Jenny pours tortilla soup into the pot of dry ingredients
1031 Orange Avenue, San Diego
I used to have a conscience about this: eating at a place that I knew was kind of working the system. I felt, ‘What about all the others who are staying closed down, playing by the rules?’ Like, right now? I see a place I love. The Henry. It’s this chilly lunchtime, but The Henry has a roaring fire in its gas fireplace. Five or six really cool-looking people are scattered among its patio tables, eating and drinking, and even modestly laughing — laughing! — from behind their napkins, like, “Are we allowed to do this?” It’s like an ad out of Vanity Fair.
The rest of the street looks, well, pretty dead. The Henry’s the one scene that’s illuminated, powered into life, like they just flipped back in time to pre-pandemic.
Fresh-combined tortilla soup
Jenny is at The Henry’s coffee counter, dealing with a cluster of curious customers. Mainly, they’re trying to work out for themselves if this soft reopening is for real.
“It is for real,” says Jenny. “But we’re not serving. We don’t clean the tables. We just bring whatever to-go order you ask for. We can’t stop you nibbling! Or sipping.”
Have to say, what The Henry wants, The Henry usually gets. A year back, this place marched in and took over The Avenue’s prime spot and made it their own. They had a kind of conquering attitude that took no prisoners. But above all, it was just that they knew good design. Even in these difficult months, they have outdrawn all comers.
Starts off dry: but wait till it mixes!
I grab a lunchtime to-go menu. Feel like a vet, back from the wars. Menu’s all familiar, but it seems so long since I ordered from it. Except: oh yes! The one thing I remember is tortilla soup. Just what my chill-blanched fingers crave. Absolute must-have. But even more powerful, it’s the smells. Something about the wafts of chicken, melting cheese, the tang of wilting cilantro, tortillas melted into cheese, all bumped around by the bubbling, roasting soup itself.
I check the menu. I mean, they have plenty of choices apart from soup. I take a moment to enjoy the full drenching of the morning sun, then plunge into my options, which start at $5 for crusty bread with whipped butter and sea salt. And hands down, it’s the best deal in the house, because the bread is so straight out of some Polish widow’s oven, let’s say, hot, crisp but tender-fresh, salty. Two people could solve the world’s problems over this bread. And a flask of wine.
“Ready?” says Jenny. She knows this could take a while. She’s getting my attention, because others are waiting.
Rice and veg is a good cheap filler
OK. Let’s concentrate. So you can go up into the jet stream, money wise, real quick on this menu. Like, for Sam’s Burger ($17.50), with grilled onion, tomato, totally regular but with a “Henry sauce” over the meat patty, which they say makes the meat a lot meatier, sweeter, the flavor a mite mightier. Whatever. I won’t know until I try next time.
Meantime, I’m checking the offerings from the NBW (Non-Burger World). And this is where things start to get interesting, if you survive the sticker shock. Thirty-one dollars buys you a seared ahi tuna. Or, for $34, graduate to a Korean prime skirt steak; or, for $29, you’re getting the steak, bok choy, snow peas, pickled shiitake, plus double egg fried rice. Plus a nice Asian overlay of spicy ginger butter.
But, hey. South of these prices, there has to be a Best Buy sticker somewhere. And, turns out a nice escape clause is to simply buy a single side plate of spicy double-egg fried rice for $8. Delicious and filling, and it looks like you won’t have to be eating nothin’ else.
But as soon as I get back to the original offering, I know I’m onto the Real Thing: chicken tortilla soup, Ten bucks. First item on the menu. As soon as I see it, I know it’s the stomach-liner I have been looking for. No ifs, ands, or water butts.
For starters, Jenny sets it up in two separate containers. One is loaded with the steaming-hot, veggie-filled, chicken-stuffed, avocado-squelchy, orangey soup. The other has a bunch of dry goods: cilantro leaves, big, sliced-off sheathes of queso blanco, a ton of different li’l pickled veggies.
“And what you do,” says Jenny, in her ta-daaah moment, “is upend the hot soup container into the dry soup container. Crash, bang, alakazaam! You have a soup. Give it a moment to mix’n match. But not too long. You need it hot!”
It’s a miracle that I don’t get covered from head to foot in that flip. But not a drop escapes. And it’s a truly wonderful combination, hot-hot, spicy-hot, interesting. Next time, I’ll see if they have other combos.
But actually, this cheese-crema-avo combo’s fabbo, and so comforting. I did, crazily, order a side of double egg fried rice as back-up ($8). Greed! By the time it gets out, I’m full. Not only that, I’m ready for my siesta!
“Bring me my comforter, cabron,” I say to no-one in particular, imitating my Mexico City friend. He calls everybody cabron.
- The Place: The Henry, 1031 Orange Avenue, Coronado, 619-762-1022
- Hours: 8am-8pm daily
- Prices: Smashed avocado toast, $11; California Bowl (eggs, bacon, cheeses, potato, avocado), $14; 2-egg breakfast with bacon, potato, $13.75; crusty bread with whipped butter, $5; rotisserie chicken with avocado, $16.5; Sam’s Burger, $17.50; Lebanese Hummus, $12; spicy double egg fried rice, $8
- Buses: 901, 904
- Nearest Bus Stops: 10th and Orange