4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

The restaurant at the end of the universe

Endless Joes

Mario in his role as Mariochi
Mario in his role as Mariochi
Place

Hancock Street Café

3354 Hancock Street, San Diego

Great patio

The president came by the other day, to chat.

“He was so nice, so natural,” says Mario. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. We talked about music, jazz, health care, and when he left, I wondered what a man like him was doing in a place like this.”

This is so Mario. Haven’t seen the guy in 11 years, and it’s like yesterday. I’ve just walked lonely Hancock Street through this little old industrial area north of Les Girls and The Body Shop. Lonely. Dark.

Then, suddenly, you’re in this island of light around a big bright Christmas tree, red booths, three garden benches, a couple of rickety café tables, and an old surfboard that says “Café.” And then the big black and white sign: “Hancock Street Café. Live Jazz & Blues.”

Mario (middle) with regulars Joe and Joe

Still here! The restaurant at the end of the universe!

This is a kind of pilgrimage for me. Mario the musician and health freak (he has walked clear across the United States) turned this unlikely spot into an Italian food and sandwich joint and musicians’ hangout. His dream was always to make this the #1 jazz spot in the country. Or at least the county.

And here was the kicker: He always kept a piano out back in the hope that one day Herbie Hancock, the famed jazz pianist, would come and jam here on, well, Hancock Street with his biggest fan. Ever since Herbie finally did come to San Diego (in 2011), I had to know if Mario’s dream had come true.

I’m also hoping he’s still got some food going — I am hungry! I remember Mario’s Polish hot dogs, the thin-crust pizzas he’d make, the hot polska kielbasa sandwiches. His potato pancakes. And heck, his endless coffees. You needed that because no way you could hurry in and hurry out of this place.

Kinda surprised that he’s even open. This is a Monday night. Inside, jazz music’s on the system. Hats and black vinyl records compete for space on the ceiling. Hand-painted food specials line the upper walls. “Hot pastrami sandwich, $5.99.” “Chili, large bowl, $4.99.” “Gyro sandwich, $5.99.” “Breakfast calzone with two eggs, cheese, sausage, onions, and spinach, $4.99.”

Three gents are standing around talking. Then from behind the counter, this big ball of dough rises. A ball of dough with a voice. “My God! Eleven years!” it says.

Mario finishes off his pizza

Mario. Totally amazing that he even remembers. “Guess who we had come through that door last week?” he says, and tells me about the president’s visit, like we’d just left off talking a week ago.

“The next morning, Mr. Obama comes back, and he has this poster. He signs it ‘Reggie Brown.’ The comedian! A poster imposter! Reggie’s the guy who impersonates Obama. He was incredible. I couldn’t see the difference. But I still don’t know why he came.”

I do. Mario always seems to have people like that coming. They hear about him on the circuit. Hey, one of T. Rex’s latest line-up was in the other day. “We jammed for hours. Beat Farmers, too. But you’re hungry, right?”

Maybe he saw my eyes climbing down the bunch of wall menus. Polish deals like the Breakfast Plate of potato pancakes, a two-egg omelet, and veggies for $8. Or a two-egg omelet stuffed with bacon, cheese, veggies, or sausage. For lunch he has just about any “thick or thin personal pizza ($7 with one topping. Choices go from goat cheese to eggplant to cactus to anchovies to meatballs).” Hot sandwiches are all $7. Hot dogs go for $3, and potato pancakes are $6.50.

We’re all hungry. So Mario says, “Okay. I make a pizza. Simple like in Napoli or Roma. Don’t worry. Talk with these guys.”

“People love or hate this place,” says Joe S. “Their lives just seem to cross here. Joe has just seen his daughter for the first time in 13 years. Half hour ago. Right here! Mario just has that vibe.”

Best wurst in town

The other Joe says he’s a musician, and half Lakota. He’s just telling me the Lakota word for “man” (“wicasa,” pronounced “wichasha”), when Joe #1 comes out wearing a marching-band cap, followed by Mario in a British bobby’s helmet with a whistle in his mouth and carrying our steaming $7 pizza. He lays it down right in front of a Christmas crèche scene. (He’s Polish Catholic. He has a photo on the wall of him meeting Pope John Paul II.) The pizza has large halves of pepperoni circling on top of the melted mozzarella and provolone cheese base. They look like Pac-Man faces chasing each other.

