Tiger Fries, aka crack
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Panama 66

1450 Plaza de Panama, Balboa Park

Two women who work from home walk into a bar, find a huge crowd, and suddenly realize it’s Friday.

“I usually avoid going out on Friday nights,” I say, as we take in the long lines leading to where food and drink can be ordered. “We should grab a table as soon as we can, since we’ll be four.”

“I’d prefer you wait until you have a number before sitting,” says the young hostess who materializes before us. “The tables turn over pretty fast.”

I got from her polite smile that this was more than a suggestion. I said to my friend Mel, “Let’s wait in the drink line and order a drink and we’ll just deal with the whole ‘food and sitting’ thing when Grace and Jen arrive.” We stand at the back of the line and check out the space.

Braques Poppies cocktail

Mel, laughing after she scored a table for us

Squash sandwich, a fresh and tasty salad in a bun

“Inside” Panama 66’s outdoor dining room as the sun sets

I’d been here before, usually during the day, on my way to the sculpture-strewn lawn I only recently learned is called San Diego Museum of Art’s Marcy S. May Sculpture Garden. I call it “the Sculpture Garden.” After 15 minutes, we are at the front of the line and getting our drinks. I got a Braques Poppies ($9) with vodka, berry syrup, and ginger beer.

Mel and I stand off to the side and catch up as we watch grown-ups picnicking on the benches and lawn and children running to and fro to touch the sculptures that the signs say not to touch.

Finally, because we were early, the rest of our party arrives. Together we make our way to the food line. This is when it occurs to me that should I end up wanting a second drink after we order and sit, I’d have to abandon my friends at a table and return to wait in the long line. I sigh.

Two of us take the other two’s orders and send them to find a seat, which they do before we reach them, our food order numbers in hand. The guys behind Panama 66 also own Blind Lady Ale House and Tiger!Tiger! (both with the same line-ordering system), so I knew it was a good idea to get Tiger Fries to share ($4).

When my sandwich arrived, all of my line-related irritation faded away. I’d gotten the Summer Squash sandwich ($9), which was more like a giant salad on a focaccia bun. Inside was grilled squash, tons of arugula, feta, pepitas, and balsamic reduction. The focaccia had been slathered with avocado chermoula (a Northern African marinade that usually includes herbs, lemon, garlic, cumin, oil, and salt). I know it’s supposed to be a summer dish, but seeing as we’re in the land of endless summer, I hope this one stays on the menu.

The sun had set by the time we all set off to return to our cars, strolling slowly to appreciate the lovely lighting on the buildings throughout Balboa Park. “We should come back here with our guys,” I said to Mel as I hugged her goodbye. She agreed but added that we should do so on a weekday.

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Comments

Ian Anderson Sept. 24, 2015 @ 4:33 p.m.

The separate beer and food lines are a pet peeve of mine as well. Common practice at Blind Lady is to wait in line for a beer, then wait in line for pizza drinking said beer, then waiting in line for more beer while waiting for pizza.

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Ponzi Sept. 24, 2015 @ 6:26 p.m.

In my opinion, there is no food worth waiting in a line for. That is why I never eat at Phil's BBQ, Carnitas Snack Shack, given up Hodad's (thank you, Guy Fieri) and other "line as part of their shtick" places... or buy food at sporting events. I eat before or plan to eat afterward. Time is money, I don't enjoy wasting it...

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dwbat Sept. 24, 2015 @ 9:13 p.m.

I waited a short time for a table at Breakfast Republic. It was worth the wait. And the bathroom was way cool.

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Mercy Baron Sept. 25, 2015 @ 8:42 a.m.

Y'all just gotta go at off times in all those places. If you can avoid eating at the "normal" times most eat at, no lines. I live around corner from Hodads. If you go at 3 or 4 you won't have any lines, or at least minimal.

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dwbat Sept. 25, 2015 @ 1:01 p.m.

I went to Panama 66 recently for lunch on a weekday. It wasn't crowded.

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Ponzi Sept. 25, 2015 @ 8:11 p.m.

Thank you Mercy. I had taken business clients there for year for lunch. The button down types from the East Coast would eat up that Hodad's and loved it. So "After Guy" it was not a secret lunch spot anymore. So I'll adjust my lunch hours (and hold you to it!)... and try on off-day and hours. I know it has to be easier "off-season" after the summer.

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