Feb. 12 2013 09:40 PM

The search for the best strip-club eats in San Diego

Illustration by Adam Vieyra

Nobody reads Playboy for the articles. Nobody goes to Vegas for the local color. And nobody visits strip clubs for the food—not until now, anyway.

Consider me the first. 

I'll confess I'm not one for nude cabaret. I'm married, I had my bachelor party at a bowling alley and I've never been entirely comfortable in the company of men ogling nude women at least 20 years their junior. But when the challenge presented itself to find the best skin-club grub in town, curiosity got the better of me. The hunt was on. 

The first stop, Exposé (5520 Kearny Villa Road in Kearny Mesa), bills itself as a "True Gentleman's Club"—the kind of highfalutin' branding that lends itself to imagery of leather-bound books, smoking jackets and snifters of brandy. Nothing doing. It's your basic all-nude establishment, its lineup of talent covered in little more than tattoos or the occasional leg warmers. As such, no alcohol is served.

The crowd was sparse on a Thursday, but on the upside, wait service was fairly quick, with a menu full of pub snacks, juices and flavored tobaccos in our hands as soon as my guests and I took our booth. And after deciding on BBQ pork sliders and a cheese quesadilla, we were treated to a series of expectedly bawdy performances that ranged from acrobatic to lackluster, and eventually creepy.

For the pre-dinner show, a dancer of a certain age gave an increasingly uncomfortable tease to Lily Allen's "Smile," with a locked gaze like a tractor beam in my direction. There's nothing sexy about a woman her age doing peek-a-boo choreography—that's exactly the way to let a customer think he's seeing something he shouldn't. 

As luck would have it, the snacks arrived right as my appetite was beginning to wane. The cheese in the quesadilla, unfortunately, might as well have been Kraft singles—the "plastic" joke in this setting writes itself. However, the sliders offered something far more pleasing, the gooey, tangy pulled pork nicely nestled on a soft white bun. Simple, but good, a refreshing, almost wholesome counterpart to the lasciviousness on stage.

Cheetah's (8105 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. in Kearny Mesa), meanwhile, swarmed with activity on a Saturday night. Single men, couples, even same-sex couples cozied up inside the club to catch an eyeful of bare skin. And it greets the customer at every turn. The cabaret is best likened to a car dealership, the stage show something like a test drive before the upsell on undercoating, rust-proofing or customized floor mats, which in each case is a lap dance. While one dancer was in mid-spiel, one of my dining companions broached the question of whether anyone comes just for the food. She seemed offended by the suggestion that anyone would come just to stuff food in his face, rather than dollar bills in G-strings.

Nonetheless, for food, Cheetah's is a big step up from Exposé. With a kitchen next door at the sports-themed Bullpen Bar & Grill, there's a bevy of options that range from fried appetizers to pasta, poultry, steak and ribs. The burger, in particular, offered a suitably meaty option for peeping Toms with appetites, covered in thick slices of tomato and packed with crispy steak fries. The quesadilla, likewise, had fresh, gooey cheese and slices of briny jalapeño, a far cry from the sad American-cheese pocket just a few nights prior. And if the dancers come off as a little pushy, at least the show has some energy. A wiry blonde in hipster-librarian glasses attempted feats of gymnastics that looked risky to begin with, but even more so in four-inch heels, and without clothes.

The last stop, and most famous for its menu, Pacers (3334 Midway Drive, Midway), beckoned with its $2-steak and $2-you-call-it night. And let me be the first to say that rumors of a $2 steak's toughness have been greatly exaggerated. The sizzling slab of beef is perhaps not on par with Cowboy Star's 21-day aged New York Strip, but it's not too shabby for a cheap slice of meat, even if the $20 cover charge is a bit on the hefty side.

What's lost in door price is made up for in a steady stream of $2 drinks, and the free flow of booze means the thongs stay on at Pacers. This is clearly the better arrangement; no matter how naked the entertainment gets, it still doesn't put a drink in your hand, and the difference between Cheetah's and Pacers is essentially a tiny sliver of nylon—there's no wanting for bare breasts here. The added bonus to a full bar is Pacers' ample menu of drunk food, which includes a wonderfully gooey stack of overloaded tater tots, dripping with sour cream and cheese and topped with bacon. 

Still, on quality of meal alone, Cheetah's takes this competition, hands (and panties) down. Not that I wouldn't trade the extra peek of flesh for a decent brew.

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