On Leavin' (On that Midnight Train to Georgia)

On Monday, Jason and I will be leaving on a new adventure. He has accepted a job in the Atlanta area and starts on October 20th. Me, him, and Evie will be driving across the hinterlands of the country to start anew in a city that I've never even visited.

(Cause girl, "I'd rather live in his world, than be without him in mine!")

San Diego is both of our homes, the city that we grew up in, and where both of our families still live. We are incredibly sad to be leaving it behind. However, behind the uncertainty of the future also lies incredible excitement about new sorts of trouble we can get into, new places to explore, and new people to meet. 

Stay fucking tuned.

Tijuana Taco & Beer Bonanza with Club Tengo Hambre

For awhile now, I've been hearing that Tijuana has a lot to offer tourists these days above and beyond the usual traps along Avenida RevoluciĆ³n. There are several companies offering adventurous (i.e. not paranoid) explorers opportunities to see a side of the city that is more familiar to locals than to hordes of drunk Marines. Once such company is Club Tengo Hambre, which is focused on the food and drink of the region. 

My dear friend Molly was visiting for the weekend, so in the interest of showing her a good time beyond our usual karaoke outings, I decided to finally go ahead and take one of these tours. (This was my first time in Tijuana since 2002! I am old.)

You meet with your group at the border and walk through the turnstiles together (yes, there is only a turnstile between you and Mexico. Crazy.) Our guides Violeta and Antonio ushered us to our chauffeured van and... gave us Tequila shots! 

I couldn't get a decent pictures because the roads are super bumpy. At first the Tequila (Bracero Blanco) was a bit daunting because Molly and I were hungover from a night of karaoke and dive bars, but we soldiered on and got into the party spirit.

Our first stop was Mariscos Ruben, a truck serving Sonoran seafood dishes. The marlin tacos we had were excellent and my first exposure to marlin. They were very spicy and went well with the beer from local brewers Hellixer (no web presence). My only complaint about this stop is that I was attacked by vicious ants, who are no doubt PSYCHED that people just stand there on the street dropping crumbs from tasty tacos. 

Next stop was Tacos Kokopelli, a funky hippieish restaurant with some more delicious tacos and more delicious craft beer. We tried the "Gringo en Vacaciones" taco, which was Adobo shrimp in red chile sauce.  

The greatest thing about Tacos Kokopelli was definitely the sauce selection. LOOK AT IT.

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The choices included pineapple, peanut, pumpkinseed, and LUCIFER'S TEARS, which was this Pepto Bismol-looking substance...

IT WAS SO HOT! Lately I've been having trouble find hot enough hot sauce, and this shit DELIVERED. The tiniest little droplets scorched my mouth but activated that sensor where you want more and more pain. Delicioso. 

Next we went to Portland. 

Not the actual Portland, but this little slice of Portland in the middle of Tijuana: Foodgarden, an outdoor food marketplace with art and a DJ. 

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I was particularly tickled by the name of the place below. "Veggie Veggie Veggie, can't you see? Sometimes your words just hypnotize me." It's something that doesn't quite work as a pun, but might seem like it would if English is not your native language. 

We tried quite a few tasty things here. The first was a refreshing and light fruit cooler, which was welcome in the heat, and a steak quesadilla with queso fresco on top.  We also had the most incredible taco of the entire trip, with crispy cheese, mushroom, and avocado (I don't know exactly what was in it, I was just drunkenly groaning at this point as I shoved it in my mouth). The beer we had here, a Saison, was also quite special. The brewer explained that he uses local herbs in his brews in order to make it more representative of Baja. 

Our last stop was BCB, a craft beer tasting room in a dark nightclub-style space. The menu had many San Diego beers I recognized, as well as copious local offerings. A bigger beer nerd than I probably would have fainted with joy. It would be right at home across the border in North Park.  

After our last stop and saying goodbye to our gracious hosts, there was nothing left to do but wait at the border. And wait. And wait. We opted for a shuttle that we were promised would take only 25 minutes. Nope. It took 2 hours.

