Mango is a Reader contributor. See staff page for published articles.

Gateway to India

I used to love coming to Gateway to India. I hadn't been there in about a year due to the fact that I can't afford to eat out very often these days. But I decided to dip into the couch cushions and sweep under the car seats to find some cash to treat my friend, Ms. Omnivore, to Indian food. I have the feeling that the owners may have changed since I was last there. The food used to be excellent. Now it’s merely good and the service has gone downhill. There used to be a man and a woman who ran the kitchen and buffet. They would always be restocking the trays and the gentleman would always come around to your table to offer you endless stacks of warm naan bread and conversation. He would always check to see if you were enjoying your meal and if you needed or wanted anything. He also made sure to remind you about the free spicy Indian coffee, soda and water that were available with your buffet purchase. The current young man behind the counter didn’t even look at us or welcome us or tell us about the drinks. He quickly disappeared into the kitchen. It was then that we realized there was no rice. Without the rice all the dishes ran together and were unidentifiable as separate entities, which was disappointing because I was going to attempt to describe them all in this review. A lot of other Indian restaurants put labels on their buffet items so that you can tell what you are choosing, that way you can distinguish your alooghophi from your palak paneer. Not so at Gateway to India. I’m somewhat familiar with Indian food and know what some of the dishes are called, but this place had a number of items of which I was unfamiliar. So I can’t tell you the names of the dishes and can only speculate upon the ingredients. It was all good, but I can’t tell you exactly what I ate. We didn’t see the food prep guy and there wasn’t anyone else in sight and there didn’t seem to be anyone else around who worked there, so we couldn’t even ask about the ingredients. Then the kicker, after we were in there for almost a half an hour, two couples arrived, I saw the first couple go into the back area where the kitchen was located; then the next thing I knew, the food prep guy finally brought out a pan of rice, which had been AWOL during the half hour that we had been there, and then a basket of naan was delivered to the couple’s table. Not so with us. The second couple walked up to the buffet and stood there for about ten minutes waiting for the food prep guy to come out. They wanted a takeout container. The food prep guy didn’t seem too friendly toward or interested in them either. After he gave them their container, he retreated back into the kitchen again and that was the last we ever saw of him. I always try to thank restaurateurs after I’ve eaten a meal, whether it be Taco Bell or Bertrand’s at Mister A’s, and sometimes I like to ask questions about the food or the venue. I wasn’t able to do either this time
— October 17, 2009 5:33 p.m.

Jumping Bean Cafe & Mexicali Grill

I was surprised that the Jumping Bean Cafe & Mexicali Grill didn’t choose to open their business on restaurant row in San Marcos. This fun, inventive restaurant would fit in very nicely over there. I guess the owners of the Jumping Bean decided to spread a little culinary wealth on Vista, which is a good thing since the town of Vista has a much smaller number of independent, interesting restaurants than San Marcos, although Nucci’s Italian Cafe, Thai One On, The Village Cafe and La Paloma are four good ones that come to mind. Maybe the trend is finally changing. The restaurant’s site used to house a Chinese buffet, which always looked dark and foreboding. The interior and the exterior of the restaurant have been re-vamped and now present a very open and welcoming atmosphere. The inside is decorated with brightly painted yellow walls, tropical plants and all sorts of whimsical artworks and decorative light fixtures. I think the owners must have a penchant for dogs, because many of the artworks feature dogs and there is a bulletin board near the bar for patrons to post photos of their own dogs. Just like a dog, I’m drooling just thinking about their food. Their menu consists of standard Mexican cuisine made with interesting, quality ingredients, presented with flare. Fish lovers will really appreciate the Jumping Bean Cafe. The seafood menu features shrimp prepared three ways. The tequila shrimp is sautéed in a creamy agave sauce; the shrimp mojo de ajo is marinated with fresh garlic and olive oil, then sautéed with white wine and fresh herbs. The skewered honey ancho shrimp is marinated in chile and lime then caramelized on the grill and finished with pineapple salsa. These dishes shout, “Vacation in Cabo!” At the moment there is no vegetarian menu, but the chef/owner Brian Cloud said that he is developing a separate menu just for the veggie crowd. I would love to be the taste tester on that project. Mr. Cloud said that vegetarians are easily accommodated and that one has only to request a vegetarian dish and he will personally whip one up for you. Be sure to request the totally vegetarian black beans and yellow rice. They do have nice vegetable fajita plate, but the combo that has brought me back to the Jumping Bean Cafe is the enchiladas espinacas, mushroom and spinach enchiladas in a scrumptious “Baja cream sauce.” Combos come with rice, beans and a yummy, sweet corn cake. The plates are enormous, but I was very happy to eat the leftovers the next day. If you visit, check the specials on the menu board up front. They often have wonderful things that are not listed on the regular menu, such as chile con carne with corn bread, Mom’s favorite. The owners, servers and bartenders at the Jumping Bean Cafe are all very friendly. I hope this pleasing neighborhood restaurant weathers the recession and inspires other creative eating establishments to hang their shingles in Vista.
— October 7, 2009 6:31 p.m.

