It was a HOT 100+ degrees out in Phoenix, Arizona (I think it hit 113 degrees that day), and because I'm spoiled and lived in San Diego all my life, I was dying in the dry heat in the middle of July.
However... the weather does not stop me from experiencing a new restaurant for my food blog. I love that Phoenix has SO many mom n' pop restaurants so you can imagine how excited I get to try something new. I'm like a dog ready to go out for a walk or a ride in the car. Before you know it, I'm in the car. OK, bad analogy, but yeah, I was ready to get my grub on!
We were actually on the way to La Grande Orange Pizzeria for some crispy, hot thin crust gourmet pizza. The funny thing is that I consider pizza a "snack". I'll have two slices, and then I'm done with the flavor. One hour later, I'll get hungry again but for a new flavor. But for some reason, pizza sounded REALLY good this day.
And then we get there. What the? No pizza/baking until 4:00 PM? On a weekday? Monday through Thursday, to be exact. I look at the white board of lunch menu items. Salad. Eh. Sandwiches. Not bad. I wanted something warm and comforting. Yes, pretty random especially on a scorching hot day where I could fry an egg on my mother-in-law's SUV hood. Mike asked me, "So, do you want to stay here or go somewhere else?" I give him this look and said, "Um, yeah... we can eat here." The minute words come out of mouth, he replied, "OK, let's go."
My hubby knows me so well. Hesitation and my facial expression gave it all away.
I was now interested in a good ol' burger and fries.
We ended up at Olive & Ivy near the Scottsdale Fashion Square, this amazing shopping mall where the Nordstrom's White Chocolate Ice Storms taste better when it's hot out, and where they have a Dillard's and a BCBGMAXAZRIA store that has the best sales.
We entered through the Marketplace and noticed that they have fresh baked goods and a coffee counter. Yum. Olive & Ivy's flavors are influenced by the Mediterranean (hence, the olives) and the coolness of California.
This was a first. I had to "study" the menu since I did not research beforehand, but we all knew what I was going to order. I immediately ordered the Angus Burger (cooked medium) with aged cheddar and sweet caramelized onions.
Our server came out with freshly baked foccacia strips and this pesto dipping sauce that was simply divine. Simple: pine nuts, basil, parmesan cheese, garlic, and olive oil. Dee-lish. The bread came out warm and when I dipped it into the pesto sauce, it just soaked up all the oil & goodies in the sauce. It was so good.
YAY, my burger was served! It arrived on a fresh bun with a single large piece of butter lettuce, beautiful tomato slices, a plate full of thin, cut french fries and a little dish of Heinz ketchup (I can tell). The meat of the burger was cooked nicely and it was seasoned very well. The burger patty was warm and it was good, but if it was served five minutes later, it would have been cold. The fries were nothing to write home about because they seemed like frozen shoestrings, in my opinion. I tend to like a crispy fry, or one with obvious "depth" (not sure this is the word I am looking for), but these were a little limp and boring. Ho-hum.
I have to admit, I was a bit jealous of what Mike and his mom ordered. They both ordered the Braised Short Rib sandwich with Havarti cheese and a side of my FAVE, creamy coleslaw.
I know, right? Sounds way better than a cheeseburger, but I listened to my craving.
The sandwich was served with the braised rib jus on the side -- like a fancy French Dip. Oh, it was awesome. The meat was nice and tender, bread was fresh, and just like the foccacia sticks, the bread soaked up the jus making every bite of that sandwich one of the best things you ever ate. Jealous.
Well, my craving for a burger that day was satisfied although I started off craving pizza. I never got my pizza, but I was over it and went back thinking that pizza is just a snack.
I LOVE a simple burger & crispy, fresh french fries with Heinz ketchup (gotta be Heinz). Throw in a fountain Coca-Cola over crushed ice, and I'm happy as a clam.