So the worst thing about Tijuana was the American government? Sounds about right. Luckily there were churro vendors. One of our tour mates was rightfully super psyched about it. 

Molly and I had a great time (border wait excepted) and felt very well taken care of by Antonio and Violeta. I was blown away by what Tijuana has to offer. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Club Tengo Hambre, and especially their Tacos and Craft Beer tour, to anyone who is curious but clueless about Tijuana. I mean, DID YOU SEE THE TACO PICS?!

(It sounds like they paid me to go, but no. I went like a regular schmo. I just loved it so much that I'm fawning anyways.)

Nolbu Mini Gastropub (Kearny Mesa): WATERMELON FULL OF SOJU

They serve hollowed-out watermelons full of soju here. That is entirely why I felt the urgent need to check it out. (Well, almost entirely. I also really wanted to try Bulgogi Fries and Cheese Corn.)

Korean bar food is a genre that I'm not entirely familiar with, so I had been looking forward to getting a face full of exotic yet fattily familiar delights. We met up with Michaela and Neal here to celebrate the high holy day of Friday.

Nolbu Mini Gastropub is located, like so many heretofore-undiscovered-by-me-yet-very-popular Asian restaurants, in a crowded strip mall in Kearny Mesa on Convoy. It's a small place with just a few semi-private booths scattered around. 

The menu is a fusion mix of traditional Korean bar dishes (like Seafood Pancake or Spicy Wings) and California Mexican staples (Tacos, Burrito, or Quesadilla, but with Bulgogi). Most items are intended to be shared, so we got to try a variety of dishes. 

WATERMELON FULL OF SOJU

This did not disappoint, because it's a genuine full-size watermelon-full-o-booze for $25. It was like a fountain of booze that never ran dry; it just kept giving and giving. It's a little sweet, but a nice complement to the spice and salt of the dishes. The chucks are actually frozen watermelon. (I was a little afraid I was going to knock the whole thing over though.)

Spicy Calamari

Neil's choice. This was a very pleasant surprise. The calamari batter was very light, the squid itself had a silky not-rubber texture, and it was just the right amount of spicy.  

Dumplings

Jason's choice. I have no idea what was in these (pork maybe) because all I tasted was BURRRRRRN. They came out so piping hot that Jason burned a hole in his cheek. He had already been deathly afraid of his food being too hot, so now he will probably only ever eat cold food. Thanks, dumplings. Potential health hazards aside, though, I'm grateful that they were so fresh out of the fryer. They were tasty. 

Cheese Corn

My choice. I had seen pictures of Cheese Corn on various blogs and had to get in on the action. Despite the looks of it, I actually think it could have used more cheese! I thought this dish was gonna SLAP ME IN THE FACE with cheese, when in reality it was only mid-level cheesy. it wasn't terrible, but CHEESE, man!

Bulgogi Fries

Michaela's choice. They're not just Bulgogi Fries, but also Blugogi Sweet Potato Fries, Bulgogi Tots, and Bulgogi Superfluous Tortilla Chips. It needed a little bit of focus. I think just regular fries would have been quite good, but it stretched itself a little thin with all the different tastes jumbled together. (I wouldn't kick it out of bed though.)

Overall, the food wasn't transcendent, but it was a nice complement to the WATERMELON FULL OF SOJU. Without said soju, everything probably would have been a tad too salty (and I'm aware that that's the point).

Verdict: Not amazing, but it made us happy. Just look at these smiling inebriate goons...

Nolbu Mini
4633 Convoy St.
San Diego, CA 92111

Antojitos Colombianos: Intro to Colombian Cuisine 101

Before our friends (hola Britani y Jarrett!) recommended this place, I had never tried Colombian food. That might be because this is the only Colombian restaurant in San Diego proper, and it's not exactly in a part of town I find myself in often.

