By Emma Goldman
After making your way back from Tobey’s 19th Hole Café, which I mentioned in last week’s column, it’s time to turn your feet—and your stomach—to lunch. The 25th Street corridor from Gateway Park to the bridge over 94 in Golden Hill has probably more places for lunch than for any other meal since it serves the offices of many lawyers, architects, small businesses, nonprofits, and the like as well as neighborhood denizens and students and staff at City College just down C Street. Thus, a plethora of tastes await you as you meander down the street.
If you’re in the mood for sandwiches, salads, baked goods, and an array of drinks such as coffees, teas, smoothies, homemade lemon and limeades, beer, and wine, then stop in at Krakatoa on the west side of 25th between B and C. Just a block from the park, and nestled in an old, olive green Craftsman cottage under a giant magnolia tree, Krakatoa beckons you to come relax awhile either outside on their wraparound wooden patio or inside their funky dining space.
As you walk up the front steps, pooches greet you from under their owners’ tables and students hunker over their laptops, tapping out term papers at the seating areas ringing the deck. The lines at lunch can be long, but it’s worth the wait. Everything is made to order and exquisitely fresh, from the telera rolls that many of the sandwiches come in, to the housemade potato salad, which is redolent of green onions and mustard (no icky sweet stuff here).
When I stopped in for lunch at Krakatoa the other day, it was hard for me not to order the Colima, a smoked turkey and cheddar beauty slathered with chipotle mayonnaise. The Ubehebe, however, tempts as well with its freshly roasted turkey breast, cream cheese, cranberry sauce, and bacon–bacon!–all served on one of those toasted rolls. Each sandwich comes with a side of either potato salad or fruit.
One shouldn’t miss one of Krakatoa’s specialty lemonades or limeades, which are mixed with exotic essences such as lavender or rose or with other fruits, like blueberry or peach. And, of course, there are coffees, homemade cakes, densely chewy chocolate chip cookies, and much more. Tasty and filling breakfast items—the Wonchi, for example, is a roll topped with smushed avocado and bacon—also abound.
Continuing our buffet down 25th, if you dash across the street from Krakatoa, you’ll find yourself in one of San Diego’s preeminent pizza establishments: Pizzeria Luigi. Cheerily abutting a corner flower stand on the corner of B Street, Luigi’s offers up giant slices of shatteringly thin-crust and creatively topped pizzas. They also have three taps for local beer as well as a generous selection of bottles. My son thinks it’s fantastic that they have a soda dispenser so he can create his signature blends while waiting for our slices to heat up.
Luigi’s is not for the faint of heart, though. What I appreciate about this place is its lack of pretension and refusal to submit to Taylorist mandates of efficiency. When you line up to either pick out your slices from the big glass case in the middle of the restaurant, the server waits on each customer as they deliberate over what to eat.
The Crime Scene? That’s sliced meatballs and dabs of ricotta on top of a white pie with shocking blobs of marinara scattered here and there…like, a, well, murder scene. The Sports Bar? That one, a big favorite of my son’s, marries potatoes, bacon, gorgonzola, cheddar, and green onions in one decadent mouthful. Or there’s the Mona Lisa….
Luigi’s also has regular pies—your pepperoni, sausage, mushroom and olive, veggie. But their crust, sauces, cheese, and toppings are all extremely fresh and thoughtfully chosen. Chicken and a Sriracha sauce sounds weird until you try it. The same goes for sausage and green olives on pesto.
The servers work with maybe two customers at a time in a delicate dance between the giant pizza ovens at the back and the cash register in front, do-si-doing with the pizza chefs as they go. Loud music—punk, metal, ‘70s rock—blares out to keep things lively. Be patient and cheery and kind. It’s definitely worth it.
Continuing on our way south towards Broadway are 25th Street’s local taquerias. As I noted in an earlier review I did in The Reader:
“While one of them, Humberto’s, on the northeast corner of 25th and Broadway, makes a mean bean, cheese, and guacamole burrito served with either a smoky red or a zingy verde salsa, the other, Los Reyes, on the northwest corner, can satisfy even more with its freshly prepared meat and seafood dishes.”