My hubby, Mike, and I talked recently about how I should start a quest to find the best burger in San Diego -- of course, in my opinion. I guess you can say that my taste for a good burger equals simple goodness. Meat has to be juicy, cooked perfectly and most importantly, I HAVE to taste the flavor of the meat. I refuse to let all the "extra" toppings disguise the flavor that I want the most, which is the protein. The bread is important too, as it should be soft & warm and should not ultimately be the star of the burger, but become a good fit with the meat.
So... when Smash Burger recently opened in San Diego and a lot of talk about their soft opening was all over Twitter, I decided that I will search for that perfect burger to my liking!
Here is my list of SD Burger Quest candidates (in alphabetical order ...no favoritism *smirk*):
I've seen Neighborhood on the corner of G Street and 8th Avenue as Mike and I frequent downtown often since he works off of 5th Avenue. It was selected as best burger joint by local restaurant critic, David Nelson, in the San Diego Magazine's 2009 Best Restaurant issue. Caramelized onions, blue gruyere cheese, and pepper greens (arugula, I assume) are the main ingredients in Neighborhood's burger. On an unrelated note, something on the menu is calling my name: chorizo corn dogs. *drool*
O'Brothers is a suggestion from a Tweeter, @Stefaniya, when I posted about the burger quest. I've actually never heard of it until she mentioned it. "O" for "Organic". They serve 100% organic beef burgers -- from the bun, cheese, veggies - every darn thing. Even the sides, desserts, and beverages are organic. Wow. This joint is also located in downtown at Horton Plaza. Huh. Who would have known? Since I cut my all my department store cards after college, I'm like, "Is Planet Hollywood still at Horton Plaza?"
Mike's real estate team leader, Ken, says that Rocky's has the BEST burger in SD. Hey, he's a former culinary graduate from NYC (jealous), so he may be onto something. Simple: 1/3 lb. cheeseburger with red onion, lettuce, tomato, pickles & mayo. They also have a 1/2 lb. and a "no cheese" option. Their lunch special is a burger, fries & a pint of beer for $9.75. No credit cards & cash only.
Like I mentioned, Smash Burger is what sparked the quest, so I'm eager to try one. They take "balls" (yep, I said balls) of certified angus beef and smash it on the grill to form a patty on the fly and create that crispy caramelization we all know and love. Hence, the Smash Burger. They have a SD Smash Burger just for us that is similar to a Mexican torta. The classic comes with onion, lettuce, tomato, pickles, American cheese, their "smash sauce" (a type of thousand island or Russian dressing??) on a buttery egg bun.
I've heard of The Waterfront before, but had no idea where it was in downtown. Living in San Diego all my life (30-something years), yeah... I still get lost in downtown. Turns out, it's west of the Interstate 5 off of Kettner. This place was named best burger joint in San Diego Magazine's 2009 Best Restaurant issue by the editor. Looking at the online menu, their signature burger, the one named after the place, is a quarter pounder with grilled onions and lettuce.
The Restaurant at The Pearl hotel in Point Loma has a burger on their menu called "The Best Burger in Town". That's got to mean something! Made with fresh Meyer Ranch chuck, pickles, tomatos, greens, aioli, on a Con Pane (bakery down the street) bun -- and served with those addicting pomme frites. I've had the pleasure to dine here, but have not ordered their burger.
Today, I ran into Rico in my building and we immediately talked about my burger quest. The Whisknladle (WNL) Brandt burger comes with artisan cheeses, house cured bacon (mm), caramelized onions, and yup, a fried egg. Dee-lish. He swears it is the ultimate best burger -- even better than the ribeye they serve. I'm also wanting to try their crispy sweetbreads and bone marrow.
OK, the candidates below are of places that I have been to, but would like to evaluate them again in this capacity....
I fell in love with the Burger Lounge since they opened in Kensington a couple of years ago. I call it the upscale In-n-Out. Tallgrass beef, onion, homemade 1000 island, lettuce, tomato, on a fresh bun -- never disappoints. I LOVE their turkey burger with basil.
