Consider the sports bar. We've all had our favorites over the years; that certain place where we gather to watch the Chargers, or that one joint that'll show a first round World Cup game live at 6 a.m. Maybe there's a certain bartender, jukebox or pinball machine that keeps you sidling up to a particular set of stools. It's more likely, however, that your favorite sports bar is just the one closest to your house or office, with a bunch of flat screens and a premium cable package. Whatever the case, sports bars are workhorses, with kitchens that turn out food that usually just serves to soak up a bit of the booze that's really bringing you through the doors. Everyone loves mozzarella sticks but it's not the kind of thing that creates loyalty in a tavern.
Which is why Irina's Bar & Grill (3375 Mission Ave.) in deepest Oceanside is such an unexpected charmer. At first entrance, it's just another neighborhood bar, with industrial carpeting, a couple of pool tables and regulars who turn and give you a five-second stare when you first walk in. But this is also a place where you can sit down and eat a really good meal with incredibly friendly service.
The menu has all of the traditional trappings of sports bar grub (the aforementioned cheese sticks, of course), including plenty of burgers and fried options. But Irina's kitchen is also turning out amazing German food, worthy of a visit regardless of what time the game is on.
Jagerschnitzel is not the lightest meal, but it's a far more original dish to go with an ice cold beer. A pork cutlet the size of your face is beaten within an inch of its life until you can cut it with a fork. Then it's heavily seasoned with salt, pepper and herbs, heavily breaded, and fried to a crisp, honey-colored finish. Hunter's Sauce, a rich and savory mushroom gravy, adds rib-sticking goodness that could get you through a long Bavarian winter.
You can also go with bratwurst or stuffed cabbage, but I had a small cup of erbsensuppe , a simple split pea soup. The soup was on the thinner side, a nice contrast to the meaty circles of sausage bobbing around, waiting to be spooned up. The soup was hot and flavorful, the peas just barely sweet without being mealy.
While traveling through Germany during my study-abroad year, I remember the guidebook basically stating: "German food is bad. Eat the Turkish food." I did indeed load up on luscious kebabs on the streets of Berlin, but if Let's Go: Europe had bothered to direct me to restaurants turning out dishes like you find at Irina's, I would have eaten my weight in schnitzel .
The lure of a sports bar is games and beer, and the lure of a good neighborhood bar is the people. When you get both of those together, along with unexpectedly delicious food, you've found yourself a special kind of hangout.