Phil's BBQ3750 Sports Arena Blvd.Point Loma619-226-6333www.philsbbq.net
My first visit to the second, and now only, location of Phil's BBQ almost never was. Let me preface by saying that I'm not a terribly patient person—if there are more than four people backed up at a store checkout, I'll return my cart items and hightail it out of there. I don't line up to get into bars and clubs, because what's inside is invariably not worth the wait, and when it comes to lining up for food, well, there's usually something just as good, or better, to eat close by.
So when I pulled up to Phil's, located off Sports Arena Boulevard in a giant building of Red Lobster-like proportions and saw the line of people stretching the length of the restaurant and spilled into the parking lot, I had a fight-or-flight moment in which all instincts told me to run. But decorum (I was there for a friend's birthday dinner) and hunger (it'd been a few hours since I'd eaten) conspired to get the better of my escape reflex, and I took a deep breath as I opened my car door to prepare for a whole lotta goin' nowhere.
The unmistakable fragrance of barbeque, smoky and sweet—the same smell that had alienated Phil's BBQ from its neighbors in Mission Hills and forced this move—hit me square in the face like a meaty jab, and I floated along after it, as if I were a cartoon character tracking an aroma trail that morphs into a bewitching, beckoning finger. I followed my nose and, joy of joys, found my friends camped midway in the line so I scooted in. We eventually collected the bulk of our group and tried not to irk the people behind us.
We were herded into the entryway and met by a lady at a podium who gave us ordering instructions, though it felt more like we were about to embark on some Disneyland ride. I stepped up to the bank of electronic terminals and placed my order—overdoing it, as usual—and was given a pager that buzzes when the food is ready. Happily, this spot serves beer, which you buy from a separate bar area, and it's nice to see a bunch of local taps from Stone and Coronado available.
The dining area was bursting with people, but the staff was helpful and found enough empty tables for the 12 of us.
Our dinners came quickly, and we tucked in to a heap of batter-dipped onion rings, always great here, cooked to a deep brown—but not burnt—and extra crispy. I admit that I haven't traveled to any barbeque-famous states, but I know that proper barbeque is cooked long and slow in a pit over indirect heat so that it gets infused with smoke from mesquite or hickory wood. Phil's takes a bit of a shortcut and cooks the meat directly over mesquite wood, which doesn't give the tell-tale smoke ring that defines authentic barbeque, but it's pretty delicious all the same.
The sauce, which is slathered over everything, including a veggie burger for the lone vegetarian in our group, is Texas-style and tomato-based—tangy, spicy and very sweet. Ordering the ribs with sauce on the side might be advisable since Phil's has a nice dry rub that gets deliciously char-crusted on the grill. The baby-back pork ribs are popular and come with combo dinners that run $10 to $12 and are accompanied by sides like baked beans or macaroni salad. I prefer the pork in the Broham sandwich—pork shoulder, pulled into moist shreds and stuffed generously into a bun and topped with homemade coleslaw. It's a sandwich that you have to take a fork and knife to.
Phil's does a fine barbeque cheeseburger, but the barbeque chicken is hit-or-miss, occasionally dry. But what'll keep me coming back are the gargantuan beef ribs—just one rib holds enough meat for a meal, and the beef is amazingly succulent and satisfying. I ate with such gusto that I almost had to tie on one of Phil's disposable plastic bibs and had to avail myself of many of their free moist towelettes and make good use of the communal hand-washing station. To avoid the line when the craving hits, go very late or very early (Phil's is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday) or better yet, call ahead and pick up a to-go order so that you can eat all that messy, yummy barbeque in the comfort of your own home, with or without a bib.