You know, it’s the real McCoy when it absolutely screams “diner.”
A moderate investigation shows that it’s the longest continuously open restaurant in Vista; that the current owner Charlie Harb is recuperating from a serious health problem and his mom and dad, Alicia and Fred Harb, have reclaimed the business after manning it for 24 years.
It’s Allen’s Alley Café. It’s tucked away behind Main Street on Hanes Place close to the Krikorian Theatre, and John and I thought it was a treasure. Of course, since we’re old timers we thought the name came from the old Fred Allen radio show, but it turns out a man named Grant Allen who owned it for five years named it that; previously, it was the Rainbow. “There have been many owners, but it has been continuously open since 1949,” Alicia said.
As you would expect, many regulars come daily from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Alicia tells us the breakfasts simply fly out of the two-cook, open, closet-sized kitchen in the rear. The restaurant only fills about two-fifths of the freight-car sized structure at 124 Hanes Place, and we theorized that an apartment and garage take up the last three-fifths. She also says that the biscuits and gravy, made fresh from scratch daily, are famous throughout the region. The menu says they’re $4.95 for one biscuit and $5.95 for two.
But we write about lunches, and again we checked with Alicia who recommended the French Dip. “We cook our own meat, here” and I had potato salad to go with it for $7.75. The meal was excellent. I called later to ask about a mystery ingredient in the potato salad and Alicia said it was probably a drop or two of Italian dressing, which they added to “spice it up.” We could easily have split the sandwich (with a $1 split plate charge) and stayed within our budget.
John ordered a Chili Size for $7.95 and pronounced it the best he had tasted in years. (He’s an expert and remembers when the dish was first presented years ago at Denny’s.) The hot, endless cup of coffee pleased him almost as much as the meal. Letty had iced tea, which was also plentiful and, praise Heaven, brewed.
Since Alicia was the sole waitress, and the six tables were filling up, along with the 11 seats at the counter, we ordered hurriedly but at another time we probably would have split an entrée for $9.95; choices are fried chicken, meatloaf, pork loin, ground round, and chicken fried steak. These come with mashed potatoes, veggies, roll and butter, and include soup or salad.
It’s wholesome, homemade fare to relish, we decided. Tea and coffee are $1.75 and $1.80. Desserts are the pie of the day and a chocolate sundae. Even vegetarians have a menu, and the soups are homemade.
As we first said, Allen’s Alley is the genuine article; it’s one of those rare places where time has seemingly stood still.
Allen’s Alley is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Call (760) 726-4433 or visit www.allensalleycafe.com for more information.
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