Humberto’s Taco Shop just underwent a facelift, replacing the cage surrounding the kitchen with a much more inviting tiled wall, warm earth tones, new tables and floor, and a vibrant menu board, complete with pictures. The food is still the same—fresh ingredients cooked to order. And the hours are the same—24, round the clock, perfect for those late night or early morning pit stops in addition to lunch. The portions are generous to a fault: 8-inch burritos stuffed with carne asada or chunks of stewed chicken and guacamole or plates overflowing with nachos. This is definitely stick to your ribs food.
Family owned since 1993, Los Reyes is a fixture atop Broadway in the heart of Golden Hill. While the restaurant’s ambiance leaves a lot to be desired, the friendliness and professionalism of the staff make up for the sterile atmosphere of the dining area, which still bears traces of its former life as a fast food drive-thru. In fact, it’s often best to get your food to go as the dining room is frequently completely full of families and workers from downtown and the shipyards stopping off for a quick meal before heading home.
Los Reyes’ popularity comes from its well-seasoned and fresh fare. It bills itself as a seafood place, and to be sure, dishes like their Camarones al Mojo de Ajo ($8.49), a garlicky, buttery shrimp concoction that comes with rice, beans, and your choice of corn or flour tortilla are tasty even if the crustaceans are occasionally a bit rubbery. A savory crust surrounds whitefish filets in the fish tacos … and burritos… which also come with cabbage, pico de gallo, and a well-rounded crema-based dressing.
But one should also try the meat dishes. Juicy and nicely caramelized, the pollo asado melds deliciously with Los Reyes’s chunky guacamole. The carnitas are crisply tender and come alive with a squirt a lime. This is a hearty lunch that will make you want to curl up afterwards and take a nap under your desk.
Our last stop is across the street from Los Reyes on the southwest corner of 25th and Broadway. As I noted in The Reader:
The Kabob House is in an unassuming mini-mall next to a $5 Pizza Place and a 7-11, thus it’s exterior is not a thing of beauty. Neither is its interior, which has formica-topped tables and metal chairs. However, a Kabob House mural adorning one wall and the funky Middle Eastern music along with the friendliness of the staff is inviting. Once you walk up to the counter to order, you can see your meal being prepared on the open grill and counters. Everything is made to order from fresh, homemade ingredients by family members who also run the Jaroco Liquor store up the street at 25th and B.
The restaurant is decidedly unpretentious as is its clientele, which, from what I could see when I picked up our meal, is composed of taxi drivers stopping off between fares for a bite to eat, dads picking up dinner for the family, and hipsters chowing down before a night on the town. …People seemed really pleased to have an affordable and healthy take-out option in the neighborhood. This is important because while there are taco stands and pizza places in Golden Hill, some of the newer places are too expensive for the area’s large working class population. The Kabob House has healthy—even vegetarian—options that don’t compromise peoples’ pocketbooks.
And healthy it is. From the grilled Chicken or Beef Kabob Plates to the Falafel Sandwich, which my husband ordered, to the salads (Greek, Mediterranean, or Fattoush), the only thing that’s deep-fried is the Falafel. The rest of the menu features vegetable-based dishes, legumes, and grilled meats. Carne Asada burritos and pepperoni pizza make for satisfying take-out food, but they’re not particularly light. A Greek Salad or a Chicken Shawarma sandwich, on the other hand, taste good but don’t clog the arteries quite as much.
My favorite item is the Kabob House’s citrus and garlic marinated Lamb Chunks, which come accompanied by two sides and either rice or couscous, their tzatziki and fiery vinegar dipping sauces. Usually, we get our lunches to go, since we live right on 25th, but the windows in the restaurant look out over an interestingly busy hub of the neighborhood, so it’s not a bad way to kick back, eat your chicken kabobs, and watch the world go by.
Next up: Dinner.
1128 25th St
San Diego, CA 92102
1137 25th St
San Diego, CA 92102
Humberto’s Taco Shop
1015 25th St
San Diego, CA 92102
Los Reyes Mexican Food
San Diego, CA 92102
The Kabob House
San Diego, CA 92102