1421 First Avenue, Downtown San Diego
You can try to love this part of town, but it’s hard.
I’m at First and Ash. Land of monthly-stay hotels and parking lots. Just a stone’s throw from City Hall and its concourse, the Family Court, and Sempra Energy’s skyscraper. It feels kinda lost here, just beyond the reach of downtown and Bankers’ Gulch (aka B Street).
And yet, if you look hard, history’s talking to you. Like, right now, I’m standing on a piece of sidewalk near the Reiss Hotel where concrete contractor Mr. O.E. Winders signed his moniker, along with the date he finished pouring the cement along this stretch of sidewalk: December 1895 — 1895! A century plus 15 years ago. How many feet have walked on his name since?
And across the road, there’s that ancient liquor store. The sign looks like it reads “Nixon.” Then I see it’s “Mixon.” Mixon Liquor. And Deli. There are still iron grilles across the deli side’s windows.
But, heck, it says “Open.” Which is good. ’Cause it’s 8:00 in the morning and I’m starving. I cross over First Avenue. It’s a big ol’ two-story stand-alone. Mustard-colored stucco walls and brick with blue awnings. Living quarters upstairs. I walk in through the liquor-store area. Mostly hard liquor, but near the back there’s a guy standing at a counter chopping up vegetables next to a passage that runs through to the deli side.
“Deli open?” I ask.
“Sure, we just don’t open the front till around ten,” he says. Oh, yeah. You know the lunch crowd has to be their main thing. But the wall menu says they have breakfast dishes, too. It’s pretty simple: muffin or bagel with egg and cheese, $3.69 (you can add sausage, bacon, or cream cheese for 60 cents each). Egg burritos are $3.99, with three items from a list that includes cheese, pepperoncini, bacon, sausage, mushrooms. Man, these are great prices. Scrambled egg with bacon or sausage plus toast also run $3.99.
That’s the one I go for — the scrambled-egg dish. I go sit at one of the six tables in this section. Seems like I’m surrounded by neon beer signs: “Bud Bowl, San Diego 2003.” “Budweiser, S.I. Swimsuit.” The tables are blond wood and gray Formica, and the chairs are solid wood. About a dozen colorfully shaded Tiffany-style lights fight the gloom. I’m the only person here, but the kitchen is chopping away.
Pretty soon, a lady named Momo brings me my breakfast. Yes, in a polystyrene box, but no worries...there’s plenty of scrambled eggs, four slices of buttered wheat toast, and five slices of bacon. Good deal. I sprinkle a couple of packets of pepper on the eggs and chow in with the plastic fork and knife. Plus I get a small coffee — Juan the manager lets me have a refill — all tossed into the price. “We’ve been here in this building since the 1940s,” he says. “And before that, in Little Italy since 1933. Grandpa Mixon got San Diego’s second liquor license after Prohibition ended. Only the Waterfront Bar was ahead. It’s been four generations now. Papa Joe created the deli in 1974. His son Steve took over in 1994, and now Steve’s nephew Nick is working his way into the job. ”
Wow, 77 years, four generations. I munch through the eggs and toast and those rashers of bacon, then get up to go. I scan the big wall menu. “So, which sandwiches are the most popular?”
Juan says people like the build-your-own idea. You pick from among a bunch of meats like roast beef, pastrami, salami, tuna salad, and chicken salad and cheeses like provolone, Swiss, or pepper jack, add them to the mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle that come with the deal, and either make yourself a six-ounce sandwich ($6.49), a four-ounce ($5.49), or a half sandwich ($3.49). Half sandwich with a bowl of soup costs $6.69.
All you can eat at the salad bar runs $6.99. Plus, they have a dozen featured sandwiches, such as the Bluebird (turkey, bacon, blue cheese, $5.79); the BLT, with six slices of bacon ($5.25); and the Bronx Cheer (corned beef and Swiss on rye, $5.59).
“Actually, the most popular is probably the ‘Construction,’” says Juan. “Turkey, cheddar, avocado, bacon, sprouts, tomato, and mayo, for $6.49.”
Me, I’m happy to pay $4.34 for what was a generous chunk of breakfast and plenty of coffee.
But, next day, I can’t resist coming back around midday, and, man, what a difference. Momo is running ’round taking orders. Juan and his guys are a blur at the cutting boards. The place is packed with people — office workers, lawyers, DAs, I’m betting, what with that Family Court nearby, and city workers. “You see the size of those sandwiches?” says this guy in a hard hat. “That’s why everybody comes here.”
I order the Construction. Mmm…plenty of avo, bacon, and turkey, and they didn’t skimp on the mayo. It fills me totally.
I look across the road for the ghost of Mr. Winders. Sure he’d have appreciated a sandwich after long days laying down his concrete sidewalk. ’Specially with all those horses and buggies to dodge, navigating the mud and dust of First Avenue. ■
The Place: Mixon Liquor & Deli, 1421 1st Avenue, 619-232-8665
Type of Food: American
Prices: Breakfast muffin or bagel with egg, cheese, $3.69; egg burritos, $3.99 with three items, e.g. pepperoncini, bacon, sausage; scrambled egg with bacon or sausage and toast, $3.99; All-you-can-eat salad bar, $6.99; the Bluebird sandwich (turkey, bacon, blue cheese), $5.79; BLT (six slices of bacon), $5.25; Bronx Cheer (corned beef and Swiss on rye), $5.59; The Construction (turkey, cheddar, avocado, bacon, sprouts, tomato, mayo), $6.49
Deli Hours: 7:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m., Monday–Friday; deli closed Saturday–Sunday
Buses: 11, 30, 50, 150
Nearest Bus Stops: First and Ash (northbound); Second and Ash (11, southbound); Front and A (30, 50, 150, southbound)