Food Observations

A blog for eaters

Archive for the month “December, 2019”

El Patron Mexican Grill

Tasty order of rolled tacos with guacamole dispensed from a caulk gun! LOL, that’s what it sounded like anyway. Happy New Year, FoodObs friends! You’re the best blog followers, that I can tell you.

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Grand Ole BBQ

Grand Ole BBQ has now been open in Flinn Springs since the beginning of the year and I finally got in there to try them out! GOB started in 2010 as a catering company, followed by a restaurant location in North Park. Now they occupy a premier venue in east county that is just phenomenal! Such a fun place, you’d swear you were in Texas!
I have to say this was the best BBQ brisket I’ve ever put in my mouth! Thick slices from different parts of the whole brisket that pulled apart perfectly, had a good amount of moisture, smoke ring and flavorful bark. The Texas hot link was tasty but the texture and mouthfeel got tiring after a while. Not overly spicy. I was sad to learn that mac salad is no longer offered despite earlier menu photos showing it. I got the tater salad which was excellent. Acted as the perfect cooling agent to the fatty, smokey, spicy, meaty mains I enjoyed. Their mac & cheese exceeded my expectations. They’re using a legit recipe that is not at all institutional. Could have been served hotter though.
The menu is fairly inflexible. No options to order any sort of 2 or 3 meat combo with sides. You pretty much have to piecemeal together an entire a la carte order ($$$). Lady FoodObs requested a side of their queso but was informed that it’s only available with their special “El Boracho” thing. Ok, maybe next time. They did have an impressive draft beer menu that included Ramona’s own Turquoise Barn Cider!
Despite the menu inflexibility, the service overall was remarkable. Especially considering how busy they were. Clearly a well trained, experienced and thoughtful staff here. Now when I talk about an “east county venue” I’m talking about more than just a BBQ restaurant. They have an extraordinary outdoor section with live music on the weekends, etc. GOB is definitely worth checking out if you’ve never been. You’d be hard pressed to find better Que anywhere else on the west coast.
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Black Bear Diner

Black Bear Diner is a fast-growing, community-oriented, family dining concept that offers great food in a fun, bear-themed atmosphere. They first opened in northern California in 1995 and have since expanded to 132 restaurants across 13 states. Recently they opened their first location in San Diego County, located in the city of El Cajon. I’ve eaten at BBDs back in the day in Bullhead City and Long Beach, only for breakfast. I was excited to try their first San Diego location.
There’s so much on their menu I wanted to order, it was hard to decide. For my first dinner visit I kept it simple with a Turkey Club Sandwich. Whoever cut my sandwich clearly failed geometry. It was still tasty nonetheless. Even after being open for several months, the El Cajon location still seems to be working out the kinks with their service. They were all very nice, but it seemed as if it was their first restaurant job.
My dear, elderly mother after examining the menu for like 30 minutes, wound up ordering the steak special off the placemat. In lieu of their side options, she simply request sliced tomatoes. The waiter stated they did not have sliced tomatoes but instead had only cherry tomatoes cut in half. I thought to myself, “what kind of tomatoes do you put on your burgers and sandwiches?”, but I digress. Lady FoodObs also had the “placemat special”. A very good looking and delicious sirloin steak with sides. That mac & chz though was pretty institutional. They could have definitely done better with that.
The cornbread muffins served on the side looked and tasted excellent! If you’re ever there and have leftovers on the table, it’s well worth taking home. The next day, wrap in foil and bake at 350 for about 12 minutes. Gail had the “placemat” steak special as well and it looked at tasted great. One of her sides was mac & cheese which looked good, but tasted very institutional. My son had the creamy pesto pasta dish with grilled chicken which he proclaimed to be “better than Olive Garden”! I’d say that’s impressive!
I can’t wait to go back. This place serves liberally portioned down-home country style comfort food quite admirably. I want to try and compare them to Cracker Barrel but you just can’t. Both have similar yet distinct menus and are both very good in their own way.

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Outback Steakhouse

Outstanding “Bloomin’ Fried Chicken” with terrible, overcooked broccoli! It tasted like some kind of funk. I don’t know how else to describe it. What I can tell you is the service has declined dramatically at the two Outbacks I frequent in SoCal. More on that in a future post.

