Very few restaurants have a budget for marketing teams, consultants and public relations specialists. The little guys aren't relying on sophisticated media relations to spread the word: There are no press releases, nor fancy parties with free food to woo journalists. Mom and pop shops attract clientele however they can, first with outward appearances - storefront, signage, menu, website - then, if the kitchen delivers and staff is competent, hopefully word of mouth travels and the place not only survives, but thrives.
Teriyaki Grill on Third Avenue in Chula Vista is one such underdog, obscured by its generic name and unremarkable façade. Inside, the utilitarian dining space makes up for its lack of ambiance with stoked-looking guests slurping big, steaming bowls of chap chae: delightfully chewy Korean spinach noodles made in house, served with still crisp veggies in a light, soy vinaigrette. Boisterous conversations about San Diego's food scene take place between regulars and the much-revered husband and wife owners as they prepare food right there with a relaxed sort of confidence that foreshadows well-conceived dishes to come. I'll take this scene over some trendy tavern any day.
Ahi tuna, cucumber, onion and cilantro provide a simple foundation in the house-favorite Japanese ceviche, with fresh-fried wonton wrappers standing in for chips. But the real genius lies in the three sauces used throughout: Mexican-style hot sauce on top of vibrant-red sashimi cubes, a middle layer of kimchi seasoning, all in a pool of citrusy-soy vinaigrette. It'll be too hot for most gringos, so order this Asian twist on aguachile accordingly. Like its Mexican cousin, the dish is a refreshing seafood cocktail marrying chilled, crisp ingredients and a raging inferno of spices that'll clear your head or hangover in no time.
Steve's Steak Sandwich is an homage to Teriyaki Grill's health inspector, who ate the original dish, served over rice, and said "this beef belongs on a torta." Steve was onto something, and kudos to owners Casey and Vu who were cool enough to admit that he was right.
The lightly toasted telera roll, flavorful slices of prime beef and just the right amount of garlic-heavy chimichurri are an ode to good eats. All too often, steak sandwiches are tough to chew with gummy gristle, or bread that's too hard and crunchy. Thankfully this one was easy to get into my mouth, swallow and make room for more. Meaty juices that gather on the plate make for great dipping.
The restaurant calls itself a "grillery," but after two thorough visits, that label, much like its name, is lackluster. The understated Teriyaki Grill has some of the most successful fusion cuisine I've ever had in San Diego; its owners seamlessly blend their Korean and Japanese heritage with the flavors and styles of cooking from our region.
That's again the case with the mekishiko tacos, which taste like something you'd get at a high-end sushi joint, except these seared ahi starters with shredded cabbage, jalapeno aioli and a creeping kick of wasabi are only $2.50 each. Like all of Teriyaki Grill's dishes, you can taste the freshness and love with which it was prepared. The bold flavors and thoughtful details are impossible not to notice. Unlike the place itself.
Don't miss Teriyaki Grill's Slurp Saturdays, featuring soups like 20-hour pork bone broth with house made ramen noodles; spicy Vietnamese beef noodle soup, bun bo hue; and pho. Everything is made from scratch with no msg. For email updates about weekly offerings, visit teriyakigrillcv.com
Despite its standout menu that includes entrees you can't get anywhere else-like the combination teriyaki chicken and bulgogi beef bowl with charred mushrooms and acorn squash-the restaurant has managed to fly under the radar even though they've been cranking out delicious food for the last five years.
If San Diego foodies knew that the five spice seasoned pork belly bahn mi, with the addition of fried egg, tastes amazing and is big enough to split for $7, maybe then they'd make the trek to Chula Vista, which is around the same distance from downtown to the Convoy District. Until then, Teriyaki Grill will continue exciting its regulars.
Teriyaki Grill: 380 Third Ave., Suite B, Chula Vista. (619) 585-1789
Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.