Less than inspiring, even in a carnitas-loving town. Carnita Tacos. Harley Gray.
  • Less than inspiring, even in a carnitas-loving town. Carnita Tacos. Harley Gray.
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Harley Gray

902 W Washington Street, Mission Hills

Goldfinch Street in Mission Hills has become quite the dining hub, with restaurants like Brooklyn Girl, Izakaya Masa and the newly opened Patio worth waiting in line for, and the reliably great Lefty's is a worthy backup any time of day. Still, one corner location seems to have been left out of the boom. The Gathering recently closed after nearly three decades in business, and Harley Gray has opened in its place.

Owned by a local resident with a few geographically scattered restaurants to his name, Harley Gray has an intentionally diverse menu that makes describing it a challenge. I guess it's meant to be the kind of place you can go when you want a steak, then again when you want a salad, and once more the next day if you're feelin' seafood. You can find satisfying portions for ten dollars if you like, or twenty.

It's a nice idea, if not a compelling narrative. The space is open and comfortable, and filled with sunlight during the day. Its relative success will likely boil down to the food.

The seared ahi and soba noodle sounded great for brunch, but at 18 bucks I demurred. Either the french toast or eggs benedict might have won me over, but each seemed a little boring compared to the other offerings. I considered the Loco Moco, a carry-over from a sister restaurant in Lahaina, Maui, but this being San Diego, I ultimately settled on the carnitas tacos. After all, my lovely waitress told me they were the owner's favorite, and when has a lovely waitress ever led me astray?

At 12 dollars for the pair of tacos, plus 2 extra to add avocado (why wouldn't you?), I probably should have just sucked it up and gone for the ahi noodle salad. My tacos were thick with shredded pork, which I eat regularly because my cholesterol's still at a reasonable level and it tastes delicious. Except these fell short of delicious.

Not bad, but it seems to me if you have the advantage of cooking with flavorful meat in a spicy dish, the word bland should never enter the conversation. Even the salsa verde and jalapeño ranch dressing did little to perk it up. Although I left the place well fed, I wanted more, a feeling punctuated by all the other restaurants I had to pass walking back to my car.

In fact, and not for the first time in my life, I dropped by Lefty's for a slice of thin-crust pepperoni before going home. Now, how can I add avocado to that?

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