He puts down a bottle of hot sauce labeled “Mario Gringo Salsa.”

“This has a spicy cayenne and turmeric mix, with honey,” he says. “Very healthy.”

I splot some on my slice. So good. Heat, yes, but a kind of sweet orange, gingery heart. Really adds to the pizza. And so does the Mexican Jarritos mandarin orange soda I get ($2).

It doesn’t take us long to scoff this baby down.

“But this is nothing,” says Joe the Lakota. “Every Sunday, Mario has a pizza brunch, $9.99. Six different pizzas. I’m from Chicago and some are like from home, almost like quiches.”

“Next Sunday I’m doing a thin crust, shredded apple, sliced banana, cinnamon, chocolate,” Mario says. “I’m still working it out, but it will be a dessert pizza.”

Oh, and Mario is doing a free day-long New Year’s Eve buffet where you just leave a tip. And I’ll bet he has a dozen musician friends drop by to make noise.

Who knows, maybe even the president himself will turn up this time. Or Herbie Hancock.

“Did you see him when he came?”

“I missed him. He’s not interested in me. He’s too big.”


  • Prices: Breakfast Plate (potato pancakes, omelet, veggies), $8; breakfast sandwich, $5; bagel, cream cheese, $2.50; personal pizzas, $7 with one topping; any hot sandwich, $7; hot dog, $3; calzone, $5; lamb gyro, $7; chili, large bowl, $4.99; hot pastrami, $5.99
  • Hours: 8:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.; Sunday, 11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
  • Buses: 8, 28, 35
  • Nearest bus stop: Rosecrans at Moore Street (one block east of Hancock Street)
  • Trolley: Green Line
  • Nearest Trolley stop: Old Town
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Ryan Bowers’ posthumous collaboration with Crhymes

“His fingers kept twitching. His sweaty head was a little shaky. His lips were moving, but no words were coming out.”
Next Article

Sushi plus Mexican equals vegan at The Village

Order carefully to get the most out of this dual concept plant based eatery
Mario in his role as Mariochi
Mario in his role as Mariochi
Place

Hancock Street Café

3354 Hancock Street, San Diego

Great patio

The president came by the other day, to chat.

“He was so nice, so natural,” says Mario. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. We talked about music, jazz, health care, and when he left, I wondered what a man like him was doing in a place like this.”

This is so Mario. Haven’t seen the guy in 11 years, and it’s like yesterday. I’ve just walked lonely Hancock Street through this little old industrial area north of Les Girls and The Body Shop. Lonely. Dark.

Then, suddenly, you’re in this island of light around a big bright Christmas tree, red booths, three garden benches, a couple of rickety café tables, and an old surfboard that says “Café.” And then the big black and white sign: “Hancock Street Café. Live Jazz & Blues.”

Mario (middle) with regulars Joe and Joe

Still here! The restaurant at the end of the universe!

This is a kind of pilgrimage for me. Mario the musician and health freak (he has walked clear across the United States) turned this unlikely spot into an Italian food and sandwich joint and musicians’ hangout. His dream was always to make this the #1 jazz spot in the country. Or at least the county.

And here was the kicker: He always kept a piano out back in the hope that one day Herbie Hancock, the famed jazz pianist, would come and jam here on, well, Hancock Street with his biggest fan. Ever since Herbie finally did come to San Diego (in 2011), I had to know if Mario’s dream had come true.

I’m also hoping he’s still got some food going — I am hungry! I remember Mario’s Polish hot dogs, the thin-crust pizzas he’d make, the hot polska kielbasa sandwiches. His potato pancakes. And heck, his endless coffees. You needed that because no way you could hurry in and hurry out of this place.

Kinda surprised that he’s even open. This is a Monday night. Inside, jazz music’s on the system. Hats and black vinyl records compete for space on the ceiling. Hand-painted food specials line the upper walls. “Hot pastrami sandwich, $5.99.” “Chili, large bowl, $4.99.” “Gyro sandwich, $5.99.” “Breakfast calzone with two eggs, cheese, sausage, onions, and spinach, $4.99.”

