On the Menu: Sandbar Sports Bar & Grill — where the surf meets the flat screen in Mission Beach
Celebrating its 21st birthday this year, Sandbar Sports Bar & Grill, reaching its age of majority, has stood the test of time as a favorite SoCal watering hole and taco haunt in the historic Mission Beach neighborhood.
The second in the Verant Group’s swelling collection of coastal hot spots, the triumvirate of owners Mark Cirillo, Joe Vaught and Eric Lingenfelder carved out a niche in the bar biz kicking off with Tavern at the Beach on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach over two decades ago, and opening a new Sandbar location just this past summer at San Diego State’s Snapdragon Stadium.
Alika Herrera, Sandbar’s general manager, credits eatery’s popularity to its beachy, bi-level construction that boasts an upper sky deck with a retractable roof giving killer views of the blue Pacific, and the iconic Giant Dipper roller coaster at Belmont Park.
Want to visit?
Sandbar Sports Bar & Grill
Address: 718 Ventura Place, Mission Beach
Hours: Open 365 days a year. From Labor Day to Memorial Day, winter hours apply. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.
But there’s more, including bright, white, airy decor with vibrant beach bar, and 25 TVs scattered upstairs and downstairs. On them patrons can watch major sporting events throughout the year.
There is also a pair of pet-friendly patios. And let’s not forget the award-winning tacos, craft tequilas and cocktails.
“We’re known for our fish tacos,” said Herrera matter-of-factly. He then went into a patter like a server reciting daily specials, as he proudly listed the restaurant’s accolades. Its most recent award was for “Best Fish Taco” at Pacific Beach Fest.
We’re just getting warmed up. There was also second place in a USA Today Poll for “Best Fish Taco in California,” first place for “Best Taco” in the Reader Tacotopia competition, and a two-time winner of the San Diego Bay Food & Wine Festival TKO Fish Taco Throwdown Challenge.
For a blow-by-blow of the legendary TKO (Technical Knock-Out) Taco let’s start with a fillet of grilled or fried mahi mahi enveloped in a cotija cheese-encrusted flour tortilla, tricked out with guacamole, escabeche cabbage (a vinegar-based nacho slaw), shredded carrots, jalapenos, fried cilantro and onions “for aesthetics and crunch.” It is drizzled with a duo of lime crème (lime-infused sour cream) and smoky chipotle aioli. This lollapalooza is paired with a side of corn chips and house-made roasted salsa. It is also offered as a plate with beans and guacamole.
“My guilty pleasures,” Herrera said, “would be the nachos, southwestern chimi rolls and fish tacos. I have these almost every day.”
Round One — the nachos. This towering tower of crunch and zest piles mixed cheeses and homemade queso (blended with meatless chorizo), refried beans, sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo and choice of protein whether carne asada or grilled chicken over a layer of crunchy corn chips.
In the mood for traditional pub grub? Try the Sandbar Bacon Cheeseburger, the B.L.T.A. (bacon, lettuce, tomato, avo) on a toasted brioche bun; the Sandbar Cobb with grilled chicken, steak, fish or shrimp; or the classic fish and chips with house-made tartar sauce and shoestring fries.
“If you’re vegan, we’re here to accommodate,” said Herrera, who recommends the fried avocado taco loaded with black beans, pico, sour cream, shredded lettuce and chipotle aioli.
Now add some liquid cheer, including the Big Ass Bloody Mary; the Mission Beach Melon Margarita; a Strawberry Agua Fresca with a splash of tequila, fresh lime juice and sassy mint; an Espresso Martini or a refreshing Seasonal Slushie.
For early risers breakfast is served until noon everyday of the week, offering such indulgences as the Classic OG (“Original Gansta”) Burrito with eggs, bacon, tater tots, mixed cheeses and avocado. There is also Brioche French toast dressed with fresh berries and agave cream cheese or a plate of breakfast hash combining carne asada with meatless chorizo, bacon, avocado and breakfast potatoes.
To support community businesses and incorporate the freshest ingredients with the smallest footprint, Sandbar uses a crop of local purveyors for the food items, and crafts everything in-house, including all the sauces, condiments and dressings.
While it’s a hopping bar, it’s also a terrific family eatery that offers a kid’s menu with some faves for young taste buds like tacos, quesadillas, chicken tenders and grilled cheese.
There’s also football specials every Saturday and Sunday, including buckets of beer for $25, beer and a shot combo for $12, and a Bud Light or Michelob Ultra for $5.50.
Happy Hour throughout the week from 3 to 6 p.m. features beer and margarita specials.
Taco Tuesday from 6 p.m. to close offers half-price tequilas and specials on tacos, including street style, beach style and TKO style.
“Sandbar is a fun neighborhood spot with a wonderful staff, and a laid-back environment where you can hang out and chill, enjoy great food, and spectacular views,” Herrera said.
This is true whether you’re a tourist, a local, another food and beverage industry employee, throwing a bachelor or bachelorette party or even if you’re the general manager of the joint. Herrera, who started with Sandbar 11 years ago, worked up the ranks to GM after paying his dues as security, bartender and manager.
Whether you choose street-style tacos, burgers, nachos, burritos or the TKO, it’ll probably be a split decision for the winner. In any event, you’ll likely return for Round Two.
Recipe from Sandbar Sports Bar & Grill
Southwest Chimi Rolls
Makes approximately 15 chimi rolls
• 1 1/4 lbs. blackened chicken
• 2 C. black beans
• 3 C. mixed cheese
• 1 1/4 C. honey
• 1 1/4 C. corn
• 1/4 bunch of cilantro
• 1/4 lb. diced yellow onion
• 1/2 T. oregano
• 1/2 T. cumin
• 1/2 T. chopped garlic
• 1/4 T. black pepper
• 3/4 T. blackening seasoning
• 7-inch flour tortillas, approximately 15
1. Mix all ingredients together.
2. Place chimi mix onto flour tortilla.
3. Roll tortilla like a burrito.
4. Deep fry or bake in oven at moderate temperature. Could also use an air fryer.
Courtesy Sandbar Sports Bar & Grill