I've lived in San Diego for six years-about five years longer than I intended to. Every year and a half or so I get all riled up and announce that I've had it, that I'm really moving this time, to some bigger and better city with actual seasons, richer culture and better public transit. But when the time to make the move looms, I realize I've come to love San Diego. The weather, after all, is fantastic. The people are mellow, I have two great jobs and a cozy old house in a relatively diverse neighborhood, my cat is comfortable here and, ultimately, so am I.
I become even more compelled to stay when, every so often, I stumble across a place that instantly transports me to that elusive big-city-of-my-dreams. Mystic Mocha, a little coffee shop on Mission Avenue-the diagonal hypotenuse of a street that connects Park Boulevard, Madison Avenue and Texas Street-is one of those places.
I love Mystic Mocha precisely because of its small size. Southern California is all about sprawl, so having tea and oatmeal at one of the five little tables crammed inside the funky triangular space makes me feel like I've stopped in for breakfast in Nob Hill in San Francisco or the West Village in New York City.
The place is full of color, from the purple and yellow walls to the butterfly-painted parasols that hang from the ceiling. Crammed with cool art, stained glass and salvaged antique mirrors, one could spend hours gazing around and keep finding previously unnoticed little details. Watching a flock of pigeons bathe in a flooded pothole in the road is seldom as enchanting as it was one morning, looking past the potted rosemary plants on the windowsills through the wall of big windows that face Mission Avenue.
Mission Mocha's been open a year and a few months, but the steady stream of regulars who pop in and out throughout the day prove it's already become a popular neighborhood joint. Of course, it takes more than just atmosphere to create a loyal following; and, besides the dog-friendly policy, free wireless Internet and outdoor seating, I'm convinced it's the breakfasts that are doing the job.
Just like the space, the menu is small but full of flavor. Everything is prepared by one guy-I'm pretty sure he's one of the owners-who works breakfast magic in a space that's roughly the size of a bathroom stall, serving up scrambles, wraps, chilaquiles, quesadillas, biscuits, pancakes, quiche, oatmeal, granola, homemade scones and muffins. The food isn't elaborate but it's consistently fresh, flavorful, filling and priced just right. (There's nothing on the menu over $6.) It's the kind of breakfast that, if it had been whipped up by your new lover after a long night of passion, would totally steal your heart.
I've gone back for the oatmeal a few times-garnished with fresh strawberries, blueberries and bananas-and always get full before I finish the bowl. I heartily recommend the green chile quesadilla, made with Mexican cheeses in a cilantro-jalapeño tortilla. My roommate devoured the blueberry pancakes with glee, and I've heard other customers raving about the chilaquiles-a Mexican breakfast specialty that involves simmered corn tortilla strips in red or green chile sauce, sometimes shredded chicken, and is usually topped with fried or scrambled eggs and cheese.
I don't drink coffee so I can't describe how theirs tastes, but I do know it's from Café Moto, an established local coffee-roasting company. That said, I really enjoy drinking my morning cup of tea out of their mugs, which are enormous and made of glass. It's the custom in many Middle Eastern cultures to drink tea from tiny glass cups, and while I don't think they're specifically going for a Mediterranean theme, it's nice to be able to see and appreciate the natural amber hues of different flavors of tea.
Mystic Mocha is quickly becoming my favorite spot to ease into another San Diego day. So if you happen to come in one morning and see a short-haired girl with a glass of black tea and a half-finished bowl of oatmeal, that's me, perfectly content to just pretend it's a different city out the window.
Mystic Mocha is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; breakfast is served until noon Monday through Friday, and until 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.