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Manna Restaurant

600 F Street #C, Chula Vista

You might call this the Russian job. You rush in, chow down, rush out, heh heh. I only have half an hour. Jumped off the 932 bus when I saw these two breakfast places at F and Broadway, Chula Vista. Big Daddy's and Manna. Figured I could squeeze in a desayuno at one of them before I have to get the trolley from Bayfront/E Street.

Manna won out because of their banner sign: "Breakfast $2.99." That was for two eggs, two pancakes, and two bacon or sausage and was a buck cheaper than Big Daddy's Breakfast Special. Of course Big Daddy's is the bigger place. It has the corner lot. Manna's is just this little space between a gas-station convenience store and a strip-mall outlet called Comix.

Actually, when I first got off the 932, here at the crossroads, I couldn't help staring at the view. Quite a chula vista ("beautiful view, right?") when you take a moment. Like, you can see the bay, blue as a distant earth between orange-roofed buildings. Makes you wonder. Like, how come Chula Vista didn't build their main street down there, with shops and squares and cafes facing the water, rather than up here where we're all walled off from it?

I do a quick scan of Manna's windows for the specials. Why? Because you always forget about them once you get inside. There's that $2.99 breakfast, a $3.99 two-egg omelet special (with two pancakes or toast), and a $3.99 Chinese combo plate with fried rice, chow mein, and two items from the buffet display, like kung pao chicken and egg roll. They all sound like good deals.

But the nicest thing, when I fwop through the doors, is the bright "Hi!" I get from Rosary -- yes, that's her name -- the waitress. The room is generic pink 'n' cream, full of maroon booths. Rosary's dressed in white blouse, jeans, and a maroon apron.

Then from one of the booths comes an echo.

"Hi! Good morning. How are you? Take a seat, please."

That's an Asian-American woman looking up from her Korean-language newspaper. She's sitting in a booth near the buffet counter and cash register. Sunny, the boss lady.

I like this greeting thing. I know it's Japanese, Korean, Asian, the custom of greeting the customer when s/he comes and again when s/he goes. Be kinda nice if it became a California thing too.

Rosary brings a coffee ($1.19) and the menu. Oh Lord. I should just order the $2.99 special. Save time, money, cholesterol. But the combos grab you. Two eggs with corned beef hash and potatoes ($5.50). Ham and eggs and spuds, $6.50. Steak and eggs, $7.99. And, for $6.75, "Mam's" omelet, whoever Mam is. It has bacon, onion, Bell pepper, mushrooms, tomatoes, and cheese. And for two bits more, you can get the "Round-Up": three eggs, two sausage patties, two bacon, half a slice of ham, potatoes and toast, or pancakes, or tortillas, or biscuits, or English muffin. What a deal!

All this has softened me up for Number 7: pork chops and eggs and potatoes. It's $7.99. Top price. Maybe I just like the idea that for once I can afford the most expensive damned item on the menu. Also pork chop breakfasts make me think of when I was a rangy kid working summer vacations on rellies' farms. So when Rosary comes for the verdict, I'm ready. "Pork chops with pancakes," I say. "Final answer."

Natch, it's only then that I see they have other interesting pancake combo deals, like the "twin," two eggs, pancakes, and bacon or sausage for $3.50.

But no regrets. Ten minutes later, Rosary brings out this big china plate loaded with two brown-crumbed pork chops, two eggs over-easy, and home fries. She's got another plate stacked with two pancakes with a big blob of butter on top.

And guess what? The chops are great. They're really good with some of that Sriracha hot sauce on them, and they're not mean little cuts like you often see. We're talkin' way big, fat, generous.

But get this: the chops ain't the stars of this show. It's the home fries. They're so fresh-cooked, with sautéed green peppers and onions, they're nothing short of scrumbolicious. Oh yeah -- first I fork-lifted the over-easies on top of them and let the broken yolks leak out all over, like, hey, golden manna.

Maybe it's all those nuts and twigs I've been hogging lately, but the wicked addition of the pancakes melting under the syrup I pour is the perfect side dish. The whole sweet 'n' salty thing works to perfection here.

Then, dong! Time's up. I see that 932 stretch-limo tramping along Broadway. Heck. Just as well I paid up already. A moment later, I leap on board. But as we head down toward that sparkling blue patch of bay, Rosary's and Sunny's farewells are still ringing in my ears.

"Bye. Come again! Thank you!"

I will. Except next time I really am going to try the $2.99 special. I swear.

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