Three gents are standing around talking. Then from behind the counter, this big ball of dough rises. A ball of dough with a voice. “My God! Eleven years!” it says.

Mario finishes off his pizza

Mario. Totally amazing that he even remembers. “Guess who we had come through that door last week?” he says, and tells me about the president’s visit, like we’d just left off talking a week ago.

“The next morning, Mr. Obama comes back, and he has this poster. He signs it ‘Reggie Brown.’ The comedian! A poster imposter! Reggie’s the guy who impersonates Obama. He was incredible. I couldn’t see the difference. But I still don’t know why he came.”

I do. Mario always seems to have people like that coming. They hear about him on the circuit. Hey, one of T. Rex’s latest line-up was in the other day. “We jammed for hours. Beat Farmers, too. But you’re hungry, right?”

Maybe he saw my eyes climbing down the bunch of wall menus. Polish deals like the Breakfast Plate of potato pancakes, a two-egg omelet, and veggies for $8. Or a two-egg omelet stuffed with bacon, cheese, veggies, or sausage. For lunch he has just about any “thick or thin personal pizza ($7 with one topping. Choices go from goat cheese to eggplant to cactus to anchovies to meatballs).” Hot sandwiches are all $7. Hot dogs go for $3, and potato pancakes are $6.50.

We’re all hungry. So Mario says, “Okay. I make a pizza. Simple like in Napoli or Roma. Don’t worry. Talk with these guys.”

“People love or hate this place,” says Joe S. “Their lives just seem to cross here. Joe has just seen his daughter for the first time in 13 years. Half hour ago. Right here! Mario just has that vibe.”

Best wurst in town

The other Joe says he’s a musician, and half Lakota. He’s just telling me the Lakota word for “man” (“wicasa,” pronounced “wichasha”), when Joe #1 comes out wearing a marching-band cap, followed by Mario in a British bobby’s helmet with a whistle in his mouth and carrying our steaming $7 pizza. He lays it down right in front of a Christmas crèche scene. (He’s Polish Catholic. He has a photo on the wall of him meeting Pope John Paul II.) The pizza has large halves of pepperoni circling on top of the melted mozzarella and provolone cheese base. They look like Pac-Man faces chasing each other.

He puts down a bottle of hot sauce labeled “Mario Gringo Salsa.”

“This has a spicy cayenne and turmeric mix, with honey,” he says. “Very healthy.”

I splot some on my slice. So good. Heat, yes, but a kind of sweet orange, gingery heart. Really adds to the pizza. And so does the Mexican Jarritos mandarin orange soda I get ($2).

It doesn’t take us long to scoff this baby down.

“But this is nothing,” says Joe the Lakota. “Every Sunday, Mario has a pizza brunch, $9.99. Six different pizzas. I’m from Chicago and some are like from home, almost like quiches.”

“Next Sunday I’m doing a thin crust, shredded apple, sliced banana, cinnamon, chocolate,” Mario says. “I’m still working it out, but it will be a dessert pizza.”

Oh, and Mario is doing a free day-long New Year’s Eve buffet where you just leave a tip. And I’ll bet he has a dozen musician friends drop by to make noise.

Who knows, maybe even the president himself will turn up this time. Or Herbie Hancock.

“Did you see him when he came?”

“I missed him. He’s not interested in me. He’s too big.”


  • Prices: Breakfast Plate (potato pancakes, omelet, veggies), $8; breakfast sandwich, $5; bagel, cream cheese, $2.50; personal pizzas, $7 with one topping; any hot sandwich, $7; hot dog, $3; calzone, $5; lamb gyro, $7; chili, large bowl, $4.99; hot pastrami, $5.99
  • Hours: 8:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.; Sunday, 11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
  • Buses: 8, 28, 35
  • Nearest bus stop: Rosecrans at Moore Street (one block east of Hancock Street)
  • Trolley: Green Line
  • Nearest Trolley stop: Old Town
Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

How Otay changed, secret TJ gardens, Mission Valley's future

San Diego State's Paseo project, building a Rancho Santa Fe mansion, downtown high rises never stop
Next Article

Fashion blogger Erin Miller: Boho, chic, and edgy

“It is so rewarding to see people recreate one of my portraits”
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close