As far as eating well is concerned, it pays to behave like a tourist in your own town as well as other people's.
"Tourist" has such pejorative connotations that I wish there were a good synonym for it (perhaps there is). "Traveler" is a word you use if you don't want to associate with tourists. But if you go somewhere for a week or so, you're a tourist. As such, I love to explore towns I visit, and a great way to do it is by following your stomach.
My family spent a week in Southern California earlier this summer, in San Diego and then up the coast in Laguna Beach. Here are some of the more outstanding things we ate:
- Berro (watercress) salad with onion and bacon and the Mole Poblano Don Julio at El Aqave Tequileria in Old Town San Diego.
- The Breakfast Tamales at Isabel's Cantina in Pacific Beach.
- Kono's Surf Club Café "Big Breakfast."
- Bacon and Spinach Wrapped Scallops (with potato pancakes, a lemon chive butter emulsion and sautéed spinach) at the World Famous in Pacific Beach.
- Pork rillette and the Lobster and spinach vol-au-vent with sauce fines herbes and baby vegetables (with a glass of Viña Nora Albariño) at Café Chloe in San Diego's east village.
- A Double Chocolate ice cream at the MooTime Creamery in Coronado.
- Fish tacos with Mahi Mahi and the spicy sauce and a bottle of Reed's Original Ginger Brew at Taco Loco in Laguna Beach.
- The Enchiladas de Mariscos with Dungeness crab and shrimp at Javier's Cantina & Grill.
- A basket of fresh strawberries from a coffee stand inside Legoland in Carlsbad.
Memories of the food run alongside the surroundings: row after row of lined-up tequila bottles at El Agave and the richness and depth and variety within the Mole sauce; Sam saying his Cinnamon French Toast at Isabel's Cantina, "Tastes like donuts" (high praise); the unfeasible bargain that is Kono's breakfast; the Venice Beach-like action and the surfing in front of the World Famous as the sun set; the wonderfully friendly (and outright delicious) CafÃ© Chloe; how well a real ginger beer goes with a fish taco and so on. I'm only sorry that our finely-tuned plan to hit an In-N-Out Burger in Carlsbad on the way to San Diego airport was stymied by traffic. I can't believe I spent a whole week in California without eating a Double-Double.
It's easy to take the time to look around when you're on vacation. Applying the same mindset to your hometown also pays dividends. A couple of weeks ago I traveled (there's that word) with my friend Will to Jackson Heights in Queens for a curry at the Jackson Diner which I'd heard a lot about but never visited. It's an easy run by subway from Midtown, or it would have been had floods not halted our train some way short of our destination forcing us above ground to a car service. Two Englishmen will go that extra mile for a good curry, and we royally enjoyed our $8.95 buffet lunches of Dal Makhani, Kadi Pakora, Chicken Makhani and a sharp, bony goat curry that had real bite. "It's not often I have three plates of food for lunch," said Will and he hadn't joined me in the Kheer (Indian rice pudding). We spent just over $30 that included a couple of Kingfisher beers. Crazy value. We walked up Roosevelt Avenue a ways past some Ecuadorian restaurants that looked appetizing. We'll have to go back and check them out.
Yesterday I went to Philadelphia for a radio show. Beforehand, I treated myself to lunch at Morimoto, the famous restaurant of "Iron Chef" Masaharu Morimoto. And what a treat it was, the beautifully presented tray of sushi and sashimi, particularly delightful being the kasugo (baby snapper) sake (salmon) and aoyagi (orange clam). I'd pay money just to sit in the restaurant and look at the curving sweep of the wooden ceiling like suspended ocean waves.
Before I came home, I went to the Reading Terminal Market which is just a terrific place to visit. The main purpose was to get a roast pork sandwich at the Tommy DiNic's stand. I'd been this way before, eating some of Philadelphia's great sandwiches, but a change of plan meant we hadn't lunched at DiNic's when we'd fully intended to. I would make amends this time. Except that it closed at three and this was four-fifteen. I made do with a couple of scoops of lovely peach ice cream from the Bassetts stand, picked up some Whoopie pies for the kids and headed for home.
All the restaurants I just mentioned can be a starting point or a stopping point or a point of departure but to me they're the whole point in themselves. I don't want to stop looking at food like an expectant and excited tourist, even in my own adopted city. When I can do it with my family and friends, so much the better. I wasn't that dispirited about Tommy DiNic's being shut. It means, and this is the best thing you can ever say about a place, that I'll have to go back.
Thanks for reading, and happy eating.
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Ian Jackman has written and co-written numerous books, including the New York Times bestseller Stickin' by James Carville. Jackman worked at a major New York publishing house and was Managing Director of the Modern Library.