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Costco

Two of my favorite things to order at any Costco snack bar is either a slice of greasy pizza or one of these hot dogs with lots of onions and spicy brown mustard! I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas.

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Marechiaro’s Italian Restaurant

Outstanding order of “Half & Half” at Marechiaro’s on Old Hwy 80! Although it’s hard to tell, there is a nice amount of delicious cheese ravioli with all that spaghetti. The best part is adding their excellent house-made Italian sausage patty. Highly recommended.

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Hooleys Irish Pub & Grill

One of my new favorite restaurants in San Diego is Hooleys in La Mesa’s Grossmont Center! This place captures the unique vibe of a true Irish Pub. They have a tremendous menu that offers a broad sampling of traditional Irish fare. Here’s an outstanding order of fish & chips. I am particularly happy that it did not involve mushy peas.

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Graham’s Retro Diner

Having been open for a while, I was pleased to check out Ramona’s newest restaurant, Graham’s Retro Diner! Walking inside I was struck at how absolutely adorable this place is. If you’ve seen photos, they don’t do it justice. Such a clean, beautifully appointed restaurant. I was mesmerized just staring at their large mural. Service was good and attentive. I liked the 50’s music in the background, although their playlist was dreary at times. Could have used more Little Richard. Enough of all that, on to the food. In a nutshell, the food here is solid and I’ll break it down in the subsequent paragraphs.
I ordered a #2 Meal: Quarter pound all beef cheeseburger with lettuce, mater & sauce, comes with fries, $12. The cheeseburger as a whole was good. Not remarkable, but good. The beef patty was modestly seasoned, hot and slightly juicy. Cooked all the way to well done. Had a nice maillard effect which I appreciate. The patty was reasonably proportioned to the circumference of the bun. It did seem like it was larger than a quarter pound as advertised. Maybe closer to a third pound. No complaints there! Cheese choices include cheddar, American, Swiss or pepper jack. I chose Swiss and there was a good amount, nicely melted. I could really taste it in each bite. The toasted bun was an institutional seeded variety but held up well. Unfortunately their standard burger-set consists of only lettuce and tomato. Pickles and onion were not invited to the party. I did not care for their leafy green choice, it tasted like tissue paper. I would have preferred something like shredded iceberg. Would have lent a nice contrasting texture to an otherwise soft mouthfeel. Pickles and/or raw onion would have done the same thing. And the “sauce”. If there was sauce on my burger, it was indiscernible. It was either forgotten, or bland and flavorless.
I requested onion rings in lieu of fries and was not charged extra. This was a nice surprise. Unlike many other places I eat at when subbing rings for fries. It is obvious the rings here are NOT off the Sysco truck! These are house made, beer battered and delicious. I only wish my serving was larger. What really delighted me was that I could get good, clean bites throughout. No unfortunate onion drag that plagues many institutional varieties, leaving you with a hollow shell. The thickness of the onion was perfect. Not overly fatty. My wife had the fries with her burger and there was a fair amount. They were also beer battered, hot, crispy and unique. We shared our rings & fries with each other and were both impressed.  On their sides menu is a “Salad Bowl” (one time fill) for $6. Probably not something I would be inclined to order.
Now, I am going to refrain from saying this place is not “affordable” because that is such a subjective term. I will say though, in my dining-out experience, it is not a great value. That being said, please do draw your own conclusions. If you haven’t been yet, I recommend trying them out. I wish them great success as a new business in Ramona. I do look forward to returning to try one of their all beef franks and maybe an order of macaroni & cheese!
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Pei Wei Asian Diner

Outstanding Pad Thai at Pei Wei in 4S Ranch! As long as you omit the tofu that is. The consistency is still somewhat loose compared to legit Thai restaurants though.

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El Taco Loco Shop

Quite possibly the best order of rolled tacos in Ramona, CA! At El Taco Loco Shop inside Ramona Market. Their guacamole substance is somewhat loose in consistency, but I appreciate that they cover just about every square millimeter of my taquitos.

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