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They say this Westgate Hotel building was built to accommodate Richard Nixon and a hoped-for Republican National Convention back in 1972.

For sure, it shouts ’60s architecture, the New Rome, with all those 30-foot columns.

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What you don’t notice is this Westgate Hotel Gourmet Shop and Delicatessen (1055 Second Avenue, downtown, 619-238-1818).

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A tale of two titles...

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Place looks so…elegant.

Prices probably are too, but I go in anyways. Even though I see the hours are 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and right now it’s a quarter of three.

Inside’s got walls full of wine, picnic baskets, gift baskets, deep pile green carpet, gold-rimmed stuffed cushion chairs, white marble tables…pretty heady stuff for a country boy.

“Of course you can,” says Ivonne, at the welcome desk. Just asked if I could still do lunch.

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Ivonne

She sets me down at a table near the deli display cabinet, where they have salads and sample dishes. Ibrahim the chef is just starting to clear them away.

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Ibrahim

Ivonne leaves the lunch menu. “If you had been here before two, you could have had our lunch buffet,” she says. “So many good dishes, like chicken breast, pork loin, chicken fajitas. It’s $10.48, but All U Can Eat. It’s our most popular choice.”

Dang. Plenty of sandwiches, and reasonable for the upscale feel of the place. BLT’s $6.75, salami mozzarella panini’s $6.50, small soup of the day’s $3.50 (and large is…uh $3.25? That’s what it says), and half sandwich with soup or salad’s $7.50.

I go for a Niçoise salad, the one with “seared ahi tuna,” hard-boiled eggs, beans, and “red bee” potatoes, and a balsamic sauce. Costs $8.25. Also a tall coffee ($1.50).

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It’s good, fresh, and above all a helluva lot. They give you six fat slices of tuna. Only when I’m starting to struggle do I realize I could have had a half order for $5.50.

Of course it’s not exactly cool, this place...

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...with these chairs...

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...you can imagine Pat Nixon sitting in. Ivonne says they get a crowd of city employees, people from the courts, lawyers, pretty much the downtown professional crowd at lunch. Also for breakfast. Turns out they open at 7:30 a.m.

It dawns on me: This is one of the go-to places for that downtown professional crowd, like Athens Market, Dobson’s, Currant. Conservative menu, wallet-conserving prices.

Hmm. Think I’ve just discovered why the rich get rich. They know where they can slum it in the slickest of surroundings. Boy, if my buddies could see me now.

Could never tell them: I’m starting to like it.

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