By Frank Sabatini Jr.
At more than 25 years old, The Waffle Spot in Hotel Circle remains a campy offshoot to the midcentury-style lobby of Kings Inn San Diego, a two-level hotel built in 1959 that received a respectful makeover about five years ago.
Upon stepping inside the breakfast-lunch joint, patrons discover its cartoonish mascot, Sir Wafflelot, whose image graces a medieval landscape captured on a giant mural. There are also printed versions of the kingly waffle character hanging above the restaurant’s sizable lunch counter. They were colored in by kids who got to actually meet him roaming the lobby on weekend mornings.
Because locals have long been privy to The Waffle Spot, spillover is common during peak times — such as on weekends and holidays between 9 a.m. and noon. Although you can usually shrink your wait time by opting for a stool at the counter, or by arriving shortly after it opens at 7 a.m. daily.
Lighter colors and new flooring were given to the restaurant during the property’s remodel. Yet still, the place is refreshingly non-trendy and has maintained its retro kitsch.
The waffles are obviously a big deal. They’re made with malted flour shipped in from Carbon’s in Michigan, which developed the mix in 1937. The malts bestow rise and sweetness while the addition of cornmeal contributes heartiness. But given their acclaimed airiness, the waffles cool down faster than most, especially the mini ones that are included with many of the breakfast plates.
I’ve been coming here for more than a decade, and only on this recent visit did I fork into an apple-cinnamon waffle, which my companion ordered and kindly shared. It uses canned apples on the inside and thinly sliced fresh ones on top. Combined with a high cinnamon factor, it’s hard to imagine eating a plain waffle ever again.
He upgraded his waffle to a “platter,” which gave him two eggs (any style) and four strips of bacon. (Customers can choose between any combination of two strips of bacon and two sausage links.) Everything on the plate, including his scrambled eggs, was cooked to perfection.
I’m especially in love with The Waffle Spot’s hash browns and corned beef hash.
The potatoes are consistently crispy on the outside and fluffy underneath — a tricky feat many kitchens can’t seem to master. They respond beautifully to a few daubs of Tapatio hot sauce found on the tables.
That same crispy sheath is also present on the corned beef hash, which (gasp!) comes from a can. Call me crazy, but I actually prefer it that way because the meat is minced to a near-smooth texture with small, diced potatoes adding starchy creaminess. So what if it looks like Alpo with two eggs on top, the stuff packs terrific flavor.
Chicken and waffles on this particular morning were ubiquitous. I suspect the dish is new since I don’t recall seeing it here in the past. The chicken pieces looked excellent with their craggy coatings of medium-tan batter. Numerous customers gnawing away at them appeared in trances, with one in earshot favorably comparing the dish to the almighty Roscoe’s in Los Angeles.
From the “sandwich billboard” menu, a chicken sandwich called the Phoenix flame thrower was anything but boring when I ordered it for lunch one day. It features a blackened flame-broiled chicken breast topped with sharp cheddar cheese and a crisscross of smoky bacon. The accompanying chipotle mayo was spicier than expected, revealing bits of fiery red peppers as I spread it gleefully across the buttered bun.
Other sandwich choices include a Baja-style BLT, an Albuquerque turkey melt, a French dip, and the “Chula Vista chicken Caesar wrap,” which was added to the menu some years ago by an employee from South Bay.
In combining an offbeat theme with a classic diner vibe, Waffle Spot’s waitresses generally fall into the category of folksy-sweet. They move fast, talk loud and know everything about the food — exactly the kind of service to help ignite your engine on hungry mornings.
The Waffle Spot
133 Hotel Circle South (Hotel Circle)
Prices: Breakfast, $4.75 to $13.50; lunch, $6.25 to $11.95
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press) and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.