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Mar 22, 2007 10:25 AM

Brewery-type lunch place in San Diego?

I'm heading to San Diego on Saturday, and am looking for a place to eat lunch that serves decent food and good beer. I'm not very familiar with the city (and I hope it's ok to ask about it on this board), but somewhere in the downtown/gas lamp district would be ideal.

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  1. This will probably get moved to the California Board, so heads up!

    I know the Yardhouse is a chain, but they really do have decent food (their Hawaiian burger is the best I've ever had, seriously) and with so many beers, how can you go wrong? And they're downtown - 4th and Broadway.

    There's also Karl Strauss downtown, but I, personally, don't enjoy their beer or food very much.

    If you manage to get to Escondido (North County SD), Stone Brewing Co has a new restaurant - World Gardon Bistro. They have many, many beers which are good and tasty and their food is great, too. The beer cheese or cheese plates would be my picks for an appetizer (the beer cheese is on the dessert menu, not under appetizer, but you can still order it). Be prepared for a wait (or make reservations) and spotty service (or sit at the bar and eat) and definitely wander through the garden!

    2 Replies
    1. re: leanneabe

      I second the recommendation for Yardhouse. The food and beer there are quite good and the selection of beers is huge. Karl Strauss is also pretty good if you're looking for a more "local" brewery, although the selection is smaller.

      1. re: mliew

        FYI, Karl Strauss isn't really local in any meaningful sense. Their bottled beer, for example, is contract brewed for them in Wisconsin.

    2. I vote for Karl Strauss on Columbia st., hands down. We're not talking about haute cuisine, but it beats the hell out of Rock Bottom or Gordon Biersch. I've never eaten at the Yardhouse.

      Whatever you do, avoid Gordon Biersch for food (decent beer though).

      1. If you're downtown/Gaslamp, there are really only three places that are worth discussing, and none of them are Yardhouse (expensive and just OK) or Karl Strauss. No offense to mangiatore! Karl Strauss has good food, but their beer is pretty lame. Definitely the least interesting of what San Diego has to offer beer-wise.

        Cafe Chloe - This is a small French bistro that has a surprisingly good beer selection. Lots of local craft brews, as well as some unusual imports you don't commonly see. They have Traquair's Coriander Ale, for example, which is really great and goes well with meat dishes.

        The Local Eatery - More of a typical pub atmosphere. A large number of taps of some of the best local craft brews in San Diego. Food is simple pub grub, nothing special, but tasty enough.

        Downtown Johnny Brown's - This is another pub-type place, but the owner is really into the San Diego craft brewing scene and so has a large number of great local handles. Food is basic pub grub.

        1. A bit north of downtown in an area called Kearny Mesa is an awesome brewpub called O'Brien's ( with one of the best beer lists in town and some of the best beer-friendly chow too. If you have a car and want great food, get away from the Gaslamp.

          And with the tournament in full swing this weekend, you can bet a lot of places will be packed so that's another reason to stray from downtown establishments, IMO.

          7 Replies
          1. re: mimosa

            Oh, definitely O'Brien's! Their food is pub food, but I guess that's all you really need with a good beer. I like their garlic fries, but it's definitely heavy on the garlic!

            And afterwards you can go down a few stores and try the new frozen yogurt place that's opened up. They have "tart" flavors, similar to the Pinkberry craze, but with more than 2 flavors. It's good for a taste and you can mix and match all of their flavors in one cup, since it's self-serve.

            1. re: mimosa

              Not to be nitpicky, but O'Brien's isn't a brewpub. Brewpubs are places like Karl Strauss, Rock Bottom, Pizza Port, and Gordon Biersch: places that brew beer on the premises.

              I agree O'Brien's is really the best option given what he wants, but it's a good 20-30 minutes from downtown. If you haven't been to the Downtown Johnny Brown's or The Local, you might want to check them out. Their draft selections are actually comparable to places like O'Brien's and Liars' Club.

              1. re: Josh

                I second or third Downtown Johnny Brown's! They have a different atmosphere then the others recommended downtown as you can sit outside (and you will be in San Diego-take advantage of our weather) on the patio where there is great people watching. You can watch all the public defenders all sit together and sneer at the DA's. Their burger's are also delicious.
                I know it is sort of fun to not like K. Strauss' beer on this board but it really isn't THAT horrible and their boneless hotwings are the best ever--they are my gold standard if you will.

