by Michael Oshman
afael means Healer in Hebrew. Rafael is the owner of Pokez Mexican Restaurant in Downtown San Diego. His name suits him, as he sits down with many of his customers to see how they are really doing. Pokez, like its owner, is What you see is What You Get. The food, ambiance, and owner are all straight to the point: Good.
The chips and salsa arrive immediately to sate my growing hunger. Accompanied by the new Associate Director of the Green Restaurant Association, Julie Kitterman, I peruse the menu and find on the front: "Welcome to Pokez! We make our food with love.. cook with canola or olive oil (no lard)... use the finest ingredients including organic produce when possible... beans and rice are 100% vegetarian, low in fat and sodium (no artificial coloring, no MSG)."
Pokez is the type of place where you have a menu item named after you if you eat there often enough. Tom Hayes has Tom's Deep Plate, which is beans, rice, sour cream, guacamole, salsa fresca, and corn or flour tortillas for $2.95. The vegetarian fajitas are some of the best I have ever tasted ($5.50). The tofu is grilled with flavorful spices, making the fajitas quite delicious and filling.
Pokez has more than 30 items on the menu that are completely vegetarian, most of which can be made vegan (no milk, cheese, or eggs). One can sample a potato taco ($1), a tostada tofu salad ($2.85), or 2 tofu-with-mushroom enchiladas ($2.50).
In addition to quality, Pokez is one of the best dining values in San Diego. Combination meals are all $5 and come with rice, beans and an entrée. The most expensive item on the menu is only $5.50. Breakfast is served for under $3.50 with Spanish omelets, vegan chorizos, chillaquiles, or a regular American breakfast,
Pokez is committed to healing the environment by being a Green Restaurant. Using many organic foods and having comprehensive recycling, Pokez completely eliminated its Styrofoam use and is phasing in use of 100 percent post-consumer waste recycled, non-bleached napkins and paper towels.
Pokez could just become your regular Mexican dining spot: the food is very good, the ambiance is basic, and Rafael, his father and the employees make Pokez a true delight. Located on 947 E Street, Downtown San Diego. Open Mon-Fri 8am-8pm; Sat: 8am-6pm and closed Sunday. 702-7160.
Michael Oshman is the president of the Green Restaurant Association, (619) 287-4261. To find a Green Restaurant near you, call the Green Restaurant Referral Service at (619) 490-9695 ext. 2