Gyoza, wonton, chicken for lettuce wraps: dishes keep on coming!
  • Gyoza, wonton, chicken for lettuce wraps: dishes keep on coming!
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This was the day Annie and I went mad.

She popped by, offering me half the breakfast sandwich she’d just bought. This was like four in the afternoon. I said. “Why don’t we go have a Chinese happy hour instead? I know just the place. Your car, my treat?”

“Deal.”

Khan's Cave Grill & Tavern

9350 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Suite F, Kearny Mesa

Half an hour later, we climb up a ramp to this dark woody place sheltering under the leaves of a sycamore tree. Khan’s Cave. And woah. Inside’s deceptively big. Several large darkish rooms. A scattering of couples, and a long table filled with office workers. Or doctors and nurses? Whatever, having a good time, and it’s not even 5 pm.

Duck sliders: taste surprise

Duck sliders: taste surprise

We sit down near the bar. I start reading the menu. Man oh man! This has to be the hugest happy hour menu you ever did see. Five big numbers frame the choices, from 5 thru “11+.” As in dollars. Under the “5” column, you have things like beef curry dumplings, steamed pork gyoza, and fried chicken gyoza. Sounds good value. Then others you’d expect, like garlic edamame, fries, a side salad, and a garlic naan. Upgrade to $6, and you’re looking at steamed wontons, veggie or chicken egg rolls, fried brussels sprouts and cream cheese wontons. Seven: egg fried rice, “panko sriracha sole tacos,” and seaweed salad. At eight we’re into spicy popcorn chicken, yakisoba, and sautéed broccoli. Nine starts looking like serious food: dan dan noodles, spicy eggplant, wings a la sriracha, or sweet and spicy, or peppery. And yes: sliders (BBQ pork or roasted duck), Khan’s hot dog (and it’s hot both ways), or chicken or veggie lettuce wraps. For ten bucks, fish and chips (this place is more than pan-Asian. it’s pan-globe), skirt steak, firecracker (or peppery fried) calamari, mushroom salad, sautéed garlic butter shrimp or, hey: ginger glazed shrimp basket.

And up in the stratosphere of “11+,” we’re talking pub steak and fries, something called “aloha loco moco” (a pile of rice, hamburger patty, fried egg, smothered under a lava flow of brown gravy. At least no Spam in there). Or lamb or steak brochette, a teriyaki glazed BLT burger, roasted duck fried rice, or ahi poke salad.

Most luscious: ginger glazed shrimp basket

Most luscious: ginger glazed shrimp basket

The collapse of good intentions sets in early. Annie’s looking at the red-colored cocktail the lady next door is sipping.

“What is that?” she asks.

“It’s a scarlet mimosa,” the lady says. I do a lightning check of happy hour drinks. Eight bucks. I get a lemonade ($3.50). Working tonight.

“If you’re hungry,” says the gent sitting with his wife at the next table, “you can’t beat the aloha loco moco.”

Hmm. “That might just do me,” I say.

“It might just do you in, too,” says Annie. “Cholesterol city! But if we’re spending, how about that ginger glazed shrimp basket?”

So we go for that, because ginger, shrimp, who could resist? I shoot my eyes back up to the top. The five buck category. I should go for the beef curry dumplings, but we end up agreeing on the steamed pork gyoza, and dammit, I forget the fried brussels sprouts and choose $6 steamed wontons.

Ryan: knowledgeable

Ryan: knowledgeable

And now the discipline really falls apart. Maybe it’s everybody at the long table having such a good time, or the neighbors going for dan dan noodles plus some big chicken dish, or just us having so many happy hour choices, but soon we’re talking Peking Duck, and that leads to ordering the duck sliders ($9), and Annie’s saying how lettuce chicken wraps ($9) would be healthy. Ka-ching. Then I have a sudden hankering for jes’ plain fried rice, so we get the fried rice with egg and spring onion ($7).

And then it all happens. String of waiters brings string of plates. The shrimp, the wontons, the gyoza, the sliders, the fried rice, the lettuce and the minced chicken, the ginger glazed shrimp. Ryan slides an extra table up to make room.

“Are we crazy?” I ask.

“Let’s find out,” says Annie, and lunges for the first shrimp. I’m quick behind her. And in the silence that follows, we both realize we’re food addicts, and that’s okay.

Those shrimp are the most delicious thing on the table. You get the ginger, maybe garlic, maybe orange juice, and something almost nutty — cumin? — whatever, I’d come back for it again and again.

The best of the rest? No contest, and a surprise for me: the duck sliders. I’d never found any great flavor in duck. But this time it has a hoisin sweetness, and the fact it’s been roasted gives it a BBQ feel.

Annie’s heavy into the make-your-own chicken lettuce wraps. “Garlic and hoisin,” she says. The fine-chopped chicken has plenty of taste, and the lettuce makes a fresh crisp bun.

Most disappointing? Probably the fried rice. Flavor’s the bland leading the bland. Of course, drop some soy sauce, and the excellent house-made hot sauce, and it comes alive, but still lacking anything that says, “This is why you’re eating me.” I guess what it needs is some meat.

Underneath the sycamore tree: surprisingly roomy inside

Underneath the sycamore tree: surprisingly roomy inside

Not that we’re lacking for food. I sit back. Check the check.

Ulp. Bill comes to $61.96. (About $45 of that for the food.) Man. Gonna have to become a breatharian for the rest of the week.

But bottom line: this is a generous place. You can’t beat the HH choices. Or the zeitgeist. People here are relaxed, kinda using Khan’s Cave as their club.

The one question I meant to ask: Who was Khan? And why was he living in a cave?

  • The Place: Khan’s Cave Tavern, 9350 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, 858-279-9799
  • Happy Hour Prices: Beef curry dumplings, $5; steamed pork gyoza, $5; fried chicken gyoza, $5; side salad, $5; garlic naan, $5; steamed wontons, $6; veggie or chicken egg rolls, $6; fried brussels sprouts, $6; cream cheese wontons, $6; egg fried rice, $7; two “panko sriracha sole tacos,” $7; seaweed salad, $7; spicy popcorn chicken, $8; dan dan noodles, $9; spicy eggplant, $9; wings, $9; pork or duck sliders, $9; Khan’s hot dog, $9; chicken or veggie lettuce wraps, $9; fish and chips, $10; skirt steak, $10; firecracker calamari, $10; ginger glazed shrimp basket, $10; sautéed garlic butter shrimp, $10; aloha loco moco, $11
  • Hours: 11am–9:30pm Monday to Thursday (till 10:30pm Friday); 4pm-10:30pm, Saturday; closed Sunday
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