Can you say "Diners, Drive-Ins, and DIVES"? Definitely a dive - on Orange Avenue in Coronado. Our friends, Jen & Jason, recommended that we try this place for their Slamburgers. They come in 1/4 and 1/2 lb and have many different kinds of burgers. From what I remember, the meat was dee-lish and flavorful and at the time, I was super impressed.
I've been here once. When Mike and I started dating, he took me here and I remember the gigantic piece of raw onion in my burger as I sat next to strangers at a long picnic table. It was good, but that piece of onion sticks out in my mind. I heard they got rid of the picnic tables/community seating?
Raquel and I met through BridalInsider.com a few years ago when she asked me a question about my wedding venue. After getting to know each other via BI and Facebook, it turns out that our husbands have the same name, we both love Disney, and have many mutual friends in this small world of ours.
I had the opportunity to meet Raquel's talented mother-in-law, Joy, who owns the cutest tea shop in Point Loma called Tea-Upon-Chatsworth (TUC).
Ever since Raquel told me about TUC, I've been wanting to go but never made it out. I am now kicking myself *ow* for not visiting sooner. I tell you, their Chatsworth scones, radish & lemon herb butter tea sandwiches, and their green & white mango tea are worth the trip to Point Loma no matter where you are in San Diego, Los Angeles, or even Phoenix!
Days after I joined Twitter, Junvi and I set a tea date to discuss business and enjoy "afternoon tea" on a not-so-rainy Sunday afternoon. It was a Sunday where rain was predicted, but never fell in Point Loma.
Once I walked through the door, I was transferred into another place in time. Porcelain tea kettles, tea sets, and of course, tea cups were the main decor as they lined the window sill and were displayed on cupboards in the back of the restaurant. Tables were lined in white tablecloth and had fresh rose petals on it. Wow. Although the place is very small, it is perfect for the atmosphere and environment that Joy intended it to be. Quaint and cute. It was time for some serious female bonding!
I noticed that there was a large baby shower party to the left (they all looked at me as I walked through the door thinking I was one of their guests). The party to the right was celebrating a little girl's birthday. The group in the back were two older couples, just hanging out laughing and chatting. I stood there, observing and taking it all in, as I watched Joy and her team assist the baby shower in re-arranging the table in the middle. Everyone looked busy. It was expected, as Raquel told me that they are busiest during the weekends.
When I had the free chance, I kindly said, "Excuse me, Joy? Hi, I'm Janice and I have a 2pm reservation." She acknowledged me and walked me to the table for two in the corner next to the window. It was a perfect seat. She joked, "You'll be safe here."
After Junvi arrived, our server gave us the menu to look over. She suggested that we start off with a white tea and then select a black tea to enjoy with the food. Because we were very chatty and were pretty late ordering, the Mutan White Tea we selected arrived just before our food did.
Delicious. I love my tea as is - no sugar, no cream. The Mutan White Tea has a touch of vanilla flavor and infused with rose petals. It was absolutely refreshing.
We soon were welcomed by a tower of delicious-ness by Joy, herself. She explained that the hot items were at the bottom of the tower, the second tier consisted of the items to cleanse our palate before the top of the tier, the scrumptious desserts. She even took the time to explain every single item on the tower before letting us loose:
Fresh Radish & Lemon-Herb Butter Tea Sandwich
Smoked Turkey & Apricot Chutney Tea Sandwich
Candied Walnuts, Date & Orange Fruit Pate on Toast
Feta Cheese & Kalamata Olive-Tomato Cup
Black Bean-Caper Hummus Pinwheel
Chatsworth Scone & Cream with Roseberry Preserves
Fresh Fruit of Season
Chocolate Ganache Cupcake
Caramel Pudding Topped with Meringue Cream
Wow, not your usual English tea shop items! Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of every separate item (boo on me), but I can tell you that everything was yummy. My favorite items on the bottom tier were the black bean caper hummus pinwheel and the fresh radish butter tea sandwich.
