The little La Cachanilla Tamaleria and More sparkles. No small feat given that it moved into a former greasy spoon, a utensil so greasy that while doing heavy cleaning, the new proprietors discovered a handsome tile floor under sticky black layers.
Open for four months, it's been scrubbed, painted, reupholstered, and decorated with just enough south-of-the-border color to set the tone. Mexican music spills quietly from the kitchen.
Homemade by a fine cook (the server calls her "mom") are tacos (grilled steak, chorizo, spicy pork, chitlins, chicken, and barbacoa), tortas (five types), burritos, tostadas, quesadillas, enchiladas, chiles rellenos, soups, and sopes.
My companion had a bean burrito ($5), a good bet for a filling lunch. It needed the pizazz of onions, she said. It includes a scoop each of aromatic yellow rice and beans, and garnishments of guacamole, salsa, sour cream, lettuce, and tomato. Options are chicken, grilled steak, and chorizo.
I had a big bowl of beef soup ($6.25), the daily special. The broth was simply delicious with rich flavor, little fat, and chunks of tender beef so large I removed and cut them into manageable bites. Would have loved more veggies; it had but one piece each of potato, cabbage, carrot, zucchini, and celery. On the side are yellow rice and steamy-hot corn or flour tortillas. Soups on other days are chicken, barbacoa, pozole, and menudo.
The highest priced item is shrimp cocktail (cocktel de camaron, $11), with tomato juice, avocado, pico de gallo, and cucumber. Thick chips and a mild sauce (ask for hot) are complementary.
A mystery, given the shop's name, is that there are only two types of tamales ($1.50) on the menu, chicken and pork.
One of two desserts is a beautifully decorated and rich tres leches cake ($3). There's also flan, which, if on par with the cake, should be fantastic.
Within sight of the High Level Bridge, it's an unlikely spot for an eatery, but an even less likely locale is the nearby San Marcos Taqueria, which quickly became a popular eatery.
Cachanilla (kaka-NEE-ya), by the way, is an evergreen desert plant with purple flowers, as well as a nickname for people living in Mexicali, a Mexican border city 100 miles east of San Diego.
Shakes, fries, burgers.
Before those three food groups became synonymous with fast-food franchise empires so vast they changed the way food was grown and prepared, there were countless hole-in-the-wall diners.
The Green Lantern is among a handful of extant joints where everything is made on the grill. You can hear your french fries sizzling within 60 seconds of placing your order and they'll be in front of you in about two minutes.
The menu proclaims you're at the "Home of the Famous Goopie," a hand-patted sausage burger ($2.85) with American cheese, pickles, onions, ketchup, and mustard. It's smallish and, as it turns out, goopie good. Likewise for the hand-patted cheeseburger ($2.75) my buddy wolfed down.
There's one cook and one server, and both understand that grilled and fried food must be served hot.
We got mighty fine fries with the chili/cheese sauce on the side ($3.50; fries alone are $1.85), but would forgo the heavy chili/cheese next time: not enough bang for the extra calories.
There are 29 sandwiches, from a $1.50 grilled cheese to a $6 bacon, egg, and cheese.
A thick choco-milk shake ($3.50) was just what the mouth desired: hard ice cream and milk filling one glass with enough left in the tall stainless-steel mixing cup for a second.
The staff generates a good amount of laughter, sending some customers out with a "Have a nice holiday, honey" sung at their backs. I think they take pride in what they do, and many mornings I've noticed a gent in a white apron sweeping the front sidewalk.
The place bustles at breakfast ($1.60 to $9) with steaming plates of hot cakes, french toast, and omelettes. Coffee is $1.75.
Owned by Maurice Habbouche, it's been operating since 1927 when the nearby train station must have been a beehive of activity.
The name? We're guessing it refers not to the eponymous superhero (circa 1940) but to archaic railroad terminology dating to when green and red lanterns signaled messages between trainmen.
The police car often spotted in the parking lot indicates Toledo's Finest are inside ingesting.