Sipz Fusion Café

I finally got back down to Sipz Fusion Café in Kearny Mesa. A friend took me there for my birthday. I haven't been there since I wrote the last review about the restaurant in April and I really wanted to go back. We decided to try only items that we had never ordered before. Last time, I mentioned Sipz's sushi and that was exactly what I wanted. They have about ten or twelve different kinds, all vegetarian, but for this visit we opted for the shiitake mushroom sushi and the pickled daikon sushi. They were both really good and came with the requisite pink pickled ginger and wasabi. The pickled daikon sushi was really pretty, like a little Christmas ornament. The daikon is cut into a perfect little bright green cube, set into the middle of the seaweed and rice roll. The next thing we ordered came from the appetizers menu. It was described as a “crispy fish” appetizer and was served with sweet and sour sauce. I've been a vegetarian for a long time and before becoming one, I never ate any fish except for the occasional tuna sandwich, so I can't say with any certainty whether or not this dish tasted like fish or not. All I can say is that it was one of the best dishes I've ever eaten at any restaurant, period. There were six small pieces of the faux fish, each of which was about the size of one of those mini tootsie rolls that you hand out at Halloween, but they more resembled a slightly thick piece of beef jerky with a thin layer of super-crispy fried batter on the outside, which I surmise was panko bread crumbs. They were flash-fried and not greasy at all. Thank goodness there were only six pieces of this “crispy fish” because I could have eaten them all night until I swelled up like a puffer fish. And to drink, my friend ordered coconut water, which is not to be confused with coconut milk. Coconut milk is made by soaking freshly grated coconut meat in warm water, then squeezing the liquid through cheesecloth. The result is coconut milk which is creamy, white in color and has a high fat content. Coconut water is the clear liquid inside young, green coconuts and is naturally fat free. At Sipz, the coconut water is served directly out of the coconut. It was exotic, refreshing and delicious. I opted for the Korean barley tea, which is beer-colored and slightly bitter, but also remarkably refreshing on a hot night. Sipz has several new items on their menu and I still have to sample the rest of their vegetarian sushi offerings. I shall return.
— September 21, 2009 4:46 p.m.

