Saturday, October 22, 2011

We Didn’t Need Guidance…

from the “lady who lives in the dashboard” to find Phil’s BBQ in San Diego. The aroma of mesquite-smoked meat worked better than any GPS.

We learned about Phil’s from an episode of Man v Food on the Travel Channel and were determined that this would be one of our first San Diego stops. Having sated our cheesesteak cravings at Gaglione Brothers, it was now time for some “que.”

“For the past thirteen years, BBQ lovers across San Diego County have turned to restaurateur Phil Pace to satisfy a singular craving: mesquite-grilled baby back and beef ribs, chicken and sandwiches. Serving thousands of customers a day from a diverse clientele of skateboarders to Bentleys, Phil has built his foundation on consistency, quality, freshness and friendly service.

"’We thrive on providing each guest with the 'Phil's Experience', which basically comes down to organized chaos," laughs owner Phil Pace. "The biggest reason behind our success is our loyal customers who have supported us and waited in line for a taste of BBQ for the past twelve years’" (

“If you like finger-licking good BBQ, then Phil's BBQ in San Diego is for you. Don’t let the lines scare you. Phil's is a well-oiled machine. They keep the line moving and people fed. If you look at the website, look to the upper-right hand corner for the Phil's Cam. You'll be able to see the line outside the building. Don't like lines? You can always call ahead and take your ribs home” (

Just how popular is Phil’s? “Since opening its doors in San Diego in 1998, Phil's BBQ has served over one million pounds of BBQ sauce (enough to fill Shamu's tank)” ( And Phil’s is the recipient of multiple awards (the following is only a partial list): Winner Best BBQ—San Diego City Beat Readers Poll 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003; Winner Best Barbecue— 2011; Winner Best BBQ—California Restaurant Associations Gold Medallion Winner 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006; Winner Best BBQ—Best of City Search 2010, 2009; Best BBQ in San Diego—Channel 10 A-list 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007; Winner Best BBQ—San Diego Union Tribune Reader's Choice Awards 2010, 2008; Winner Best BBQ—San Diego Magazine Readers Poll 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2000; Restaurateur of the Year—California Restaurant Association San Diego Chapter named Phil Pace the 2009 Restaurateur of the Year. Pretty impressive, don’t you think?

Being forewarned about lines, we arrived one morning just after 11:30 a.m. While the line hadn’t yet reached this warning point, it was still almost out the door and the inside tables were three-quarters full. While Phil’s describes their dining experience as “organized chaos,” in truth the system works efficiently. At the head of the line is one of Phil’s staff members, who cheerfully welcomes each diner and explained the system to us “newbies.” The order-taking at the counter proceeds smoothly and you are given a “buzzer” that lets you know when to retrieve your meal. One thing I especially appreciated is their having two sizes of to-go boxes sitting on a counter for those of us who can’t finish their meal. No need to corral a staff member. You grab your own containers and bag.

Like most BBQ “joints,” the menu at Phil’s keeps it simple. For meats, you can choose chicken, baby back ribs, and beef ribs—either as meat only or as a dinner with two sides. There are combo plates with two meats. Sandwiches include Pulled Pork, sliced tri-tip, cheeseburger, turkey burger, chicken breast, veggie burger. For small sides ($1.50) your choices are fries, potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, and macaroni salad. For large sides ($2.25) your choices are baked potato, corn-on-the cob, steamed veggies, fries, baked beans, slaw, potato salad and macaroni salad.

On this visit, we decided to order one BBQ Broham (pulled pork shoulder seasoned and char-grilled, served on a bed of cole slaw and topped with BBQ Sauce) sandwich (above) and one El Toro (deli sliced tri-tip char-grilled and topped with BBQ sauce) sandwich (below) with small sides of potato salad, beans, and slaw. The plan was to share each sandwich which we did—only later that night. Look at the size of these sandwiches.

These are small sides (photo below)? The portions at Phil’s are enormous. No. Larger than enormous. They are gargantuan. And these gargantuan sandwiches are only $6.95. What a deal. Or are they?

No matter how large the portion, its money wasted if the food isn’t good. This food wasn’t just good—it was phenomenal. The meats were moist and tender with just enough smoke flavor to let you know that you’re eating BBQ, but not so much that the real flavors of the meat are obscured. And, as you can see, there was enough meat spilling out from the bun to make a second sandwich.

But it was the sides that were the true indication of the restaurant’s excellence. Usually, BBQ places concentrate on the meat and the side dishes become after thoughts. Not so here. The beans had just enough sweetener (I think molasses) and were spiked with a liberal dose of black pepper.

The slaw, may be the best restaurant slaw ever, had a mayo dressing that was slightly thinned with milk or cream and tasted of just a bit of sugar. And no vinegar. And the potato salad runs a close second to that we found at the Jimtown Store (Healdsburg, CA).

Wanting to personally thank the Phil’s staff following the reunion, we used this stop to enjoy a second lunch. This day the line was out the door and close to the twenty-one minute and fourteen second demarcation point. By the time we got in the doors, the line had extended beyond this point.

Chuck, not wanting to mess with success, again ordered the pulled pork sandwich. To the slaw, beans, and potato salad he added—no surprise here—a small order of fries. Yes, this is the small order. I suspect that the large order would have fed our entire reunion group.

(And speaking of the reunion, Phil's had catered meals on a couple of occasions for Chuck's cousin Karen and Dick Allsing, so with their very favorable experiences and our satisfying meal at the restaurant, we asked Phil's to cater a lunch for about 50 people attending the Dannenberg Family Reunion. On our return visit to Phil's, we were fortunate enough to run into Phil himself, so we were able to pass along our thanks and the group's positive comments on the pulled pork sandwiches, tri-tip sandwiches, BBQ chicken, and three sides.)

Before I awarded Phil’s the distinction of my “Favorite BBQ Anywhere,” I wanted to give the baby back ribs a try. Being partial to dry rub ribs, I requested the sauce on the side. The portion contained seven very meaty ribs that fell off the bone and were almost fat-free. Like with the pulled pork and tri-tip, you tasted some smoke and a lot of great pork flavor. And my decision to go unsauced was a wise one. These needed no embellishment. The mild rub along with the smoking process was all these babies (pun intended) needed.

Again, we had enough leftovers for that night’s supper—about a third of the fries, some slaw, some potato salad, three of my ribs, and enough pulled pork that had spilled onto Chuck’s plate to make a good-sized sandwich for him and a good serving on the side for me. And our Woopie pie—intended for dessert—also came home with us. Not familiar with Woopie pies? “Whoopie pies are a dessert that consists of two cake-like cookies sandwiching a creamy, frosting-like filling. It is easy to think of them as a more portable version of a cupcake, where the frosting is inside of the cake and there is no wrapper to contend with. They’re generally thought to have originated in Pennsylvania Dutch country as an Amish dessert, but the exact origin has never reliably been determined and they are very popular all over New England. The classic whoopie is made with chocolate cake and has a sweet cream filling, although marshmallow filling is very popular in some parts of the country” (

Is Phil’s my favorite BBQ anytime anywhere? As Sarah Palin might say: “You Betcha.” Phil’s has everything—great food, low prices, friendly and efficient staff--and even a space to wash up after the meal. The only downside is that this is not a place where one lingers over their meal. The frantic look of diners seeking a place to sit before their food is up acts a deterrent. My rating? 5.0 Addies of course.

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