About that... so... it's not exactly in the best part of town. The neighborhood is called Grant Hill and it's main thoroughfare is Imperial Avenue, to the East of downtown. It's the barrio. It's part of "Southeast San Diego", a designation that I remember used to make the suburbanites I grew up with tremble in fear. I remember one of my teachers telling a kid to take of his beanie and pull up his pants because "this isn't Southeast San Diego!"

However, I seem to have lived to tell the tale, so maybe it's not so bad after all. Maybe the only thing we truly have to fear is fear itself. Maybe suburbanites are paranoid (they are paranoid). With reasonable precautions, there's no reason not to go here to try out delectable and cheap foreign food.

Oh, right! This is about food, not Sociology. FOOOOOOD!

We met up with Britani and Jarrett and sat in a corner at the small restaurant. They had prepared us for a meat bonanza, and they were correct. Meat on meat on meat on reasonibly-priced meat! 

Empanadas

These were filled mostly with the aforementioned MEAT (ground beef), though supposedly there were also potatoes inside. They came out piping hot, fresh from the fryer, which gave the corn pastry a nice consistency. The green onion salsa was a nice accompaniment, though I must admit I prefer I would have preferred a salsa with a little heat to it -- something that I was quickly learning is not necessarily standard in Colombian Cuisine. 

Bandeja Paisa 

I decided to go for broke and get a dish where I could sample several things. This mighty combo platter contains a flat beef steak, chorizo, chicharron, beans, rice, a fried egg, fried plantain, avocado, and arepa (a type of corn flatbread - I had to look that one up). Lots going on here! There was no way I could eat all of it, so I made sure to eat at least a little of everything. My favorite thing was the fried plantain, which was a sweet delight and a good contrast to all the meaty meats that were happening around it. The chorizo, beef, beans, avocado and eggs all went nicely together as well. I wasn't crazy about the chicharrones - they were a bit dry and gristly. The arepa was also a bit too much on the dry side. Overall though, I was happy with this meal because it offered so many different tastes in one and was a DIRT CHEAP way to take a risk trying a new type of cuisine. 

Arroz Con Pollo

Britani got this. Because I am immature, I thought the plantains looked a lot like poop in this context. Our waiter gave us a pro-tip: try the rice with ketchup. Everyone was a bit surprised at how good that combo is! Ketchup: it's not just for little kids eating Mac-and-Cheese, it's also good on Arroz Con Pollo! Heinz can thank me for that succinct and pithy slogan. 

Picada for 1

Jason got this. It's a mixture of chicharrones, chorizo, ribs, potatoes, plantains, and the aforementioned arepa. His take was "it's basically a plate full of bacon!" and he meant that only in the most loving way. He demolished it. 

This is where I should mention the friendliness/general awesomeness of the service. Jason was last to get his food and our waiter apologized and said they were all out of it. He offered to bring out the menu for Jason to look at. When he came back, he had the food! "Gotcha!" This was especially funny since Jason was probably the hungriest of all of us. (It doesn't sound that funny now that I'm typing it out. Maybe you have to be hungry and sweating in an un-air-conditioned little restaurant where everyone around you is speaking a foreign language for it to be as funny as it was. YOU HAD TO BE THERE, GUYS.)

 Hungry Jason and Jarrett

Hungry Jason and Jarrett

Jugos Naturales (Strawberry)

This tasted like a very light milkshake. The sweetness is a nice contrast to the saltiness of the food. Also shown: Britani, professional drink model. 

Colombiana-brand soft drink

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Tried this out to stay in theme. It looks and tastes a lot like Irn Bru, the national soft drink of Scotland. I wouldn't get it again, just because soda is not really my jam, but it was refreshing enough (especially because it was very hot in the restaurant).

Overall, it was a really enjoyable experience getting some exposure to authentic Colombian cuisine. We'll return, but will we fall for the "gotcha!" trick again? 

Verdict: I'm ready for Further Studies in Colombian Cuisine 202!

Antojitos Colombianos
2851 Imperial Ave.
San Diego, CA 92102

Side note: Britani and Jarrett's patio, on a canyon overlooking MIssion Valley, is the best thing in San Diego. All you other patios can go home crying.