May 9 2016 01:50 PM

City’s hole-in-the-wall restaurants don’t hit a sour note

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Coop’s West Texas BBQ
Photo by James Vernette

Think of San Diego's hippest dining neighborhoods and, chances are, Little Italy, North Park and University Heights come to mind.

Very few people will say Lemon Grove—but maybe they should.

Believe it or not, this working class suburb seven miles from downtown off State Route 94 has some of the area's best hole-in-the-wall eateries, all a short distance from each other.

Yes, you're likely to see lots of chain restaurants up the main drag of Broadway, but for every In-N-Out or KFC there's a family owned eatery such as Lido's Italian Restaurant or Coop's West Texas BBQ that's serving up great food for the locals and for people willing to drive the extra distance for home-style cooking.

No, Lemon Grove isn't the next hipster haven. It's doubtful Brian Malarkey or Javier Plascencia will open an upscale eatery here.

But what Lemon Grove lacks in upscale posh, it makes up for with a nice small town feel and the types of unpretentious eateries that other cities wish they had. A hungry person could spend a few days just trying places, but here are a few of my favorites:

Lido's Italian Foods (7252 Broadway): This place has been around since 1955. Most Fridays, you can see generations of families ordering classic Italian-American dishes such as spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and pasta shells, all served with garlic bread. My favorite dish is the Chicken Alla Florentine, oven-roasted chicken served in a lemon sauce. For $16.95, you'll get enough for two meals, since it comes with soup and salad, pasta or fries and buttery garlic bread.

Charley's Famous Hamburgers (8213 Broadway): This simple and cheap drive-thru has been around since the 1970s serving up fantastic bacon cheeseburgers with real, thick pieces of bacon. The fries are hot and crispy and there's a huge variety of shakes, including cookies and cream and black raspberry. This is the type of place you go on a hot summer night when you don't feel like cooking. It's not a place to go when it's raining, because it only has picnic tables.

Coop's West Texas BBQ (2625 Lemon Grove Ave.): This is probably the one eatery that has made foodies in the center city come out to Lemon Grove. The slow-smoked brisket, ribs and pulled pork get the attention, but I like the sweet spiciness of the jerk chicken. The red beans and rice and collard greens are my favorite sides, but the mac and cheese is first rate. The restaurant owner recently opened Da Chicken Coop nearby (2605 Lemon Grove Ave.) specializing in chicken.

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