Pub date September 30, 2009
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap EatsSectionFood & Drink


CHEAP EATS It looked like a good place to sit and so we sat there, basking in the relative fluorescentlessness. Compared to Joshua Tree National Park, there are a lot of restaurants to choose from on San Bruno Avenue in San Francisco. Dive after dive after dive, it’s a Cheap Eats mecca. Whereas Joshua Tree has lizards. Stones. A bee that won’t leave me alone.

My sweetie and me are under a rock, or rather, under a complex formation of rocks, sharing an apple and writing on our laptops. We are sitting side by side on a blanket, leaning against one wall of our cave. I just had me my favorite siesta ever. Hold on a second … Her too. You wouldn’t believe how in love I am. Hold on a second … Her too.

You wouldn’t believe how hot it is just a few feet away from us, and how pleasant the weather is in our cave. Tomorrow with the air conditioning on we will drive through Mojave to Death Valley Junction, home of the Amargosa Opera House.

A woman named Marta rented then bought it 40-some years ago, but no one would come, so she painted an audience on the walls of the place, and now she’s 90 and still performs there even though sometimes she has to sing sitting down.

Anyway, it seems like a monument to what I love about life: kooky people making limeade out of lemons. That’s one thing. So we’re going to go see it, maybe catch a show, if we’re lucky. If we’re really lucky, a standing-up one. And if not, we’ll drive on. There are hot springs that side of the mountains.

I haven’t camped in Joshua Tree for a few years. Ever since I first moved to my witchy shack in the woods, I have not felt the need to camp, go figure. But the desert is something else. And this one is my favorite place on the planet. The surreal rock formations, the moony landscape, the irrepressible joy of headlight-lit ocotillos, and the cartoonishly contortionistic joshua trees reaching every which way at once.

What we don’t have here is beef with tender greens, or pork and preserved cabbage noodle soup, or chicken with bitter melon. In fact, there are many ways in which Joshua Tree National Park is not a Chinese restaurant.

It’s so quiet you can hear the air, sometimes.

At night there are a lot of airplanes. Blinking beelines to Palm Springs, or Los Angeles, or back, their silent exclamations are almost welcome in a sky dotted with periods and comets.

I don’t think I ever brought a laptop before to Joshua Tree. But I’m with a writer now, and she’s got a reading tour on the East Coast next month, a slow-going story to finish, and a new one to start. Whereas I have a restaurant to tell you about.

It’s a little less fluorescent than most San Bruno Avenue joints, yes, but it’s still cheap. San Bruno Café. Or 2546 Café. Or 2546 San Bruno Café. They have $5.25 rice plates from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., even on weekends. Gotta like that.

What you don’t gotta like (and won’t) is that every meal starts — no matter what you order — with a bowl of bean water soup. That was our name for it. I mean, you can’t argue with free, but … come on! A bowl of murky brown water with nothing in it? Maybe a half of a bean, or two, lurking somewhere beneath the cloudy, greaseless surface.

If you look around the restaurant, you’ll notice that people are leaving unfinished bowls of bean water all over — on ledges, on chairs, on other people’s dirty tables, on clean ones … Eventually the management will notice too.

Bean water aside (very very literally), nothing else was especially great either. Although: everything was good and cheap. You’d be hard-pressed to find any 10s on San Bruno’s menu. There are even some things under five, like instant noodles and porridges.

But it’s so weird to be writing about Chinese food in Joshua Tree. I’m going to stop doing so, abruptly, kiss my hard-working sweetie, and walk until I find an Internet café.


Daily: 7:30 a.m.–9 p.m.

2546 San Bruno, SF

(415) 468-8008

No alcohol


L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.