La Perla’s specialty, the lamb taco
  • La Perla’s specialty, the lamb taco
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Who says there’s no more new food to create?

Last big food invention I can remember around here happened a century ago, when Caesar Cardini accidentally invented the Caesar Salad. But, hey, how about Michael Karijanian, the owner of Sweet & Savory in P.B., who recently came up with the idea for the coffee-rubbed steak?

Not sure if he was the first with that. Still, it started me thinking. People like Karijanian are not on the Food Network. But they’re out there, and they have new ideas.

Here are two more chefs who’ve turned into food inventors I’ve come across in the last few weeks.

Scene One. PB, around the corner from Sweet & Savory: I’m wandering down Emerald Street on a sunny, windy day at lunchtime. Surfers are coming back from the ocean looking gritty, salty-mouthed, and goosepimply from the waves. Notice a couple of them stopping in at an orange-and-yellow taco joint.

La Perla.

Traditional art on the back wall

“Burrito Factory,” it says on the outside.

Actually, I was also on my way here because they serve lamb tacos, Toluca, Mexico–style — meaning, BBQ’d. When you put the right stuff with it, like mint sauce, or maybe chutney, or a green tomatillo salsa, you’ve got a real lamb baa-BQ wrapped in a corn tortilla.

I follow the surfers inside to this sparkling little husband-and-wife joint and get in line. The place has yellow walls, traditional Mexican paintings, a few tables inside, and four more outside. I soon get to talking with the husband, Guillermo Rodríguez. Lady cooking out back is his wife Lourdes. They opened this place up in May.

Lourdes and her husband Guillermo opened La Perla in May.

“I used to have a ranch down Toluca way,” Guillermo says. “Cattle, goats. But, also, down there, they had sheep. Lamb is very popular.”

I get a lamb taco ($2.50), which is totally delish in its corn tortilla, with shredded cilantro, onion, lettuce, and the green tomatillo salsa Guillermo recommends. Right next door (at Mission and Emerald) is Bareback Grill, the New Zealand joint, which does a mean lamb burger, though that one’s $12. So maybe this is Lamb Central for the entire county.

Whatever, it’s good. But by no means is it all. Guillermo has other strings to his bow: he invents burritos.

“We have lived in Oaxaca and on the Yucatán Peninsula. Very beautiful, and full of great food, moles, cheeses. I’m always experimenting with these.”

One day, when Guillermo was playing around with some Oaxacan cheeses, he got an idea: Why not make a California-style burrito, with plenty of crispy fries and guac and carne asada and salsa fresca and cheese inside? He’d double-wrap it with two tortillas, add a layer of cheese in between those two wraps, then melt it so it sticks to the tortillas. The result is one whopping, awesomely crisp, and taste-bud-drenching burrito. Costs $7.99, and it’s totally wicked, but you’ll never get through it in one sitting. So you know your next meal’s totally taken care of.

Scene Two. El Cajon, inside a brand new micro-brewery pub. The El Cajon Brewing Company. Ten o’clock at night.

This place is the hope of El Cajon. City authorities are desperate to kick life into the remodeled downtown they’ve spent so much money on, including hundreds of thousands in loans to this place so it could get up and running.

What I’m really hoping is to get a swig of one of their on-site-concocted brewskis.

By chance, Chris Barr, the place’s executive chef, flops down on a bar stool next to me (and orders up a glass of, uh, Merlot, not a beer). We get to talking, and I slip my order in for a late meal. I’m looking over the usual pub fare when I come to this section: “Stuffed Burgers.”

“Say what?” I say.

Because, hey: this is new.

“My idea,” says Chris.

Here’s how it happened. One day, Chris was stewing about what new items he could bring to the new operation, and he had this thought: restaurant chefs are stuffing everything these days, from chiles rellenos to lobsters.

Steve Meadows, who co-owns El Cajon Brewing Company (along with his brewer brother Dave)

“Next morning, I suggested to Steve [Meadows, the owner, along with his brewer brother Dave]. ‘How’s about a stuffed hamburger, where you stuff the actual meat patty?’”

Steve was for it. Chris came up with one stuffed with cream cheese, jalapeños, and bacon.

Steve liked it.

“Steve suggested the Greek [a burger patty stuffed with feta cheese, olives, and purple onions], and then we did an Italian, with mozzarella, pepperoni, and sausage. People have gone crazy over them.”

No contest — I order the jalapeño-stuffed burger. It costs $8.95. (Dang, spotted “The Ultimate” too late; that’s where they dip the burger in beer batter and deep fry the whole thing for a dollar more.) Still, it’s totally delicious. The hot, peppery melted cheese inside the burger patty bursts in my mouth.

It’s a new experience. You wouldn’t think there’d be any surprises left with burgers, but Chris has pulled it off. I can hear future food historians: “That was one small step for burgers, one giant leap for burgerkind…”

And now I want to know: Any other gastro-inventions out there? ■

  • The Place: La Perla Cocina Mexicana, 745 Emerald Street, Pacific Beach, 858-274-3038
  • Type of Food: Mexican
  • Prices: Lamb taco, barbacoa-style, $2.50; Oaxaca Burrito, with carne asada, fries, guacamole, salsa fresca, cheese, double tortilla with Oaxacan cheese melted between, $7.99
  • Hours: 7.00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. daily
  • Bus: 30
  • Nearest Bus Stop: Mission Boulevard at Felspar
  • The Place: El Cajon Brewing Company, 110 N. Magnolia Avenue, between Main Street and Douglas Avenue, El Cajon, 619-873-0221
  • Type of Food: American
  • Prices: Jalapeño-stuffed burger (with cream cheese, jalapeños, bacon, $8.95; the Italian (burger stuffed with mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage), $8.95
  • Kitchen Hours: 11.00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. daily
  • Buses: 815, 816, 871
  • Nearest Bus Stop: Douglas and Magnolia
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