Like all real diners, this is a neighborhood gathering spot, not a scene.
2505 C Street, San Diego
Many years ago, my friend lived on 23rd Street, so we would occasionally meet for breakfast at a diner at 25th Street and C. Officially, the place is known as the Golden Hills Coffee Shop, but locals — and the signage out front — call it the Golden Hill Cafe. We would hang out, eat inexpensive and filling food, and talk late into the afternoon. I loved that place.
Flash forward to 2011, and — hurray! — my family has moved to Golden Hill, just a couple of blocks from this neighborhood institution. The diner hasn’t changed a bit — the building is a cool, 1940s California Modern, right on the corner, and it’s still a great spot. The Golden Hill Cafe’s charm as a hangout, though, is just one of its many virtues. Unlike trendier places such as Hash House a Go Go in Hillcrest or the Mission in North Park, there are no lines of hungry hipsters. To be fair, neither is there anything elaborate or fancy on the menu. But sometimes, rather than having a riff on diner food — rosemary-infused hash browns or smoked-salmon scrambles — I’d rather just have real diner food from a real diner.
And a real diner is precisely what the Golden Hill Cafe is. The other morning, my son, a friend of mine, and I ambled up to check out the breakfast fare. The space in the café takes advantage of picture windows on two sides; booths are arranged under the windows. The counter hunkers down in the middle of the room. The waitresses, all of whom are seasoned professionals, greet you cheerily as you come in, and they offer up coffee before you’ve even taken your seat. As I glanced around the room, I noted how the mix of people in the booths reflected the diversity of the neighborhood. Families occupied the bigger booths, college-aged bohemians chatted at smaller tables, and older folks sat at the counter and gossiped with the wait staff. Like all real diners, this is a neighborhood gathering spot, not a scene. It was bustling, and the service was friendly and efficient.
As mentioned above, if you’re expecting organic, farm-to-table food, keep driving. The menu here offers standard American and Mexican breakfast and lunch fare, with nary a description or sourcing information. It’s unfussy, hearty, and inexpensive food. My plate of eggs benedict was gigantic, with two poached eggs balanced atop thinly sliced ham (rather than the usual Canadian bacon — purists beware) and anchored to the plate by a lightly toasted English muffin. Generously sauced with a bright yellow hollandaise (a bit gluey but serviceable, especially once I zipped it up with some Tapatío), the dish satisfies one’s craving for a big breakfast after a late night out. Freshly grated hash browns sing, redolent of onions grated in along with the potatoes. My son, after inhaling the springy buttermilk pancake that took up his entire plate, couldn’t keep his fork from straying to my potatoes. We’re connoisseurs, and these more than passed muster.
My friend ordered the huevos rancheros, which were authentic and fresh. They came with beans and flour or corn tortillas — he used the flour tortillas to mop up the homemade sauce. The neighborhood has a large working-class and Mexican population. You can order chilaquiles, tortilla soup, and on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, pozole and enchiladas. There are also sandwiches, hamburgers, and salads.
As I ran past the café a couple of mornings ago, the weekday waitress stopped what she was doing and waved at me through the window. It was all I could do not to ditch my run. I wanted to grab a newspaper and hang out at the counter to find out what her story is. I wanted to drink a bottomless cup of coffee and dig into those hash browns again. Alas, I opted for exercise over breakfast. But if (when) I decide to stray, a real diner and a kind wait staff is right up the street. ■
Golden Hill Cafe
ADDRESS: 2505 C Street (corner of 25th and C streets)
WEB: No website
FARE: American and Mexican breakfast, lunch; dinner (on the weekends only)
VIBE: Warm and friendly. Authentic.
SEATING: Booths and a counter, that’s it!
MUST TRY: Chilaquiles, pancakes, hash browns, eggs benedict