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The Murals of North Park, San Diego

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Near my dad’s place in North Park, they had been having a lot of issues with tagging on buildings, so they decided to implement a program that’s been successful in other cities: murals. It’s intended to channel artistic impulses in positive ways, increase pride and ownership in the neighborhood, and decrease the sort of vandalism that makes an area appear run down and tends to encourage other crimes. So far, it’s been successful, and once a mural has been implemented, it’s rarely tagged over. And if it is, there’s a task force to remove it as soon as possible–there was one right next to my dad’s place that had been tagged overnight, and the next day, it was like it was never there. Plus, so much cool art for everyone to enjoy! Now if only I could get someone to remove the tags on my street…

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Ironside Oyster in San Diego, CA

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When I go somewhere I’ve been before, I try to make certain I try new restaurants in addition to my old favorites, so I don’t spend the whole trip chasing nostalgic tastes. One I was really anxious to try was Ironside Fish & Oyster: with Michelin-starred chef Jason McLeod in the kitchen, an innovative cocktail menu, and all of their bread baked in-house, plus, you know, a wall of freaking piranha skulls, I had an inkling that it would be right up my alley. Oh, and it was.

I had my very first oyster here–I figured if I was in a place with “oyster” in the name, it would be remiss to continue to eschew them. It’s a little ridiculous that I flew to San Diego from Seattle to eat an oyster that was from Washington state, but I guess sometimes you have to step outside your bubble to see the wonder that’s in your own backyard. Or something. I’d been put off by the idea of oysters in the past as so many people have described them as “snotty” which doesn’t sound particularly appetizing. For the record, I would not give them that description. Briny, chewy, with a bright tang from the lemon, they were refreshing and surprisingly delicious (surprising due to the aforementioned expectation of snot).

For the main course, Jason and I decided to split the lobster roll as I’d seen raves about that baby online, in addition to an order of fish & chips and a side of chowder fries. It was kind of a miracle that I didn’t leave Ironside Fish & Oyster feeling incredibly ill due to the richness of everything we ordered. The lobster roll was SO GOOD, stuffed with a pound of lobster and tossed in a browned butter mayo, but a couple of bites were absolutely sufficient. Same deal with the chowder fries–life changing but insanely decadent, with a heaping portion of bacon-y clam chowder gravy ladled on top of their crisp housemade fries. I think I took one bite of the fish from the fish&chips and it was excellent, and a bite of my dad’s seafood paella which was also incredible and then I was DONE. I’d absolutely go again, and as long as I try something new, it’ll be within my self-imposed rules. Plus, I really need to figure out how to smuggle that tentacle lamp off the wall and home to my pirate bathroom.

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The Crack Shack San Diego

 

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crack shack (5 of 6)I have never seen a bit of wordplay I enjoyed more than this barnyard joke.

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A while back on Facebook, I saw my dad check into someplace called “The Crack Shack”. At first I was glad that it wasn’t, you know, an actual shack for crack because no one wants to sit down and have the talk with their dad about substance abuse, but upon second glance, I knew I’d have to visit for myself, because their chicken sandwiches looked like something I’d potentially stab a guy to try. Thankfully, their sandwiches were plentiful on the date that I visited and I didn’t need to find out exactly how deep my anger and gluttony issues run.

I bought two sandwiches to try: the Señor Croque (crispy chicken, fried egg, cheddar, miso-maple butter on brioche) and the Coop Deville (crispy chicken, pickled fresno chilies, lime mayo, napa cabbage on brioche) and an array of their house made dipping sauces for little bits of chicken picked off of the sandwiches so as to better get the whole flavor picture. The Señor Croque was delicious (ALL THE UMAMI) but far too rich, the kind of sandwich you have to stop eating after a bite or two lest you feel ill for the rest of the day, the kind of sandwich that would be far better served as a slider. The Coop Deville, on the other hand, was sandwich perfection. A good sandwich has an interplay of flavors and textures, and this one had hot crunchy chicken (with a crackly fried crust that wasn’t grease-saturated), spicy-sweet slaw, the tang of the lime in the mayo, all rounded out with buttery soft brioche.

