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FOOD: Tajima San Diego

Last weekend’s sojourn to San Diego was just what the doctor ordered. The main impetus, of course, was to see my sister and brother-in-law. But she had dangled the lure of a Sunday market at me (she had been showing me her own pictures of it) and I jumped. I think I was in the car a few hours later, driving down the 5 and enjoying some spectacular weather.

The market, as seen previously, was wonderful. Great variety of vendors. Solid, quality produce. With such a market, local cuisine was sure to be stellar as well, yes?

Well, kinda.

The night before the market, my sister took me out for barbeque. Phil’s was the destination...for us and about half of San Diego. And it was good (loved the ribs and the potato salad was just the right side...not surprised it was named the Best BBQ in the city). But why was it so crowded (there was over an hour long wait and clearly not enough space for everyone coming in the door)? Surely this wasn’t the only game in town? With its proximity to Tijuana (the birthplace of the ceasar salad), the rejuvenation of its downtown area, and vibrant neighborhood communities, there had to be a culinary pulse of some kind.

Even my sister, who has called San Diego home for years, just shrugged. She said that San Diego just wasn’t the culinary mecca it could be. This, readers, is what Chowhound was made for.  Chowhounders are discriminating in a good way. They know the difference between medium-rare and medium-well. They know sauce and soup and salad. And they love their taco trucks and prix fixe with equal intensity. I was determined to find lunch on a Sunday, so I typed in “San Diego Japanese” since the sister was jonesing for sushi. Sushi Ota was the first recc, but it didn’t have lunch on Sundays. Next on the list, though, was Tajima. And they were open.


Tajima sits on Kearney Mesa in the back of a small and generic stucco shopping center on Convoy Street. It’s surrounded by car dealerships and more of the same small stucco shopping centers. If you pass the Honda dealership, you’ve gone too far. Traffic along Convoy was pretty hairy for a Sunday, then I remembered that it was the Year of the Pig and that this neighborhood was the humming center of San Diego’s Asian community. We did manage to snag the one lone parking space that was available and poked our heads in.


The first thing that greets you along the side wall, if the hostess doesn’t get to you first, is a neatly stacked wall of manga. Kicking myself for not getting a picture. But I did get a shot of the next thing that greeted us – a handwritten “Specials” menu among condiments.


There was also the regular menu, full of tiny, indiscernible images of our food choices. Tajima’s claim to fame is homemade Japanese. Chazuke, okonomiyaki, and various ‘hamburg steaks’, fish entrees, and ramen were what the reviewers praised. So we dove in…


…with probably the most generic appetizer we could order – gyoza. They were plump, not too greasy, and the dipping sauce that came with had just the right amount of tart. This was a good test.  If the gyoza weren't up to par, we'd know the rest would probably follow suit.  We followed this with another appetizer…


…of tsukemono. Though this was tsukemono unlike I’d ever had it. I’m used to little piles of Japanese pickles – shredded vegetables topped with sesame seeds and/or doused with pickle juice. These were whole and crisp and just slightly sour. A great palate cleanser after the heavier gyoza.


The Tuna Yukke appetizer came next and satisfied my sister’s craving for the raw. She downed the quail egg and we dove in. Very yummy. The seasoning on the tuna was very light, almost an afterthought to give you pause. High quality fish. We ended up eating this very slowly throughout the rest of the meal. It provided a nice break from the heartier homestyle meals we were about to eat.


My brother-in-law and I had ramen. He had “regular” which was a milky pork broth, and I had “miso” which was said broth with a hearty helping of miso. We each had half of a flavored soft egg floating atop lean pork slices sitting on a mountain of tight, just barely boiled ramen noodles.


Sister went the okonomiyaki route. She had ordered the shrimp okonomiyaki with noodles, but the waitress said chef forgot to add the noodle part and apologized. This is not a meal for the mildly hungry, by the way. The okonomiyaki is not only heavy, but the portion they served was enough for a few people to share. Plus, they top it with a hearty criss-cross of okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise. It was so hot, that the katsuobushi flakes on top were waving in the steam, providing a nice little table show.


We each tried some of the others’ dishes. It was all very satisfying, especially for me. Neither of them had known about Tajima before and were pretty pleased to have another place to enjoy, so score one for big sister and Chowhound. The food was well-prepared, well-plated, and served (almost) as ordered.  The service was a bit slow, but the place was jumping and it looked like only two waitresses had control of the entire room.  All in all, Tajima was an unpretentious and delectable find of authentic Japanese homefood -- proof that San Diego has it, you just have to look for it.

4681 Convoy Street
San Diego, CA 92111
(Google map link)

Mon. - Fri.
Lunch 11:30am - 2:30pm
Dinner 5:30pm - 11:00pm
Sat. 12:00pm - 11:00pm
Sun. 12:00pm - 10:00pm

*Thur., Fri. and Sat. 11:00pm - 3:00am
Noodle Only


( 3 tasty muffins — Bake me a tasty muffin )
Feb. 28th, 2007 05:08 am (UTC)
So gorgeous... It seems like your sister ate the egg separately, but I have seen people pour the egg over the tartare and mix it thoroughly. Perhaps eating them separately accentuates the distinct flavors and textures.

Passionate Eater (http://passionateeater.blogspot.com)
Feb. 28th, 2007 01:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Yum.
You may do either (seperate or mix) without offending any particular custom :). It also helped her get a better understanding of the flavor, as she had never had a quail egg before.

Thanks for stopping by!
Mar. 13th, 2007 12:23 am (UTC)
your photo of the tuna yukke looked amazing. i drove down to visit sd all the way from the inland empire and went to tajima immediately :0) tasted as amazing as it looked! thank you.
( 3 tasty muffins — Bake me a tasty muffin )


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