“We started in 2011 with a food truck named Greengo grilled cheese,” explained Gaston Corbalá, chef and creator of Grater Grilled Cheese Bistro. “We wanted a name that was a play on words and represented us. Our products are local. The bread is custom-made from Bread & Cie. We only use recycled materials; we keep it eco-friendly as much as we can.”
5618 Mission Center Road #1002, Mission Valley
This was my first time meeting Gaston. Though I knew about Greengo since its inception, it took me nearly five years to try their food. I visited their newest location in Mission Valley. Gaston is the chef and runs the shops, and his wife Natalie is in charge of design and social media.
“We went with [the food truck] trend but with something San Diego didn’t have, which is really basic, a grilled cheese; we just took it to another level,” Gaston continued. “Three years into the business, we started expanding and decided that the name wasn’t appropriate. So, we came up with a different play on words, renaming it Grater. It was a risky thing to do since a lot of people already knew us, so we kept it as Grater by Greengo.”
Gaston went behind the counter and my friend Juan, who was on his day off, joined me for lunch. There is a lot to choose from on the menu: nine chef’s grilled-cheese creations, three specialties, three salads, four deli sandwiches, five styles of fries, seven different types of spreads (homemade aiolis and ketchups), tomato soup, lobster bisque, mac and cheese, and two types of dessert. Besides all of that, you can create your own grilled cheese. The menu was overwhelming; the only thing I knew I needed to try were the lobster fries.
We got a couple of beers (Modern Times IPA for $7), the lobster fries ($9.50), two different grilled cheeses to share, and a full cup of tomato soup ($4.50). The Carnivore grilled cheese goes for $9.50; it has their “basic 5 cheese blend” and their Angus beef patty on sourdough, but Juan added applewood smoked bacon ($1.50), goat cheese ($.75), arugula ($.50), and balsamic caramelized onions ($1) for a massive sandwich costing $13.25.
The RB for $8.50 is the only sandwich that does not come with their five-cheese blend; it comes with roquefort and brie (hence the RB) and it already includes arugula, balsamic caramelized onions, and a pear-walnut spread.
The Carnivore, with all the add-ons, was a delight. It is, in my opinion, grilled-cheese heaven (though it comes at a hefty price for a sandwich). The RB sandwich was also praiseworthy. Though I am not a huge fan of brie, the blend wasn’t overpowering with just a tinge of sweetness from the pear spread.
The cheesy lobster fries are mixed with chunks of crab. The cheeses, spices, and spreads (especially Grater’s ketchup) on the fries are excellent. I wish it had more lobster, but for the price it is well served (lobster and crab are bought in La Jolla).
About the five-cheese blend, the Corbalá brothers would rather keep it a secret, so I started guessing. The obvious one of the blend is sharp cheddar. I can easily guess that it has either (or both) mozzarella and Monterrey, and I recognized a distinct provolone taste. As for the rest of it, or if I am right, they won’t tell me.
For dessert, Juan got us the Nutella and mascarpone sandwich (with strawberries). After the meal we had, the last thing I wanted was more bread. We were also drinking beer and they don’t serve coffee. I only had a couple of bites. It tasted similar to a crepe, so I took the rest of it home. It was much better for breakfast the following day, accompanied with coffee. (The sandwich survived in my fridge and was reheated in a toaster oven.) An extra slice of fruit in the sandwich, like a banana or a mango would have made it even better.
From food truck to actual restaurant, Grater opened simultaneously in La Jolla and Pacific Beach a year ago. The “bros” in PB seemed to prefer cheaper and larger food than gourmet sandwiches, according to Juan.
A month ago, Grater moved from the PB location to Mission Valley at Friars Mission Center in the space that used to be a Greek restaurant, Meze Express. During lunch hour, the line to order can be lengthy. Still ambitious for more, Gaston plans to open another Grater in Huntington Beach in the coming months.
If this sounds similar to the plot from Jon Favreau’s movie Chef, it’s because it practically is. While researching for the film, Favreau interviewed several food-truck owners, including Grater.