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All that, and a “cluck off, I’m hangry” t-shirt. Eggsellent. Now if only they’d start dealing in my neighborhood.

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Dia De Los Muertos in Old Town San Diego

fancy lady skeletons

giant sugar skull

piercing sugar skull eyes

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The Day of the Dead has been celebrated in Old Town San Diego for over 200 years. In the 1800s, it was a quieter occasion than it is today. People dressed in black and walked slowly and quietly to the chapel with lighted candles to honor the dead. Fresh flowers were hard to find at that time, so people used paper flowers to decorate, which is a tradition that has carried on to this day.  Today in Old Town, people still remember the dearly departed by building altars to honor them, but there’s also live music, face-painting, altar tours, and even a street fair! You can also learn to paint your own sugar skulls, paper mache masks, and craft paper flowers–but if you’d rather not, you can support local artists and buy some at the Bazaar del Mundo, the bright and beautiful promenade. The heart of the event, however expanded, remains remembrance, community, and celebration: a way to honor and offer hospitality to the spirits of your loved ones with your friends, family, and neighbors, to revel in the joy of life while acknowledging that it is fleeting.

Little Italy Festa in San Diego, CA

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audrey hepburn chalk

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classical chalk

cupid and babe

dog mosiac

garlic goiter

giant chalk drawing

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italian fest chalk drawing

italian greyhounds with spaghetti

lady and the tramp

lemon mosaic

luigi chalk

mangia celesti chalk

mario mosaic

mona lisa chalk

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stallone chalk

venetian mask

water liliesOn my most recent trip to San Diego, it was really important to me to maximize the amount of time I spent with my dad, so unlike non-family trips, I didn’t have every day planned down to the minute. Instead, I played it by ear so we could do whatever the group found most appealing. As it turned out, Little Italy Festa was that weekend, so the four of us made an afternoon of it. This year marked Little Italy Festa’s 20th anniversary, and they did it up right with chalk drawing competitions, bocce ball, live music, cooking demonstrations, and tons of dining al fresco. I can’t emphasize it enough: this is an opportunity to eat as much pizza as you would like in the street while waiting in line for more pizza. It’s like a dream come true! I am not making this up: after we left Little Italy Festa, we went out for more pizza. Because while the street pizza was decent, it didn’t compare favorably with the prospect of Lefty’s, which, with its perfect thin crust, zesty sauce, and spicy sausage, is a taste of my hometown.

The grape stomp contest was highly entertaining (the young girl won, which surprised me, as I believed that she was have been at a disadvantage owning to her smaller stature) and the only thing that could have improved it would have been if there was a freshly-foot-squeezed grape juice guzzling competition immediately afterward.

Visitors were encouraged to vote on their favorite chalk art, but I couldn’t decide. I loved how many different takes there were on Italian culture, and found it both sad and beautiful that they are impermanent by their nature. It was a reminder to appreciate things while they last.

Spotted on the Roadside: Unconditional Surrender in San Diego, CA

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As with other giant public art statues, there’s no pleasing everyone. Unconditional Surrender, a statue recreating the famous Life magazine 1945 WWII photograph, was placed in San Diego in 2007 as a temporary loan, which was set to expire in 2012. Critics called it an eyesore and a waste of money, so it probably really burned their buttons when the Midway aircraft carrier museum next door raised $600,000 for an exact painted bronze permanent replica to replace the fiberglass one that was leaving. I know you’re wondering, so FYI, I did manage to resist the urge to peek up the giant nurse’s skirt, because I am not a total animal. I even managed to resist a photo op that made it look as though I were being crushed below her heel. Honestly, I don’t even know who I am anymore.

Spotted on Tuna Lane in San Diego, CA.

Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave in La Jolla, CA

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If you want to explore the many sea caves of San Diego, you’ll need to rent a kayak or other equipment to see them, with one exception. I elected to take this lazy route to Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave, with stairs from a storefront leading down into the cave itself. If you buy some jewelry from the store, the fee to enter the cave is waived. As an intrepid pursuer of bargains, I carefully perused the cases first,  because why pay five dollars to go into a cave when I could pay fifty dollars instead, go into that same cave, and come out with some jewelry I probably won’t wear, right? Right. At least I tried to spend more money, but ultimately didn’t find anything that appealed to me. I think the guy who worked behind the counter was also disappointed that I didn’t find anything, as he clearly needed the practice working on his sleight of hand–it wasn’t hard to notice that a cash payment got stuffed into his pocket rather than the register.

From the retail level, there are 145 steps down into the cave, and while I might have personally reconsidered calling this way into a sea cave “the lazy route” on the way back up, I should really be glad there are stairs at all–the original visitors to the cave had to ascend and descend via rope. My total lack of upper body strength combined with my characteristic overconfidence about my abilities would have allowed me to get down there but never be able to reascend, and it’s almost certain that for as long as my total decomposition lasted, the cave would get a new moniker: Bloated Stinky Corpse Cave.

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Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave got its name from L. Frank Baum (author best known for The Wizard of Oz), as he noted that the cave opening appears to be a silhouette of a person, specifically that of the Force Wheat cereal mascot, Sunny Jim. I probably would have gone with Weird Elf Head Cave myself, but you’ll note that they didn’t give me the naming rights. Something about my writing being utterly insignificant, any a-hole can get a copy of wordpress, blah blah blah, I wasn’t really paying attention.

The rocks in the cave are richly colored from their extended mineral bath–greens and reds and purples that need to be seen to be believed. Tiny crabs clung to their surface as larger waves lashed and foamed around them. It’d be even more beautiful if, as usual, some dicks didn’t take it upon themselves to carve their names all over everything. Special note to these guys: no one looks at your name and things “Wow, what a cool person, I wonder what they are up to right now, something totally cool I bet” they are thinking “WHAT A FUCKING ASSHOLE I HOPE THEY DROWNED.” Just so you know.

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Back on the surface, I was a few steps away from this cliff area. A sign clearly warned people off, but that didn’t seem to deter anyone, which makes sense. After all, it’s the edges that are unstable, right? So as long as you stay near the middle, you’ll be fine?

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Oh.

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From this vantage point, I could sea (and smell) that the sea lions were out in force, so I walked a bit down the road to the La Jolla cove to see if I could get a better peek.  In fact, not only could I see the sea lions better (some with pups!), but I also got to see a number of nesting brandt’s cormorants from above, which was pretty neat. Now, I’d heard the This American Life show about the Children’s Cove beach in La Jolla, and how a virtual war had been waged between the people who frequented that beach and animal rights activists, who wanted all of the people to stay away from the seals there and were using bullhorns to scream at people for “disturbing the animals”.  At the time, I have to say that I sided with the people who wanted to go to the beach–after all, I have fond memories of picnicking at that very beach with my grandparents while the seals flopped around nearby. We didn’t bother them and they didn’t bother us; they napped while I picked through the sand for sea glass.

After visiting the La Jolla cove, I have to change my stance on this one. I couldn’t believe the complete disregard for the animals here, or for their own safety. People were giving the sea lions and their pups no space, crowding around them, pretending to ride them, plopping their tiny toddlers right down next to them, and even when one would lunge at someone for getting too close, that person would back away momentarily and close right back in from another angle. It was sickening. You’d think one child being bitten on the face at that very cove would be enough to get people to give the animals some space, but no, it’s way more important to get a few likes on Instagram. Pass the bullhorn.

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Seven Hundred Dollars Down The Toilet or Why I’ll Never Buy Another Olympus Anything

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Last year, I decided to buy a new camera–I wanted something that was more flexible than my ladypocket size point & shoot, but not something so large that I felt like I was lugging around a toddler, so a mirrorless micro 4/3 camera felt like the ideal compromise. A professional photographer friend of a friend suggested the Olympus OMD EM10, so that’s what I bought.

