Over the past decade, there’s probably not a commercial district in San Diego I’ve walked, biked, or driven through more often than that along 25th Street in Golden Hill. There are only a few dining options over there, yet I’ve visited hundreds of times for pizza, steak, beer, cocktails, coffee, tacos, burgers, panes dulces, and burritos. Had anyone asked, I’d have told them I’d tried every restaurant in the neighborhood. But I’d have been wrong.
2505 C Street, Golden Hill
For some reason I kept ignoring Golden Hill Cafe. I’ve many times walked past it, parked in front of it, and even waved to friends eating inside. I’ve appreciated the Art Deco-ness of its corner architecture: a curved storefront decorated with glass blocks and pill-shaped picture windows. Its whole presentation screams classic American diner, so I can only surmise that I skipped it because I’ve never craved corned beef hash while in the vicinity.
What finally got me through its doors, though, isn’t a classic American dish, but a classic Mexican one: chilaquiles. The past couple years, a number of people have told me the best chilaquiles in town are made by Golden Hill Cafe.
This isn’t an American diner, it’s a San Diego diner, so there’s no surprise in finding an entire menu section devoted to Mexican breakfast options: chorizo, machaca, plus both heuvos rancheros and revueltos. There’s even ropa vieja, a tomato-stewed beef dish shared with Caribbean islands Cuba and Puerto Rico.
But with so many recommendations in support of them, I stuck to the chilaquiles, served with refried beans for $7.50, and with eggs added for $9.75.
Let’s not pretend I’m any sort of chilaquiles maven; I’ve only tried them a handful of times at restaurants. While I’ve known crisped corn tortilla strips drenched in salsa and simmered until made soft again are a great way to turn leftover tortillas into an easy breakfast, I only just learned that chilaquiles have been eaten for hundreds of years, with origins in Aztec culture. That tasty historical tidbit gave me plenty to chew on while looking at the autographed head shot of actor John Stamos that inexplicably adorns Golden Hill Cafe’s wall.
Most of the chilaquiles I’ve experiencedwere made with salsa verde, and topped with some combination of meat, vegetables, eggs, and avocado. So I was a little surprised to see these are smothered in a thick salsa roja, with cotija cheese and nothing else. Even my eggs over-easy were served on the side.
I’d ordered my chilaquiles with medium spice, not sure I wanted to risk the restaurant’s definition of hot. Apparently, the restaurant didn’t want to risk my definition of medium, because the salsa came out mild at best. The resulting tomato-heavy salsa closely resembled a light marinara.
They were good, though more spice would have made them better, just as the beans benefitted from the addition of salt. I'm too snobby to drink the coffee again, but I liked the food enough that I won’t wait another decade to return to Golden Hill Cafe for that ropa vieja. Still, it made me wonder, are these really the best chilaquiles in San Diego? If any lifelong fans know better, let me know.