Nov. 16 2012 10:44 PM

North Park fixture is like visiting an old friend-familiar, but always a great time

appetite
Braised pork and tiger beans, with bouillabaisse in the background
Photo by Marie Tran-McCaslin

I remember when Ritual Tavern (4095 30th St.) first opened in North Park in 2007. Like the restaurant, I was a new resident of the neighborhood at the time. My first meal there had the ups and downs of a new business working out the kinks, but the fresh mussels and a delicious porter shake remain etched in my memory.

It's been five years since, and we both remain at our respective locations, but I don't visit Ritual as often as I should. Over the years, Ritual settled in and established itself as a stalwart in North Park dining options and events. From San Diego Beer Week to 30th on 30th, Ritual's usually a part of events that celebrate the food, drink and music of San Diego. It's always focused on beer, with a great tap list and beer finding its way into many of the dishes. There's also a dog-friendly patio, a child-friendly dining room and a happy-hour menu with discounted drinks and simple appetizers like pita with hummus and Parmesan garlic fries.

On a recent visit, we took advantage of the happy-hour menu to settle in with beers and appetizers. The hummus was a little heavy on the rosemary, but the fries were perfect. Just salty enough from the Parmesan and not too pungent from the garlic, they went really well with a mixture of Ritual's house-made ketchup and a little bit of its fiery carrot-habañero sauce. All of the sauces were made in the restaurant (also available for sale), adhering to the general focus on locally sourcing as much of the menu as possible. The mussels from my very first visit are still on the menu and still from Carlsbad Aquafarms, but now they're cooked with the draught beer of your choice. 

Given that the evening was almost cold and as close to fall as San Diego allows, my Lost Abbey Red Barn saison tasted seasonal with its spicy notes. Going with an autumnal theme, one of the specials was pork and beans, made with pork belly and tiger beans. The dish was rich and stuck to the ribs, with tender beans and bright flavors to balance the heaviness of the protein.

The seafood bouillabaisse was equally warming and hearty, but overwhelmed by bell pepper. Ritual's signature shepherd's pie was the winner at our table, filled with lamb and fresh vegetables and topped with a big toasted swirl of mashed potatoes. If you don't eat meat, there's a vegan version of the shepherd's pie done with tofu.

"The key is getting the water out of the tofu so everything isn't soggy," noted our server, who'd also recommended the ketchup-hot-sauce mixture.

One of the best parts about dining at Ritual is the ambiance. Everyone's warmly welcomed, so it's a great place for anything from a date to a family dinner. The dining room is cozy, and the pace is leisurely, perfect for a long meal of beer, food and good company. 

Write to marietm@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. Marie blogs at meanderingeats.com and you can follow her on Twitter at @MeanderingEats.

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