441 Washington Street, Hillcrest
When it comes to meat, I like it lean — no chewy gristle, no greasy globules of fat, I just want that succulent muscle. Meat-wise, I’m a bad foodie — I prefer filet mignon over marbled rib-eye cuts, and pork tenderloin over oleaginous pork belly. When meat is slow-cooked (for a long time at a low temperature), most of the fat melts away, a process that increases tenderness and concentrates flavor. It’s important to keep the temperature low so that the meat doesn’t dry out. When this process is executed well, you’re left with tender, juicy meat, minus the bits I don’t care for. I’ve yet to find a restaurant in San Diego that slow-cooks better than Brazen BBQ Smokehouse & Bar.
When David and I choose to head out for lunch, I often rule out Hillcrest restaurants because the hunt for a parking spot sours my mood. Fortunately, Brazen has its own lot. Since we first discovered the joint in 2011, it has been our go-to spot for take-out for casual gatherings with friends. On rare occasions (maybe 3 or 4 times in as many years), we pull up a seat and enjoy a meal on site.
I was (and remain) disappointed when my favorite beans (ancho-spiced baked beans that were sweet, savory, and spicy) were removed from the menu. Neither the “cowboy beans” or the “red beans and rice” options fill this empty spot on my BBQ platter. David likes them fine, but I’m still holding out for some version of the baked beans to return.
Though barbecue aficionados often beeline to brisket, our meat of choice is the baby back ribs ($14.99 for half rack, $22.99 full). I have tried and enjoyed the brisket and pulled pork, and sometimes, to shake things up, we'll get a platter with both ribs and pulled pork, but most often we keep it simple with just the ribs. Two people could easily split a half rack, which comes with two sides, and be more than satiated. On our most recent visit, David and I ordered a full (more meat, still two sides), primarily because he wanted to have some leftovers for the following day.
On this occasion, we opted to try the “crusty macaroni and cheese,” which is considered a side upgrade, for an additional $1.49. It was a dollar-fifty well spent. The bubbly browned cheese atop the creamier version within was indeed crusty, and pleasantly crispy.
There are two BBQ sauces on every table, both made in-house: Smokey Lace and B.R.A.G. The latter, my favorite, is sweet and tangy with a kick. The acronym represents the sauce's secret ingredients, and conveys the confidence that comes with winning as many awards as these guys have. Inevitably, even with the slow-cooked ribs, there are some fatty bits. Fortunately for me, my permanent dining companion doesn’t mind those. So I pick the parts I like, and give him the rest. My perfect bite? A tender chunk of rib and a drizzle of B.R.A.G. sauce atop some Texas toast. For so long we’d been getting our ribs to go, so I’d forgotten how delightfully crispy the toast could be. Next time, instead of swinging by and picking up food for friends, we’ll bring the party to Brazen.