2303 National Avenue, San Diego
3156 Main Street #C, near 32nd Street Base, San Diego
Have you ever been caught between San Diego and National City? A man could starve in this eddy and not be found for months.
I've been walking south through Barrio Logan, trying to find something for the still-recovering Carla to nibble on. "But not Mexican!" she yelled as I left this morning. "I'm tired of Mexican." Now it's two going on three in the afternoon. This is turning into miles. Hours. I'm in a drop-out zone. A black hole. I stagger along between half-finished ships and World War II barracks on the right and li'l old houses from maybe 100 years ago on the left. Was hoping to pick up something for myself, too, of course. Haven't even had a cawfee today.
Finally I spot a flag — no, six flags! Red, yellow, blue. Church's Chicken, it says below. Wow. I dunno. Deep-fried chicken for breakfast? I'm desperate, but not that desperate.
Now another sign. Harbor Pointe Center. It's a little strip mall, all sea-green front, cream stucco walls, and tiled roof. Not that charming but colorful. Built to capture military base business, for sure. First biz I see's called Pimp Ur Ride. Second says L.C. Embroidery. Oh yeah. Makes sense. Military guys would go there to have new stripes sewn on. But in between is this cozy little place, "Sabrina's Pizza and Restaurant." Hey hey! Italian. Its smoked-glass windows have specials plastered all over them. "8 Wings or 10 Nuggets, $4.99." "BBQ Ribs, Pork & Beef, $14.99." "Gyros, $3.50."
This'll do. The sign that most interests me says "Pasta specials, with garlic bread. Lasagna, spaghetti, ravioli, & others, $4.99." Breakfast or no, that'd do.
I flop inside to a table with green Formica "marble" top. The place has a pine-board counter, some colorful paintings, and Zaur -- the gent behind the counter. Busy guy. Right now he's signing checks, speaking into the cell phone, checking the four screens of the security TV, and talking to the cook.
"What would you like?" he says.
"Coffee?" I rasp.
"No coffee. Donut place next door has coffee. Let me start your order and then you go bring some back."
I do a quick scan of the menu. It has everything from $5.99 ten-inch cheese pizzas to calzones (from $6.50), salads (the antipasto, with pepperoni, ham, mozzarella, costs $5.49), to chicken nuggets (10 pieces $4.99, 30 pieces, $13.99), to ten different subs selling for $3.50 (six-inch) or $5.25 (ten-inch). The gyros sandwich with fries, salad, a brownie, and soda is $7.25.
I stick with the $4.99 special, ask for the bacon ravioli lunch, then head next door. Gotta have coffee. The guy sitting outside Donut Tyme follows me in. Gives me a large coffee ($1.25) and -- why not? I've walked enough to drop two pounds -- a caramel-topped donut (79 cents). I munch and slurp till I've had half the donut, and man, dee-lish. Let's call that breakfast. Now, I'm fit to take on lunch.
I pop back in to Sabrina's, just as Zaur and his cook, Eduardo Ramirez, finish off my ravioli. "You want melted cheese on top?" Zaur says.
"And Parmesan cheese on top of that?"
Zaur brings it out on a large, round, flowery metal tray. The ravioli swim in a sauce on a papier-mâché plate lined with aluminum foil. Two big slices of garlic bread.
"Is this your first time?" calls Zaur, back in the kitchen again.
"Then you get a free soda."
Cool. That means I can save the coffee to help the rest of the donut down, afterwards.
I make it through the ravioli quick enough. It tastes fine, and man, I needed it.
"This is my son's place," says Zaur. "Valeriy. He owns the business. Three years already. We're from Azerbaijan."
Huh. Azerbaijan. Isn't that where they're discovering all that oil? Like another gold rush? Why would he leave at such a time?
It turns out it was love. "Did you read? Azerbaijan had a long border war with Armenia," he says. "I am Azerbaijani. My wife is Armenian."
Man. Romeo and Juliet. That must have been tough.
So why is it called "Sabrina's"?
"Ah! Because my son's wife is pregnant, with twins. I am going to be a grandfather! The boy will be named Zaur, after me, and the little girl will be named Sabrina. This place is in her name."
So now I'm on the 932 bus, heading north. Feeling pretty smug at finding an Azerbaijani Italian place. Got to get Carla down here...
Aargh! Carla's treat! I jump off at 26th and National and run into this bright yellow-and-orange place. Rolando's Taco Shop. They have a menu a zillion items long. The guy ahead of me is asking for a potato, bacon, and cheese two-egg burrito. It's $3.20.
"Me too," I say.
"I told you, not Mexican," says Carla, when I get back.
"Sweetheart, it's not strictly Mexican."
Silence, while she bites in, tastes, chews, swallows.
"Edward," she says. "This is a triumph. The most delicious burrito I can remember! Who ever's had bacon and potatoes and cheese in a little donkey like this?"
"Small burro, right?"
Whew. All goes to show: a little donkey goes a long way.