4291 Newport Avenue, San Diego
Chilly night in OB.
Just hopped off the 35 at Cable and Santa Monica. Walking down towards the ocean, no particular place to go. The feeling kinda wraps around you as soon as you get off the bus. For starters, people actually say "Hello" here. They seem to have time. Then, every second person seems to have a dog or three trotting along beside them that need to stop at every lamppost.
So I follow the tide of people heading downhill along Newport Avenue till, right after the "Last Days" tattoo parlor, I come to this café-looking place with tables on the sidewalk, and a kind of high-stool counter facing the street.
Anthony and Dan at The Counter
Huh. I look up. "Newport Quick Stop Liquor," the sign says.
I look down. Sidewalk sandwich board says "Combos of the Week: Philly steak, or honey mustard ham, $5.99, with fries and 21-oz drink."
The ham sounds fine, but the cheese steak sandwich sounds like da bomb. Hot, slobbery and gut-warming on a chill night like this, if they make it right.
I head in. It's a high-ceiling place, with racks of beer, wine, whiskey and the usual chip 'n' dip schlock you'd find in any likker store.
But further back, a counter with a giant menu above says we've arrived at the "Newport Mexican Grill." Menu's full of burritos (starting at $2.29 for the bean and cheese) through carne asada tacos (also $2.29) to meat dishes like ribs, teriyaki chicken and meatloaf with no prices attached. Guess it depends what you have them with. The carne asada plate with rice and beans is $6.99. That seems to be the top price.
But a customer standing at a rack of chafing dishes is looking at signs pasted in front. Man. They sound too good to be true. "Small plate: two meats, two sides, $4.99 plus tax. Medium plate: 3 meats, two sides, $6.99. Large plate: four meats, two sides, $8.99."
The meats I'm seeing include oriental BBQ ribs, meatloaf, rotisserie chicken, lasagna and red snapper (tho fish costs $1 extra). Sides include Mac'n cheese, rice, peach cobbler, and lots of others.
"I'll take the small, ribs and fried chicken," says the guy, Jake. I miss what sides he asks for, but what he gets has his polystyrene box bulging. Five buckeroos!
Long story short I end up going for that Philly steak sandwich and fries, plus the 21-ounce fountain drink (a fruit mix). The sandwich takes ten minutes, but man. It is huge. Has to be 9 inches long and loaded. The meat tastes nice and savory, and it's helped along by a slurry of sautéed mushrooms, onions, green peppers and melted cheese.
It' s good, eating it out here at the stool counter facing Newport. Maybe because it's so chilly out here, the hot, meat-soaked bread tastes terrific. Plenty of stick fries, too, and the "small" drink never seems to run out, even though you need a lot to sluice it all down.
I see Jake's gone to the sidewalk tables. He's tearing into his ribs. Sends a thumbs-up to me.
Problem: Someone comes out with a bowl of way-colorful fruit and granola. "Açaï," he says. Ooh. Looks luscious.
That leads me back to the other sign on the sidewalk. "Pitaya," it says, "the body-cleansing super fruit." So açaï has competition. It shows this bulbous red fruit with like, forked green tongues sprouting out all around its sides. It has "hi fiber, low sugar, low carb, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidants, vitamins C and B, active enzymes, omegas, magnesium." It comes from right next door - northern Mexico.
My pitaya bowl
Oh yeah! I remember. Dragon fruit. Those bulbous red things that stick out off cactus paddles in the Sonoran desert.
Who can resist? I go back to Sal, the guy behind the counter, and order up a bowl. If it does all those things, this is an investment.
Sal says the açaï and pitaya bowls are pretty-much the same, except for the fruit. The 16oz is $4.99, the 32oz is $6.75. I get the 16.
I guess you get to the real pitaya once you've chewed and slurped your way down through all the delicious granola, banana, blueberries, strawbs, coconut flakes, whatever. It's dark red, it tastes like raspberries and blackberries, and it goes down a refreshing, filling treat.
But bottom line, what gets me is how much food Jake, and I, got for what we paid. These guys really deliver bang for da buck. And they've created a nice street scene with their streetside bar and tables. From a liquor store. Who knew?
Now if only you could have a glass of likker from the likker store while you ate...but that would make the laws too sensible.