Step into the Firehouse American Eatery & Lounge and you instantly feel the comfy patio vibe with lush greenery and open-air access to the busy sidewalk outside and the ocean just beyond. A landmark in Pacific Beach for more than 10 years, the restaurant is situated near Pacific Beach Fire Station 21 (hence its name) and combines the old with the new, thanks to a major renovation in 2015.
Since the million-dollar remodel, the entrance walls are now covered with deep Shou Sugi Ban wood, which is preserved and antiqued to create a charred effect. Mirrors reflect the beachy sunshine, while a fireplace lounge creates a cozy nook.
Upstairs, Firehouse continues the patio vibe with a retractable roof, a fire pit and four private-seating cabanas, surrounded by glass walls that provide a full ocean view. At night, Thursday-Sunday, the upstairs transforms into a DJ-hosted music hot spot.
Along with the architecture and design, a big part of the renovation included an overhaul of the menu.
“We definitely wanted to bring more upscale food to Pacific Beach, not merely typical bar food,” said assistant general manager James Douglas. “We wanted to be known as a food-forward place. I came from George’s at the Cove in La Jolla, which is fine dining, so I tried to bring a lot of my experiences and the lessons I learned there to here.”
Owner/operator Matt Spencer brought in Corporate Executive Chef Brian Redzikowski to elevate the menu while honoring the classics and improving guest favorites. Redzikowski works closely with Firehouse veteran chefs Roberto Martinez and Paul Dalrymple.
One of the classic go-to menu items is the Southwest Quinoa Salad. It’s served with mixed greens, grilled corn, red bell peppers, onions, black beans, avocado and cilantro, with house-made chipotle dressing. The chef suggests pairing it with an Agua Fresca — watermelon puree, tequila, lime juice, mint and peach bitters.
Another favorite is the Fried Chicken and Waffle with braised kale, house chicken gravy and buffalo hot sauce. One Firehouse customer, TJ Green, paired it with a classic Firehouse Bloody Mary. “It is delicious ... the mix and the way the flavors are held together ... it’s something I’ve not had anywhere else — and the Bloody Mary makes it the perfect combination.”
And then there’s the tried-and-true Firehouse Burger with tomato confit, arugula, maple bacon, manchengo cheese and avocado served with duck-fat fries. It may be the most popular item on the menu.
Diners should note that Thursday night is College Night, when San Diego State students come in as DJs, beginning at 9:30 p.m. Customers get half-off their tabs by showing their college IDs.
Sunday is also a popular day at the Firehouse. As Douglas explains: “We do a huge Sunday Fun Day. We get a really big brunch crowd — a lot of people come in to eat and cure their hangover, or hang onto their hangover and get food. The DJ starts at 3 p.m. and we turn it into a big party.”
Douglas adds that the restaurant is joining the trend away from the quick-buzz-and-bar food experience in Pacific Beach. “People don’t care much anymore about cheap drinks and cheap food. They’d rather pay the money for craft cocktails and craft food, and I think PB finally noticed that ... it’s kind of evolving in that way with nicer places.”
—Firehouse American Eatery & Lounge, 722 Grand Ave., is open daily beginning at 9 a.m. (858) 274-3100. firehousepb.com