4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

The Vanishing Cafe

Hey! What’s up? Wass goin’ on? Was it something I said?

A moment ago, I was sitting in the middle of a sidewalk café, surrounded by tables, chairs, a canopied counter. Now, the whole thing has rolled away from me. Up the sidewalk, ’round the corner. Disappeared. Only things left here are me, the table, my coffee, and my sandwich. Amazing.

Across the road, the Somali taxi drivers look at me. Are they laughing? A moment ago I was just a customer at a café. Now I’m sitting in the middle of a public sidewalk like a polar bear on a shrinking ’berg.

Which means one thing. Gotta get here earlier next time. I see it’s three already.

Actually, I’ve been sitting here outside the Holy Faith Railroad Depot for over an hour. Holy Faith? Just translating “Santa Fe.” Heh heh. Any rate, back when the day was young, I was crossing Kettner on my way to the trolley at the Santa Fe when I noticed this bright orange-canopied café cart and a bunch of green tables and one green umbrella set out in the sunshine on the sidewalk. It looked so great and inviting beneath the arches and heavy redwood timbers of the old 1915 train station.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Yes, it’s a glorified coffee cart. But they have prepared lunches that go beyond plastic-suffocated sandwiches. I get a cup of cawfee ($1.50) from Elizabeth and go take a seat at the table under the green umbrella. Three, no, four nice things happen. Okay, these are piddling points, but hey, when you’re a café, man, they count. One: the green metal table doesn’t wobble, even though we’re on uneven Santa Fe maroon bricks. Two: the chairs are proper café seats, not the woven ones that throw you back, but wooden-slat chairs that have a gap for your butt so you can lean forward to the table. Three: even though there’s plenty of traffic, you can hear birds in the depot’s rafters and the Eritrean taxi drivers shouting and fooling about and laughing across Kettner. Four: you get this incredible view of the city. The great glass labyrinth. The W Hotel, the Wyndham Emerald Plaza Hotel, the one that looks as if some giant pterodactyl had pooped on its roofs from a great height. Gloops of dark color reach halfway down each of the towers. Love it! Plus, of course, tourists, rushing by to catch trains. It feels so strange sitting kinda exposed, right on the street, watching it all.

So this menu they have is modest but interesting. Somebody’s making an effort. I’m seeing some decent salads. The antipasti ($8) has a “spring mix” of lettuce, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, salami, provolone cheese, and dressing. The Caesar ($7) has the romaine, Parmesan, garlic croutons, and dressing (add chicken for $2 more). The Chinese chicken salad ($9) looks like a pretty original mix of napa cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, bell peppers, green onions, wontons, marinated chicken, and, I’m told, oriental sesame dressing. Then they have a marinated tomato and artichoke salad, which includes heart of palm and feta.

But absent any health-hectoring by Hank, I’m thinking of nuttin’ but sandwiches, ’cause I’ve already spotted huge cow-pat-sized ciabatta Italian sandwiches in the display case. They’re stuffed with salami, provolone, olives, aioli, basil, and other greens. They cost $8. Hmm. Seems a little steep. Are these art-gallery prices? I notice that the nobbly white cardboard heat sleeve on my coffee has a big fat orange “X” on it. And the cart’s canopy is orange. So these guys must be part of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which has its downtown HQ right here in the back end of the Santa Fe. But then I notice that others, like the roasted-veggie wrap (in a spinach tortilla with yellow squash, red onions, zucchini, red peppers, aioli, and greens) only cost $7. The turkey wrap (with cranberry aioli) and the roast beef sandwich (with grilled onions and horseradish), too.

“Oh, I’ll go ahead and give that to you for $6,” says Elizabeth, when I ask her about the Italian. I hadn’t moaned, honest. Wow. Is it because of the time? Whatever, now I’m happier, and when you look at the big fat oval chunk of bread and bite into the lush mix of oily spinach and olives and provolone and salami staining up the inside, you feel you’ve done right by your taste buds. As Grandma always used to say, “I go barmy if I can’t have salami.”

