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As much as I dig a good diner, I would most often opt to sip chardonnay and munch on caviar in a garden surrounded by songbirds if given the choice. My tuna fish budget means I am rarely given the choice.

I have found, however, that on occasion I can trick myself into believing I am indulging like the fancy lady I imagine myself to be, when in fact I am being quite frugal.

One of those occasions took place last week at the Prado in Balboa Park, where I joined a friend for lunch. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and the wait line extended out into the courtyard. Everyone wanted a seat outside in the garden.


After 40 minutes or so, our buzzer vibrated, and we were led to a table in the center of the garden, next to a small, tiled fountain. Though the resident birds, tiny and adorable, flew between us once or twice and frightened us with the proximity of their wings to our faces, it was a lovely location.

While browsing the menu, we happily munched on the flatbread and smoked chipotle pepper hummus that came with the table.


Our options for $10 lunch were limited to soup or salad or martinis, unfortunately not all three. Both of us chose soup ($6.95) and iced tea ($2.50).

The two soup options on the Prado menu are Vegetarian Black Bean with “chiles & spices,” red onions, cumin, sour cream, and lime, and El Prado Tortilla Soup, with grilled chicken, cilantro and cotija cheese.

I ordered the latter, thinking the chicken would help to fill me up. Plus, I like a good tortilla soup.


It was disappointing. The chicken wasn’t the shredded chicken I expected, but rather had the uniform texture of processed chicken. My companion made a disgusted face when she took a bite of my soup, and though I didn’t hate it the way she did, I did suffer food envy once I’d tasted the black bean soup she’d ordered.


After finishing off the soup, the flatbread, and our iced teas (mango-infused, by Café Moto - delicious), we left full and happy. Two fancy ladies.

Total bill (each): $10.45

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