One bite was enough.
549 25th Street, San Diego
There used to be a place called Urban Chicken here that focused on naturally raised rotisserie hens served with a couple of nice sauces. Pretty good, but it didn’t last long. After it closed something called Sonny’s BBQ moved in and worried more about its Yelp rating than the product. Gone fast.
For a while now the corner restaurant at 25th and Market has been called Garlic Shack. Part of the fast-casual trend it seems. They serve a combo of noodle soups, hot sandwiches, burgers, and sausages, often with smoked meats and/or Korean influence. And even as I write that, all of those things sound good. I never go a week without eating at least one of those things. But I’m starting to think that corner location is cursed.
The corner location gives it visibility, but that hasn’t worked out for anyone yet.
The tough decision on my first visit: Korean beef sandwich or one of the steamed burgers? I haven’t come across many steamed burgers in my life, and these hormone-free Kobe style patties tempted me. But the sandwich is served cheesesteak style with melted provolone over smoked beef, so I tried that.
Or, half of that. The smoke flavor got buried under too much sweetness, so despite the best efforts of the Serrano peppers and spicy pickles, I stopped eating after the first half.
I avoided the place for a little while. But I got to thinking, That was just one sandwich. The burgers probably wouldn’t taste overly sweet. And the ramen noodle soup made with beef-bone broth couldn’t miss, right?
It missed. The smoked-beef chunks were overcooked into a tough chew. The noodles had the zig-zag wave of instant ramen. And the broth had a pungent tang I associate with organ meats, compounded by heavy garlic and heavy smoke. Kind of like taking a sip out of a liquid-smoke bottle.
By the second bite it was too much, and I put down my chopsticks. I let it sit and wondered what went wrong. Large scribbled messages on the casual restaurant’s walls say things such as “Garlic proven 100 times more effective than antibiotics.” So maybe these are medicinal recipes?
I took another bite, thinking I could maybe sneak up on the heavy-handed flavor profile and appreciate it better. But I could not. I gave it another few tastes, but like that sandwich I left it far from finished.
I see more people in Garlic Shack than at either of its predecessors, so perhaps it’s poised to break the curse. It’s got a unique craft beer taplist and looks like a nice alternative to taco shops for Sherman Heights. And maybe those burgers are steamed to perfection. But I won’t be ordering another meal at this location.