Surfing into Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Sunny California

Ruddell's Smokehouse is right on the beach in Cayucos, California

Ruddell’s Smokehouse is right on the beach in Cayucos, California

Ah, a lovely afternoon at the beach in sunny Cayucos, California, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. After a couple of hours riding the waves, I walk up the warm sand, strip off my wetsuit and tussle my bleached hair. Time for some waterside grub.

Who am I kidding? I just step out of my car and wander a hundred feet down the street to Ruddell’s Smokehouse after a few hours of freeway driving.

At least, Ruddell’s has earned its beach cred honestly. It’s been serving up smoked-meat tacos and salads to real surfers from a little shack near the town pier since 1980.

The smoked choices include salmon, chicken and pork loin. But I go for the signature albacore tuna taco, topped with a mini salad of lettuce, celery and apple and a nice splash or three of their hotter, house-made sauce. At $6, it’s not cheap for a taco but big enough I mistake the rolled-in-foil bundle for a little burrito.

Ruddell's signature smoked albacore tuna taco

Ruddell’s signature smoked albacore tuna taco

As I tuck in, I close my eyes, listen to the pounding waves and smell the sea salt air. I can almost feel myself catching that wave. Can’t I at least pretend?

Ruddell’s Smokehouse
101 D Street, Cayucos, California
Daily 11 am-6 pm
Ruddell's Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Petra’s Combining Pizza and Shawarma in San Luis Obispo, California

Lovely, tree-lined Higuera Street in San Luis, Obispo, California

Lovely, tree-lined Higuera Street in San Luis, Obispo, California

Let’s face it. The U.S. and the Middle East have had their disagreements in recent years. So how about smoothing things over a little with a culinary compromise, a delectable detente?

It seems Petra, a friendly, family restaurant in beautiful San Luis Obispo, California has already beaten everyone to the punch, so to speak. Specifically, the Mediterranean-style eatery is combining an American classic, the pizza, with a Middle-Eastern staple, the shawarma.

Take the Gyro Pizza, which features marinated, spit-shaved meat and Petra’s signature garlic sauce. This creamy, mildly spiced sauce appears again in a pie with marinated chicken shawarma and artichoke hearts.

Petra's produces a succulent shawarma-style pizza

Petra’s produces a succulent shawarma-style pizza

It’s all lovely stuff, loaded onto a thin crust that could be dough or fresh pita; I’ll let the Italian authorities weigh in on this. Petra also caters to solo diners, witness a perfect-sized, eight-inch pizza for $10.

As if Petra is not doing enough for world peace, and happy bellies, a server wanders out into the parking lot and starts passing out free samples of the made-daily pita. Talk about diplomacy.

Petra
1210 Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo, California
Daily 10:30 am-10:30 pm
Petra Mediterranean Pizza and Grill on Urbanspoon

Brazilian Breakfast in Santa Cruz, California

The colours are brilliant and the menu is eclectic at Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz, California

The colours are brilliant and the menu is eclectic at Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz, California

Mexican food I’m expecting in the busy California coast city of Santa Cruz, or maybe a surfer cafe. But Brazilian? Sign me up.

At Cafe Brasil, it’s certainly different than your usual morning fare. How about something civilized and light, like Pingado—a pot each of coffee and hot milk, along with fresh baguette and fruit—or an acai smoothie smothered in granola, strawberries and bananas?

I go off my map with Orfeu Negro, a dish of black beans on a baguette and then topped with a couple of poached eggs.  Ole!

How about some eggs on black beans and baguette?

How about some eggs on black beans and baguette?

Cafe Brasil is located in a funky little house decorated in the brilliant national colours of yellow and green. If you’ve been at a surfer party the night before, you may need sunglasses.

