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The Melt wins over this grilled cheese troll

Fast casual chain makes macaroni sandwich and hobo toast look easy

Macaroni , bacon,and too little spinach on a grilled cheese sandwich
Macaroni , bacon,and too little spinach on a grilled cheese sandwich

Big deal, it’s easy to make a grilled cheese sandwich. That’s what the troll on my shoulder reminds me whenever I encounter a grilled cheese restaurant. His words are more nefarious because they’re true. I’m a better eater than chef, and even I have made many exceptional grilled cheeses in my lifetime. And that includes a number of 2-am, after-last-call grilled cheeses, using whatever ingredients were found lying around my kitchen. Even at such late hours, when I’ve had too much to drink to drive myself home, I’ve been able to operate a buttered pan and spatula well enough to melt cheese between sliced bread.

Place

The Melt

8849 Villa La Jolla Dr #305, La Jolla, CA

So part of me was ready to discount The Melt before I set foot inside its doors, which I found at a university-adjacent La Jolla shopping center. The California fast casual chain started in San Francisco, then made its way south, and virtually every item on its menu features cheese. Aside from a couple of salads, they all feature melted cheese, whether patty melt burgers or grilled chicken breast sandwiches.

Who knew? Hobo toast makes a good grilled cheese better.

Of course the anchors of its menu are grilled cheeses, including those featuring steak, bacon, or mushrooms. And I expected to like them — I would have been more surprised if a shop called The Melt managed to somehow screw up the grilled cheese concept. But I expected to walk away thinking, “Whatever, I can do better.”

Maybe I can. But I haven’t yet.

To begin with, The Melt’s three-cheese blend of sharp cheddar, muenster, and fontina cheese hits the mark, maintaining elasticity without forfeiting flavor or getting lost in grease. The restaurant labels the simple white bread slices used in its sandwiches, “artisanal French bread,” and again my troll side wants to judge. However, it crisps really well with butter, while retaining a soft and chewy center. That’s a fine, basic grilled cheese for $5.99.

Inside The Melt

What earned my respect, though, is the egg in a hole melt. People have come up with dozens of different names for the act of frying an egg into a hole cut out of a slice of bread. Some households call it egg in the basket, one eyed jack, circus toast, bird’s nest, or — my favorite — hobo toast. At my house, we grew up giving it the backwards name, hole-in-the-egg, and like any cooking technique that involves cooking a slice of bread, I’ve spent a lifetime mastering it. But I’ve never tried to grill a cheese with one. It starts at $6.79, but I added an extra topping (avocado) for a buck. I might have wanted the yolk to be runnier, but with the goopy cheese, having it in that in between liquid and solid state suited the sandwich fine. My pinched little sandwich didn’t look like much, but I found it extremely satisfying.

Even better was the mac daddy: a macaroni and cheese sandwich. Also $6.79, it features bacon and onions. For a dollar add-on, mine should probably have gotten more baby spinach than it did. But the lack of greenery didn’t stop this low carb dieter’s nightmare from permanently silencing my inner troll. A pasta sandwich has definitely been missing from my 2 am kitchen efforts, so if nothing else, give The Melt credit for giving us grilled cheese aces something to aspire to.

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Macaroni , bacon,and too little spinach on a grilled cheese sandwich
Macaroni , bacon,and too little spinach on a grilled cheese sandwich

Big deal, it’s easy to make a grilled cheese sandwich. That’s what the troll on my shoulder reminds me whenever I encounter a grilled cheese restaurant. His words are more nefarious because they’re true. I’m a better eater than chef, and even I have made many exceptional grilled cheeses in my lifetime. And that includes a number of 2-am, after-last-call grilled cheeses, using whatever ingredients were found lying around my kitchen. Even at such late hours, when I’ve had too much to drink to drive myself home, I’ve been able to operate a buttered pan and spatula well enough to melt cheese between sliced bread.

Place

The Melt

8849 Villa La Jolla Dr #305, La Jolla, CA

So part of me was ready to discount The Melt before I set foot inside its doors, which I found at a university-adjacent La Jolla shopping center. The California fast casual chain started in San Francisco, then made its way south, and virtually every item on its menu features cheese. Aside from a couple of salads, they all feature melted cheese, whether patty melt burgers or grilled chicken breast sandwiches.

Who knew? Hobo toast makes a good grilled cheese better.

Of course the anchors of its menu are grilled cheeses, including those featuring steak, bacon, or mushrooms. And I expected to like them — I would have been more surprised if a shop called The Melt managed to somehow screw up the grilled cheese concept. But I expected to walk away thinking, “Whatever, I can do better.”

Maybe I can. But I haven’t yet.

To begin with, The Melt’s three-cheese blend of sharp cheddar, muenster, and fontina cheese hits the mark, maintaining elasticity without forfeiting flavor or getting lost in grease. The restaurant labels the simple white bread slices used in its sandwiches, “artisanal French bread,” and again my troll side wants to judge. However, it crisps really well with butter, while retaining a soft and chewy center. That’s a fine, basic grilled cheese for $5.99.

Inside The Melt

What earned my respect, though, is the egg in a hole melt. People have come up with dozens of different names for the act of frying an egg into a hole cut out of a slice of bread. Some households call it egg in the basket, one eyed jack, circus toast, bird’s nest, or — my favorite — hobo toast. At my house, we grew up giving it the backwards name, hole-in-the-egg, and like any cooking technique that involves cooking a slice of bread, I’ve spent a lifetime mastering it. But I’ve never tried to grill a cheese with one. It starts at $6.79, but I added an extra topping (avocado) for a buck. I might have wanted the yolk to be runnier, but with the goopy cheese, having it in that in between liquid and solid state suited the sandwich fine. My pinched little sandwich didn’t look like much, but I found it extremely satisfying.

Even better was the mac daddy: a macaroni and cheese sandwich. Also $6.79, it features bacon and onions. For a dollar add-on, mine should probably have gotten more baby spinach than it did. But the lack of greenery didn’t stop this low carb dieter’s nightmare from permanently silencing my inner troll. A pasta sandwich has definitely been missing from my 2 am kitchen efforts, so if nothing else, give The Melt credit for giving us grilled cheese aces something to aspire to.

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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
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