Breakfast isn’t really my thing. Though I am constantly hungry, morning is the one time that I will not – cannot – eat. I go without toast or cereal to start my day, I neglect a full-English and I put a hold on that builder’s tea. No, I will not do breakfast…except in America, because American breakfasts are perhaps my favourite meal of the day and at The Cottage in San Diego’s La Jolla I had one of my best.
San Diego is not a city you can easily walk in. It is so spread out that you must either hire a car or have friends who drive. Luckily for me, a very good friend was putting me up for a few days and if there was anything she loved to do, it was to drive. The other thing she loved to do was plan meticulously where I simply had to eat while I was in town, including her favourite breakfast spot in La Jolla along the coast.
With Mexico just over the border from San Diego, it’s no surprise that there’s plenty of mix and match in the cuisine. My first meal in town was at a little burrito place around the corner from San Diego University called Trujillo’s, consisting of carne asada (thin cuts of beef rubbed with spices and grilled), mixed American cheese, pica de gallo (a Mexican fresh sauce made from chopped tomatoes, onion and chillies) and fries, all wrapped up in a soft tortilla wrap. This ‘California Burrito’ is a specialty only found in San Diego, and perfectly encapsulates this cross-over cuisine.
We drove out to The Cottage for a late lunch the morning before my birthday. The sun was out and there was a freshness to the air, we played Backstreet Boys songs and sang along with the windows down, sunglasses on and smiles plastered across our faces; I’m sure all the neighbouring cars thought we were nuts. Speeding along the freeway I could practically smell the bacon and my tummy grumbled in anticipation.
The thing to have was apparently the Chilaquiles, a Mexican-style scrambled egg with queso fresco, spring onions, tomatoes, tortilla strips, roasted tomato salsa and a sour cream topping, served with fried potatoes and a sweet biscuit (not unlike a scone) with strawberry jam. My friend opted for that whilst I was drawn to the Baja Chicken Hash: grilled tortillas topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, and a hash of apple chicken sausage, chillies, corn, peppers and onions, all served with a copious amount of fried potatoes.
Californian-Mexican food is probably closer to the Tex-Mex that we know but a thousand times better. The tortilla strips are crisp, thin and taste fresh without the cloying fried flavour of rancid oil, the food is fresh and prepared with care, not as a careless afterthought as so many Tex-Mex places do. The Baja Chicken Hash had a little bit of everything: potatoes with slightly crispy edges, a Mexican twist in the chillies, pepper and corn, and that ubiquitous poached egg topped with hollandaise sauce. The Chilaquiles, on the other hand, was like combining Mexico, California and London on one huge plate. The combination worked, though.
We ate slowly over a couple of leisurely hours, drinking large glasses of freshly squeezed clementine juice that tasted like sunshine and a cup of Mexican Mocha (coffee topped with Mexican hot chocolate) as big as my head. The Mexican Mocha was smooth with a hint of smokiness, cinnamon and citrus that only Mexican chocolate can achieve. I cradled its warmth greedily – despite the sunshine, the breeze from the coast was chilly and I could feel the chocolate beginning to warm me inside and out.
The staff – a mix of Mexicans and Americans – were extremely friendly and courteous, the prices were decent at around $20 per head and the meal was a veritable breakfast of champions. It was early afternoon and the sunshine was beckoning us to come and play. We paid our bill and waddled down to the coast to watch the seals who were sunbathing on the beach, wallowing in the shallows; the younger pups leapt around them and chased one another into the water, yelping with delight each time the spray hit them.
One of the mother seals looked up at me with a world-weary look and I nodded at her. ‘Oh it’s a hard life, ain’t it?’ I sympathised with her silently, rubbing my belly full of breakfast, ‘I feel ya, girl’.
The Cottage, 7702 Fay Avenue, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA. Tel: +1 858 454 8409. Website.