Santana's Mexican Grill

Sometimes all you want is some good, inexpensive Mexican food. Santana’s Mexican Grill in San Marcos certainly delivers, but they are so much better than your average taco stand. One thing I can say about the dishes at Santana’s is that they’re big. My friend and I usually share something, or else we both order different things and then take half of it home, which is just fine by us. The next thing that I would say about Santana’s is that their ingredients are super fresh and always tasty. Ms. Omnivore loves one of the quesadilla creations called the “quesomush”. It’s a giant quesadilla filled with your choice of carne asada, adobada; or anchiote or grilled chicken, plus jack cheese and grilled mushrooms. My friend’s favorite version is the quesomush stuffed with the anchiote chicken, although she’s tried all of them and says that each version is worth ordering. She’s also partial to the carne asada fries. They have a nice selection of big giant burritos including the One Pound California Burrito filled with carne asada, or carnitas, both of which the folks love; or adobada or anchiote or grilled chicken, then each of these meat filled burritos is loaded up with potatoes, Mexican salsa and cheese. These are really big! They also have one called the La Paz filled with grilled shrimp and carne asada, rice, cheese and creamy tomatillo sauce that sounds like my brother’s dream come true. For something a little lighter, Santana’s makes a Caesar Chicken Burrito filled with grilled chicken, lettuce, Mexican salsa and a creamy Caesar dressing. All of their burritos are available with regular flour tortillas or whole wheat tortillas and their beans are lard-free. That’s always a plus in my book and that brings us to my favorite burrito at Santana’s. The One Pound Veggie Burrito comes with your choice of these four items: beans, rice, lettuce, potatoes, guacamole, Mexican salsa, cheese, sour cream or grilled mushrooms. A vegetarian’s delight or dilemma! Then there is the salsa. Santana’s has some of the best salsa I’ve ever tasted in either a taco joint or a fancy sit down Mexican restaurant. I believe they have six different varieties, and all of them are different from each other, and also quite a bit different than any other salsas I’ve tasted anywhere before. Your best bet is to come back several times and savor each of them separately. I know I enjoy dipping Santana’s potato filled flautas, or Calitapas as they call them, in these tasty sauces. You won’t be disappointed if you’re a salsa lover like I am. They could create a side business just selling their salsas.
— September 16, 2009 6:52 p.m.

Village Cafe

I was craving huevos rancheros in the worst way and since my mom and I were heading to a play at the Broadway Theater in downtown Vista, it was only natural that we would end up at the Village Cafe on Main Street. I love Mexican food and I’ve been to a lot of Mexican eateries from Chula Vista to Oceanside, across to Escondido and down to La Mesa. I’ve eaten my way across the county and I’ve enjoyed a lot of great Mexican food (including wonderful meals at two defunct old favorites, Pedrorena’s and Casa de Bandini in the original Bazaar del Mundo in Old Town) but the good old Village Cafe is my favorite. They are one of the few places that serve huevos rancheros on both their breakfast and regular menus. For breakfast, the huevos rancheros come with their delicious lard-free beans and mouthwatering Mexican home fries. For lunch and dinner they serve rice instead of the home fries. The rice is very good too, but the Village Cafe’s home fries are legendary, in my mouth. You can also get the home fries with other breakfast entrees, both Mexican and American. On the American side, there’s eggs Benedict and eggs Florentine, steak and eggs, pancakes and a plethora of omelettes (I recommend the spinach or the artichoke omelette). If you like a little fiesta in your breakfast go for the huevos rancheros, machaca con huevos, chorizo con huevos, carne asada steak and eggs, chilaquiles or a giant breakfast burrito filled with scrambled eggs and beans. For lunch and dinner the Village Cafe has a large selection of all of your favorite Mexican dishes. The chips and salsa at the Village Cafe are the best, the chips are thin, crispy and served hot, just the way I like them. The salsa is tart with tomato, lime and cilantro. It’s addictive to the point that they always have to bring us another bowl or two. My mom raves about the albondigas meatball and vegetable soup. Other soups on the menu include chicken tortilla soup, menudo and pozole with chicken or pork. They also have a nice selection of fish dishes including the requisite fish tacos plus a few more sophisticated seafood dishes that are sure to please the pescetarians. Shrimp cooked with wine and vegetables, fish picado, grilled mahi-mahi, camarones al diabla and shrimp and mushroom enchiladas are some of the highlights. The village cafe has two dining rooms, one with lots of cozy booths and tables. The other room has bigger tables with ample seating for large gatherings, plus there’s an outdoor covered patio that’s great for people watching. The Village Cafe prides itself on using no lard in any of its cooking, so you can enjoy your meal and the delicious health benefits that go along with it. If you leave the Village Cafe without trying the spinach and mushroom enchiladas, the crime will be yours and your mouth will never forgive you.
— September 2, 2009 8:58 p.m.

