The meat-lover’s omelet. The great discovery is sautéed spinach.
  • The meat-lover’s omelet. The great discovery is sautéed spinach.
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Mary Smith sat here. So did a lot of her ladies of the night. So did the mayor of San Diego. They say he was a client. But that was the Gilded Age. It was the 1800s. It wasn’t uncool.

We’re in deepest Stingaree.

Me, I’m sitting in the sun on this cute little patio with iron grilles and flower boxes. I look at the windows above, where the ladies would hang out and burble “Hey, good-lookin,’ come up and see us sometime.” ’Course, Mary had to approve. She was the madam.

Same building, same street. Century later. That’s what I love about this part of town. It’s creaking with history.

The Lazy Hippo

416 Third Avenue, Downtown San Diego

But it was the name that stopped me. I’d spotted the sign swinging in the wind as I was coming up Third Avenue. “Lazy Hippo,” it reads, “Breakfast and lunch.”

Battle of the sexes, alive on the walls

Battle of the sexes, alive on the walls

And what I like is instead of being all stark and woody, like so many coffee-brekky places, it’s full of old lanterns, dolls and plants, and knickknacks on the wall. Columns of mauve and black. Patio tables of blue mosaic. Olde curiosity shoppe feel.

Other thing I like is — a breakfast place in the Gaslamp? Tells me one thing: a lot of folk aren’t just coming here, they’re actually living here. Because, it’s a pretty quiet street. Not exactly crowds sluicing past. Stingaree it ain’t no mo’.

Whatever. The craving is upon me. Problem: it’s almost two in the afternoon. I head inside, past the silver wall lanterns to see if someone’s still working back there.

They have about a dozen tables. Wooden, with butcher’s paper tablecloths. Kinda cute purple highlights to the cream walls. Lots of fairy lights. Plus hanging lamps, boxes with dolls, bird houses, fruit miniatures, drawings, old milk ads (“Conserve water. Drink milk”). Or bons mots like, “When I said ‘I do,’ I didn’t mean dishes.” And, “I like my coffee how I like myself: dark, bitter, and too hot for you.”

Lais and Sierra

Lais and Sierra

This is when the gal appears. Name’s Sierra. (Why Sierra? “Because my dad took us up to live in the Sierra Nevada when I was about two. I grew up in snow.”) I ask if they can still do brekky. “I’ll find out,” she says, and disappears. I have time to read one more sign (“Many people have eaten my cooking and gone on to lead normal lives.”) She comes back.

“Yes,” she says.

All right! So, back out to a patio table and a serious menu-check. Hmm... Gaslamp prices: Most breakfast items run around $11, $12. A ham-and-cheese omelet’s $11.95, the “Meat Lover’s” omelet, with ham, bacon, and sausage, is $12.95. Plus Benedicts all cost $12.95; like the “Bacon Benny,” with two poached eggs, hollandaise on English muffins plus spuds.

’Course — dang! I see they have a breakfast happy hour. You get two eggs, one bacon and toast for $4.95. But happy hour goes from 8-10 a.m.

Specials right now come under the “2, 2, 1”: like, 2 eggs, 2 meat (bacon, sausage, or ham), one pancake and country potatoes for $11.95; or 2 eggs, 2 meat, half a waffle, and country potatoes ($13.95). Or, huevos rancheros with 2 eggs and ham on 2 fried tortillas covered in salsa ranchera and crema plus refried black beans ($12.95). So, regular prices.

Now another lady, Lais, is standing beside me with an order pad. D’uh, I order the meat-lover omelet ($12.95). And a coffee, natch. Costs $2.75 with refills. But it’s Café Moto roasted. Really good. And comes in a big fluted cup.

So, I’m gonna be a Jackson down. Still, I rate this a find. I settle back to enjoy the scene out here.

Merlin and Lizzy inspect the intruder

Merlin and Lizzy inspect the intruder

People still turning up. Sandy, with Lizzy, her little toy poodle. John, with his Maltese poodle, Merlin. Regulars. When Sierra appears with coffee for Sandy, she brings treats for the dogs, too.

So, what would they eat here? Sandy and John say the same: the lemon-ricotta waffle (with “ricotta-infused batter drizzled with raspberry sauce topped with a scoop of mascarpone cheese,” as the menu says). Cost: $9.75.

Dang. Wished I’d spotted it in time.

Still, my omelet’s plentiful, cheesy, and stuffed with the meats. Love the sautéed potatoes and the sautéed spinach. And the strawberry preserves on the sourdough toast set up the perfect balance to the savory thing going on.

Another missed opportunity: too late, I notice the sandwich board on the sidewalk reads, “Join us from 8:00–2:00 p.m. for our weekday specials for just $4.99!” I ask Lais about it. “That’s a menu, mainly for our regulars. We have a breakfast and lunch item each day. Today’s was chilaquiles for breakfast and mac ’n’ cheese or soup and salad for lunch. But you must ask for the special.”

Dang again.

I didn’t even get into the lunch menu. Starts off with a $3 soup of the day and queso fundido with chorizo ($8.25) through burgers ($12), sandwiches (like the chicken-walnuts, $13), and jicama tacos (four chicken or beef) for $10.25.

And it turns out you can get grog here. “My husband Alex owns this and the Whiskey House next door. So, we can serve wine, beer, whiskey, anything, from eight in the morning on.”

Oh, man. That’s it. Next time it’s gonna be a lunch. Maybe the $4.99, plus nice li’l glass of vino to help raise the ghosts of Mary Smith and her ladies of the night.

As I leave, I find myself checking those upper windows again. You never know...

The Lazy Hippo

416 Third Avenue, Downtown San Diego

Prices: Happy-hour breakfast (2 eggs, bacon, toast, 8–10 a.m. only), $4.95; ham-and-cheese omelet, $11.95, meat-lover’s omelet (ham, bacon, sausage), $12.95; eggs Benedict, e.g. “Bacon Benny,” $12.95; 2 eggs, 2 meat, one pancake, country potatoes, $11.95; 2 eggs, 2 meats, french toast, $13.95; huevos rancheros (2 eggs, ham, fried tortillas, salsa ranchera, crema, refried black beans), $12.95; lunch: $3 soup of the day, queso fundido, chorizo, $8.25; El Fuego Burger, $12; chicken-walnuts sandwich, $13; four jicama tacos (chicken or beef), $10.25

Hours: 8 a.m.–2 p.m. daily

Buses: 3, 11

Nearest bus stops: (for #3), Fourth and G (southbound) and Market and Sixth (northbound); (for #11), Fourth and Market (northbound) and Third and Market (southbound)

Trolley: Green Line

Nearest Trolley Stop: Convention center

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