Wood Ranch brings barbecue lovers together

One thing that unites barbecue fans is how much they disagree: Carolina or Kansas City style? Oak or hickory smoked? Should the sauce be hot, tangy or sweet?

While they may not agree, barbecue fans and just about everyone else can find something that matches their tastes at Wood Ranch in Mission Valley . The Southern California chain's only San Diego location (17 other restaurants are found throughout Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura counties) serves up fresh, high-quality food including its signature BBQ dishes, seafood, steaks, burgers and salads.

"We are an American restaurant that features some regional barbecue favorites," said Alejandro Benes, one of the partners at Wood Ranch. "When we put a barbecue item on the menu, we try to understand what the best version of each dish can be. The Carolina Pulled Pork, for example, is a fairly classic version of what's offered in the western part of North Carolina, but with our own take on the dish. Tri-tip is the star at Wood Ranch and that's a California barbecue item."

Rather than focus on regional alliances, Wood Ranch features the best of the country's barbecue and offers three kinds of sauces: sweet and tangy Original, hot Chipotle-Cherry and vinegar-based Carolina. All of the sauces are house-made, like everything else on its menu, and are also gluten-free. The most popular dishes - the tri-tip, baby back ribs, brisket, pulled pork and BBQ chopped chicken salad, according to Benes - reflect the varied tastes of the customers.

If you have a hard time deciding on just one barbecue dish, the new Ultimate BBQ Sandwich was made for you. The sandwich features Carolina Pulled Pork, Tangy Carolina Coleslaw, Double R Ranch Brisket, Swiss cheese, smoked Polish sausage/kielbasa, charred jalapeno and Famous Shredded Onions on a brioche bun.

Wood Ranch takes the same care when it comes to its other dishes. "We grill the steaks, burgers and seafood over white oak, which imparts a light smokiness to the meat," Benes said. "Our food is made in the restaurant, fresh, every day. Equally important is that we are obsessed with preparing the food in a consistent manner among all restaurants." It's also easy to eat gluten-free at Wood Ranch. Many dishes don't use gluten or can be modified easily.

And Wood Ranch does all of this at a reasonable price in a casual atmosphere. "We call Wood Ranch a 'premium-casual' restaurant," Benes said. "The food and environment are premium, but a guest is welcome dressed casually and for any occasion." '

With earth tones, wood and brick throughout the interior, it has a feel of a modern steakhouse.

To go with your meal, Wood Ranch offers refreshing house margaritas and signature cocktails in addition to wine and craft beer. The "Beer-B-Q" special is made for San Diego: $14 for a beer and barbecue dish. Catering is available as well, with a selection of barbecue platters, sandwich platters and catering packages that allow you to customize your menu.

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