Romano's Dodge House

Romano’s Dodge House Ristorante Italiano in Julian is well worth the hour or so drive it takes to get there from just about anywhere in San Diego. I discovered this gem many years ago when my brother used to live in Julian. You can get some good burgers and barbecue in Julian, and that’s fine, but Romano’s serves very innovative, sophisticated Italian cuisine. And if you live in Julian, Romano’s is also the place you call when you want to order takeout pizza and you don’t want to drive all the way over to Wynola to Wynola Pizza Express (which I’ll get to in another review). It’s also the best romantic date restaurant in town. All of Romano’s outstanding food is prepared on the premises. The restaurant is located in one of the town’s oldest historic homes, the Dodge House. It’s a great place to dine year round, but it’s especially cozy when it’s snowing outside. It’s kind of like stepping back in time. The old house has been re-modeled to accommodate the restaurant kitchen and a small cocktail bar, but the décor, including a wood burning stove, is respectful of a living room/ dining area in a late 1800’s pioneer home. On my most recent visit to Romano’s, my friend the omnivore, ordered the baked pork chops simmered in a whiskey and apple cider cream sauce. She was oohing and aahing so it must have been delicious. What I remember most about her meal were the vegetable accompaniments that came with it, most of which I stole from her plate. There was steamed fresh broccoli, succulent glazed carrots and scrumptious garlic mashed potatoes, but the thing I remember the most, was an exquisite dish of sweet and sour red cabbage that rocked my culinary boat. It seemed like a dish that might have originated in Denmark rather than Italy, but it harmonized magnificently with the pork chops and the stolen veggies. My brother’s favorite dish at Romano’s is the halibut simmered in a creamy Florentine sauce served over a bed of garlic fettucine and fresh vegetables. Friends and relatives have remarked very highly on the Chef’s Choice, a sample platter with chicken cacciatore, sausage and brasciole. The shrimp scampi with sundried tomatoes, rosemary and an olive oil butter sauce served over fettucine also got high marks. But for me, the reason that I am willing to trudge an hour into the wilderness is to savor and consume Romano’s pasta primavera containing a bevy of fresh vegetables sautéed in olive oil, tossed with pesto and served over linguine. When I’ve dined with other veg-friendly pals, we’ve also ordered the tantalizing spinach ravioli in marinara sauce and shared the bounty. The bowls and plates are huge, so sharing is only natural in this taster’s (or food thief’s) paradise. I think Romano’s Dodge House has struck gold in the old mining town of Julian.
— August 23, 2009 7:39 p.m.