I love black beans (and they are very healthy for you, too). Put two yummy things together like black beans and hummus and they result in happiness. So good. I don't usually eat radishes, but this sandwich was so fresh-tasting. I absolutely enjoyed the crunch of the radishes and the saltiness of the butter on simple white bread.
The Chatsworth scones were my favorite thing here. Those scones, accompanied by the roseberry preserves and fresh cream, are HEAVENLY. Really. Raquel told me that her hubby makes them -- wow, they are SO good. So light, fluffy, and they are a nice soft shade of pink!
The tea we ordered with the food was the house Chatsworth black tea. Our server said it was an excellent choice with the food. Of course we had to try the signature house tea! It was a perfect compliment to the food. Hot, simple, and good.
The chocolate ganache cupcake was the cutest little thing! I was impressed by the attention to detail they put into one little cupcake. The rim of the liner was lightly dipped in chocolate, each mini cake had a thin layer of ganache on top that was spread perfectly, and confectioners sugar was sprinkled on about half of the cupcake. This cupcake was seriously only about 1.5 inches wide, and was fabulous. The caramel pudding square was equally fabulous.
[Junvi sipping her tea]
[Nothing gets between me and my Chatsworth scone!]
After we were close to finishing our last bite, Joy came over to ask us how we enjoyed the tea and the meal. This sparked a conversation between the three of us that lasted for about a half an hour.
We were treated to a pot of their green and white mango tea, which was my favorite tea overall, and the perfect way to end our Tea-Upon-Chatsworth experience. Junvi and I literally closed the place down as the baby shower party guests were leaving and we paid our check.
A few of tips:
Reservations are highly recommended. This little place holds 40 people max, so it doesn't hurt to call ahead for a reservation. Joy, herself, called me to confirm and even called the day before to remind me of my reservation.
If you are a vegetarian or accompanied by one, state so at the time you reserve the table. I didn't know that we had to specify that at the time and oops, Junvi is a vegetarian. However, they accommodated us by replacing one of the turkey tea sandwiches to a traditional cucumber one. A major plus for them!
Afternoon tea is... well, afternoon tea. I didn't consider this a meal but a special treat during the day.
High tea consists of all of the items above, plus two more: Irish Cream of Potato Soup with Bacon and a baked blueberry tartlet -- for just a few dollars more
Joy is one talented woman and were honored to be guests at her quaint tea establishment on Chatsworth Boulevard. We will definitely be frequent visitors!
Oh. Em. Gee. Seriously, I cannot believe that Phil's BBQ has not made the food blog yet. I have labeled it my favorite restaurant in San Diego for the following reasons:
Excellent and super friendly staff, especially Mr. Phil Pace himself being there
VERY popular amongst the San Diego community - always a long line, which is a sign of a thriving business with delicious eats
Fun, atmosphere - everyone is at happy place at Phil's
Two words: BEEFY RIBS
Eight years ago, my friend of the same name, Janice, asked me if I've ever been to Phil's BBQ. I answered, not realizing what I've been missing, "Nope, where's that located?" She says, "It's in Mission Hills. It's super small, but the food portions are huge and the food is SO good."
After that... I was hooked. The first thing that I have ever tried here was their succulent, brontosaurus-sized, beef ribs at, what was once, their original location in Mission Hill. I remember that the portion size for dinner was massive, and that I was in heaven. Phil's BBQ re-located to Point Loma off of Sports Arena Boulevard in a much larger space that includes flat screen TV's, a bar, and lots of outdoor seating.
We've been to Phil's BBQ many, many times, including making it a birthday tradition for me to enjoy ribs and slaw every year for a few years now. I even met and had a conversation with Mr. Pace and took a picture with him. Very nice guy!
For this particular adventure, it was a perfect Saturday and the hubby and I wanted to "get our dibs on their ribs"... yum!
