Mongolian – lamb instead of beef. Khan's Cave.
9350 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Suite F, San Diego
A shopping center gastropub.
There are no shortage of restaurants in Kearney Mesa I'd like to try. I actually keep a list, and every once in awhile I hop on the freeway to go and check off another, come what may. About 99% of the time they're more or less authentic Asian restaurants.
Khan's Cave Grill and Tavern was not on my list. But, while heading that way with a friend, we missed the freeway we wanted, then passed the exit we meant to take. This landed us on Clairemont Mesa Blvd., heading west from the 15.
Aside from that I might not know Khan's existed. I doubt I'd even have even seen it if I were driving. But from the passenger seat it stoked my curiosity for some reason, so I looked it up on my phone. Google Maps described it as having "Unique Asian cuisine in a snazzy space." Well that's not going to stop me from seeking out soup dumplings or tsukemen (a style of ramen). But something else caught my eye — 20 craft beer handles.
Now that's something most of those authentic places don't provide. I called an audible, and a quick U-turn later we were parking in a medium-sized shopping center lot so I could have a tall cold one with dinner.
The bar area seemed pretty standard. Upon entering the dining room, I noticed what I suppose would qualify as snazz — it definitely has some ornamental flourishes. I also noticed plastic squeeze bottles of ketchup and yellow mustard on the tables. Certainly not unique in terms of San Diego restaurants, but yeah, unique to an Asian joint.
Turns out Khan's does more than a couple things differently. A largely pan-Asian menu leans mostly Chinese, incorporating some Thai and Japanese styles, including lemongrass soup and ramen noodles. A TV scrolling through an animated sequence of upcoming events and happy hour specials also mentions fried cheeseballs and a tomato-based pasta. A small bites menu features sliders, naan bruschetta and waffle fries.
I figured I'd go for something simple, the Mongolian beef, except even this comes with an alternative, and I decided to go for it: the Mongolian lamb.
Apparently, we'd rolled in while the restaurant was celebrating its 6th anniversary, and a classic rock cover band was finishing up its set while we waited for our food. I sipped on a Boulevard Tank 7 saison while they jammed out an oddly upbeat rendition of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. This evening was not playing out the way I expected, but the Kansas City beer wasn't bad.
The lamb showed up, pretty much a pile of sautéed meat, onions, and scallions served over a bed of lettuce with brown rice and additional lettuce (a "salad") on the side. The lamb was pretty good quality meat, a really tender eat for 14 dollars, tasting typical of a Mongolian stir-fry, though definitely better with the addition of chili paste. The single scoop of rice wasn't enough to keep up with the meat, and when I asked for more they charged me a buck-fifty for it. On the one hand, it's just $1.50. On the other, it's only a small scoop of rice to go with my six-dollar beer. That's a demerit.
There's a lot going on at Khan's, and some of it's pretty good. If I lived closer, I might embrace it's gastropub efforts. If I were freaked out by authenticity, I might seek out its approachable Asian cuisine. And if my Saturday nights were really hurting for action I might even show up for the weekly live performances. But, seeing as none of those things are true, I'll probably go back to trying the many other unexplored restaurants on my list next time I'm in the area.