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Culture Report: Unearthing San Diego Food Lore

Martin S. Lindsay Classic San Diego

Illustrator and designer Martin S. Lindsay’s new Classic San Diego website collects the culinary history of San Diego. / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

At Tobey’s 19th Hole Cafe overlooking the Balboa Park Golf Course, Martin S. Lindsay orders the “chili size.” It’s basically a hamburger patty on top of chili covered in cheese — a classic meal invented in Los Angeles in the 1920s and beloved by Hollywood stars of the time.  

Lindsay’s got a thing for culinary history like that, which is why he frequents places like Tobey’s, one of the oldest continuously run restaurants in San Diego. It’s owned by a third-generation member of the Tobey family, which has been running the joint since 1934. 

Lindsay compiles stories about the culinary history of San Diego and Tijuana on Classic San Diego, a website he launched in 2016.

The website works as a database and research forum for Lindsay’s forthcoming book, “Classic San Diego,” about the culinary history of the border region and the people behind its oldest restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

Lindsay is tackling some of the region’s most popular urban food legends. He’s diving deep into the possible origin of the caesar salad at a restaurant in Tijuana, the spread of the margarita from a restaurant in Ensenada to one in La Jolla, the possible birth of the rolled taco at El Indio Mexican Restaurant and more.

What’s become clear in some of his research is that culinary origin stories aren’t at all clear.

“Actually, there are about 12 or 13 people who said they originated the margarita,” Lindsay said. 

He hopes to publish the book by the end of year, and plans to include chapters  on Mexican food, steakhouses and tiki bars. A professional illustrator and designer by day, Lindsay frequently features images of old menus and ephemera. He also uses the old menus to help determine when restaurants existed; if a menu doesn’t include an actual date, he uses prices and even the style of typeface to help pin down the era.

Lindsay said one of the most interesting stories he’s come across is about the group of female attorneys who stormed the Grant Grill in 1971 and demanded the establishment end its policy barring women until 3 p.m. Even then, women could only enter if they were escorted by men. Grant Grill eventually ended its discriminatory rules a few years later.

“They even have a brass plaque in the lobby next to the entrance commemorating that,” Lindsay said. “I’m still researching, but there’s a lot of really cool culinary stories here.”

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

Culturecast: Border Art Roundtable

Voice of San Diego’s Culturecast podcast feed was pretty quiet in 2017. That’s my fault, but I have a decent excuse: I’ve been busy stepping up VOSD’s podcast game this year. We launched our new I Made it in San Diego show over the summer, and built up our podcast sponsorship arm.

If you check Culturecast this week, though, you’ll see a new episode. In it, I talk to Alessandra Moctezuma, Jill Holslin and Perry Vasquez about border art. The artists and curators delve into the history of border art, explain the politics and purpose behind most of it, detail their own border art projects and exhibitions and more.

border wall protest art

Jill Holslin, Andrew Sturm, the Overpass Light Brigade-San Diego and People Over Profits of San Diego projected images on the border wall prototypes in Otay Mesa. / Photo by Jill Holslin

Subscribe to Culturecast on iTunes or stream the new episode here.

 It was hard to miss the giant baby face French street artist JR put up at the border fence in Tecate last year. But there was a lot of border art by local artists that flew under most folks’ radar. Last week, I rounded up six border art projects and exhibitions by San Diego and Tijuana artists that you might have missed  in 2017.

More Arts and Culture News

Balboa Park is dangerous at night and a lot of homeless people don’t like sleeping in shelters. Those are two insights the Union-Tribune’s editorial cartoonist Steve Breen gleaned doing his “Street Art” series during which he drew homeless people in San Diego.

New Village Arts theater company in Carlsbad launched a new festival that kicks off this week. It features readings of three new plays, a playwriting workshop, a panel discussion on advancing playwrights’ careers and a beer tasting. (Broadway World)

The holidays are over but “The Nutcracker” season isn’t. The Culture Shock Dance Center presents its hip-hop version of the holiday classic this weekend. (La Jolla Light)

hip hop nutcracker

Culture Shock San Diego is back with its hip-hop rendition of “The Nutcracker.” / Photo by Marilen Tran

• This comic book shop on El Cajon Boulevard thinks of itself as an ambassador of comic books. (KPBS)

• “Hamilton” is happening in San Diego this month. Lots of people weren’t able to score tickets to the smash hit Broadway musical, but a local philanthropist scored 500 tickets and is selling them and donating the revenue to two local nonprofits. (Del Mar Times)

• Artist Sheena Rae Dowling is using the San Diego Art Institute’s space in Horton Plaza to stage a multimedia exhibition exploring her story of addiction and alcoholism.

• Local jazz legend Gilbert Castellanos and arts advocate Arlene Damasco are back this year with their Art Meets Jazz series featuring live jazz performances paired with a visual art exhibition.

• Here’s a look at 15 San Diego-area theater productions that stuck with Union-Tribune theater critic James Hebert.

• CityBeat’s annual roundup of the best art of the year is always the best roundup in town.

Members of the Save Our Heritage Organisation are gearing up this year to preserve historic buildings in downtown Tijuana and Colonia Cacho, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.

• Anna Sarao is heavily involved in choreography, dance teams, and hip- hop related events in San Diego. I recently came across her “Boba Talk” video series on YouTube. Basically, Sarao drinks boba tea with friends and chats about dance.

• The Union-Tribune asked several arts leaders to write about why the arts matter. Read a few of the results here, here, here and here.

The San Diego Theatre Critics Circle announced its nominees for the year’s best in local theater. (Union-Tribune)

• Jason Hackenwerth will be the artist-in-residence at the New Children’s Museum from January 7-15.

Seven-year-old San Diegan Dana Fischer is giving the mostly male-dominated “Magic: The Gathering” gamer world a run for its money. (KPBS)

• Here’s a good, new Reddit thread about cool things to do in San Diego.

• The San Diego Museum of Art put together a series of five films to complement its “Modern Masters from Latin America: The Pérez Simón Collection” exhibition currently on view.

• Gov. Jerry Brown appointed the new director of the California Arts Council. (Lost Coast Outpost)

• A slick San Diego home made it to the top spot of the 10 best midcentury modern homes for sale. (Curbed)

• Arts District Liberty Station’s Friday Night Liberty art walk is happening this week.

Food, Beer and Booze News

• Marijuana is legal in California, and San Diegans are stoked. (Los Angeles Times)

• Here’s a list of all the recreational marijuana dispensaries open in San Diego right now. (Union-Tribune)

• Speaking of weed, have you heard about this San Diego supper club that infuses its meals with cannabis for the medical marijuana crowd? (Pacific Magazine)

pot brownies

Image via Shutterstock

Listicles alert: Here’s West Coaster’s list of the best breweries in the county. CityBeat’s list of the best breweries of the past year is here. The Union-Tribune pulled together the top food stories of 2017. And There San Diego rounded up a list of restaurants catering to the get-healthy-in-2018 crowd.

Naming your food establishment by choosing two seemingly unrelated words and putting them together with an ampersand is a trendy thing. Proof and point: the Cloak & Petal restaurant, and Salt & Straw ice cream spot, both recently opened in Little Italy.

Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at kinsee@vosd.org with arts and culture news and tips. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.

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