20 25th Street, San Diego
Whims of iron. That's what my mom always accused me of. And I just had one tonight. Like, it's 10 p.m. right? So how come I've got this crazy craving for breakfast?
"Go to sleep. Breakfast at breakfast time!" cries Carla. "You're crazy, and besides, you'll never find breakfast this time of night. Not in a month of Sundays."
"Wanna bet?" I say.
"Yeah. You find breakfast between now and midnight, and I'll do the laundry for three weeks."
I accept. Hee hee. Little does she know I've already run across a place that should fit the bill. I blow Carla a big fat kiss and head for ye olde trolley.
Half an hour later I'm stuck at 12th and Imperial. Just missed an Orange Line. Not another for half an hour. Dammit, I can't stick around this newspaper-blown spot that long. I'll have to hoof it. So I start up Commercial Avenue. It's 10:30 and the homeless folks are already abed. Startled guys twitch their heads up as I pass. "What's up, man?"
I decide to cut over to Imperial. More lighting, more people. I pass Father Joe's. Just have to get through this spooky underpass of the 5. More guys are sleeping there, and I try not to wake them. Whew. Then I'm in among these little porched houses with open front doors, worn furniture glowing inside. Bet this was quite the community in its day.
Ten minutes later, it's a relief to turn down 25th and into la luz! Lights shine out from under a fresh white canopy over a courtyard filled with two rows of tables. People sit under the canopy, chowing down on tacos and soups. Two men and a woman cook away in a food truck. It takes a moment to see the original restaurant behind them, a nice stucco midcentury outfit with brick-arched windows protected by white wrought-iron grills. It's fresh-painted, sea-green. I walk across the courtyard and in through the barred door.
Whoa. Big room. About a dozen ceiling fans whirring. Eight big ol' game consoles stand against the walls, framed pictures of Mexican or Spanish scenes here and there. Two wooden crucifixes hang in front of religious paintings.
"Gimme some rice and beans," says an old street-geezer ahead of me. The young guy behind the Formica counter goes and gets him some.
"How much for that?" I ask the old man.
He doesn't answer.
"We just give it to him," says Alonso, the server, when the old guy's safely out through the door.
That's nice. I glance up at the plastic red-and-yellow board behind Alonso. They have the whole panoply of Mexican dishes, from carne asada ($6.00 with tortillas) to pollo frito ($5.50) to red menudo ($5.25).
"Can you do breakfast now?" I ask the guy, Alonso.
This is a big moment. If not, I'm done for. Back home, tail between legs. Promotion to chief fluff'n'folder.
"Anytime," Alonso says, unfazed.
"I mean a real breakfast. Now."
"Now's good," Alonso says.
I search the board for the breakfast section. Ah, there it is. "Two eggs, potatoes, beans, $3.99." With toast, that's $4.60. They have a bunch of Mexican breakfast dishes, but I've already seen the one destined for the Bedford mouth: "Western omelet, with cheese, bell peppers, onions, and choice of ham, bacon, or sausage, $4.60."
Say no mo'. Another dollar for a cup of coffee, and I go sit down. Two girls and a boy come in. They order three rolled tacos ($2.65) and a plate of strawberries in cream ($4.60). Mario, Maricela, and Diana. Oh man. I see a generous pile of strawbs buried in a snowdrift of cream.
But now Alonso brings chips, hot sauces, coffee -- and my plate. Breakfast! Yes! Three weeks no laundry! Plus, it's actually good. My Western omelet oozes cheeses and tomatoes. Between it and the standard puddle of frijoles, the home-cut potatoes mix it up with green peppers and onions. Everything tastes fresh.
I only have two regrets: the first when Ruben Merlin walks in and orders a Caldo Siete Mares -- Seven Seas Soup. It costs $11.00 but is positively swimming with seafood. Moby big crab legs, chunks of fish, shrimp. "This is so good it must be Eight Seas," he jokes. "Seriously, this place has the best flavors in the area. Others may make their dishes look prettier, but flavors? Come here."
The sound system has been playing El Coyote de Sinaloa, a raucous Mexican singer, but now it slows down and delivers that great Pepe Aguilar classic "Por Mujeres Como Tú" ("Women Like You").
The song is making Ruben pensive. "You know, our kids don't eat this food? They're growing up soft, less healthy, because they eat burgers and tacos and fries and not dishes like Siete Mares. The best things they have here are the Seven Seas and vuelva a la vida [a way-large cocktail of vitalizing seafoods, $11.00]. Yet they won't eat them! They're so good for you."
He's got me feeling guilty now. Here I've had this delicious but hardly health-wise breakfast, and I could have been pumping up my system with these great revivers.
The other twinge of regret comes when I leave around midnight and see the patio cooks closing up. They're part of La Fachada ("The Façade") too. Next time, I'll eat Seven Seas and sit out here.
But I still have the pleasure of telling Carla about this and her coming three-week laundry duty. Heh heh.
Just need to make it back down Imperial, take that long walk under the 5. Hope everybody's settled in under there.