Friday, February 23, 2024

El Barbecue, The Perfume of Smoke Hangs in the Air in Sherman Heights

My uncle from North Carolina once told me, “There’s a simple truth in barbecue: If you don’t see wood stacked out back, it ain’t worth stopping for.” No need to worry — as you arrive in Sherman Heights at El Barbecue, you can smell the perfume of the white oak hanging in the air, and you can certainly taste it in their meats.

El Barbecue, 549 25th Street, Sherman Heights, San Diego

Less than a 10 minute drive over the bridge, this iconic building in Sherman Heights has been a few things over the years, The Garlic Shack, Sister Ray’s, and in 1972 it was Hilltop Bar B Q. The spot has come full circle – BBQ is back. El Barbecue is owned and operated by husband and wife team Brandon and Ami. They have invested much time and love into the place; it isn’t going away anytime soon. 

Brandon is a pit master worthy of the name. You can taste his Kentucky roots with the way  he imparts just a kiss of smoke in his barbecue; he lets the taste of the meat take center stage. 

If you don’t see piles of wood, oak in this case, keep driving.

The kitchen is where chef Ami struts her stuff, and boy, does she strut. Her sauces, sides, and dishes are as creative as they are delicious. Too many BBQ places fall short in this category. None of the menu at El Barbecue is an afterthought. 

Chef Ami with Tom Tilford, Coronado resident and a regular at El Barbecue.

The regular menu is solid, generous in size, and will keep you coming back for more. That would be enough for most, but Brandon and Ami have decided to forgo sleep and serve up some fun surprises throughout the week, and I am sure I have missed a few. 

Taco Thursdays, yes, it’s a thing. This day showcases chef Ami’s Mexican roots and creativity as she mixes it up with an ever-changing array of tacos.

Birria Tacos featuring chopped brisket and Chihuahua cheese, broth for dipping.

Jennings and Nelson dominated the country music charts in the late ’70s with hits like “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” El Barbecue pays tribute to these “old stoner compadres” on Fridays with two burgers, Waylon and Willie.

The burgers feature American wagyu patties and brioche buns, but the toppings make them sing. The Waylon comes with cowboy onions, Chihuahua cheese, tomato jam, and herb aioli. The Willie has American cheese, pickles, iceberg lettuce, and El Secret Sauce. Flip a coin if you have to choose; they are both winners. 

The Waylon Burger at El Barbecue, only on Fridays.

Saturdays are for brisket. Brandon dedicates one day a week and roughly 19 hours of love to this decadent delicacy. They sell out most Saturdays, ‘Que’ up early, pun intended.

Brunch takes center stage on Sundays. A recent visit yielded some top-notch pozole and a biscuit sandwich called the Kentuxican. You got it, Kentucky meets Mexico between one of chef Ami’s heavenly biscuits. 

Pozole Rojo, Sundays at El Barbecue. Don’t forget to order a biscuit for dipping.

The fried chicken thighs and fluffy biscuit pay tribute to the Bluegrass state while the bacon-chili de árbol jam and rajas con crema take you south of the border. If you are unfamiliar with rajas, let me give you the 411. Rajas con crema is sliced roasted poblano chilies in a cream sauce. The biscuit crumbles as you eat the Kentuxican, forcing you to hold tight and power through it. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. 

The Kentuxican biscuit sandwich at El Barbecue. Ask for an egg on top, its the way to go.

It took four trips just to do this article justice; mission accomplished. El barbecue won’t be in my rearview mirror for a long I am already planning my next trip. My repeat business speaks volumes, as a writer who is always trying to find the latest and greatest. Get over there before the kooks from out of town get wind of it. It won’t be “locals only” for much longer. 

549 25th Street
San Diego, 92102
[email protected]

Clyde Van Arsdall
Clyde Van Arsdall
Clyde is a trained chef that has worked in hospitality for nearly 40 years. In addition to cooking, he is a freelance food writer and storyteller. Currently he works for CH Projects managing the pool and Beginner's Diner at the Lafayette Hotel. Clyde is a third-generation Coronado local, CHS graduate, and father of three. He also owns and operates Olive Avenue Supper Club, a boutique catering company specializing in culinary experiences. You can follow his culinary journey on Instagram @oliveavenuesuppper and read all his stories at www.oliveavenuesupper.comHave a story for The Coronado Times to cover? Send news tips or story ideas to: [email protected]

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