Besides the black-bean chili, there is also a fine turkey enchilada casserole ($9): almost a kind of Mexican lasagna, built on a floor of masa and including roasted poblano peppers, white cheese, a chili-scented tomato sauce, and plenty of turkey meat — stringy but tender, like Thanksgiving leftovers.
And there is life beyond pasta and casseroles: the café also offers a range of grilled panini — slices of grilled Italian country bread enclosing such treats as roast beef ($9). The roast beef sandwich includes caramelized onions, shavings of Gruyère, and smearings of horseradish sauce, with a crouton-rich (and under-anchovied but still quite tasty) Caesar salad on the side.
The front of the tiny house is intermittently overseen by Lombardo's wife, Gwen, whose presence enhances the family-affair effect. She takes orders, runs the cash register, and serves the food while her husband the chef works behind her in the open kitchen, which occupies the long leg of the L-shaped space. It is possible that she also occasionally dashes home on some child-related errand, but when she is in situ, the Lombardos are not so much a power couple — the Bob and Liddy Dole of food — but joint laborers for love in a field that, while difficult, still makes room for little guys. For the restaurant business remains surprisingly, stubbornly local; yes, there are chains, but the chains tend to remind us of how many places are not chains: are instead unique, are expressions of a single sensibility, or are the product of a determined team that's found a neighborhood niche. Will Lombardo's Fine Foods turn out to be life's pinnacle for John and Gwen Lombardo? The excellence of the orzo salad suggests to me that the answer is no — heights still to be scaled — but in the meantime, home is where the heart is. SFBG
LOMBARDO'S FINE FOODS
Continuous service: Tues.–Fri., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.–9 p.m.
1818 San Jose, SF
Beer and wine pending
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