By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Despite small price hikes over the past couple of years, Rose Donuts ranks among the cheapest places in San Diego to consume a hefty well-made sandwich plus a sugary treat and beverage of choice for as little as $5.45 — and at any time of the day or night.
For nearly two decades, the family-owned 24-hour donut shop is still something of a hidden gem, especially among those who demand their apple fritters extravagantly crispy on the outside and fluffy and apple-loaded on the inside.
They’re the top sellers that share rack space with a full complement of anti-trendy donuts ranging from yeast-raised and cake varieties to hole-less Bismarck types filled with custard and jellies.
In addition to oversized cookies, brownies and croissants, Rose’s made-to-order sandwiches remain one of the city’s best kept foodie secrets, which hubby and I discovered just recently in spite of living less than a mile away.
We were aware, however, from late-night donut runs, that all purchases are cash-only.
In our first meal probe, he ordered the fiesta breakfast sandwich on an exceptionally fresh house-made croissant. For about $1.30 extra, it included a choice of donut and beverage, in this case a buttermilk old-fashioned that he washed down with a small carton of chocolate milk.
This wasn’t a day we were counting calories, as proven by our sugary fingertips when we left.
The sandwich was stuffed with ham, flawlessly cooked bacon, scrambled eggs, melted American and Swiss cheeses, diced tomatoes and brined jalapenos.
Despite the so-so quality of the pressed ham, the ingredients swaddled by the big, puffy croissant rivaled most breakfast sandies we’ve eaten in reputable restaurants.
Ditto for my BLT, which featured big strips of the bacon, shredded lettuce and decent tomatoes stacked between two wide slices of sourdough crisped from a conventional toaster. That bread, along with white or wheat, is sourced from Costco.
Yet where some of the sandwich fillings originate remains a mystery. The anchor staff — three personable Asian women who speak limited English — answered vaguely when I inquired.
Although one of them indicated that the chicken salad I chose in a sandwich on toasted wheat bread a few days later was made in-house.
The finely chopped breast meat was mixed generously with very white mayo that seemed almost whipped.
I actually liked it, due perhaps to the diced sweet pickles blended in and what I suspected was an extra dose of lemon juice used in its making.
Opting for Swiss cheese over American, I’d enthusiastically eat the sandwich again — but only with a ravenous appetite.
Other sandwich choices include turkey, egg and cheese (with or without bacon); tuna salad; ham-turkey-cheese clubs; and any of the aforementioned ingredients in preferred combinations.
They’re also available on split house-made bagels.
Breakfast sausage, as well as fancy condiments and garnishes, are absent from the menu — not surprising from a non-hyped eatery that cranks out fresh donuts at least twice daily and also serves Thrifty’s ice cream in about 10 flavors, should your sweet tooth veer out of control.
Note: Rose Donuts is located in The Presidio, a strip plaza where parking is limited to 30 minutes (less in certain slots) and aggressively enforced with tow warnings.
—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 email@example.com.