                1. re: jturtle

                  For bar food that's a cut above, I absolutely agree with you about Karl Strauss.

                  There are two things in particular that really bug me about them, though.

                  1 - They use the same yeast strain in their beers (or at least it tastes that way). Their beers all have that sort of butterscotch-esque diacetyl flavor to them. In brewing, diacetyl is considered an off-flavor in most styles, and it's presence in all the Strauss beers is a little tough to take.

                  2 - They are not good members of the brewing community. If you go to Pizza Port, they not only serve their own beer, but also all the other prominent craft brews in town. Strauss, on the other hand, tries very hard to get put on draft in local pubs with a craft brewing emphasis, yet carries only their own beer in their restaurants, and they pretend like they are the definitive San Diego brewing company, which is really a laughable claim.

                  They obviously are good marketers and businessmen, but I think their beer is kind of boring. It's definitely competent, but it's just not that interesting to me. Maybe now that Karl has left for the great brewery in the sky that will free their brewers up to do some different things.

                  1. re: Josh

                    Interesting discussion. I'll admit that I'm not quite the beer connoisseur that you are, Josh. I HAVE noticed that all of Strauss' beers have an interesting funk to them, but all things considered, they're still fairly tasty. I think there's a bit of a disconnect right now because Karl Strauss used to be the only decent local brewer but now (correct me if I'm wrong) San Diego has become a microbrew leader (if not THE leader) in terms of scope and quality.

                    1. re: mangiatore

                      There's no denying that in the early '90s Karl Strauss was the popular choice for San Diego, though at the time that was when it was the Old Columbia Brewing Company. For an audience of people used to Corona and Bud, it was a refreshing change. It truly was the best thing you could get locally. But you know, 1995 saw the birth of AleSmith, 1996 saw the birth of Stone and Blind Pig, and 1997 saw the larger capacity of Pizza Port come into being. Ballast Point, too, began in the late '90s. So really, it's been a long time now that San Diego has seen much better beer being prodced here than Karl Strauss, but without Karl Strauss it might not have happened.

                  2. re: jturtle

                    Another vote for Downtown Johnny Brown's. Their bartenders pour generously (okay, so maybe that only counts for shots!), service is good and quick, and their food is good. Love their burgers, salads, fries, and shark, when they have it.

              2. San Diego is craft beer mecca. Regardless of where you go (and there have been some good suggestions), try to sample something from one of the local craft breweries -- Alpine, Port Brewing, Green Flash, AleSmith, Stone, Ballast Point, and others (listed roughly in my personal order of preference...)

                6 Replies
                1. re: ladron

                  My roommate and I think Stone Pale Ale is the best of all. I'm not sure I've had a better beer outside Germany. I like just about all of Stone's beers (and the beers made by the other local brewers you mentioned), but I only order them from time to time because they're pretty robust. Am I crazy for thinking Stone Pale Ale is the best?

                  1. re: mangiatore

                    Stone Pale is a very good beer, but "best"s are pretty hard to say I think. It depends on what you're eating, for one thing. Stone Pale is good, but it wouldn't be good w/ dark chocolate mousse (whereas Stone Smoked Porter is good with that).

                    Personally, my favorite Stone offering is their IPA. That is just a flawless example of the style, IMO. If you like Stone Pale, you should try AleSmith's IPA and Alpine's Pure Hoppiness. Both are amazing beers.

                    1. re: mangiatore

                      I think Stone is outclassed by other breweries here in town. I do really like Stone Ruination IPA, though.

                      1. re: ladron

                        I'm not sure I'd agree with that. Their Smoked Porter is really a top-notch beer. On the other hand given a choice between their IPA and Pure Hoppiness, the Pure Hoppiness wins.

                        1. re: Josh

                          If you like Pure Hoppiness, try Duet the next time Alpine has it available. It is even better. And try Nelson, their Rye IPA. Really interesting beer. They are supposed to have it available in a few weeks.

                          1. re: ladron

                            I had Duet. I didn't think it was better, though it was good. I've been wanting to try Nelson for a while and was kicking myself that I missed it at O'Brien's. Apparently Porter's Pub at UCSD has some Alpine handles of their more uncommonly-seen beers like Willy.