We arrived to Phil's just a little bit before noon and the line to eat inside was already outside the door. The line ended just right under the large menu sign. To us, we were in a great position. We have seen the line go all the way around the east side of the restaurant.
After less than 10 minutes in line, we were the next party to order. Mmm, we were already drooling over the smell of the BBQ'd meats on the grill. The party behind us spotted an empty table for two and one of them immediately left the line to grab it until the hostess told him, "Nope, you can't do that." One rule at Phil's... you cannot "save" a table until you order. All the times we have visited, we never had a problem finding an empty table - even at the former location which was about 1/4 of its current size. There will always be someone leaving.
We order the usual - beefy rib tickler for me and a chick tickler for my hubby. Mike took a real estate phone call while I was ordering so I found an empty table on the east side patio and sat down with our empty water cups and the pager (gotta find that seat - pronto!). As I waited for Mike to return, one of nice workers asked me if I wanted her to fill my drink cups. Wow, what great service! I thanked her and said, "Do you mind? I'm waiting for my husband and don't want to leave our table." She said, "Of course!" I was happy and impressed by that small, but meaningful gesture. Suddenly....
BZZZZZZ.... our food was ready!
My beef tickler came with one huge beef rib drenched in that addicting homemade BBQ sauce, fresh cut french fries, cole slaw, and two onion rings - all for $6.45. Yup. A deal. Before they had ticklers, I used to get the full-on dinners. A regular beef rib dinner comes with three of these babies, so you can imagine how much food I got. That's when I strayed away from them and started ordering the small baby back pork ribs. However, just last year I went back to the beefy rib. SO GOOD.
I took a bite. Mm, the tang of the BBQ sauce, the char of the outside of the rib, and the juicy meat equaled JOY. My fingertips and the corners of my mouth had sauce all over. It's a good thing they put a roll of paper towels on each table. It gets messy - but the fun type of messy. I mean, it's BBQ, folks! None of that cutting your ribs with a knife and fork!
French fries were fresh and the cole slaw was crunchy delicious, as usual. I swear they put a little horseradish in the cole slaw dressing because there's a kick. Not sure though. As for the o-rings, you can't go wrong with the beer batter onion rings either.
This is my hubby's chick tickler. It's the same exact thing as my tickler, but with BBQ'd boneless chicken breast chunks slathered in the sauce.
Yep, another great Phil's experience on the books. Here are few helpful tips about Phil's BBQ:
Opens at 11:00 AM - try and arrive by 11:30 AM for barely a line and a table inside.
Like I mentioned, you cannot save a table before you order. The larger family sized tables are only for large parties.
Sign up for their email list and you get front of the line privilege on your birthday - YAY!
Ticklers are the way to go for a great deal - $6.45 - the only catch, no substitutions. It's a coincidence that slaw, fries, and rings are my favorite sides.
If you call ahead for carry-out (you can't call ahead to eat inside), they don't pack your food until you arrive, therefore, EXTRA fresh food! Plus, you can just cruise inside past the long lines on the "other" line to the left.
CLOSED on Mondays and for two weeks during the winter holiday season :)
Adam Richman from Man vs. Food was just here too. Be on the lookout for that episode on the Travel Channel!
Phil's BBQ never disappoints. They also have BBQ chicken, beef burgers, turkey burger, their famous Broham sandwich (pulled pork), heavenly baked beans, mac salad, potato salad, and much, much more.
Big birthday coming up soon - so you know what we're going to have! YES.
I found the best darn burger in San Diego a while ago. But, could there be more out there? Let me know.
Burger Lounge Danny's Palm Bar & Grill Hodad's Jayne's Gastropub **WINNER** JFAT Neighborhood O'Brothers Burgers Red Fox Room Rocky's Crown Pub Smashburger San Diego The Corner Bar & Grill The Counter The Lodge at Torrey Pines Tioli's Crazee Burger The Waterfront Bar & Grill The Restaurant at The Pearl Urban Mo's Western Steakburger Whisknladle