Twilight time in WonderlandEat This!, Latest Issue Thursday, February 2nd, 2017
The sodden gunmetal clouds wrung themselves out over Dog Beach and scuttled away. In the scattered beams of a setting sun, people mingled and canines romped on the hardpack sand; the exact spot where more than 100 years ago citizens flocked to San Diego’s latest attraction, Wonderland. Think Coney Island, wooden rollercoasters and freak shows. Opened July 4, 1913 (only to close two years later due to competition from the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park), the nine acre playground by the sea promised visitors “1,000 New Thrills and Gayeties … Nothing but Motion, Mirth and Melody”. I mention this because the wind blustering over the shore was raw and gritty, and I sought warmth and shelter. Which is how I wound up at Wonderland Ocean Pub, sipping beverages, munching on tacos and watching huge waves break around the Ocean Beach Pier.
Pub patrons have a front row seat for sunsets. The large open space offers a clean line-of-sight from the entrance to the view of the beach and pier. Raked seating encircles a large central bar. Communal tables of wood plank and steel pipe line the edges. Slowly spinning fans and storm lamps hang from large open beams. Oversized reproductions of historic photos depicting Wonderland’s minaret framed gates and excited people on the Blue Streak racing coaster adorn the walls. A captivating mermaid reigns over all.
Nicky, the tattooed bartender with awesome eye-liner, walked me through the brief menu. Standard bar fare – burgers, chicken wings, salads – but the majority of selections skewed heavily toward fresh seafood with mussels, oysters, fish and chips, grilled tuna and shrimp cocktails. I asked Nicky what were her favorites and she convinced me to order a couple of tacos.
The bar offers an extensive list of craft beers and signature cocktails. I selected a personal favorite, Mike Hess Solis IPA, 16 oz. can ($7). The dry, crisp India Pale Ale (7.5 percent alcohol by volume) is hop-forward and deeply satisfying, with hints of apricot and grapefruit.
The Lobster Taco ($7) is a large chargrilled flour tortilla stuffed with small bites of seasoned and fried slipper tail lobster, topped with shredded purple cabbage, cilantro, pico de gallo and a drizzle of white sauce. Radish slices and a wedge of lime garnish the plate. Tasty, but the lobster got lost in all the cabbage.
The Carnitas Taco ($5) is exceptional. Tender pulled roast pork is covered with rich avocado mash, spicy cilantro, onion and crumbles of cotija cheese on a corn tortilla. Savory and well-balanced.
The carnitas put me in a south-of-the-border mood, so I ordered Da Kine Guacamole ($8). Local avocado is blended with pink sea salt, fresh lime juice, sun-dried tomatoes and jalapeño relish topped by crushed macadamia nuts, minced cilantro and cotija cheese. The flavorful mash is served atop a thick bed of shredded cabbage along with house made corn tortilla chips. The tomatoes give a nice sweet chew and jalapeño provides a parting kiss.
The lavender sky had acquired a twilight time glow. I finished my beer and lingered with a cocktail. Goin’ Te Quila ($10) is Casamigos tequila mixed with St. Germaine, a splash of soda, a squeeze of fresh lime with muddled cucumber and mint. A little sweet, a little tart, and a whole lot refreshing.
Wonderland Ocean Pub offers daily specials and a great happy hour. If you time it right, you’ll share in a toast to sunset. Eat this, hungry readers. You’ll be glad you did.
Wonderland Ocean Pub
5083 Santa Monica Ave. Suite 2C
Open daily, hours vary
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