Drop-Jaw Chomp

Tyler, Caesar, my sandwich
  • Tyler, Caesar, my sandwich

Rubicon Deli

3715 India Street, Mission Hills

‘This place is cursed,” says Tyler. “Restaurants have come and gone here so much, you can’t keep up.”

He’s talking about a location at the top of India Street, below Shakespeare’s Pub. It’s an awkward spot, right where the cliff bulges out toward the street.

“But we’ve been here since March, and so far we’re doing okay,” he says.

This is maybe 9:30 at night, at the Rubicon Deli.

I’ve ambled across from Lucha Libre, where I packed away a single queso taco (deal at $3.85), then spent too long next door, listening to live music at Bar Dynamite. Heading south on India, still a wee bit peckish, I passed this place that still had its lights on. Long frontage, but it only seemed to go back a few feet — guess the cliff stops everything. Popped my head in and asked the guy cleaning up behind the counter, “Still open?”

A photo of a long-ago fish market fills most of the back wall.

A photo of a long-ago fish market fills most of the back wall.

He nodded. “Till 10:00 p.m.” Cool. Most sandwich shops close around 3:00.

So, now I’m inside. And right away I see a plaque announcing that San Diego Magazine named Rubicon best sandwich-maker in San Diego this year. A large black-and-white photo of men at a long-ago fish market fills most of the back wall, underneath a dazzling line of plaques that tell you what sandwiches you can have. And there’s another plaque that reads: “Any sandwich can be served in a bowl without the bread, ‘scooped’ with the bread hollowed out, or as a wrap.”

Takes my mind a moment to wrap itself around that. Oh, yeah, I get it. Three alternatives. But there are more important things to figure out first. Like, which sandwich?

On the other side of the counter, Caesar stands waiting.

Then I notice these shoe-sized loaves of bread piled into a display case.

“Bake them here?” I ask.

Another guy, who’s cleaning up behind the counter, answers. “Oh, yes,” he says. Tyler. “That’s our thing.”

Seems the idea for Rubicon started in 1993 up at Lake Tahoe. Lady named Cheri Corsiglia was working in a country market, and she started making sandwiches her way — one sandwich per entire loaf of bread. People lined up for these giants. After 15 years, she and her son Evan built a sandwich shop in Reno to sell them. That was 2008. The next year, a Rubicon opened in Mission Beach (at 3819 Mission Boulevard). This year, they opened here.

So, the choices: Rubicon Special has turkey, smoked gouda, roasted red peppers, lettuce, and pesto mayo. It costs $9.99 for a whole sandwich, or $6.75 for a half.

One of the most popular, says Caesar, is called the “Rich Boy.” (“Like a Po’ Boy, but better.”) It has chipotle grilled chicken, Monterey Jack, avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion, and garlic-Tabasco aioli, $9.99, or $6.99.

Caesar says the other really popular sandwich is the Dapper Dipper, ($12.99/$7.25), a half-pound of thin-sliced prime rib, Swiss, horseradish, and au jus for dipping.

Dang, that sounds good.

You have a nice choice of loaves. Flavors like jalapeño jack, “Dutch crunch,” garlic cheese, bleu cheese, wheat, pesto, and — this last one’s gluten free, they promise — rosemary focaccia.

Or I could go healthy, have a Superfoods Salad in a bread bowl. It’s kale, avo, walnuts, blueberries, baby shiitake, hemp seed, dulse flakes (red seaweed), and flax oil ($10.95).

In the end, I get the Whales Veg; basically, a vegetarian sandwich. Half costs $6.75. I choose the garlic-cheese loaf to add a little more flavor.

The Whales sandwich

The Whales sandwich

Glad I did, ’cause Caesar makes it five inches high, loading it up with their “veggie mix” of spinach, shredded cabbage, carrots, red bell peppers, and parsley. All good for you. But there’s tasty stuff in there, too: havarti cheese, avo, tomato, onion, and lots of pickles, pepperoncini, and hummus.

I get a lemonade for $2.49 and take the whole lot to the sidewalk seating.

Ooh…I see they have tossed some chocolate-chip cookies on the tray. Nice.

I take my first drop-jaw chomp (that’s how thick it is). Wow. Considering all the nuts and twigs there are to chew through, I’m surprised at how much I enjoy it.

Just about to take a second chomp when this guy comes out of the night, onto the sidewalk, just beyond the patio railing. His name’s Clay. Ex-Marine, living on the street. Life is hard. Back in Vietnam, up near the DMZ, he got hit by concussion from heavy explosives. Maybe B-52 bomb-drops that landed too close.

We talk. “I wanted to be an actor,” he says. “And I did act in Hawaii Five-O. But the concussion never leaves you. Plus, I had a car accident…”

I can’t help thinking...man, talk about cursed. He was 20 when he volunteered to serve. The tour ruined his life.

He sits down and we talk some more. I offer him half of my giant sandwich, but he refuses, says, “That’s one thing I learned as a Marine: if you’re not hungry, don’t eat.”

They’re closing now.

I ask Tyler if he can box the rest of the Whale.

“Sure,” he says. There’s a wrapping station down at the other end.”

They’ve set out a pile of waxy sheets of paper, plus some papery Scotch tape.

I have to ask Tyler, “Why did the founder call it ‘Rubicon’ Deli’?”

“Not sure,” he says. “Something about determination.”

It’s all coming back now…I’m 15, in Mr. Baxter’s history class, and we’re studying Julius Caesar. On January 10, 49 BC, Caesar took his army across the Rubicon (“red”) River in Italy. He knew the law: bringing troops over was treason. Once he’d done it, no turning back. He started a civil war against the Roman senate and ended up with the gig of his dreams: perpetual dictator.

(Reminder to self: we never want that again. Go vote!)

Anyway, I guess the owners of this place have crossed their own Rubicon here. They took over a “cursed” spot, determined to turn it around. Seems to be working.

Prices: Late Riser breakfast (ham or turkey, bacon, eggs, cheese, tomato, avocado, chipotle cream), $6.99 half or $9.99 whole; Rubicon Special sandwich (turkey, smoked gouda, roasted red peppers, lettuce, pesto mayo), $6.75 half sandwich, $9.99 whole; Rich Boy (chipotle grilled chicken), $6.99/$9.99; Dapper Dipper, (prime rib slices, au jus) $7.25/$12.99

Hours: 10:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., daily

Bus: 10

Nearest Bus Stop: Washington Street at India

Trolley: Green Line

Nearest Trolley Stop: Washington Street

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