So I dilly, chew, Elizabeth gives me a free coffee refill, and the sun keeps on sliding down behind the Santa Fe. A freight train’s air horn blows on Broadway. Time moves slowly. End result is, suddenly it’s heading for four, closing time. Elizabeth has to go apartment-hunting. She and Carlos quietly wheel away everything into the museum’s storeroom — except me and my table.

And it turns out that’s not all. Soon after all this — whack! The en-tire café gets up and leaves, permanently. They’ve relocated inside the Children’s Museum on West Island Avenue. It’s okay. The public can get to them. But, sigh, I’ll miss the arches, the toots of the trains. And, hey, that beautiful view of the pterodactyl poop.

Now, lessee, where was I? Oh yes. Catching a trolley.

The Place: X-Spot Coffee Cart, inside the Children’s Museum, 200 West Island Avenue (no phone, but Children’s Museum number is 619-233-8792)

Type of Food: Sandwich, salad

Prices: (Note: some item changes at new location.) Antipasti salad (with kalamata olives, salami, provolone), $8; the Caesar (romaine, Parmesan, garlic croutons), $7 (add chicken, $2 more); Chinese chicken salad (with napa cabbage, wontons, marinated chicken, oriental sesame dressing), $9; marinated tomato and artichoke salad, with palm heart, feta, $7.50; Italian sandwich (with salami, provolone, olives, aioli, basil, greens), $8; roasted veggie wrap (spinach tortilla with greens, yellow squash, red onions, zucchini, red peppers, aioli), $7; turkey wrap (with cranberry aioli), $7; roast beef sandwich (with grilled onions, horseradish), $7

Hours: 7:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Monday–Friday

Buses: all downtown

Nearest Bus Stop: Kettner and Broadway

Trolley: Blue, green, and orange lines

Nearest trolley stops: America Plaza (blue and orange lines); Santa Fe (blue and green lines)

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Oceans at Night, Orianthi, Wood: A Furniture Show

Events January 26-January 28, 2023
Next Article

Naked man at Santee YMCA produces litmus test

Will Nathan Fletcher trans cheerleading endure?

Hey! What’s up? Wass goin’ on? Was it something I said?

A moment ago, I was sitting in the middle of a sidewalk café, surrounded by tables, chairs, a canopied counter. Now, the whole thing has rolled away from me. Up the sidewalk, ’round the corner. Disappeared. Only things left here are me, the table, my coffee, and my sandwich. Amazing.

Across the road, the Somali taxi drivers look at me. Are they laughing? A moment ago I was just a customer at a café. Now I’m sitting in the middle of a public sidewalk like a polar bear on a shrinking ’berg.

Which means one thing. Gotta get here earlier next time. I see it’s three already.

Actually, I’ve been sitting here outside the Holy Faith Railroad Depot for over an hour. Holy Faith? Just translating “Santa Fe.” Heh heh. Any rate, back when the day was young, I was crossing Kettner on my way to the trolley at the Santa Fe when I noticed this bright orange-canopied café cart and a bunch of green tables and one green umbrella set out in the sunshine on the sidewalk. It looked so great and inviting beneath the arches and heavy redwood timbers of the old 1915 train station.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Yes, it’s a glorified coffee cart. But they have prepared lunches that go beyond plastic-suffocated sandwiches. I get a cup of cawfee ($1.50) from Elizabeth and go take a seat at the table under the green umbrella. Three, no, four nice things happen. Okay, these are piddling points, but hey, when you’re a café, man, they count. One: the green metal table doesn’t wobble, even though we’re on uneven Santa Fe maroon bricks. Two: the chairs are proper café seats, not the woven ones that throw you back, but wooden-slat chairs that have a gap for your butt so you can lean forward to the table. Three: even though there’s plenty of traffic, you can hear birds in the depot’s rafters and the Eritrean taxi drivers shouting and fooling about and laughing across Kettner. Four: you get this incredible view of the city. The great glass labyrinth. The W Hotel, the Wyndham Emerald Plaza Hotel, the one that looks as if some giant pterodactyl had pooped on its roofs from a great height. Gloops of dark color reach halfway down each of the towers. Love it! Plus, of course, tourists, rushing by to catch trains. It feels so strange sitting kinda exposed, right on the street, watching it all.

