Like North Park and Little Italy before it, Pacific Beach is undergoing a restaurant revolution. Some of the neighborhood's beach, dive and tiki bars have been gradually replaced over the past few years with hipper bars and better restaurants.
The latest arrival is Backyard Kitchen & Tap, which took over the former Garnet Avenue address of the popular student hangout Moondoggies, home of the 35 cent wings, $2 drinks and hourlong waits on weekends.
Backyard is the latest addition to Eric Leitstein's OMG Hospitality Group, which includes Union Kitchen & Tap, with locations in Encinitas and the Gaslamp Quarter, and the Pacific Beach Alehouse, now under renovation following a kitchen fire last month.
Backyard has incorporated some of the design elements of its sister restaurants - roll-up garage door windows, retro/industrial chic décor, oversize leather dining booths - but its menu is unique.
Executive chef Bill Sauer is serving a menu of upscale American comfort food, where everything's made in-house from scratch with high-quality seasonal ingredients.
With a location just eight blocks from the beach, Backyard has a menu that's ocean-inspired, with more seafood than you'll find at Union. The dishes are innovative but not overworked. Like its name, Backyard serves the style of food you'd serve in your own backyard, at least if you could cook this well.
Shared plates range from $6 to $16, flatbreads and entrees are $14 to $25. In most cases, portions are ample and flavors are always on point. Fans of Moondoggies, which closed in January 2014, may miss the cheap wings and nachos, but foodies will appreciate P.B.'s latest addition to the culinary scene.
Start with a basket of the house-made Kennebec potato chips, served warm and well-seasoned, with a side tub of delicious, thick blue cheese "fondue" dip. It's a good deal at $6 and enough to feed three, and you'll be sorry to see the bottom of the blue cheese dip container.
The Hamachi Crudo, accented with crispy fried shallots, spicy chiles, a tangy sesame-Dijon vinaigrette and wasabi-infused tobiko roe, is excellent, but at $15 for six small slivers of ahi, it's more single portion than a shared plate.
My favorite starter is the Baja shrimp ceviche, with large chunks of fresh-caught shrimp marinated in a terrific house-made ceviche/cocktail sauce, and a side of blue corn tortilla chips ($13).
If you're there for craft beer or cocktails, consider the cheese and charcuterie plate, a great-looking sampler platter with a mix of textures and sweet and savory flavors, including house-mad guava jam, fig spread, smoked almonds, two cured meats and two wedges of cheese with toasted slices of walnut raisin bread ($19).
Main courses include entree salads, flatbreads, burgers, sandwiches and plated entrees, which come with sides.
The best of the sandwiches is the crab and lobster roll, a toasted, buttery brioche overstuffed with a light salad of fresh crab and lobster meat tossed with house aioli and Old Bay seasoning. Served with the fries or slaw, it's a tasty and satisfying meal for $15.
Read the full review at utsandiego.com