The camera failed for the first time less than a month after purchase. At one point during our visit to Casa Bonita, I shut the camera off, and it wouldn’t turn back on. Even with a fresh battery, it remained unresponsive. It’s been a long day, I thought. I’ve taken a lot of photos, maybe it just needs a rest. Never mind that it’s a piece of electronic equipment and not an overtired toddler. Back at the hotel several hours later, it began operating again. When we got home, I called tech support, and they insinuated that I didn’t know the difference between a fresh battery and a dead one. If I had been smart, I would have insisted on a replacement right then, but I didn’t.

The camera continued to have issues. I could practically guarantee that when I went out of town, at some point, my camera would fail and it would be some time before I could turn it back on. The refractory period (if you will) grew longer with each failure. The longest one, on my trip to San Diego, put it out of commission for over a day. Each failure was so frustrating: I love having photos of things I’ve done and seen, and without it, I can maybe use my phone, maybe. I didn’t want to have to buy another camera along with all of its various accessories just to haul around in case my primary camera decided it was done for the day–between the both of them, I may as well have invested in a full size SLR.

I researched the issue online and it seemed like I was the only person with that problem . I called Olympus customer service again and they said I could send it in at my expense and see if their technicians could diagnose the problem, but not without again strongly indicating that it’s possible that I don’t know the difference between a charged battery and a dead one.

I finally decided that I couldn’t wait any longer and that it wasn’t some form of user error and sent the camera to their repair center on January 5th. They had it for two weeks before they sent me an email stating that they couldn’t find the problem and that they wanted to know if the issue I was having was the “only bad thing” otherwise they were going to send it back. I told them that under no circumstances were they to send it back without resolving this issue and again explained the situations under which the error was most likely to occur. They called me and said they couldn’t find the problem. I called them back and again explained in detail the problem I’d been having and how it could likely be replicated. I tweeted at Olympus on January 23rd, hoping someone there would have the power to exchange my camera since the repair techs were unable to replicate my issue. They replied three days later and told me to call customer service. By that point, I had already emailed the repair agency again, asking them to do an exchange because I absolutely did not want to see the same issue pop up again after it had been in the repair shop for a month. They did not reply. On February 2nd, I checked the status of my repair and saw that my camera had been shipped back. I emailed customer service again and asked if this meant they were able to replicate the issue and fix it, or if they’d sent me a replacement as I’d requested. I received two emails in return: one from the tech stating that the camera was repaired and on its way, and one from Olympus customer service in general stating that it’s not their policy to just replace cameras. I received my camera back from Olympus and the repair notes indicated that they were not able to replicate the issue, but replaced the mainboard, which I guess is their “catchall” repair method.

One month later, my camera failed again with the exact same issue.

It’s not enough to say that I was angry. Furious doesn’t even cover it. At that moment, I was filled with a white hot nuclear rage that could have quite possibly ended the Earth as we know it. Because now, the camera was out of warranty, which meant that I could pay $200 a crack for the privilege of sending the camera BACK to the repair center only to have them not bother to fix it again and send it back to me. I found the thought of this unbearable and I emailed Customer Care and asked for them to do one of two things for me: exchange my camera for a new, working unit, or find a way to refund me for the kit, for the macro lens, for the entire shebang, so I could go and patronize a different company. I tweeted at Olympus incessantly. I thought that through one of these two avenues, I could get a resolution to this issue. The camera failed on Wednesday afternoon. I didn’t receive a response to my email on Thursday or Friday. When I didn’t receive a response to any of my tweets by Sunday (the account was actively tweeting and retweeting the entire period, so it’s not that they weren’t online or checking their mentions), I resolved to call customer service again on Monday morning.

