Sunday, December 14, 2008

This way to Zia

A different spin on pizza, but well worth a visit.

I finally made it to a pizza joint that I've been meaning to try for the past 2 years now and boy have I been missing out. But there is a back story that I must cover first.

In college, my roommate Michelle and I shared a passion for wraps at a little place on the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and Montezuma Road near San Diego State. The place is Cafe Zia. I don’t know who found it first or how we came to start eating there, but once we started, we couldn’t stop. The owner, Khaled (more about him later), uses fresh ingredients and low-fat proteins in his wraps, which are all topped off with these amazing chutney sauces. Over time, the menu has changed, but I haven’t found a wrap that I’m not fond of. Most recently, after a nice hike up Cowles Mountain one morning, I stopped by Café Zia to quench my wrap craving. This time, the new menu item was breakfast wraps. Even though it was after noon, I still got one and I was very thankful I did. Of all the wraps I’ve had, this was by far my favorite. It had eggs, potatoes, sun dried tomatoes and a turkey-pastrami that was topped off with a sweet chutney. I tried to go back and get it again one morning after the gym, but I got there before they opened (insert sad face here).

Khaled showing off a potato pizza masterpiece.

So, back to the owner. Khaled was the nicest café owner I’ve ever come across (other than Francesco at Mama Mia’s, but that’s another blog right there). Every time we’d visit Café Zia and he was working he always remembered who we were and what our favorite wrap was. He also made a point to suggest new wraps or chutneys that he thought we might like. The atmosphere at Café Zia is very laid back and lent itself to Khaled being able to chat with costumers a lot. He even started a book collection that you could read while eating or borrow for longer. Michelle’s then boyfriend, now husband, Edward, would borrow books on the regular and he and Khaled would talk books each time he went in. Point is, Khaled adds to the overall great dining experience.

After graduating from SDSU I don’t frequent Café Zia as much as I’d like because it’s a little out of the way, but I still try to make it back every other month or so. At the 2007 Adams Avenue Street Fair in Normal Heights I ran into Khaled outside a café with a Zia awning. I hadn’t seen him probably in about two years, but he still recognized me and asked where my little friend was (Michelle) and then started telling me about this great new pizza place he was opening the week after the Fair. I told him I would love to come back to the grand opening, but when I did, it had been moved back. I never returned until this past summer’s Adams Avenue Street Fair when Khaled was on the sidewalk selling his pizza again. I said hello and sorry that I hadn’t been in yet and that I really would come back after reading his pizza menu this time.

Fast forward to this past week. I finally made it to Zia Pizza! I was splitting three slices with someone and we were going to order two slices of Khaled’s favorite eggplant and one slice of the New Yorker pizza (with the turkey-pastrami from the breakfast wrap at Café Zia), he suggested we get three different kinds and convinced us to also try a garlic chicken. I’ve always enjoyed the suggestions Khaled has provided me with, but in this instance, we should have gotten all three slices of the eggplant pizza. That pizza was a little slice of heaven. I can’t recall everything that was on the pizza, but the key components were eggplant, cranberries and a yogurt sauce (instead of tomato sauce). And keeping in the tradition of Café Zia, Khaled does healthy pizza – well as healthy as you can get for pizza. He uses a whole-wheat, thin crust that also seemed to have had oats in it, which wasn’t too filling like a lot of traditional pizza.

Zia Pizza is only open from 5-10pm, so make sure to stop by for a dinner slice. Drink options are limited (bottled cokes and water), but it appeared that you are able to bring in your own bottle of wine. Oh yeah, and you can buy by the slice or whole pizza. Both are pretty reasonably priced.