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Gen Lai Sen Seafood Restaurant
1065 12th Avenue, Downtown
619-239-5478

Across from City College, right by the trolley stop, Gen Lai Sen looks like a forsaken dive and has the standard endless pan-regional San Diego Chinese food -- but the cooks know who they are and where they're from. They're Hakka, the maritime "guest people" from the Kowloon Peninsula that hunkers over Hong Kong, and the Hakka specialties on their menu are where they put their hearts. The "Chef Recommended Hakka-style Stuffed Tofu on Sizzle Plate" takes shape as a steel platter of sweet, half-caramelized onions, on which sit golden-brown rectangles, each with an oval insert of ground pork (seasoned like dim sum) protruding half-in, half-out from the tofu. The exterior of the bean curd is crisp, the center is as soft and melting as a childhood pudding, and these textures together add up to the precise mouth-feel of roasted marshmallows. The flavors, however, are adult. The tofu and onions are splashed with a thin, pale-brown sauce of great delicacy, and there are lots of chopped scallions and cilantro strewn on top.

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