It is so true that good things often do come in small packages, or, as with the case of Romesco Baja Med Bistro in Bonita, they come on small plates and as tapas. The first thing on the menu that captured my attention and started my mouth watering was the pumpkin soup, which ironically we didn’t end up ordering only because we couldn’t eat another bite after sampling all of the tasty tapas. Next time I’ll order the soup first. Romesco’s interior makes you feel as though you’ve been abducted and brought to an undisclosed location in Europe inhabited entirely by handsome waiters. Our waiter was very helpful, patient and attentive. We selected four items from the tapas/small plates menu and later ordered the caprese salad. The caprese would have been great if the tomatoes had been sweet and ripe, which they weren’t. Finding good tomatoes in San Diego is often a chore. The first plate that was brought out, and each plate is served on a different, adorable little ceramic bowl or dish, contained two huitlacoche filled empanadas and a ramekin of bright red/orange colored garlicky, pepper sauce, the romesco sauce for which the restaurant is named. I had heard of this corn fungus before and I was curious to try it. It’s a good thing that the Spanish word “huitlacoche” is listed on the menu rather than it’s more unpleasant sounding English translation “corn smut”. It was good, mild and earthy and slightly sweet; the spicy romesco sauce was a terrific complement. While I was still noshing on the smutty turnover, the next plate arrived with tuna served atop a tiny corn tortilla stacked over dressed, fresh greens, sprinkled with Cotija cheese. It was a very pretty display and my friend enjoyed it a lot. Next came a dish of plump, succulent mushrooms sautéed in a delicate garlic, white wine and herb sauce. The sauce was so delicious that I mopped up what was left of it with a piece of the fresh bread, which is served with every meal, after I (ahem, we) had consumed all of the mushrooms. I thought this tapa would be equally wonderful as an entrée ladled over a plate of linguini. Our fourth small plate for the evening was a dish called fondue de rajas which is simply jack cheese, with mild green chilies chopped into it. The plate is put into a hot oven until the cheese is melty and bubbling. To eat it, you scoop it directly from the plate with the tiny corn tortillas that are served with it. This is about as close to food Nirvana as I’ve ever come. I had this dish only one other time, at a long defunct restaurant that used to be in Mission Valley called El Tecolote that specialized in cuisine from Mexico City. I’ve longed for it ever since. We finished off our meal with flan that was sitting on a swizzle of caramel sauce, imbedded with bunelo sticks and garnished with strawberries, which were listed as raspberries on the menu, but that was ok. Berries is berries and it’s all good.
— August 1, 2009 6:32 p.m.

Crest Café

Wow! Who would’ve thought that mangos would be on the menu at a diner? You probably figured out by my “handle” that I love mangos, so it was a real treat to find the tasty tropical fruit featured in several different dishes at the Crest Cafe in Hillcrest. A friend and I were headed to the movies on the 4th of July, but we needed to obtain some sustenance first. We were headed to the ever fabulous Ultrastar Cinema in Mission Valley so Hillcrest seemed like a good place to find some real food. Luckily the Crest Cafe was open. We noticed that several of our other favorite Hillcrest restaurants were closed for the holiday. Just as well. It was my day to discover diner mangos. I had been to the Crest Cafe several times before, but not in a long while. Lacking a permanent job tends to put a cramp in one’s culinary style. Since the Reader was kind enough to grant me two movie tickets and it was a holiday, I figured I should splurge and treat my friend to lunch. She likes to come along with me to present the proverbial carnivorous voice of reason to my veggie lovin’ gastronomy. I had to shoo off the waitress because it took me an inordinate amount of time to make my selection. I was torn between several items on the appetizer menu. The veggie chili sounded pretty darned tempting. Then I saw a listing for something called cheese “buttah” squares which consisted of Bread & Cie multi-grain, spread with gorgonzola cheese butter on both sides, stuffed with pears and sun dried tomatoes. When I read that I thought that they must make you wear a halo and a pair of wings while you eat it, since you obviously would have had to have died and gone to heaven! But then I saw it: mangos, and brie cheese. Grilled in a quesadilla. I got a little teary eyed and smiled and waved at the waitress to come back so I could order it. My friend liked the sound of the anchiote pulled pork sandwich cooked in an orange mop sauce; rubbed in an anchiote seasoning paste and stuffed in a terera roll layered with avocado, jicima coleslaw, queso fresco, cilantro and onion. As a side dish she opted for the homemade potato chips instead of fries, most of which I ate. They were thick and crunchy. My friend said the pulled pork was delicious and she especially liked the anchiote seasoning and the perfectly flavored coleslaw that was served on the sandwich rather than as a side dish. After we ordered I continued to read the menu and I noticed that The Crest Cafe has several different vegetarian pastas on their menu. Pasta with marinated artichoke hearts in a creamy wine sauce, Luigi’s spinach ravioli and veggie lasagna with spinach, sundried tomatoes and roasted red bell peppers were the three noodly sirens. I also noticed that mangos were listed as ingredients in two different salads. Outside of Polynesian restaurants (or in Vietnamese restaurants where they’re served as a dessert atop coconut sticky rice) you’d be hard pressed to find mangos in most restaurants. Except for this writer.
— July 9, 2009 10:09 p.m.

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