I’ve gotten used to paying 15 dollars for lunch. I remember days that would seem outlandish, but these days I’m unfazed by $15, when that charge includes tax and tip. That’s usually for a sandwich and a side, whether it’s a burger and fries or fried chicken sandwich with a side salad. But lately, I’m seeing that $15 number appear on menus, meaning the actual cost of lunch veers closer to $18. Consider me fazed.
3001 University Avenue, North Park
There are obvious culprits. Rising real estate costs. Rising cost of goods. A raised minimum wage that applies to all employees regardless whether they receive tips. Some restaurants stage a protest of this last one, by adding a service surcharge to each bill, so that customers know just how pissed off the restaurateur is about the rising costs of doing business in California.
I’m not convinced that’s the best way to impress customers, but I suppose the alternative is the $15 sandwich and potatoes.
That 15 bucks may be enough to chase away customers, which is a shame when it comes to a place like Encontro North Park. When the place opened nearly three years ago, I was impressed by its beer list, less so by its food. I was served basic ingredients, with so-so presentation, and was tempted to write the place off.
But Encontro has a marvelous location, on the southeast corner of the neighborhood hub, University and 30th Street. It’s got outward-facing counter seating so you may choose to sit and watch North Park street life, and again, the beer list was solid. So I’ve gone back a few times, and I’m glad I did. The food has gotten better.
And most of its sandwiches don’t cost $15 — yet. They mostly go for $13 or $14. But the menu’s featured sandwich, the best I’ve tried so far, at least justifies the cost. The Cardiff Crack Sando gets its name from the Burgundy-pepper-marinated tri-tip at Cardiff-by-the-Sea mainstay, Seaside Market. Encontro is the only other place to serve this Cardiff Crack tri-tip.
Dressed with goat cheese, pickled red onions, and oven-roasted tomatoes, there’s loads of flavor squeezed between the two halves of ciabatta roll, but it’s the beef that makes it a winner. It’s served standard with house-made potato chips, and their fresh crispiness made me glad I didn’t upgrade to French fries for an extra buck (or truffle fries for two).
It’s not huge, and a $15 chicken sandwich of this size might have irked me, but factoring in its prime location, it’s tough for me to gripe about this much for a steak sandwich in North Park. I’m sure others will disagree; I remember when $8 lunch was a luxury, and I’m sure there are plenty among us who can recall paying five bucks prior to tip. All the more reason to vote in every election.
That said, I balked at ordering a pint of beer for eight dollars. That's just untenable, Encontro. We beer drinkers have got to draw the line somewhere!