4805 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa
San Diego needs another restaurant serving craft beer and tarted-up pub grub like it needs another mayoral scandal. But there’s one neighborhood that’s remained more or less free from badge logos, kale, and people sticking their noses into beer: Kearny Mesa. Convoy Street isn’t just one of SD’s tastiest miracle miles, it’s gloriously liberated from food trends and fashions. The cuisine du jour has to put in a good show to catch the eye of anyone looking to do business along Convoy… like the UCSD grads who opened up Common Theory earlier this year.
As sick as we are of seeing phrases like “beer-centric eatery” come to press, Common Theory actually deserves a little excitement. It looks like the owners are doing things a little differently, or at least making a go of it. The design cues could be from any trendy restaurant (nautical ropes, reclaimed-looking wood, and Edison bulbs abound), but it’s still fun inside. Big windows make for plenty of fresh air, and a couple big TV’s tuned to sports give the impression that the restaurant doesn’t presume itself above a little stick-and-ball entertainment.
The short menu keeps prices in check. Starters are $5.50-$9, sandwiches and salads $9-$12, and mains run $13-$18. Beers are similarly priced on the upside of affordable, with plenty of tap and bottle options. There’s no full bar.
True to the rumors, the chef didn’t go for “fusion” cuisine, despite the fact that this trendy, American beer restau sits smack in the middle of San Diego’s greater Asian quarter. The Scotch quail eggs ($5.50), shrouded in fried chorizo and served with a perplexing jalapeño honey, are fabulous.
So, too, for a “chicken fried wagyu burger” ($12), which is leaner than it ought to be, heart-wrenchingly indulgent, and totally worth the asking price, even if the charred scallions are more of a bother than a delight.
The place is still new, so the occasional gaffe makes an appearance, like ill-fried calamari seeping cold oil, but there’s a great sense of precision in the cooking, as though the chef and owners were willfully trying to purge the menu of needless adjectives, self-indulgent ingredients, and the kind of snootiness that has no place whatsoever in a restaurant serving beer and fried food.
In a sense, Common Theory is, well, let’s say it could be the bar and grill we’ve been waiting for. Just wants a bit of polish.
Oh, and, seriously, when the menu says “spicy,” it’s being serious. Don’t bite off a huge hunk of formally unidentified yellow pepper thinking, "there’s no way that’s actually a habanero…. menus just say there’s habanero in the food so guests feel like hardmen when they down an order of 'Devil Wings,' or whatever." You will burn.
So, how about it, Common Theory? Care to show us what you can do? We’re waiting. Eagerly. You could be great.