925 B Street #101, Downtown San Diego
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
It’s not every day you get greeted by a president’s grandson.
I’m in this oasis I’ve come across at the empty end of B Street, near City College. It’s called, uh, “The Liar.” Or, because the name is “La Mentirosa,” you might call it “The Lady Liar.” Sounds more poetic in Spanish.
Actually, it’s beautiful. After all B Street’s hardscape, you see this sloping terrace of red bougainvillea and blue agave plants, and behind their protection, white Mexican leather chairs and tables.
When I first climbed the steps, I was pretty sure there’d be nothing here for me. Looked set up for an expense-account business crowd. Unless they had a happy hour.
I come up to a desk beside a giant portrait of a woman I don’t recognize. “María Félix,” says the guy behind the podium when he sees me looking.
“She’s a famous Mexican film star,” he says.
Huh. I guess he must be the manager. His nameplate reads “Luis Cárdenas.”
On a whim, I ask, “You’re not related to President Cárdenas, by any chance?” Because I remember Cárdenas was one of the greatest presidents of Mexico. He nationalized their oil industry and created ejidos, the big land reform that gave land to the campesinos (peasant farmers).
“Well, yes,” Luis says. “He was my great grandfather.”
Wow! Incredible. I first heard of President Cárdenas from Toñico, who founded Toñico’s, the Tijuana paella restaurant. “President Cárdenas was a great man,” he told me the first time we met. “He granted asylum to us exiles from the Spanish Civil War. I was a youngster. I owe him this life of freedom.”
I want to ask Luis more about his great-grandfather, but I see it’s almost seven. So I have to ask him the next most important question.
“Do you have happy hour?”
“Certainly. On Mondays and Tuesdays we have happy hour all day. So you’ve got plenty of time. Welcome.”
So, I head into this big colorful multi-room place with an awesome mural on a wall around the corner. It features a crowd of people at a bullfight. I’m guessing the faces are portraits of real people. I sit up to the bar.
“Something to drink?” asks Marcey. I go for a ginger ale. Gotta work tonight.
“What’s the deal with happy hour?” I ask.
“Half off all appetizers.”
Hmm... This turns out to be a good deal. Everything (pretty much) costs $7. Mango jalapeño tuna sashimi, bacon-wrapped jumbo scallops, enchiladas de camarón, half a dozen oysters, three marlin enchilada taquitos, “tres rib-eye sliders,” seared sesame ahi tuna… The list goes on, mostly of seafood items. Because this is a seafood place. Family is from Sinaloa and Nayarit. Definitely seafood states.
I see the couple next door have gotten the oysters on the half shell. I am so tempted.
Instead, I order a plate of bacon-wrapped jumbo scallops, stuffed with cream cheese and jalapeño peppers. And then I go for the sliders. Ulp. That’s 14 buckeroos right out the door, plus $3.50 for the ginger ale.
When you look around here, you feel like you’re on the set of a giant romantic Mexican movie. Color’s everywhere. The bar backboard is held up by squat, round, shiny, black columns. The bartender ladies have short-short plum-colored skirts, startling scoop-front black blouses, and blonde hair. You think of glaring glamour bars in, say, Acapulco. All this in the middle of downtown’s gray-suit officeland.
Marcey brings a nice big bowl of corn chips and a good spikey salsa with the ginger ale. And then she plunks down this long white plate with my four bacon-wrapped jumbo scallops onboard. And even though it’s no way a meal, it is a scrumbo appetizer. The cream cheese inside, the crispy skin outside, and the sweetish red dip that comes with it make for a pretty filling seven dollars’ worth.
By the time she brings the three sliders, I’m not that hungry. But they are little seducers. Shiny hats, nice, tender rib-eye meat, and between it and the melted cheese and the lettuce, they’ve put a layer of sweet red stuff. Mango chipotle sauce. Beautiful. Plus, a nice chunk of interesting mustard at the plate’s end. Oh, man. A cerveza with this would wash it down so beautifully...
I think of all three sets of sliders I’ve had recently: Lou & Mickey’s in the Gaslamp, Jrdn in PB, and here. Look so much the same. But I think these are the best, taste-wise, with that sauce, and these have stuffed green olives spiked to the top as well.
As I’m working my way through all this, I have to ask Marcey what the story is on the mural. “It’s got lots of famous Mexicans in it,” she says. And I do spot Frida Kahlo the painter, now she mentions it. “But see the last two people on the right?” she says. “They are Don Arnulfo Contreras and his wife, María Inés Curiel. They are our founders. They started selling seafood by the roadside in Spring Valley, 35 years ago. Their son runs the business now. It’s called Karina’s. Eight restaurants and counting.”
And the mural, the raucous colors, and the portrait of María Félix? “They were thinking about their fellow Mexican-Americans. Don Arnulfo wanted to give them someplace to go that reminded them of home. A little piece of Mexico.” Even President Cárdenas would approve of that.
Happy Hour Prices: Mango jalapeño tuna sashimi, $7; bacon-wrapped jumbo scallops, $7; enchiladas de camarón, $7; half a dozen oysters, $7; three taquitos of marlin enchiladas, $7; three rib-eye sliders, $7; seared sesame ahi tuna, $7; seared scallops, $10.95; tuna tartare, $10.95; four bacon-wrapped jumbo scallops, stuffed with cream cheese and jalapeños, $7; oyster shooter, $3
Happy Hours: Monday and Tuesday, all day; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, 4:00–7:00 p.m.; Friday, extra happy hour, 9:00 p.m.–12:00 a.m.
Buses: All downtown
Nearest bus stop: Broadway and Tenth
Trolleys: Blue Line, Orange Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: City College