So this menu they have is modest but interesting. Somebody’s making an effort. I’m seeing some decent salads. The antipasti ($8) has a “spring mix” of lettuce, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, salami, provolone cheese, and dressing. The Caesar ($7) has the romaine, Parmesan, garlic croutons, and dressing (add chicken for $2 more). The Chinese chicken salad ($9) looks like a pretty original mix of napa cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, bell peppers, green onions, wontons, marinated chicken, and, I’m told, oriental sesame dressing. Then they have a marinated tomato and artichoke salad, which includes heart of palm and feta.

But absent any health-hectoring by Hank, I’m thinking of nuttin’ but sandwiches, ’cause I’ve already spotted huge cow-pat-sized ciabatta Italian sandwiches in the display case. They’re stuffed with salami, provolone, olives, aioli, basil, and other greens. They cost $8. Hmm. Seems a little steep. Are these art-gallery prices? I notice that the nobbly white cardboard heat sleeve on my coffee has a big fat orange “X” on it. And the cart’s canopy is orange. So these guys must be part of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which has its downtown HQ right here in the back end of the Santa Fe. But then I notice that others, like the roasted-veggie wrap (in a spinach tortilla with yellow squash, red onions, zucchini, red peppers, aioli, and greens) only cost $7. The turkey wrap (with cranberry aioli) and the roast beef sandwich (with grilled onions and horseradish), too.

“Oh, I’ll go ahead and give that to you for $6,” says Elizabeth, when I ask her about the Italian. I hadn’t moaned, honest. Wow. Is it because of the time? Whatever, now I’m happier, and when you look at the big fat oval chunk of bread and bite into the lush mix of oily spinach and olives and provolone and salami staining up the inside, you feel you’ve done right by your taste buds. As Grandma always used to say, “I go barmy if I can’t have salami.”

So I dilly, chew, Elizabeth gives me a free coffee refill, and the sun keeps on sliding down behind the Santa Fe. A freight train’s air horn blows on Broadway. Time moves slowly. End result is, suddenly it’s heading for four, closing time. Elizabeth has to go apartment-hunting. She and Carlos quietly wheel away everything into the museum’s storeroom — except me and my table.

And it turns out that’s not all. Soon after all this — whack! The en-tire café gets up and leaves, permanently. They’ve relocated inside the Children’s Museum on West Island Avenue. It’s okay. The public can get to them. But, sigh, I’ll miss the arches, the toots of the trains. And, hey, that beautiful view of the pterodactyl poop.

Now, lessee, where was I? Oh yes. Catching a trolley.

The Place: X-Spot Coffee Cart, inside the Children’s Museum, 200 West Island Avenue (no phone, but Children’s Museum number is 619-233-8792)

Type of Food: Sandwich, salad

Prices: (Note: some item changes at new location.) Antipasti salad (with kalamata olives, salami, provolone), $8; the Caesar (romaine, Parmesan, garlic croutons), $7 (add chicken, $2 more); Chinese chicken salad (with napa cabbage, wontons, marinated chicken, oriental sesame dressing), $9; marinated tomato and artichoke salad, with palm heart, feta, $7.50; Italian sandwich (with salami, provolone, olives, aioli, basil, greens), $8; roasted veggie wrap (spinach tortilla with greens, yellow squash, red onions, zucchini, red peppers, aioli), $7; turkey wrap (with cranberry aioli), $7; roast beef sandwich (with grilled onions, horseradish), $7

Hours: 7:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Monday–Friday

Buses: all downtown

Nearest Bus Stop: Kettner and Broadway

Trolley: Blue, green, and orange lines

Nearest trolley stops: America Plaza (blue and orange lines); Santa Fe (blue and green lines)

Comments
Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Local waterfalls are pumping, Big surf moves sand

Brown pelicans show breeding plummage
Next Article

Author to San Diego goths: I'm no prude anti-ironist

Editor's picks of stories Justin Wolff wrote for the Reader
Comments
Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town The Gonzo Report — Making the musical scene, or at least reporting from it Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close