The six-buck breakfast special.
“I’ve just signed a lease for another 10 years,” says Carmen. “I’m 71. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. People say I’m crazy.”
2505 C Street, San Diego
This is 8:30 in the morning, in the Golden Hill Cafe, at the corner of 25th and C. Hard to say how many times I’ve looked out from the window of the #2 bus, seen this green, porthole-windowed art-deco joint, and thought, “That looks like a real 1950s cafe.”
Of course, Covid tents and outside tables cover it up a bit. So it doesn’t look so cool, even though right now, before the sun gets to it, it is kinda cool, chilly cool, outside. Then, hey, I see a bunch of people inside, looking cozy and Covid-free. I head on in there.
Trudi, Carmen the owner, Pati.
“We’re allowed to be 25 percent full inside,” says Pati the server. “That’s under a dozen. You might just fit.”
I slide into a green banquette with its curved-corner Formica tables, check out a couple of ancient movie stars on the wall, plus a hand-written sign, “Due to the filming of the motion picture K-9, Golden Hill Coffee Shop with be closed Friday August 6th, 1988.”
So we’ve got history here. I listen to the mainly Spanish conversation going on around me. This part of town is just outside the tourist belt. I can see a guy catching the warmth of the sun on his balcony. It’s above the pawnshop across 25th. I take the tall mug of coffee Pati pours for me ($2.95 with refills). Man, need this. I scan the one-page menu. And they’re all there, the really standard dishes I’m craving.
Turns out this place is more than reasonable. A breakfast combo, with two eggs plus sausage, bacon, or hash browns, and two French toast costs $10.95. Or you can swap the French toast for two pancakes and only pay $8.95. Two hot cakes are $4.95. Bacon costs $1.95 extra, a sausage, $2.95.
Art Deco: 116-year-old building is cool all over again.
But here’s the thing: Under “Light Options,” they have this incredible offer: “One hot cake, one egg, one bacon, one sausage, $6.50.” Man, unless it’s a tiny sausage, this is a big deal.
Of course, you can go upscale. Under “Hungry,” you get to Eggs Benedict for $15.95. Or, also at $15.95, the Farmer’s Mix. That includes “scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, onions, bell pepper, all mixed, and biscuit with gravy.” Or a Chef’s Omelette, with mushrooms, Chile Ortega, tomato, Swiss cheese, and hollandaise, for $13.95. It comes with hash browns and toast, or beans and tortillas. Chorizo and eggs ($9.75) heads a list of Mexican dishes. Also, Ropa Vieja, that basically Cuban dish of shredded beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, $13.75.
Golden Hill Cafe’s windows show you life at 25th and C.
Oh man. Can’t decide. Then I look at the “Light Options” again. And right up top, tortilla soup. I have been on a tortilla soup kick ever since the weather’s been cold. Here they have it in three sizes, $3.50 for a cup, $6.96 for a bowl, $9.95 for a large bowl. Heck, I go for the cup, just while I make up my mind on the other stuff. And what a perfect $3.50 appetizer. The tortilla chips, chunks of Panela cheese from Oaxaca, along with onions, avo, and a beef soup stock. Best choice, almost filling enough for a breakfast in its own right.
But, natch, I have to go for the other bargain, the hot cake (read, pancake) special, with the egg (I go for poached), the bacon, the sausage. At six bucks and change, a deal, specially with the big fat sausage they give you. I load everything aboard the hot cake, including butter blob and syrup, nice wide bacon, plus the poached egg I sliced, oozing gold over everything. Even the ketchup adds taste as well as color. All in all, a blast of a breakfast. Pati keeps pouring the coffee, too. She says the most popular items are the chilaquiles ($7.95, plus $2.30 for 2 eggs), the French toast combo ($10.95), and the club sandwich ($10.95 with fries).
$3.50 cupful of tortilla soup.
A woman comes in. Sits down at one of the booths, lays out a string of bills and receipts. She sighs. Name’s Carmen. We talk. She is the owner. Has been the owner for — deep breath — 41 years! This is when she tells me that two weeks ago, she renewed her lease at age 71. Ten year lease. “Crazy, I know,” she says. “But I just love this place. It’s my life. And these people, like Trudi and Pati. Pati’s been here 23 years, Trudi, 31 years, and me, 41 years. We just don’t want to let it go.”
Turns out it wasn’t work but Covid that nearly killed the business. “I had to pay $4000 just to put up these Perspex screens between booths,” Carmen says. “Then we had to build the outside. Now we’re back inside, but only for a few people. But we’ll survive.”
At the beginning, she was just a waitress with no money. Then the owner of the property sold her and her husband Ronald (who died 20 years ago) the place for $12,000.
Hard to leave, but I gotta go. “Of everything so far?” I say, when Carmen asks what I liked best. “Have to say, the cup of tortilla soup. That’s what I’ll come back for when I’m broke. But also the taste. Not just the Oaxaca cheese. It’s the soup itself. What is that you put in it? It gives it a super umami taste. What is it?”
“Sorry. I never reveal my sauces,” Carmen says. “That’s a joke.”
- The Place: Golden Hill Cafe, 2505 C Street, Golden Hill 619-239-7464
- Hours: 7:30am-2pm, Monday to Friday; 8am-1pm, Saturday, Sunday
- Prices: breakfast combo (two eggs, sausage, bacon or hash browns, two French toast, $10.95; (or two pancakes, $8.95); two hot cakes, $4.95; hot cake special with egg, bacon, sausage, $6.50; Eggs Benedict, $15.95; Farmer’s Mix, $15.95; Chef’s Omelette (shrooms, chile Ortega; tomato, Swiss cheese, hollandaise, $13.95; chorizo and eggs, $9.75; tortilla soup, $3.50, $6.96, or $9.95; chilaquiles, $7.95 (plus $2.30 for 2 eggs); French toast combo, $10.95; club sandwich, $10.95 with fries
- Bus: 2
- Nearest Bus Stops: Broadway and 25th