You have certain restaurants where you return for any myriad of reasons. You attach some sense of comfort to the restaurant, a tranquility of place and being that you might be able to articulate or you might not. Cardamom is one of those places I consistently find myself returning to dine (breakfast/brunch only), a place that inevitably lures me back like Avon to West Baltimore.
What is it about Cardamom that keeps me addicted like Tyrone Biggums (or Bubbles, if we stick with Wire references)? Surely not drugs, you say. Funny you should mention such substances; your clairvoyance is duly-noted. Pure and unadulterated caffeine has got me hooked. Cardamom does it right by brewing up beans from La Jolla’s finest, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, recent winner of Roast Magazine’s Micro Coffee Roast of the Year. Smooth, velvety, rich on the front and middle notes with no bitter aftertaste, Cardamom is one of the few local places that serves up Bird Rock for only $2. If you haven’t had their coffee, approach with caution; you might want to hook a Bird Rock IV drip to get your daily dosage.
But there’s more to Cardamom than just the fabulous coffee. This place works on several levels. Situated near the corner of 30th and Upas, Cardamom provides one of the best al fresco dining patios in all of San Diego. Populated with vibrantly colorful chairs that allow for some great people watching, Cardamom’s patio doesn’t get blasted by the sun, so you’re not dripping sweat onto your eggs while downing your hot coffee like some kind of manic caffeinated junkie. It’s a great place to watch the North Park hipsters bike past on their fixies, the tattooed young hipster couples with their hipster babies and hipster dogs, the hipster alcoholics-in-training heading into Blue Foot at 11 a.m. Hipster heaven (or hell, depending upon one’s perspective). The baked goods are all made in house, and Cardamom really excels here. Their squaw bread, which can be ordered with many of the egg dishes, is simply the best bread I’ve tried in this city. Nutty, dense, robust, this bread qualifies as a dessert it’s so spectacular. No guilty pleasure, this nutritionally sound bread packs a wallop, and you can purchase an entire loaf and take it home to enjoy. Don’t feel bad if you don’t want to share; it’s that good. Some other standouts include caramel cookies, chocolate croissants, and some muffin I’m drawing a blank on. Finally, the service. This place is a family run joint; several members of the family work the tables, and they always deliver service with a smile. Can I substitute soyrizo for the chicken sausage in your North Park omelet? Not a problem! How about egg whites? Of course. And can I get feta instead of Jack? Yes, you can. I’ll mix and match and match and mix and suddenly I’m inventing my own menu; basically, I can suck as a customer. But you’d never know it at Cardamom. Sure, they might talk shit about me back in the kitchen. I would. But at the table taking my order, everything is all double rainbows. That’s worth noting.
The food itself? Good, not great. It can be inconsistent. Sometimes the omelets are overflowing with veggies and cheese and all sorts of other goodness. Other times, I feel like a vulture picking over a carcass trying to find if there’s any meat left on the bones. Breakfast potatoes are all cut up into different sizes, so you get a variety of cooked-types. Some too crispy, some too soft, some just right. Still, 99% of the time, the food is just right.
And truth be told, I have no reservations recommending Cardamom for a perfectly lazy Sunday brunch. The pros far outweigh any issues I might have from time to time, and I always leave Cardamom feeling just a little bit better about life than before I stepped foot inside. Your life won’t be transformed, it will never come close to earning a Michelin star, and you’ll never read about Cardamom being up for a James Beard Foundation award. But you will find the kind of satisfaction that seeps into your soul over time and infuses it with a small glow that makes your world seem that much brighter.