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Pete’s Smoked BBQ & Burgers nails the tri tip sandwich

Smoked meats served in the back of Ramona Liquor store

A smoker hints at good food at a liquor store.
A smoker hints at good food at a liquor store.

There are two types of diners in the world: those who would absolutely never, under any conditions, order food prepared in the back of a liquor store; and those who will pull over their car immediately to try it. Turns out, I’m one of the latter.

Place

Pete’s Smoked BBQ & Burgers

977 Main St, Ramona

I was just passing through Ramona when I spotted a plume rising from a drum smoker placed outside of Ramona Liquor, below a sign reading “smoked BBQ.” That would be Pete’s Smoked BBQ & Burgers, which has carved out a service counter and casual dining room at the back end of the shop.

Tri tip sandwich, a central California favorite

Not for the first time this month, I pulled over without hesitation to investigate the liquor store grub. For a food writer, finding good food coming out of such an unlikely venue is like finding great artwork at a yard sale. At the very least it makes a good story, so where others might see a questionable dinner decision, I spied opportunity. Of course, more often than not, this approach doesn’t work out, as evidenced by the liquor store fried fish I declined to tell anybody about four weeks ago.

Brisket and corn bread worked out better than fried fish.

Fortunately, my luck turned around in Ramona. The first thing I went after was the weekday special: Pete’s tri tip sandwich. It’s nothing more than sliced tri tip, grilled onions, and BBQ sauce on a roll, served with French fries. On weekends it goes for $12.99, but from Monday through Friday it’s a deal at $10.99.

The dining room and BBQ counter in the back of Ramona Liquor

The tri tip sandwich is a far more common sight in central California, where it’s a regional specialty. For those who know, when slow cooked, the bottom sirloin cut gives tender and flavorful meat you can sink your teeth into, yet chew without much fight. At first sight, this one looked almost unmanageably large, but one I was able to press those two pieces of bread together and start eating, I wouldn’t have accepted any less. The sandwich and crispy potatoes went fast. I was spurred on by tangy sauce and meat so smoky I almost worried it would set off a smoke detector.

The guys working at Pete’s are really proud of the tri tip, recommending it over most other options. But my top recommendation would be the brisket. Served in thin slices, each with just enough fat still attached to keep it interesting, it proves even more flavorful, with or without BBQ sauce. I got a decent amount of it served as a plate with corn bread and two sides (macaroni and baked beans) for $13.99.

But I’m just getting started with the menu at Pete’s, which runs fairly deep with cold sandwiches, salads, and burgers to go with traditional BBQ options including pulled pork, chicken, and ribs. There are even breakfast burritos, which cinches it: if I lived in Ramona, this is where I would be thickening my middle.

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A smoker hints at good food at a liquor store.
A smoker hints at good food at a liquor store.

There are two types of diners in the world: those who would absolutely never, under any conditions, order food prepared in the back of a liquor store; and those who will pull over their car immediately to try it. Turns out, I’m one of the latter.

Place

Pete’s Smoked BBQ & Burgers

977 Main St, Ramona

I was just passing through Ramona when I spotted a plume rising from a drum smoker placed outside of Ramona Liquor, below a sign reading “smoked BBQ.” That would be Pete’s Smoked BBQ & Burgers, which has carved out a service counter and casual dining room at the back end of the shop.

Tri tip sandwich, a central California favorite

Not for the first time this month, I pulled over without hesitation to investigate the liquor store grub. For a food writer, finding good food coming out of such an unlikely venue is like finding great artwork at a yard sale. At the very least it makes a good story, so where others might see a questionable dinner decision, I spied opportunity. Of course, more often than not, this approach doesn’t work out, as evidenced by the liquor store fried fish I declined to tell anybody about four weeks ago.

Brisket and corn bread worked out better than fried fish.

Fortunately, my luck turned around in Ramona. The first thing I went after was the weekday special: Pete’s tri tip sandwich. It’s nothing more than sliced tri tip, grilled onions, and BBQ sauce on a roll, served with French fries. On weekends it goes for $12.99, but from Monday through Friday it’s a deal at $10.99.

The dining room and BBQ counter in the back of Ramona Liquor

The tri tip sandwich is a far more common sight in central California, where it’s a regional specialty. For those who know, when slow cooked, the bottom sirloin cut gives tender and flavorful meat you can sink your teeth into, yet chew without much fight. At first sight, this one looked almost unmanageably large, but one I was able to press those two pieces of bread together and start eating, I wouldn’t have accepted any less. The sandwich and crispy potatoes went fast. I was spurred on by tangy sauce and meat so smoky I almost worried it would set off a smoke detector.

The guys working at Pete’s are really proud of the tri tip, recommending it over most other options. But my top recommendation would be the brisket. Served in thin slices, each with just enough fat still attached to keep it interesting, it proves even more flavorful, with or without BBQ sauce. I got a decent amount of it served as a plate with corn bread and two sides (macaroni and baked beans) for $13.99.

But I’m just getting started with the menu at Pete’s, which runs fairly deep with cold sandwiches, salads, and burgers to go with traditional BBQ options including pulled pork, chicken, and ribs. There are even breakfast burritos, which cinches it: if I lived in Ramona, this is where I would be thickening my middle.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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