As of Monday morning, my camera was still dead. Either the refractory period had grown to span days or it was simply dead, period–I don’t know. When I called customer service, I asked to be immediately transferred to someone who had the authority to replace my camera. This did not happen and I had to again explain the problem I had and again be told that I probably didn’t know the difference between a fresh battery and a dead one. The CS rep asked if I wanted to send the camera in for repair, and I would like to emphasize that while I remained polite because I know what it’s like to be on the other end of that kind of exchange and also because I’m a decent human being and not a goddamned monster, I told her that the only way I would be shipping the unit in would be for an exchange because I did not want to repeat this cycle. Eventually, I was transferred to a supervisor, and she said that she would be willing to ship me a refurbished unit. I asked why they wouldn’t ship me a new one, and she said that unless the replacement was happening within the first thirty days, they only exchange for refurbished units. Bear in mind that my first failure did occur before the thirty day mark and that their repair center had the camera for nearly thirty days as well, which means that even if my camera had failed on day one, it would have never made it through the repair center fast enough to be replaced with a new unit. I voiced that I was concerned that I’d receive a unit like mine, that was “certified working” from the repair center but still fundamentally broken, and was told that all refurbished units are warrantied for a period of six months. Supposing that a formerly broken camera would be better than the dead one I’d babied for the last year, I agreed to make the exchange.

When my refurb camera arrived, the box rattled in such a way as to indicate that the camera was essentially floating loose inside. This isn’t with a “kid on Christmas morning” sort of shake, but merely with the motion of picking it up and carrying it up the stairs. This meant that it had rattled in its box much more violently all the way from New York to Washington state, getting thrown on trucks and planes, because you know and I know that large carriers don’t have the time to gently pick up and nestle each box in place. When I opened it up, it was a box packed into a larger box (with absolutely no packing material between them). Inside the smaller box (but still much too large for its contents) was the camera and its accessories, the camera encased in one thin layer of bubble wrap, with no other packing materials. Compare this to how a new one is packaged with absolutely no room to rattle and shake, and you’ll understand why this poor packing job doesn’t inspire confidence in the refurb camera or the company as a whole. Hell, UPS made me use six inches of packing material on each side to ship my broken camera to the repair center–and this is the replacement? Also included in the package was a copy of their refurbished unit warranty, which specifies that it only covers 90 days, or half the time I was told by the customer service manager, which at this point feels like an extra dose of “go fuck yourself”.

So I’m still angry. The ridiculous part is that it would have taken so little effort on Olympus’ behalf to make me happy. Replacing the camera when they couldn’t find the issue would have thrilled me above and beyond. It could have made me a loyal customer for life. I’d be talking up and down about how great they are that they acknowledged my problem and made the effort to make things right. Instead, they chose to treat me with suspicion, like I was a liar who was somehow trying to game the system. I cannot for the life of me figure out what I would have stood to gain by sending them a working camera and insisting it was broken, losing the use of it for a month, and getting a bunch of wear and tear on it in the process while they tried to replicate the issue, all in the hopes that they would err on the side of customer service and send me a different working camera. An extended warranty period? Because what the hell else would be the benefit of that? As of today, Olympus never responded to my email about the camera still being broken, or my series of tweets. Acknowledging my problem would have been another solid thing to do, even if it was just to say “I’m sorry, we can’t handle that problem through Twitter but if you call us, we’ll get it sorted.” Demonstrating that you’re ignoring me by continuing to tweet really only served to make me angrier. Hell, even ten more cents worth of packing materials would have made me more confident in the company and the quality of the camera they shipped to me. As it stands, last February I bought a brand new camera for $700, which failed within 30 days, and only after much antagonizing did they agree to exchange it for a camera that someone else broke once upon a time, which arrived rattling in its box like a marble in a jug. I hope this camera works. I hope that it works for a long time. But if it doesn’t, Olympus gave me zero reasons to ever, ever buy something else from them.

 

*Update:  I just finished charging the battery to test the refurb camera, and the camera doesn’t work. It turns on, but refuses to focus. This is unbelievable.

*Update 2: The Reckoning: After pushing back on Customer Service repeatedly (they insisted that they could only send me a refurb camera but that they didn’t even have any to send so I’d have to send this one in for repairs) they are finally going to make things right with a new camera. I sincerely, sincerely hope that this one does not break in-transit. Otherwise prepare for Update 3: Mellzah ends the Earth.

