Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And where there’s fire, (if you’re lucky) there’s some serious barbecue happening. Barbecue in San Diego has gone hog wild, with a diverse range of eateries earning some serious fanfare among carnivores. While their styles and techniques may vary a bit, these popular outposts are doing it right.
By Sarah Daoust
Don’t mess with Texas, especially when it comes to their barbecue. Andy Harris, the pit master behind Grand Ole BBQ y Asado, gets it. His cult-followed outdoor eatery in North Park—known for its smoky, central Texas-style BBQ and Argentine grilled meats— commands long lines and regularly sells out. But good news: A second, much larger locale recently opened in the Flinn Springs community of El Cajon, and it’s a beauty. Seating 400, the 15,000-square-foot, indoor/ outdoor venue is a barbecue playground— outfitted with a vintage jukebox, a stage for live music (expect country and folk), firepits and picnic tables. The menu, overseen by chef Ami Cisneros, is big, too. In addition to barbecue, find burgers, steaks and specialties such as smoked bone marrow and Frito pie.
At Coop’s West Texas BBQ in Lemon Grove, delight in zesty pork and beef ribs, pulled pork and jerk chicken; served with homestyle sides such as collard greens, red beans and rice, mac ‘n’ cheese, and candied yams (on Sundays). Their brisket is the star—smoky, tender and juicy every time. The casual indoor eatery is an institution, with owner Brad “Coop” Cooper usually on hand smiling and working away tirelessly. Save room for the sweet potato pie.
In the heart of Mission Beach, Coaster Saloon is celebrating its 35th anniversary with a major remodel and menu upgrade, courtesy of Cohn Restaurant Group (its new owner) and chef Tim Eylens. The beachfront haunt is known for its Texas-style barbecue, featuring oak-smoked beef brisket, baby-back pork ribs and chicken hot wings. Find more than 40 beers on tap at the bar; plus more than a dozen flat-screen TVs and a massive outdoor projection screen.
Serving up St. Louis-style spare ribs and beef ribs, plus roasted chicken and tri-tip—all of which are spice-rubbed and smoked until tender—Smokeyard BBQ & Chop Shop is one of the newer dining destinations at the Westfield UTC mall. In addition to barbecue, choose from steaks, pork chops, fish, sandwiches and burgers; plus sides such as BBQ baked beans, sweet potato mash and cornbread with honey butter.
Phil’s BBQ is pretty much a household name in San Diego. Founded by owner Phil Pace, the outfit is famous for its mesquite-barbecued baby-back and beef ribs; barbecue sandwiches; rib-less dinners; and sides such as the hailed macaroni salad and colossal onion rings. There’s also specialties such as Phil’s Loaded Fries—fresh-cut French fries, sharp American cheese, barbecue sauce and chopped onions, topped with your choice of pulled pork or deli-sliced tri-tip. The eatery has several locations, but our favorite is its massive flagship restaurant and bar in the Midway District near Point Loma.
For the best barbecue in Pacific Beach, head to Iron Pig Alehouse. It’s a sleek, modern dining lounge offering slow-cooked, dry-rubbed, hickory-smoked barbecue; paired with an extensive craft beer selection. The Meat Madness sampler platter offers the best of all worlds: baby-back ribs, pulled chicken, pulled pork, brisket and two sides. We recommend the cheesy smash with Yukon potatoes and sharp cheddar, bacon and sour cream; and the southern greens. Iron Pig also offers a piglet menu for kids.
Located at Coronado Ferry Landing, Lil’ Piggy’s Bar-B-Q serves up Memphis-style barbecue amid a cheery space boasting a large patio with bay views. First, choose your meat—pulled pork, sliced brisket, sausage, chicken or ribs. Then pick your style—plate, sandwich, salad, baked potato and even “Memphis-nacho style.” Menu stars also include the Tennessee street tacos, smoked brisket chili, corn fritters and banana pudding for dessert. To drink: 100 beer selections.
Southern barbecue meets Louisiana-style soul food at Felix’s BBQ with Soul in the North County city of Oceanside—where it’s all about that southern hospitality, charm and cooking. This means hearty plates of slow-cooked, hickory-smoked ribs and other barbecue fare; plus, catfish, black-eyed peas, fried okra, cornbread muffins, hush puppies and much more—served by welcoming staff in a quaint, music-filled room. Felix’s is a special place that invites you to linger after your meal and relax with friends.
Find Kansas City-style barbecue, smoked meat sandwiches and southern classics at The Smok’d Hog (which plans to move from Hillcrest to Temecula early 2019). It’s a cute, comfy eatery decked out in black and white, with a chalkboard spelling out specials and menu favorites. The pulled pork sandwich is divine, as are the smoked baked beans with rib tips, and the pulled chicken plate. Don’t miss Fried Chicken Fridays, and St. Louis-style ribs are served by the half and full rack on weekends after 4 p.m. And the sauces are stellar; choose from Carolina gold, Carolina vinegar, KC, Sweet Heat and Georgia.
Known for its Santa Maria-style barbecue, locations at local farmers markets and catering services, Corbin’s Q has opened its first brick-and-mortar location near San Diego State University. Go straight for the CQ Sampler—tri-tip slices, sausage, pulled pork and chicken thigh—with both their sweet and spicy sauces, and sides of the grilled corn and sweet-potato tater tots. Thank us later.
Coaster Saloon 744 Ventura Place, Mission Beach, 858.488.4438.
Coop’s West Texas BBQ 2625 Lemon Grove Ave., Lemon Grove, 619.589.0478
Corbin’s Q 6548 El Cajon Blvd., Rolando, 619.913.3287
Felix’s BBQ with Soul 3613 Ocean Ranch Blvd., Oceanside, 760.439.7072
Grand Ole BBQ y Asado 15505 Olde Hwy. 80, El Cajon, 619.561.3015; 3302 32nd St., North Park, 619.213.3765
Iron Pig Alehouse 1520 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach, 858.412.4299
Lil’ Piggy’s Bar-B-Q 1201 First St., Coronado, 619.522.0217
Phil’s BBQ 3750 Sports Arena Blvd., Midway District, 619.226.6333
Smokeyard BBQ & Chop Shop 4313 La Jolla Village Drive, #2265, UTC, 858.630.7427
The Smok’d Hog 3749 Park Blvd., Hillcrest, 619.546.5467