Phil's BBQ has literally become the most popular "BBQ" restaurant in all of San Diego County. Interestingly enough, Phil does not actually BBQ any of his food. There have been rumors about this going around lately, and yes, it's true. There are zero smokers on the premises of any of his famous restaurants. To be clear, Phil's BBQ is not actually a "BBQ" restaurant because the meats are not cooked with any "BBQ" method; they are grilled. However, I wanted to start off my restaurant reviews blog with this restaurant specifically because it was the first "BBQ" place I tried when I moved to San Diego, CA in 2010 and this will help to provide a foundation for my future reviews.
I was very skeptical of trying Phil's BBQ at first because San Diego, CA is not nationally known as a bbq hot spot. On top of that my high school basketball coach, Bill LaRue, really spoiled me with his amazing Mississippi BBQ when I was on his team as a teenager. He set extremely high standards for how it was done. So when my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) suggested that we go to Phil's BBQ, I was very hesitant to even consider the idea. At the time, I honestly thought that if I didn't love the food and experience of eating there that it might be over for me and this pretty lady.
Moving forward....We went on a Friday night to the Point Loma location and waited for 2 whole hours! Yes, I'm not exaggerating. This was of course 6+ years ago so Phil has managed to expand with opening 4 more locations since then if you include the Petco Park and Airport stands. My first impression was honestly a bit skewed after waiting that long to eat and being totally starving. It's nothing against Phil's but it's important to note this point here. As far as the important stuff, we ordered 1 rack of back back beef ribs, 1 rack of baby back pork ribs, 2 sides of french fries (which were probably enough to feed 5 or 6 people), and a monsterous side of onion rings, along with a couple of sodas. The portions are definitely massive, which is a big reason, in my opinion, that I think San Diegans love this place. As far as pricing, you can definitely expect to pay a lot. For our meal, not having a receipt in hand today, I think it was about $60 for those 2 full meals. I've eaten there since a few times, so I'm basing my pricing from those more recent trips. So as far a quantity, you definitely get what you pay for in portion sizing.
Back to my first trip to Phil's BBQ...the fries were okay, but got a bit boring after having so many in front of us. They just tasted like generic fries. Not horrible at all, but not amazing enough to be able to eat all the ones we had piled high on our plates. Let me add that we didn't order extra fries. We ordered the meal deal which was the full rack + large side of fries (you have the option for 2 small sides as well). So based on what we were given, it was just way too much food. I think salt is probably the only seasoning used, so that's fine, but the fries just didn't stand out too much in any significant way.
In regards to taste, the ribs definitely tasted really good. The seasonings were spot on. Appearance wise, we were also impressed when our trays of food arrived. Tenderness is a where the problems started. Both of us were concerned and honestly grossed out because the membrane on the back of both of our racks was still there. This is a huge mistake when it comes to BBQ. One of the three KCBS judging criteria is tenderness. When you leave a thick, rubbery membrane on the back of ribs it prevents it from being tender. The meat on our ribs was tender, but when we had to rib the meat away from these tough membranes, it really ruined our experience. This is something I find quite mind boggling and confusing. I do not understand why Phil made the decision to leave these on, but it's continued for the last 7 years and I don't think Phil plans to change his cooking methods since he's been growing his business every day since he started ignoring this key step in cooking.
As I've mentioned, I had gone back about once a year or more to eat at Phil's BBQ, but I've completely stopped ordering ribs and so has my wife. The whole membrane thing is just something I can't get over and never will. The one entree that we have enjoyed is the "ribless" dinner. It's grilled pork shoulder chunks; they are seasoned very well, have good char (due to the sugary sauce caramelizing on the grill), and are also a good size portion. We have also kept ordering the fries and onion rings because the other sides don't seem too flavorful. I will admit that I have not tried to beans because they just look very watery and flavorless, but I could be totally wrong as far as flavor is concerned. The problem is that appearance is preventing me from taking the first step in regards to the side dish of beans.
Now let's talk about the sauce. It's very sweet and a bit spicy. It's not a heat that burns, but it definitely has a kick. The kick is short and then you find yourself dipping everything in ranch dressing, and it goes away. I've heard lots of complaints about the sauce, but I'm okay with it. It just doesn't have a huge depth of flavor. It's good, but I don't like it on their chicken. They have sauce only so whatever you get it will be dumped on your food. You can ask for sauce on the side, but I'd avoid that route, since you do really need it to get the full experience since there is really no smoke flavor in this grilled meat.
The last thing I'll say in regards to food is maybe a sort of warning for those of you who are strongly opinionated about onion rings. These onions rings only come as a separate side dish. So for my previous order of using 1 large side or 2 small sides, Phil has decided that the onion rings don't count. So if you order the large rack of baby back pork ribs, you pick your sides, and then you also have to order the onion rings as an additional side. They will not substitute the onion rings at all; trust me I've asked on multiple occasions. The onion rings have a VERY thick batter. The batter tastes great and they will fill you up. Just keep that in mind if you're picky because these are the thickest battered onion rings I've ever had.
As you can tell this is a bit of a mixed review. It's really hard to review Phil's BBQ because it's not true BBQ. I see now what all the hype is about Phil's BBQ, but it's clear that there's room for improvement if Phil wants to be a true "BBQ" restaurant.
This review was not requested by the restaurant. Daniel Lubin has not received any financial compensation for writing this review. All food was purchased by Daniel Lubin. Daniel Lubin paid for all travel expenses in order to eat at this restaurant.