Blame it on a very traditional Vietnamese upbringing, but tried and true edible American fare seldom found itself on our kitchen table. There I was, a mere adolescent—eyes and appetite glazed over from the all-too-familiar bowl of white rice and fishy smelling hot pot with something fermented on the side. Yes, I was that kid at lunch with the Hello Kitty thermos filled with remnants of last night’s dinner wreaking havoc across campus, drawing the most disturbed reactions from fellow classmates, teachers, neighborhood dogs, what have you. Friends would have the classic peanut butter and jelly, ants-on-a-log celery snack, Jell-O pudding cups, Lunchables! And me? Poor, unfortunate, ethnically diverse little ol’ me? I had soggy lemongrass catfish. And although my palette has now matured to appreciate and admire the lovingly home-cooked meals mom and dad would prepare every night, I have since developed a strong affection for all things American. To this day, I will slap peanut butter and jelly on anything (try me, I’ve done it). High school was the peak of my hotdog phase. And French fries? Well, that’s a relationship the universe deemed inevitable for me. I love them. Abundant as they may be in the states, they’ve always been a specialty for my family and me. Growing up, I came to associate them with all things fun and patriotic. Could it have been the elusive McDonald’s Happy Meal I was never allowed that sparked my ongoing obsession with fried potatoes? Probably. Let’s just say it’s this first generation citizen’s stake in the American Dream. I mean, how American is it to have a favorite fried food?
In my overwhelming fondness for them, I’ve done my fair share of research. I know what you’re thinking. You’re welcome. How did something so…well, French, become one of the most popular staples in American dining? It’s a long history beginning sometime in the 17th century, but if we’re being honest, I’m most likely one of a select few troubled souls who would actually find this piece of history remotely interesting. More or less, it’s an ongoing argument of birthright between the Belgians and the French, with a famine in the latter country triggering the sudden popularity in Europe of pomme frites (especially in Paris—so trendy). A domino effect ensued across the continent and beyond, and there you have it: steak fries, curly fries, waffle fries, and shoestring potatoes trickling on over to our home sweet home, all singing in harmony to the joyous celebration of hot and salted perfection, and they’ve never left.
Most recently, I’ve fallen hard for the offerings at Bo-Beau Kitchen and Bar in Ocean Beach. Should have known that French cuisine would guarantee an impeccable side of pomme frites, served alongside a healthy dose of bold romesco aioli. And no, I don’t share. Venture over to La Mesa’s Terra American Bistro if you’re in the mood for a feel-good fix. With a focus on farm-to-table cuisine, you’ll be a better San Diego county citizen for sampling some of their hand-cut bistro fries in an array of stylings: chipotle aioli, garlic, or truffle oil, asiago cheese and chives. Yeah, reread that phenomenon. You’ll be doing America’s finest city a disservice if you don’t give them a go. If you’re looking for something more adventurous, take a trip down memory lane at the Corvette Diner at Liberty Station. It offers up the nostalgia of a typical 1950s’ eatery with a heart-stopping dish of beloved crisscross fries. Who doesn’t enjoy crisscross fries? Especially when they’re doused in their famous Sting Ray Chili, melted cheddar, and green onions. But don’t worry, my culinary boundaries aren’t narrow-mindedly set to that of Kennebec and ketchup—Italians like French fries, too! In the heart of Banker’s Hill, Italian eatery Cucina Urbana, albeit California-inspired, boasts some of most splendid golden wonders I have been lucky enough to devour as if they were the last food item on the face of planet during the Mayan-predicted cataclysmic December 12, 2012. Truffle oil and parmesan on my favorite food? OKAY!
After all my traipsing about this city, I feel like I’ve gathered a substantial number of go-to’s if my inner French fry fiend is feeling particularly ravenous (I try to keep that beast at bay). Paired with the provided short history and list of quality vendors, you’re ready to take on the San Diego French fry, as well. But I’d be lying to you if I said you’d never find me happily tucked inside my trusty Volvo at the local McDonald’s drive-thru window, eagerly awaiting a serving paired with a chocolate milkshake—no judging. And you know what? My wonderful parents probably ordered the same thing last week. If that’s not the American Dream, I don’t know what is.
© Restaurant Agent Inc.