The beauty of living in a town full of transplants is getting to eat food from tons of different cultures without having to travel for it. The combined efforts of Southerners and native San Diegans have resulted in perfected regional barbecue techniques benefitting the city and its suburbs. Get the best of the South -- BBQ, obviously -- without actually being in the true South; here's where you can find the best of it in San Diego:
Santee (& other locations)
Phil’s BBQ has been a San Diego staple since 1998 and has been growing ever since, becoming maybe the best-known BBQ stop in the city. Its menu hasn’t changed in that near two decades, but why mess with winning recipes? The El Toro Sandwich has been nationally recognized -- the belly-sliced tri tip is sliced deli thin and mesquite-smoked for flavor, sandwiched between a butter-soft bun with coleslaw and BBQ sauce, of which only two people in the world know the top secret recipe. Just prepare for a wait: the line of people waiting to get a taste of the sweet barbecue sauce and grilled meats often stretches outside.
That Boy Good is indeed very good. Executive Chef Mark Millwood’s experience in Mississippi and Louisiana shows through in the Southern-style BBQ where everything is made from scratch. The moment you step through the swinging doors, you’re met with a wafting smoky scent, mingling with the wood paneling. The dirty fries, topped with coleslaw, mac 'n' cheese sauce, pulled pork, and diced jalapeños, are a favorite, and the tangy barbecue sauce gets its sweetness from the not-so secret ingredient of Coca-Cola.
All of the meats at Coop’s are “Texas-true and Texas-approved,” thanks to owner Brad Cooper’s family recipe. The Lemon Grove barbecue joint is insanely popular with locals and national media, and for good reason. The meats are slow-cooked over a fire made with mesquite and oak wood. Barbecue sauce is optional -- it's not at all required to enjoy the delectable brisket or jerk chicken. Seating is limited, so you won't get any suspicious side eyes if you take it to-go (it's pretty common).
Iron Pig Alehouse makes nearly everything in-house, from the sides, like the Southern greens and smoked beans, all the way down to the whipped cream for the Key lime pie. Chef Rick Daniels hails from El Paso, Texas, and his roots are evident in the dishes, like the Sliced Brisket Sammie served on the signature Texas toast, or the hickory-smoked chicken wings that are brined, smoked for two and a half hours, and finally flash fried. The wings come with a side of sauce -- the flavor intake is in your court.
The Smok’d Hog specializes in regional American BBQ, meaning its rotating menu showcases something from every part of the country. The KC Pulled Pork Sandwich (pictured) is a favorite, featuring pulled pork that has been smoked all day. Other specialties include the Carolina Gold Pulled Pork Sandwich, pulled pork belly tacos, and ribs on the weekend, and the hog sauce (made in-house, along with all the other sauces) mixes the best of Kansas- and Carolina-style barbecue.
Grand Ole BBQ Y Asado has only been open since October, but it’s already a heavy hitter in the barbecue scene -- people line up an hour before dinner opens on the weekends. The brisket and short ribs are both cooked for 14 hours, starting at 4am every day, and are only available at dinner. On Sundays, the Argentine grill features non-traditional specialties like blood sausage and chorizo. All the meat is organic, and BYOB means you won’t break the bank on booze. Plus, the meats are cooked in the same parchment paper used by one of the most popular BBQ spots in the nation, Franklin Barbecue, although the line is much shorter here in San Diego. Score one for the home team.
Home to two Ole Hickory-style smokers, Cali Comfort specializes in Kansas City-style barbecue, which means light or no sauce on most dishes and lightly basted meats with high quality dry rubs. The meats are cooked low and slow, and there are a number of sauces to try, if you want to deface KC 'cue like that, including the jalapeño sauce -- a nod to San Diego’s culinary scene.
Bull’s Smokin’ BBQ is all about the experience. The beef ribs can’t be classified -- they just have to be tasted. They're coated in a dry rub, smoked all day, and accompanied with a side of house-made barbecue sauce. One rib comes with two portions of meat and the extra bone is removed, cleaned, and literally thrown to the dogs. The outdoor patio is super dog-friendly and full of happy pooches snacking on bones... just like their owners.
1. The Smok'd Hog3749 Park Blvd., San Diego
2. Phil's BBQ9816 Mission Gorge Rd, Santee
3. That Boy Good207 N Coast Hwy, Oceanside
4. Coop's West Texas BBQ Chula Vista534 Broadway, Chula Vista
5. Iron Pig Alehouse1520 Garnet Ave, San Diego
6. Grand Ole BBQ y Asado3302 32nd St, San Diego
7. Cali Comfort BBQ8910 Troy St, Spring Valley
8. Bull's Smokin BBQ1127 W Morena Blvd, San Diego
One of the greatest things about Smok'd Hog is their rotating menu that features BBQ styles from all over the country. We are huge fans of their pulled pork sandwiches and tacos. If you don't know what we are talking about, you need to get over to Smok'd Hog and eat them as soon as possible.
Phil's BBQ serves baby back and beefy ribs, mesquite grilled BBQ chicken, and sandwiches like the pulled pork BBQ Broham, alongside a choice selection of 20 mostly local drafts. If you are craving some really good BBQ, you need to stop by Phil's.
Everything's bigger in...San Diego? This southern-state-of-mind BBQ joint is known for its hearty portions and "dirty" sandwiches (drowning in cole slaw). The signature entrees are the country-fried chicken thighs and waffles and the cornmeal-crusted Delta catfish.
Coop's took over front-of-the-house operations for Center Cut (who thankfully still sling booze in the back), with BBQ favorites including brisket, ribs, and five-fromage mac 'n cheese. We think that Coop's serves up some of the best BBQ in San Diego, but you should stop by and see for yourself.
Iron Pig Alehouse is serving slow-cooked smoked barbecue, and of course, craft beer aplenty. They’ve got every kind of BBQ’d meat you could want, served with all the fixn’s - like mac & cheese made with four kinds of cheese and topped with Texas toast breadcrumbs, potato salad, and more. Wash all of that down with one of their more than 30 local brews on tap.
San Antonio meets Sao Paolo at this Texas style barbecue/Argentine steakhouse in Altadena. With plenty of outdoor seating, it's the perfect place to bring the squad for pre-beach feasting. Leave room for some of the traditional BBQ sides, like potato salad, Texas bean salad, and sweet pickles, plus an entire sauce spread. Lunch is served Wednesday-Saturday from noon until 4pm, or until it sells out, which is inevitable. Dinner is from 6-9pm, or until it's sold out, which, again, it will.
Check out Cali Comfort BBQ's Low-and-Slow Cali BBQ Menu for some quality plates (and even Grandpa's Soups!) -- they've got 20 beers on tap to back it all up. There are plenty of great places to get BBQ in San Diego, but Cali Comfort has to be one of the best.
Bull's Smokin BBQ is more than one of San Diego's best places to get delicious BBQ. Here you can chow down on beef ribs with your dog on the outdoor patio. After eating their BBQ dishes, it will be hard to call any other restaurant your favorite.