Rolly-polly and stuffed with spinach, the Verde Omelet.
‘It’s on me,” says Hank. “What’ll it be?”
“This is a breakfast place, right?”
“Closes at two,” says Hank. “Has wicked chilaquiles.”
365 Third Avenue, Chula Vista
We’ve been hauling down 3rd Avenue into Chula Vista’s Old Town, right by the park, just past the venerable “La Bella Pizza Garden.” Hank’s leading us to this fresh-painted, cream-stucco place with blue awnings. “Talavera Azul.”
“They have plenty of Talavera inside, cobalt blue tiles, plates and stuff, the real thing.”
Chilaquiles with mole
Hank knows this because he saw the real thing down in Puebla state, south of Mexico City, last year.
“You should see them making it,” he says. “The same as when they started out, in the 1500s.”
“Actually, right now, I’d like to see them making some chilaquiles. Right here,” I say.
“Yeah, except, what about their omelets? You don’t know what you’re missing. They roll the eggs up into kinda balls. And the salsa verde they put on top is to die for.”
Huh. Rolled omelets. That’s new.
Just as he says, they have lots of blue and white Talavera plates and vases hanging on the cream walls. One wall is filled with Talavera crosses, and giant urns underneath arches. And at the tables, blue-padded chairs. Vibe is middle class, Mexican style.
Art lamps and Talavera ceramics everywhere
“The owner’s family has La Espadaña in Tijuana,” says Elena the server when she comes up with the menus. She also lays down silverware on the woven mats and drops a couple of plastic menu books.
“Been there,” says Hank. “Rio district, right? Pretty classy.”
Oh yeah. I remember, too. Place was packed with business people having expense account lunches, and we’re talking three o’clock, when Latino lunchtime still traditionally starts in a lot of places.
Hank opens his menu straight to omelets. Except, now he’s umming and aahing over the ten choices (all priced at $10.75). “I want to eat healthy, right? That’s why I had the Verde last time. Except, dammit!”
His finger’s hovering over the chicharron, the skin, fat, and meat of pork belly. (Not quite the same as pork rinds, which are just the skin.)
Pork chorizo sharpens up the queso fundido
“Or,” he’s saying. Now the finger’s at “The Works Omelet.” Same price, but you get bacon, sausage, ham, and Jack cheese. And if you want, you can top it with any salsa. Plus, as with all omelets, you get frijoles, country potatoes, and tortillas.
“Oh, better eat healthy,” he mumbles. Boy’s trying to get under 200 pounds. He points to the Verde omelet. “But you go for the chilaquiles. I’ve had them here. Not exactly health food, but you’d love them.”
Confession: I’ve never known exactly what chilaquiles are. All I know is they’re a tasty mess. Hank sighs, googles it. “‘Shredded tortillas in a sauce. Tortillas cut into quarters and lightly fried, with red or green salsa on top, simmered, until crisp tortilla quarters start softening. Sometimes, pulled chicken added. Usually with crema, crumbled queso fresco, raw onion rings, and slices of avocado. Also with frijoles, eggs, beef, and guac. A breakfast dish you can add leftovers to from night before.”
Have to ask: “Are they an ancient food?” He reads on. “The name comes from the Nahuatl: Chilaquilitl. Chile with greens.”
Well, this is a breakfast place. So no surprise chilaquiles feature big on the menu. They come with green salsa, or red salsa, or hey, poblano sauce, a cream sauce with Jack cheese on top, plus “refried beans and country potatoes,” $10 each. Or chilaquiles with chipotle, or for 50 cents extra, house-made mole and cortina cheese. Or “divorciados,” where you get to choose two sauces.
At first, there’s no contest: I crave those slightly crisp tortilla chips drowned in poblano cream sauce and Jack cheese.
The problem? I can’t resist flipping the page. And in the lunch section, a couple of pretty interesting items. A Caldillo Norteño, like a beef stew with two quesadillas ($13). Sounds filling. Or you can have just the quesadillas for $6.50. Oh yes, and mole, which I had down at La Espadaña. Here it comes as chicken mole tostadas, $10.
Or, something called puños. Flank steak (arrachera), diced and sautéed with onions, topped with melted Jack cheese. Plus, natch, rice, beans, and tortillas. Thirteen bucks, though.
Sigh. Decisions, decisions. Henry’s examining the ceiling fan, Elena’s doodling little drawings on her notepad. D’ah. I am heading back to the first choice, chilaquiles in poblano sauce, when I flip onto one of my maxi weaknesses, cheese fondue. In Spanish, queso fundido. Under Antojos (whims/cravings) Mexicanos. (Melted cheese with pork chorizo, mushrooms or rajas — roasted poblano chile strips.) Cost: $8.50. Another plus.
So gotta choose something. I go for that, with chorizo. And the chorizo (plus some salsa) gives it plenty of crunchy little pellets of flavor. But, have to say, Hank’s Verde just looks more fun as a breakfast. It’s this ball of egg with leaves of spinach and shrooms flailing out from it. And green sauce plus what looks like an entire avocado on top. Plus spuds, greens, and corn tortillas in their own little hot box.
So we munch. I fight the stretchy cheese from its cooling pile. Hank’s finished, now waxing philosophical. “Remember the days when it was a question of McDonald’s and Burger King heading south and colonizing Tijuana? Now it’s the other way around. Restaurants are migrating north, big-time. Think of the places that have expanded up here. Tacos El Gordo, this place, Romesco Mexiterranean in Bonita, on and on.”
“And Tuetano, in San Ysidro,” says Elena. “Our owners’ daughter, Priscilla, started that. They are famous for their birria already. People come up from Tijuana just to scoop tuetano — bone marrow — onto their tacos.”
“Been there. I know it,” I say to Hank. “Let’s go! That’ll be on me.”
“So it’s really cheap...?”
- The Place: Talavera Azul, 365 Third Avenue, Chula Vista, 619-427-6476
- Hours: 7:30am-2pm daily (from 8am Sundays)
- Prices: La Espadaña omelet (mushrooms, peppers, cheese, ham, chipotle cream), $10.75; verde omelet, with spinach, $10.75; chilaquiles with green salsa, $10; chilaquiles with poblano cream sauce, $10; queso fundido (fondue), $8.50; caldillo Norteño, beef stew with two quesadillas, $13; two quesadillas alone, $6.50; puños (cubed flank steak, rice, beans), $13; chicken mole tostadas (two) $10
- Buses: 704, 929
- Nearest Bus Stop: 3rd and G