We admit we are among the legions of Phil’s BBQ fans. Overall this, now mini-chain, is probably San Diego’s most popular restaurant. The main location has over 11,000 Yelp reviews. Yelp consistently adds Phil’s to its top restaurants in the nation list. It was number 68 in 2016. So, of course, we need to add our own two cents, In our hunt for San Diego’s best we present our Phil’s BBQ Review.
The original Phil’s BBQ was opened by Phil Pace in 1998 in a modest location in Mission Hills. The restaurant made news because neighbors claimed of the smoke smell. In 2007, Phil’s opened their now flagship location next to the Sports Arena. Since opening, this location regularly sees lines out the door on a regular basis. The original Phil’s is now Lefty’s Chicago Pizza, another San Diego favorite. We tend to avoid the Sports Arena location and our new favorite is the Rancho Bernardo location which opened in 2016. If it crowded the line moves pretty fast.
Phil’s has expanded rapidly in the past few years. There are now locations in far flung areas of the county including San Marcos, Santee, and Rancho Bernardo. They also have locations at Petco Park and the airport. To many Phil’s is the pinnacle of San Diego barbeque. However, many BBQ purists will likely judge Phil harshly because 1) he grills his meat instead of smoking them and 2) he douses them with sauce. The motto at Phil’s is that “the sauce is the boss” and everything comes covered in Phil’s own spicy/sweet sauce that is now available in many stores. Personally we think the sauce is quite addicting and buy it regularly. But we also ask for the sauce on the side which they are happy to do.
The food at Phil’s is very good but really the place stands out for its family friendly atmosphere and great service. The employees are well trained to accommodate most requests and are constantly asking if they can help. On one of our first visits, a server saw our young son enjoying the food so much she gave him a Phil’s shirt for free. At the opening of their Rancho Bernardo location our family of four and hundreds of others were invited to dine for free so they could work out any kinks. We have been to all the locations and they are very similar. Phil’s has a huge drink station, a nice bar area and many TVs showing the latest sports events. Family friendly ambiance makes Phil’s standout among most BBQ places.
But this is all about the food and we are glad to say Phil’s can hold its own on taste, even if it isn’t smoked. Is their pulled pork as good as Coop’s West Texas Barbeque? No. Do they have brisket? No. But we are not BBQ purists and we think almost everything here is good to great and prices are very reasonable. It is really about knowing what to order and thankfully Phil’s has plenty of choices.
At Phil’s, ribs rule the day. The specialty is beef ribs which is something very difficult to do. Beef ribs we rarely try and cook or order at a restaurant because they tend to come out fatty and tough. Beef ribs are the most expensive item on the menu with a 5 bone rib dinner with two sides topping out at $25.50. We suggest trying the Beefy Rib Tickler which includes one bone, coleslaw, fries and onion rings for $8.99.
The ticklers are also a great way to sample various items and also serve as the de facto kids meal (Phil’s does not have a kids menu). Basically this includes a choice of meat with the aforementioned coleslaw, fries and onion ring at prices ranging from $6.99 (chicken) to $8.99 (beef ribs). Our son started with the chicken tickler (chunks of white meat chicken) but has moved on to the $7.99 ribless tickler which are pieces of boneless baby back ribs.
Phil’s has plenty of chicken options, including plates that combine it with ribs. However, we admit we tend to stay away from chicken at BBQ places. We go for fried chicken places as our rare guilty treat. There are also a variety of hamburgers including veggie and turkey burgers. I tried a regular burger once years ago and have a hard time remembering it. I think it was okay but really that is not what Phil’s is for. NOTE: They have added a Philibuster burger which is a 1/2 lb patty with bacon, cheese, pulled pork an onion ring and BBQ sauce for $12.99. That one may be worth a try!
On the other hand, two of the sandwiches are definitely worth checking out. The Broham is a pulled pork sandwich topped with coleslaw. At $7.99 this is a sandwich that could probably feed two. It is our daughter’s favorite. Even better in my opinion is the El Toro. This is Phil’s version of tri-tip, a Central California BBQ tradition. Tri-tip is hard to cook right, but Phil’s has it down. In 2012, the Travel Channel launched a show with Adam Richman looking for the Best Sandwich in America. The link to the show is no longer there but Phil’s El Toro made the top 10. You can find his video review here.
The sides at Phil’s are not all that spectacular. The french fries however are awesome and the beer battered onion rings are very good. We don’t like mayo so coleslaw is out. When we order a tickler we ask them to leave off the coleslaw and they always give us an extra serving of fries instead. The options at Phil’s can be overwhelming, but they definitely let you customize to your choosing.
Overall Phils BBQ is worthy of much of the praise. This is a unique San Diego spin on meat for the masses and it should definitely please most people. Our mission is to dine at each top San Diego BBQ joint several times and come up with a ranking. We have already been to Phil’s many times so we are definitely going to say this should be in the top 5 but will not be number one.