Cafe Brasil
1410 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, California
Daily 8 am-3 pm
Cafe Brasil on Urbanspoon

Falling for a Drive-by Falafel in San Jose

 

They've got fast-food falafels down to a science at this popular San Jose drive-in

They’ve got fast-food falafels down to a science at this popular San Jose drive-in

I’ve been to my share of drive-ins that serve up burgers, tacos, doughnuts, you name it. But falafels? That’s got to be a new twist.

Actually, Falafel’s Drive In has been a San Jose fixture since Anton and Zahie Nijmeh opened the place in the mid-1960s. Now, they’ve got it down to a science.

No sooner do I order, and pay for, my $4.25 falafel half sandwich, than the server is handing me this generous pita stuffed with parsley-speckled, crispy chickpea balls and family-recipe tahini and hot sauce. Ten minutes after I drive in, I’ve finished off this savoury dish and drive out, well satisfied and ready to hit the road again.

Half a falafel is leaving me more than half full

Half a falafel is leaving me more than half full

Falafel’s Drive In
2301 Stevens Creek Boulevard, San Jose, California
Monday to Saturday 10 am-8 pm, Sunday 10 am-6 pm
Falafel's Drive-in on Urbanspoon

A Journey Into Exotic Burmese Cuisine in San Jose

Table-side salad tossing at Kyusu Burmese Cuisine in San Jose, California

Tableside salad tossing at Kyusu Burmese Cuisine in San Jose, California

Hamburgers, pizza and fried chicken seem to have been around forever. But all these North American classics are but newborns compared to a cuisine that’s 1,000 years old. So why in all my considerable years of exploratory grazing have I never tasted Burmese food?

Kyusu Burmese Cuisine, in San Jose, California, of all places, offers a chance to rectify this. Unfortunately, I’m lunching alone and thus regretfully have to pass over some enticing curries, stews and noodle dishes.

Instead, I zero in on a Burmese classic—an exotic-sounding tea leaf salad ($9). It features a combination of ingredients I’ve never seen before: pickled tea leaves, fried beans and garlic, sesame seeds, sesame oil, dried shrimp and marinated cabbage. My server arrives with all this on a plate and proceeds to carefully toss it tableside with a spoon and tongs.

Ready to tuck into this most exotic tea salad

Ready to tuck into this most exotic tea salad

Time to dig in. The taste is as unusual as the combination. It’s both wet and crunchy, slightly astringent and bearing an unusual, umami-like flavour; maybe it’s the pickled tea leaves.

Overall, it’s well worth the adventure. Now, I just have to find more Burmese eateries and friends to explore the menu with.

Kyusu Burmese Cuisine
1312 Saratoga Avenue, San Jose, California
Wednesday to Monday lunch 11:30 am-2 pm, dinner 5 pm-9 pm. Closed Tuesday
Kyusu Burmese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

I’m a Content Puppy at San Jose’s Happy Dog

Joe delivers my pork pineapple sausage at Happy Dog in San Jose

Joe delivers my pork pineapple sausage at Happy Dog in San Jose

I’m parked somewhat precariously at a 10-minute-only stall in front of a 7-Eleven near San Jose State University. Joe, the manager at Happy Dog next door, says it will take seven minutes to prepare my pork pineapple sausage.

The good news, then, is my dog will be made to order. The bad is I’ll only have three minutes to choke it down or risk a ticket, tow or reprimand. So, I’m keeping one eye on my watch and the other on proceedings as Joe lightly grills a fresh French roll and walks the grilled dog aboard. I add a squirt of mustard, a sprinkling of sauerkraut and a healthy dose of Joe’s homemade, crunchy pickled cabbage.

“If it’s a good dog, you don’t need ketchup,” he declares. Agreed. Still, by the time everything’s loaded up, I’ve got scant seconds to legally choke the hot dog down. But with the first bite through the bursting skin into the meaty goodness within, my efficient resolve dissolves. “Screw it. I’m savouring this puppy.”

Happy Dog
284 South 11 Street, San Jose, California
Daily 11 am-10 pm, except 9 pm Sunday. Cash only
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