I'm still a bit disappointed that all of that development on the corner of Genesee and Balboa has given birth to a slew of chain and chain like restaurants. Still, something did catch my attention which triggered off this Jungian inspired conversation from Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket:
Pogue Colonel: You write "Born to Kill" on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What's that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke?
Private Joker: No, sir.
Pogue Colonel: You'd better get your head and your a$$ wired together, or I will take a giant $^!t on you.
Private Joker: Yes, sir.
Pogue Colonel: Now answer my question or you'll be standing tall before the man.
Private Joker: I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.
Pogue Colonel: The what?
Private Joker: The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.
Pogue Colonel: Whose side are you on, son?
Private Joker: Our side, sir.
Two restaurants, polar opposites, one trying to place a large, wet, vegan stamp on the fast casual restaurant business, the other, a favorite among fair goers for frying just about everything, seemed to be wanting to place that stamp in our arteries.
You really couldn't find to more contradictory paths with the same goal....feeding the masses, it seemed quite appropriate that the businesses were across the street from one another. Since both were on the way to and from work and meetings, I thought I should give them a try. And you know me, it meant eating at both places multiple times. So here goes.....
On the North side of Balboa, Native Foods:
To tell you the truth, I'd been curious about Native Foods since I read Elmo's post on the chain over four years ago. Though, to be just as honest, I really wasn't excited enough to drive to Point Loma to try them out.
The set-up is totally fast casual...remove the tree hugger bright colors and this could be Tender Greens or Smashburger.....or any number of fast casual shops.
On this visit, things seemed a bit disorganized....the cashier was busy talking to her customer and going over things while two other girls just kind of milled around. It looked a bit strange to me....
Like I mentioned earlier, I'd been intrigued by what Elmo and his pals had from Native Foods, so I ordered the Native Nachos ($6.95) and the Native Chicken Wings - in Buffalo Sauce ($5.95).
The nachos really didn't have any mystery flavors, it was fairly straight forward. My complaints would be that the chips were stale and the "native taco meat" was like eating pieces of organic grit, being hard and dry. Everything else was fine if a bit bland.
The "chicken" was a bit too spongy for my taste, though the "Buffalo"....strange because even though it's the name of a city....it's also a name of a pretty tasty four legged critter...anyway the sauce had a mild kick, the batter was decent, but that "Ranch Dressing" was very runny and tasted watered down.
Not a great meal by any means, but not terrible either, so I returned a few days later. I feel kind of like I cheated here since I ordered a salad.....I mean, a place like this should make a decent salad, right?
What kind of drove me nuts this time around was that I saw my salad come up in the window. There were no other customers and I got it to go. The two guys; one of them obviously the manager were just shooting the breeze, so I decided to use a stop watch after watching this go on for a few minutes.
So, it took over 7 minutes for that guy to reach up and grab my salad which had been sitting in the window. Sheesh, with a manager like that, no wonder folks seem pretty lax here.
I had ordered the Mexican Cobb ($8.95) and I thought it to be a decent salad. The Native Chicken sliced thin with an "Ancho" BBQ sauce, which pretty much tasted like a regular BBQ sauce, no deep smokey-sweet chili flavors, though this was not bad at all. I guess thin slices of the stuff works best. The dressing did have a nice little kick. This was nicely put together, from the jicama to the corn, to the black beans. I'd have no problem ordering this again.
And yet, I kind of felt like I needed to try something a bit different. On my next visit, I again hit an interesting delay. Three girls at the front counter, none of them had access to the register. Common sense dictates that perhaps one should just take my order until they can find the person with the blessed access....but no, I just cool my heels.
At least there was no unecessary waiting for what I ordered, the Native Chili (cup - $3.95) and something the cashier recommended sinceI was just stumped, a thing called the Chicken Run Ranch Burger ($9.95).
Eating chili glue with a flavor that seemed watered down and bland is not my favorite experience. I'm passing on this from now on.
If you see this sandwich approaching you; run, don't walk away from it. Imagine biting into a mushy sponge with dry buns, and liquid that looks like it leaked out of coleslaw oozing out. This was severely bland and I didn't enjoy the textural experience either.
For me, it's the salads here......
Native Foods Cafe
5604 Balboa Ave
San Diego, CA 92111
On the South side of Balboa, Chicken Charlie's FryBQ:
I thoguht this a fairly interesting gamble for "Charlie". It's one thing to create fatty, over-the-top Fair Food. It's another taking that "fry everything gimmick" and having a brick and mortar shop.
I first went just a few days after opening at a bit of an offf hour so the place wasn't overly busy.
In a rather interesting coincidence, I ordered almost the same items as Kirbie did for her post. The Fried Avocados and a side of Fried Chicken.
I had fried several times here, so I'll just go over it once; these are very low quality bulk fries, lacking in potato flavor and kind of dry. The avocados were the favorite item I had here.......crunchy exterior, creamy avocado goodness....like eating crusted fat. Lovely.
The fried chicken were terrible.
These came out very quickly, so I think they were laying around under some heat source. The coating was soggy, grey, sloughing off like dead skin. The meat was cold to the touch and greasy in texture. It was also strangely under-seasoned for my taste.
The next time around I ordered the FryBQ Ribs, which was probably a mistake on my part.
These were hard as rock and the sauce was much to tangy and "dry", with a bit too much spice. You really couldn't taste any smoke or the ribs for that matter. Perhaps that was by design, but these were not my favorite.
Since I was working within the rule of three, I needed to revisit one more time. So I ordered an item that I enjy when done well, the Frog Legs. Frog Legs are a tricky thing, they go dry quickly if over-cooked. If not fresh, they turn a bit sour with a kind of mushy-sliminess to them.
I believe the photo to the right is pretty much my reaction to the frog legs. The fry job on these weren't good as the batter was soft and just fell of the beast. I'm glad the legs weren't dry, but the flavor seemed a bit off. Not even close to what I had at Red Rooster Catfish (which I believe has a new location).
And while I really didn't care for much of what I had here; I have to say the service was efficient. I saw Mr Boghosian follow up with customers who seemed ot waiting too long for their orders several times, which was a nice touch.
In the end, for a place that hangs its hat on frying, I thought the deep fry jobs were very uneven. Perhaps Chicken Charlie's forte are the fried sweets like oreoes and Klondike bars. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, so I'll leave that for others.
Chicken Charlie’s FryBQ
5407 Balboa Ave
San Diego, CA 92111