421 Market Street, Downtown San Diego
I was shocked — shocked, as Claude Rains said to Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca — to see Funky Garcia’s sign being put up above the Sun Cafe’s a few months back. Actually, I did go ulp. The Sun Cafe? A greasy spoon icon! The Jeong family had run it since 1963, nearly 50 years. Plus, the building itself has been open for — get this — 127 years.
Or, is Funky Garcia’s giving the place new life? They’ve stripped it back to its 1883 bones: great old ceiling joists, beautiful brick, real wagon wheels as chandeliers and tequila barrels sawn in half and turned into soft-glowing light shades. They even installed a distorted, wavy-crazy mirror. You might say they’re putting the fun back into funky.
So, right now, I’m hunched at the bar, staring at old beams, beaming at old stairs (heh-heh), sucking on a Sol ($2 right now, at around 11:00 at night — Wednesdays, it’s happy hour all night), trying to decide. Should eat at home, but, well, this place is, like, rockin’. On a Wednesday! Party of eight right behind me sounds like they’re celebrating not being fired. A gal whirls one of those clackety things. Somebody else dongs the big ol’ mission bell hanging at the bar. Another’s ordering a round of shots for everybody.
“Happy hour? All day, too, today,” says Dulce, the ringletted blonde Mexican server who talks like Rosie Perez. “That means half-off appetizers.”
Hmm...tempting. I take my bottle over to a table against the brick wall and settle in with the menu. Taco-wise, it’s pretty simple. What they’re calling their “TJ street tacos” are $1.99.
’Course, real bargain night was last night. Taco Tuesday. Tacos, $1. I’m not complaining — the normal prices are pretty darned reasonable. Standard tacos include carnitas (“little meats,” pork cooked in pork fat), chorizo (Mexican sausage), al pastor (rotisserie-cooked pork), and fish or shrimp. Oh, wait. I see four of the tacos cost more ($2.50): fish, shrimp, vegetarian, and the Campechano, which is carne asada with chorizo.
In fact, almost everything’s under $8. Most burritos, from carne asada to carnitas, are $6.99. Tortas are a buck more. Tostadas, with more or less the same stuffing choices, are $2.99 each. You can even get that mysterious esquite for $3.99. It’s basically an elote (roasted corn on the cob), but with the corn kernels shucked into a cup and topped with butter, mayonnaise, lime juice, cotija cheese, and Tamazula salsa (a hot sauce named after a Jalisco town).
I’m tempted by the al pastor tacos. They’re pork, but the name means “shepherd style.” It was originally applied to lamb meat, which tells you where the idea of cooking rotisserie-style, on a vertical spit, comes from: Lebanese immigrants brought the Arab shawarma (the Greeks called it “gyro”) to Mexico City, and it spread north from there. For my money, it is the best-flavored taco you can buy.
Except…a deal’s a deal, right? I can’t resist going for the $1.99 duo, the chicken taco, and the carne asada one. That holds the total bill at $6, plus tax. In the Gaslamp!
Uh, chicken taco’s fine, with little cubes of chicken and fixin’s, but not that tasty. The carne asada is, and with each taco made with two corn tortillas, the two sure are filling.
Shania Twain comes up on the three bar-screens with “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” Oh, man. Haven’t been remembering my woman. Think I’ll bring Carla back a carnitas torta, even though it’s going to cost what my beer and two tacos did together. Big-hearted Charlie here. On my way over to the bar, I meet two guys standing there who look familiar. Oh, yeah. There’s a mural you can’t miss in an alcove by the mission bell, featuring four compañeros with their names labeled below. Alberto, Funky, Moe, and Miguel are pictured lined up like four banditos, with red ties and black sombreros. And — aha! You can see it: these guys have to be two of them. Alberto and Moe. The shorter guy ’fesses up. “Alberto and Miguel and me, we’re real,” says Alberto. “Funky Garcia, we made him up.” Turns out Moe (short for Mohammed) is Iranian and has four restaurants in TJ. “We figured that, now, with people too afraid to go down,” Moe says, “we’d better bring TJ up here.”
Back out on Market, I kick myself for not treating myself to one last thing: the churro dessert ($3.99). Churros dipped in cajeta, caramel. But no room. I’m stuffed. On the other hand, this means Carla’s torta’s probably going to arrive home intact. She’ll be shocked — shocked.
- The Place: Funky Garcia’s, 421 Market Street (between Fourth and Fifth), Gaslamp, 619-23-FUNKY (619-233-8659)
- Type of Food: Mexican
- Prices: “TJ street tacos,” carne asada or pollo (chicken) asado, $1 on Taco Tuesdays, carne asada, pollo asado, al pastor, carnitas, chorizo, fish, shrimp tacos, normal price, $1.99; burritos (including carne asada and carnitas), $6.49; tortas, $7.99; tostada (same filling choices), $2.99; esquite (cup of corn kernels, butter, mayonnaise, lime juice, cotija cheese, salsa), $3.99; bag of churros, $3.99
- Hours: noon–1:00 or 2:00 a.m. (till 3:00 a.m., Wednesday, Friday, Saturday)
- Buses: 3, 11, 120
- Nearest Bus Stop: for #3: Market at Sixth (northbound), Fourth and G (southbound); for #11: Market at Third (southbound), Market at Fourth (northbound); for #120: Fourth and G