118 W. Plaza Street, Solana Beach
No big-name design firm attached itself to Solana Beach’s Pillbox Tavern, but the group that opened the bar and grill includes plenty of restaurant industry vets, and their collective expertise turned out a nice looking restaurant. They call the place “retro modern,” which fits with the blue neon and refurb wood look.
Competent, friendly staffers and a not-too-boisterous crowd make the place into a more laid-back alternative to nearby Saddle Bar (both bars share an owner), though the smallish size means it gets crowded without even trying. A fair selection of beers on tap should quench anybody’s thirst.
Pillbox succumbs to the same mysterious force that compels North County towards dated bar food. With coconut shrimp, quirky cocktails, blackened seasoning, and mahi (with some form of mango slaw) on one side; quesadillas, wings, chili, and burgers on the other; it’s as if someone threw Trader Vic’s and Hooters into a bag and shook vigorously.
It wouldn’t be fair to hang Pillbox out to dry in the name of an entire food scene. Their food is on the tasty side of average, with the garlicky steak tips and Old Bay chicken wings standing out, but why not catch up on the past couple decades of restaurant culture when you had the chance?
Coconut shrimp is the molten chocolate cake of appetizers: good, clean fun 1997, but we’re sick of seeing it these days. Pillbox has a cool look, and nice people, so why not branch out with the food a bit? It’s good enough, but, come on, North County, surprise us a little.