Spotted on the Roadside: When Life Gives You The World’s Largest Lemon…

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I try not to go anywhere with preconceived notions about what it will be like, because that road leads to disappointment nearly always. With the giant lemon in Lemon Grove, however, it was almost impossible to not imagine the lemon in front of a literal grove of thousands of blossoming lemon trees, wafting their scent out into the sunshine. I may have also pictured a lemon farmer selling cool, refreshing glasses of lemonade nearby. So needless to say, my vision could not have been more wrong if I was James Van Praagh trying to cold read. The Lemon Grove lemon is a metro lemon, flanking both the trolley and the bus stop, and if you’re looking for refreshment, you can buy a pack of smokes at the shop across the street. There were some lemon trees behind it, though, because even your average shitty psychic gets lucky once in a while.

Lemon Grove’s lemon was originally built as a parade float for San Diego’s 4th of July parade in 1928. In 1930, it was plastered and has proudly proclaimed Lemon Grove’s slogan for 85 years: Best Climate on Earth. The town wasn’t incorporated until 1977, however, so clearly the paint job has been updated at some point during that time period. Nowadays, Lemon Grove is more notable for being the place where some stolen mummies were stashed in a garage for over a decade than lemon trees, but the giant lemon remains as a testament to the town’s roots.

Spotted on Main Street in Lemon Grove, CA.

See you in space, Mr. Machete: The Lucha Libre Taco Shop

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reserved for champions

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I wanted to love Lucha Libre. I wanted to love it a lot. First things first: look at that zaniness! LOOK AT IT. I appreciate a fine meal in a themed restaurant, and I appreciate it even more when a primary component of that meal is wrapped in a tortilla. My dad had even heard that Lucha Libre’s food was better than El Indio, and in San Diego, those are fighting words, so I was definitely excited to try it.

For the primo experience, I decided to reserve the Champion’s Booth for our group: a gilded booth where should you find yourself in need of anything, you ring a bell. The rules are that you have to make a reservation for it 24 hours in advance, which is relatively easy compared to the brackets of fighting it normally takes to be called a champion. When I called to make a reservation, they said I had to make the reservation online. Ok, no big deal, this is the age of smartphones and I have access to the internet just about everywhere, so I went to their website and filled out the reservation form. Unlike opentable, they don’t tell you on the site which slots are available (if any) on your selected date, you just fill out a form with your name, phone number, email address, date, and time you want to attend. I selected 8pm for the next day and expected to be contacted in some way to let me know if the date and time I’d selected was confirmed or unavailable or something. My phone never rang. I didn’t get any email, and eventually I decided to buy tickets for Rise of the Jack o Lanterns instead for that night since I hadn’t heard anything and had to assume that we didn’t have a reservation. I was on vacation with a limited amount of time in the area, I didn’t have time to dink around and wait for a call that might never (and in fact, didn’t) come.

We decided to go to Lucha Libre a couple of days later and skip the Champion’s Booth, but at least try the food and check out the restaurant. When we ordered, I decided to ask why I’d never heard about my reservation, and they apologized and said that sometimes the confirmation email goes to the spam folder. I felt like an idiot–why didn’t I check my spam folder*?

Between all of us, we ordered a couple of california burritos, one nutty burrito, some rolled tacos, and a quesadilla. I bought a fountain drink because Orange Bang is delicious, and we all hit up their salsa bar. The overall consensus was…not good. The nutty burrito had a peanut sauce which was expected (and desired), but it also came with a really weird curry flavor. I’m generally down with curry but as it turns out, not in burrito form. The beans were kind of flavorless, as were the roasted vegetables. The california burritos were ok, but didn’t compare favorably with El Indio. And the Orange Bang dispensed from the machine at room temperature, which was so not good for a number of reasons, the least of which is that there’s egg, milk, and fruit juice in there and precisely zero of those things are good at room temperature.

The whole experience was overall disappointing. Kitsch might get me through the door, but there needs to be something of substance there to get me to come back, and that just isn’t there at Lucha Libre. Q triste.

*When I got home, I checked my spam folder and there was nothing there from the restaurant, so something clearly went wrong somewhere, but at least I didn’t leave them hanging by making a reservation and not showing up.