Building 640 (off Voigt Drive), San Diego
“Where am I from?” says Dzung. “Hanoi.” Wow. We’re sitting ’round the fire pit, chowing down. He’s eating grilled chicken and fries. I’m into pork tacos with chicken nuggets, a cheese enchilada, and a little bowl of Baja chicken soup.
“ID Tech kids: lunch trays to the garbage! Time to go!”
All around, the place buzzes with kids here for summer specialty camps. Sharp-faced techie-looking teacher guy ushers a crowd of 10- to 12-year-olds through the chow hall. “ID?” he repeats, when I ask him what it means. “Internal drive, man.” Oh yeah, right. Whatever. But an internal drive camp?
Dzung knows all about drives, and plenty more. He’s studying computer science, doing his M.A. thesis on different Web-hosting techniques. He’s just popped down from his lab for a spot of lunch in this Warren College dining hall, here at UCSD.
Me, I’m on this awesome campus because a brilliant friend of mine, Terry, was talking to students this morning about how the Chinese may have colonized California — get this — nearly a century before Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Their descendants may still live around Sacramento, San Francisco Bay, think he said.
My ears were still buzzing from that when I stumbled into this place. It’s down steps by a little Greek-style open theater.
Actually, I wasn’t sure where da heck I was, but when I saw doors to a huge eating place and a sign saying “All U Can Eat, $6,” I knew destiny had led me here. Inside, it’s big, modern, with cool design things going on, like a circular ceiling where stars twinkle in changing colors, from red to white to green to blue to purple to gold. And then, through more doors on the other side, a terrace juts out over canyons, probably toward Miramar, ’cause Top Gun F-18s keep thundering past from right to left. Green umbrellas and tables stand silhouetted on what looks like the edge of the world.
Yes, says this guy Michael at the cash register, it’s a residential dining hall, but it’s open to the public, like all the eateries at UCSD. He apologizes. It’s not going full tilt right now because of summer recess. During the regular semester, they’re à la carte and with a more sophisticated selection.
But I ain’t complaining. I line up behind a second shift of ID kids, some wild-haired mathematicians (European, sounds like), and a raft of Asian students. We shuffle to the counter. Hmm... Mexican section. Tortillas, roasted pork, slow-cooked beef, frijoles, and a chafing plate loaded with cheese enchiladas. Then a spaghetti section, and a burger section with beef burgers or grilled chicken breast, plus chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and French fries. And soup: veggie potato or Baja chicken. Oh, and a salad bar too.
I start off ordering two pork tacos, an enchilada, a scoop of chicken nuggets, and a bowl of Baja chicken soup from this fun gal with a fun name, Sio. And get a (refillable) pink lemonade, then pay up my $6 at the checkout. “Sure I can come back for more?” I ask. “No questions asked,” Michael says.
I head for the fire pit in the middle of the main room. Not working, of course. Weather’s too hot for that. I clack my white china plates down onto the brown tile and start chomping. The pork is excellent. Rich, tender, moist. So’s the soup. Robust spices, as they say, and tons of chunks of chicken meat and corn and flavor. Honestly, a couple of bowls of just the soup would keep you going for hours.
This is when I notice Dzung, around the fire-pit corner.
“So, Hanoi?” I say, after he tells me. “Wow. Were you a kid in the war?”
“No,” he says. “I was born after it, 1978. It’s past history for my generation. We’re pretty much nonideological.”
It’s a weird frisson. Past history? Makes me think of Obama. There is a generational thing going on.
Oops. Plate’s clean. Natch, I go back to the counter and start again.
Hmm. This time, think I’ll have a health intermezzo. I hit the salad bar and get lettuce, spinach, mushrooms, red beans, red onions, a kiwi fruit, baby corncobs, and a big fat splot of bleu-cheese dressing. Michael nods me through. This time I take it out onto the terrace. It’s refreshing out there. You’re in the middle of wild mesas. Gulls and crows hover above you in the wind, waiting for scraps. Fat chance. The baby corn–bleu cheese–kiwi combo’s too good. Plus, I get to talking with a couple of women speaking Farsi. Mona and Hadjar. From Iran. Their husbands are studying engineering. They’re into the salads too. We get to chatting about — at least, I try to pretend I understand it all — neurosciences, engineering, and, hey, Mithraism. I’d heard of that one. Mithras, ancient Persian god of light, they say. One of the earliest one-god religions. And food? Mona scores her salad a six, Hadjar, a seven. Guess I’d give my salad an eight, but what do I know?
Two minutes later, plate’s clean, and I’m thinking burgers. Michael doesn’t even lift an eyebrow when I skittle back past him, kitchen-bound, and Sio’s there behind the counter like she was expecting me. I get a burger, fries.
Looks kinda bare bones, I must say.
“No,” says Sio. “Now go to the salad bar, and put in your own lettuce, tomato, cheese, dressing, whatever.” Plus, she ladles me a little veggie potato soup for good measure.
So, yeah, I jam in lettuce, tomato, and a couple of squares of cheese at the salad bar, plus more bleu-cheese dressing, then head for the place with the blue heavens above. Now I astonish even myself. It all goes down lickety-split, messy and marinated, and I don’t feel any big bloat. But hey, for six buckaroos? I definitely feel a big gloat. No wonder everyone wants to come study here.
All in all, this has been quite an Ed-ucation, heh-heh. One last trip. I get a Blue Bunny (“Since 1913”!) Sundae Crunch Bar ice cream thingy for dessert. I almost get some fresh fruit, too, but no. Don’t want to go over the top. Wouldn’t look smart.
- The Place: Canyon Vista residential dining room, Warren College, Canyon Vista Administrative and Dining Facility, building 640, off Voigt Drive, UCSD Campus, La Jolla, 858-822-3458
- Type of Food: American
- Prices: Summer all-U-can eat breakfast, $5; lunch, $6; dinner, $9.90; usually includes spaghetti section, burger section, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, french fries, soup, salad bar; semester meals à la carte. Prices vary.
- Hours: 7:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m. daily
- Buses: 30, 41, 48, 49, 101, 921, 950
- Nearest Bus Stop: Gilman and Myers