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Restaurant Review: Phil’s BBQ a San Diego cultural Institution
Phil's BBQ in San Diego Cover Photo

Restaurant Review: Phil’s BBQ a San Diego cultural Institution

Phil’s BBQ a San Diego cultural Institution

As you can see, I quickly became a fan of Phil’s BBQ

As you can see, I quickly became a fan of Phil’s BBQ

 Forget Seaworld, Phil’s BBQ is what Makes San Diego Famous

Every major city in America has that one restaurant which its citizens get collectively dreamy-eyed about. For San Diego, that restaurant is Phil’s BBQ. For anyone in San Diego reading this, you probably said, “ahhhhh I love that place”, like you were talking your childhood poodle.


Phil's BBQ Exterior

Phil’s BBQ a San Diego Cultural Institution. Image Courtesy of Phil’s BBQ Facebook Page.


While waiting in line, typical conversations revolve around gastronomic foreplay

When we pulled up into Phil’s BBQ parking lot, we discovered a line around the building. The energy in the line was anxious and a little giddy, just like a teenage boy in the backseat with his new girlfriend. They actually have a line cam online.


Phil's BBQ Line

The line for Phil’s BBQ is no secret in San Diego. Most folks consider it part of the experience


What I soon discovered is that Phil’s BBQ isn’t just a popular restaurant; it is a San Diego cultural establishment.  Eating at Phil’s is more than about the food, it is a social experience. Waiting in the long line forces social interaction among friends and family.

Typical conversations revolve around food. I heard a group of young women discussing what kind of bbq they were looking for and how they were going to polish their bbq down to the bone.  All the men around the women seemed interested in this conversation.


Phil's BBQ line time

There is usually a line at Phil’s BBQ. There are signs with markers tell you how long it will be until you are in front. They have this down to a science.


There is no table service at Phil’s BBQ. When you reach the front of the line, you place your order at the register. You are given a pager to signal you when your food is ready.

THOU SHALL NOT squat at a table until you place your order!

This rule is strictly enforced at Phil’s BBQ. Unless you have a pager or a table full of food, they will kick you out of the table. Their system is in place for a reason and it works! We were able to place our order and easily find a table.  Phil doesn’t mess around with table squatting shenanigans, so don’t try it.

Phil’s BBQ no pre seating - Don't even try it.

Phil’s BBQ no pre seating – Don’t even try it.



The menu is fairly basic with BBQ items like ribs, chicken, awesome sides and sandwiches. By far, the most popular item is their baby back pork ribs. My brother, Mark, and his lady friend, Stacy, told me that we could not leave without trying the pork ribs and the colossal onion rings.


Baby Back Pork Ribs

Everyone has experienced good BBQ in their time and you probably have your favorite. For me, Phil’s BBQ no pre seating – Don’t even try it.  ranked #2 on my all-time BBQ Baby Back Rib hall of fame.  My #1 baby back ribs pick goes to Corky’s in Memphis.  If you live in the L.A. Area, I say they are way better than the chain Lucille’s.


Phil's BBQ Baby Back Ribs Full Rack Frontal View

Phil’s BBQ Baby Back Ribs Full Rack Frontal View


Why are Phil’s BBQ ribs so good? Three reasons:

First, the ribs are extremely meaty. Phil obviously found a high quality pig farmer.

Second, the meat is VERY fall-of-the-bone tender.The meat still has a bite to it, but it also slides down your throat like butter. 

Third, I think Phil’s sauce has the right blend of sweetness, tang and spice. The result, I was still craving more of the sauce even eating a full rack of ribs.


Phil's BBQ Baby Back Ribs Full Rack

Phil’s BBQ Baby Back Ribs Full Rack


The ribs comes with two sides, I recommend you try their potato salad, macaroni salad and cole slow. They perfect compliments to the ribs. Don’t order the vegetables, you can make these when you get home.


Colossal Onion Rings

My local guide, Stacy, insisted we try the colossal onion rings. At first I was skeptical, thinking that I had enough county fair style food recently to last me until next summer.


Phil's BBQ Onion Rings

Phil’s BBQ Onion Rings


When I tasted the onion rings, I quickly understood the fascination.  They were made with thick-cut onions and battered with a medium coating of batter, creating the right blend of fried goodness and onions. She insisted that we have to try the rings with ranch, she was right.  The onion rings are a must have addition for the table. The order is huge.


Phil's BBQ Tom and Daniele with our Guides

(Left) Tom and Daniele with our Local San Diego guides (Right)Mark and Stacy at Phil’s BBQ

My Final Thoughts about Phil’s BBQ

Tom's Foodie Blog Original IconOne of my favorite activities when traveling to another city is discovering what the local population considers to be “good food.”  My experience at Phil’s BBQ speaks to the culture of the San Diego; laid-back and lovers of food. If you are in San Diego, I highly recommend that you make Phil’s part of your visit, your stomach will thank you. 

The only issue I had with Phil’s BBQ is that they are using the same pig graphic that is part of my logo :( . Let me call it out, I have been using for the past 3.5 years as part of my blog, they only been using it for the past two years. 😛

Phil's BBQ on Urbanspoon

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About Tom Holmberg

Tom grew up in a cultural diverse neighborhood and a culturally diverse family, so he has learned to appreciate all types of food. "I am not a Chef, nor do I play one on T.V., but I have learned to appreciate food from years of eating and cooking." Tom also spent 10 years in the restaurant industry in various roles, from Prep Cook to server.


  1. Looks like a great place to eat.. this is one of our favorite foods.. BBQ!!

  2. This place sounds so good…from the food, to the atmosphere, to the rules! I love ribs and all the sides. I will go here next time I am in San Diego!

  3. Looks like I know where I’ll be going next time I’m in San Diego!!

  4. Will put this on my bucket list when I go to San Diego. BBQ places are the best! Awesome share!

  5. Hmm!this is a perfect place to visit together with friends and family..the BBQ looks delicious!

  6. Wow! That’s amazing they even have how long of wait. Food must be as good as you described and your pics!

  7. Those onion rings yum…I must turn away or get there quick:=)

  8. I can’t wait until the next time we head to San Diego to give this place a try. What a find!

  9. Wow, that line is no joke. Must be some good stuff indeed

  10. The food looks really good and what’s even more amazing is that they have lines similar to an amusement park. Amazing!

  11. I am impressed that they have a sign that really tells you how long your wait time is! That’s a lot of barbeque!

  12. Now this is my type of food!! I wish we had a BBQ place around us!

  13. Phil’s BBQ looks like a very friendly place.
    I like the ribs pictures.

  14. What a great review! Makes me want to try Phil’s BBQ ASAP! I loooove ribs!

  15. Wow I have never heard of a place that had a sign to let you know how long you would wait to get up to order. It reminded me of being in legoland a few weeks ago! His food must be good for all this.

  16. Wow … what a cool place to eat … the food looks lush too xxx

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