5131 College Avenue, San Diego
“Look at my boys!” says David Dadon. His son Barry is busy at the cash register. Jacob’s in the kitchen. “Barry’s the business genius,” David says. “Jacob’s the chef. He graduated at the top of his class from the Cordon Bleu in Pasadena. He has worked at Spago, cooked for Wolfgang Puck. But now he has set up this menu. This is our place. Not expensive. It’s not about the money. For the price of a coffee at Starbucks, you can eat well here… Hello, ladies!”
And he’s off to welcome a couple of students coming in the front door.
I’m impressed. This dad and his three sons (the youngest, Darryl, is in a college class right now) have really got something going, just outside the gates of SDSU. It’s a sophisticated little place with lots of perks. Like, they pay your parking-lot fees, and they’ll open a bottle of champagne and present you with a cake if it’s, say, your 21st birthday. And they have phones, five of them, on the walls, where — get this — you can make calls around the world for free.
David says he was a general in the Israeli army and has since produced movies in Hollywood, with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal… On the countertop computer, he shows me his name on a Hollywood website. Hmm… Looks like he’s still got his hand in.
I’d noticed the lights strung around the sidewalk patio of this place before. And then tonight I was coming out of State at about 8 p.m. and a red banner said, “Open Late,” and I caved. Inside, Creedence Clearwater’s cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” bounced — but not deafeningly loud — around the walls. Fan lights dangled above polished mahogany tables and chairs. Classy.
This bright kid, Kimberly, leaves the menu with me. One half is pineapple burgers and Philly cheese-steak sandwiches, and the other half is sushi. The pineapple teriyaki burger with Swiss cheese and teriyaki sauce is $6.95. The basic State Street burger is $5.95. Good prices, same as SDSU’s fast-food campus cafes. But, oh man…I see a burger go by. Kimberly says it’s a Surfer Jo’s BBQ Pork Burger — pulled pork in spicy guava BBQ sauce with coleslaw. The thing is piled high. The top bun sits precariously, like a cocked hat on a boozer’s head. It’s $6.95.
Oh, and they do breakfast. All day. The State Street Classic Plus, with three eggs, two slices of bacon, sausage, or ham is $6.95, as is the build-your-own omelet (three eggs, plus three of any filling you want). Steak and eggs runs $7.95. Fruit bowl’s $5.95.
Then again, I like the look of dinner appetizers I see passing by, such as sweet-potato fries ($3.95) and a grilled-cheese sandwich and tomato soup ($6.95). The salads, ’specially the Asian chicken salad ($8.95), look like volcano-shaped art. Gal at the next table has ordered a chicken pesto sandwich, with grilled chicken and provolone and onion ($7.95). I almost go for the fish and chips ($8.95) or Mom’s Meaty Bottomless Pasta (fettuccine pasta with a meaty marinara sauce, $9.95), but Kimberly recommends the Lollipop Roll, with salmon, tuna, avocado, yellowtail, and crab, rolled and fried and served on skewers ($11.25). Then I see the State Street Dragon Roll, a snaky freight train of shrimp tempura and spicy tuna and eel and avocado ($11.25). I’ve got the hots to try it, so that’s my order. I even get some edamame (soybeans in their pods, $2.95) for an appetizer.
It’s all a joy to eat. ’Course, as I nosh, can’t help thinking it’d be an even greater joy if only I had the means for some hot sake and a cool Sapporo beer. Sigh. Still, the dragon roll’s good. The eel sauce, with tempura flakes and ginger and wasabi, puts backbone in its flavor.
Barry says he was a finance major at State last year when he saw this place come up for sale. “I talked to my dad. All of us decided to pitch in.”
“I’ve been working since I was eight years old,” his dad David says. “I want to make sure my children have a better life. I think we could set up restaurants like this outside every campus across the country. Because people get sick of campus food.”
“How come you’re called ‘State Street Grill’?” I ask. “Where’s State Street?”
“There ain’t no State Street,” Barry says. “I just like the sound of it. Also we’re right beside San Diego State.”
I get it. It’s not just State Street Grill. It’s also State Street-Grill.
While I’m chowing and talking, I’m also thinking: His dad’s a movie producer! Pitch him a movie! I wrack my brains.
“Have I got a movie for you,” I finally say. “It’s about a guy who can’t afford sophisticated meals like his friends. But he finds surprising bargains in the most unlikely corners. Think Sideways meets Julie & Julia meets Grapes of Wrath…”
“I do action movies,” David says.
- The Place: State Street Grill, 5131 College Avenue, suite F, College Area, 619-286-4700
- Type of Food: American, Japanese
- Prices: State Street Classic Plus three-egg breakfast omelet, $6.95; build-your-own omelet (with any three ingredients), $6.95; steak and eggs, $7.95; fruit bowl, $5.95; sweet-potato fries, $3.95; grilled cheese and tomato soup, $6.95; Asian chicken salad, $8.95; pineapple teriyaki burger, $6.95; Surfer Jo’s BBQ Pork Burger, $6.95; chicken pesto sandwich, $7.95; fish and chips, $8.95; Mom’s Meaty Bottomless Pasta, $9.95; Lollipop Sushi Roll (salmon, tuna, avocado, yellowtail, crab, rolled and fried), $11.25; State Street Dragon Roll (shrimp tempura, spicy tuna), $11.25
- Hours: 10:00 a.m.–12:00 midnight, Sunday–Wednesday; till 2:00 a.m., Thursday–Saturday
- Buses: 11, 15, 115, 856, 936, 955
- Nearest Bus Stops: Hardy and Campanile
- Trolley: Green Line
- Nearest Trolley Stop: San Diego State, at Hardy and Campanile