Where: Tivoli Bar, 506 Sixth Ave., Downtown
There's only so much one can say about mini-cheeseburgers that come from a pub that's popular with Padres fans looking for some cheap(er) grog-and-grub before heading over to Petco. But this is what I'd imagine a group of those patrons would say after sampling the sliders for the first time: Hey, man. These burgers are awesome!! (high-fives all around). Besides, unlike the gut-rot sliders you might find at White Castle joints back East, these sliders don't leave you feeling like you just ingested depleted uranium on a bun.
Where: Ocean Beach farmers market
What: Chicken satay and spaghetti-stuffed baguettes
I go to the Ocean Beach farmers market almost every Wednesday, though I never bother with the produce. I go for the prepared food, and sometimes it's a struggle to decide on what to eat as I wander Newport Avenue—but I usually end up at two spots.
Marinated in a lemongrass sauce, the plump chicken breasts at Lemongrass BBQ are cooked on the grill right in front of you. The chicken's then topped with your choice of a teriyaki glaze or satay. I recommend the satay—the thick, creamy, spicy peanut sauce is spread generously over the chicken. It's not a dish you'll want to munch on while wandering the market—you're likely to lose interest in avoiding bumping into people when you're enjoying this Asian delight. Check out Lemongrass BBQ's restaurant at 5157 College Ave., near SDSU. 619-287-2557.
Devine Pastabilities' unique twist on Italian favorites has won me over and prompted a question: Why didn't I think of that? Damien Devine came up with the idea of carving out the insides of French baguettes and filling them to the brim with spaghetti and meatballs. Great for kids, this innovative Italian-food concept is also ideal for picnics—no need for forks and spoons. In addition to the market, you can try it out at 3545 Midway Drive, Suite E near the Sports Arena. 619-523-5441. www.torpasta.com.
Where: La Central Market,
2001 National Ave., Barrio Logan
What: Chile Rellenos
Hidden beneath the Coronado Bridge, La Central Market is covered in graffiti and looks like your run-of-the-mill mini mart with nothing more than beer, cigarettes and Big Hunk bars. Inside, though, stands 5-foot-nothing Chucho, a tiny man from southern Mexico who cooks up the meanest chile relleno this side of the Mexican-American divide. His secret? If we told you, we'd have to tie you up and leave you in an empty gas barrel, but we can tell you that Chucho uses chiles poblanos, the fatter, tastier version of its cousin, the California chile, which many San Diego taco shops try to get away with using. If you want Chucho's relleno with rice and beans, it'll set you back a whopping $4.99. We suggest having Chucho roll one of the rellenos up in a burrito, which will only cost you $3.50.
Where: Siete Mares,
2234 Logan Ave., Barrio Logan
What: Shrimp soup
It's shocking—shocking—that more people don't know about Siete Mares and its wonderful caldo de camarones (shrimp soup). But, alas, I get blank stares whenever I rave about the place. The unassuming restaurant isn't much to behold, and I usually end up ordering the soup to-go (mostly because it's embarrassing to slurp in public). The base is a tomato-y broth that's packed with more fresh shrimp that you'd expect—plenty for two people plus leftovers. Along with the soup, you get fresh-made tortillas (for dipping), and little baggies of add-ins like chopped onions, cilantro, lime wedges and spicy chili sauce. There's almost always a big jug of homemade horchata, too, and it's well-worth ordering a glass.
Where: Point Loma Beach Café,
1424 Sunset Cliffs Blvd., Ocean Beach
What: “The Melt” sandwich
The Melt is a beautiful, beautiful thing. It's an ideal beach picnic sandwich for people too lazy to make their own. The only problem with The Melt is that I usually inhale it before I get to the beach (50 yards away) or even discern what's actually in the thing. According to my already weathered takeout menu, it has turkey, ham, bacon and melted American and pepper jack cheeses between two slices of toasted sourdough bread. I just almost drooled on my keyboard.
Where: Farm House Café,
2121 Adams Ave., University Heights
What: Ricotta cheese pancakes
When I was a kid, cheese blintzes were my favorite brunch item—sweet crepes filled with a ricotta cheese mixture, then topped with some kind of fruit sauce, like strawberry or blueberry. These days, the thought of those blintzes makes my teeth hurt (too much sugar). Farm House Café has come up with a milder, grownup-friendly version of the cheese blintz with their ricotta pancakes. Think pancake, but with a light, tangy ricotta cheese. You get three pancakes, topped with a not-too-sweet orange sauce and tiny orange slices. It goes well with the new restaurant's excellent cappuccino.
Where: China Max,
4698 Convoy St., Kearny Mesa
What: Duck two ways
The duck comes out of the kitchen fully roasted, wheeled on a cart, and accompanied by an aproned waiter armed with a large knife and several plates. The cart comes to a stop near the table, and slowly, the waiter begins to carve the duck in small, silver-dollar-size pieces, each of which is carefully laid upon a halved steamed bun. With a couple of duck chunks loaded onto the bun, the waiter will carefully place the top of the bun, making a kind of duck sandwich. He'll lay out 10 or 15 of these lovelies before wheeling the much-reduced duck carcass back inside. Eat the sandwiches, and enjoy the kind of heaven reserved for foodies who volunteer in soup kitchens. But dinner isn't yet over. Ten or 15 minutes later, the server comes back out of the kitchen with the rest of the duck chopped into small bits, mixed with chestnuts and a sweet sauce and placed on leaves of lettuce. They're supposed to be eaten with chopsticks, possibly with fingers. Either way, delicious.
Where: Richard Walker's Pancake House, 520 Front St., Downtown
What: Walker's Apple Pancake
The idea of gourmet breakfast sounds kind of silly. At first, the thought of fusing eggs with anything more than an oily frying pan and lots of cheese sounds about as necessary as a Segway Scooter. Everything's pretty out-of-the-ordinary at Richard Walker's, but it's the apple pancake that deserves the extra love. I'm afraid the thing isn't much to look at—it looks sort of like a mud pie—but the taste is so overwhelming that sight becomes an unnecessary sense. With fresh sliced cinnamon-covered apples baked on the inside, and a crisp of cinnamon crust outside, the culinary creation turns normal pancakes into little more than sliced bread. And the cost, $8.95, is worth it because the heavenly beast feeds two.