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

O’Brien’s pub: Pliny the Elder on tap

I’ve got to get a handle on my gluttonous impulses.

Barkeep Kimberly makes sure we appreciate the ham-burger.
Barkeep Kimberly makes sure we appreciate the ham-burger.
Place

O'Brien's Pub

4646 Convoy Street, San Diego

This restaurant-rich patch around Convoy and Balboa is one of my favorite areas in our fair city. So I’m glad to see business up here still looks just fine. Now, at 5 pm on March 10, the place is as busy as ever. I walk in to 4646 Convoy, the strip mall. Rakiraki, the ramen place, already has people clustered outside, waiting for tables. I’m thinking Korean. Except, from just beyond, I’m hearing guffaws of pub-type laughter and the smell of cigarette smoke. A few steps further, and here’s a patio-full of Falstaffian characters, sitting, quaffing, laughing, eating, and arguing about pronunciations.

“Plinny!” says this guy with big ruddy cheeks.

Charred chipotle and spicy avocado sauces sex up two of the tacos.

“Plyny!” says his drinking buddy. “Go ask Kimbo. Ask for a ‘Plinny the Elder,’ see what happens. She’ll probably give you a Bud.”

That’s it. I’m staying. I mosey in through the patio to the green-walled room. Not that you see much of the walls. Even on a Tuesday the place is crowded.

I sit at the bar’s last free stool. Now I’ve gotta know about this guy Pliny. I do a quick online check on Pliny the Elder. Man. The guy was awesome. Roman scholar, naval commander. He died trying to save a friend and his family in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii. He also talked up hops for beer.

So Kim the barkeep comes up. “I’ll have that,” I say.

“What?” she says.

“The Pliny,” I say.

“We don’t have ‘Plinny.’ Only ‘Plyny.’ That’s how the Russian River Brewery people say it, and it’s their beer. So what’s it to be?”

Sigh. Plyny it is. Specially as this is one of the few pubs I know with Pliny the Elder on tap.

O’Brien’s Beer Cheeseburger.

The owner, Tom Nickel, is a World Beer Cup Champion brewer himself, and he has nurtured just about the whole San Diego brewing scene from its get-go. The pub has been running since 1994.

But now I’m head-down in the menu. Big one too. And I notice the prices. They are so reasonable. Small soups, like the albondigas (meatball), go for $6 (large is $9). Small Caesar salad’s $5, $8 with chicken. Full-on Harvest Salad, with turkey, apples, and cranberries, plus gorgonzola cheese to put the bite in, is $12.

Turkey and Brie Melt on grilled sourdough’s $8. And hey, for pre-St. Paddy’s Day treat, why not corned beef and Swiss on rye for $7?

And now I’m spotting the little blackboard near the kitchen. Under a sign that says this is an “Official Chapter Bar of the American Outlaws” (Oh yeah. Soccer), a hand-written board says “Taco Tuesday,” and lists three tacos.

“Did you spot the Specials board outside?” says Kim. “Check that before you decide.”

I do.

Old friends gather

And out there I spot something so obvious, you never think about it: An actual ham-burger. A burger topped with ham.

“Burger patty topped with ham, bacon, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, $10,” it says.

I’ve never thought of that before, the question as to why it’s called ham burger if the meat’s straight beef?

Bit flush at the moment, so what the heck, spend $10 more, get one of each taco, and the ham-burger too.

And the tacos, they’re interesting. The first is confit duck ($4.50). Uh, “confit?”

“It means the duck’s cooked in its own fat,” says Kim.

It comes with salsa verde, and, unlike most of the duck I have ever had, is really tasty, savory, and not tough. Maybe because it’s cooked low and slow. The best thing is the spicy avocado sauce with cilantro, Serrano pepper, and sour cream. It makes that usually dull duck meat sizzle with flavor.

Middle taco is the shrimp ($3). Beer battered. With chipotle sauce. And the thing about this is there is a ton of shrimp, and they’re zingers. Some pepper in there knows how to hurt. Good though, and ain’t this what beer’s for?

The tofu Veggie Taco ($4) is nice and nutty, and so right for the flavor of the oversized corn tortilla. Maybe more rabbity than beefy, but that’s okay. It’s a Beyond Burger patty, salsa fresca, avo, and cabbage. And did I say tender?

“Oh God!” Kim is shouting. “A Raiders’ mug! I don’t touch Raiders’ mugs!” She’s reaching for one of the regular customers’ hanging glass mugs. It has a Raiders’ badge on its base. “I don’t touch Chargers mugs either. Specially not since Rivers left.”

My burger comes just as I’m starting to lean back and feel perfectly full. Dammit. I’ve got to get a handle on my gluttonous impulses.

Actually, it’s tasty, in a modest way. There’s the meat patty, slices of ham, slices of bacon, and grilled onions to wet it down and flavor it up. While I’m noshing, I check the history of the mystery: why’s a hamburger called a hamburger? For starters, “ham” didn’t start off meaning salted pork. It meant “back of the knee,” like the hamstrings of pigs’ legs. So forget “ham.” Name’s about where it came from, not what it is. It started in the 1800s as “Hamburg-style beef,” which was chopped meat eaten raw. Same with wieners: they came from Vienna (“Wien”), and frankfurters (from, uh, Frankfurt).

The thing about this place is it’s a real pub. Real atmosphere. Real passionate interest in beers. They rotate new beers in all the time, Kim says.

And, well, bottom line is, it’s kind of genial. You leave feeling better, and not just because of Pliny the Elder.

  • The Place: O’Brien’s Pub, 4646 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa, 858-715-1745
  • Hours: Monday, 10:30am-11pm; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 10:30am-12am; Friday, 10:30am-1am; Saturday, 11am-1am; Sunday, 11am-6pm
  • Prices: Albondigas meatball soup, $6 (large, $9); small Caesar salad, $5, $8 with chicken; Harvest Salad (turkey, apples, cranberries, gorgonzola), $12; Turkey and Brie Melt, $8; corned beef, Swiss on rye, $7; the Big Nickel (2/3lb burger, cheddar), $13; Ham-Burger (meat patty topped with ham, bacon, grilled onions), $10; confit duck taco, $4.50; veggie taco, charred chipotle sauce, $4; shrimp taco, $3; harvest salad, $12
  • Buses: 27, 44, 60
  • Nearest Bus Stop: Convoy Street and Engineer Road
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Sign of the times

“Even if you’re a hater, I’ll sit and talk with you. We can find some common ground.”
Barkeep Kimberly makes sure we appreciate the ham-burger.
Barkeep Kimberly makes sure we appreciate the ham-burger.
Place

O'Brien's Pub

4646 Convoy Street, San Diego

This restaurant-rich patch around Convoy and Balboa is one of my favorite areas in our fair city. So I’m glad to see business up here still looks just fine. Now, at 5 pm on March 10, the place is as busy as ever. I walk in to 4646 Convoy, the strip mall. Rakiraki, the ramen place, already has people clustered outside, waiting for tables. I’m thinking Korean. Except, from just beyond, I’m hearing guffaws of pub-type laughter and the smell of cigarette smoke. A few steps further, and here’s a patio-full of Falstaffian characters, sitting, quaffing, laughing, eating, and arguing about pronunciations.

“Plinny!” says this guy with big ruddy cheeks.

Charred chipotle and spicy avocado sauces sex up two of the tacos.

“Plyny!” says his drinking buddy. “Go ask Kimbo. Ask for a ‘Plinny the Elder,’ see what happens. She’ll probably give you a Bud.”

That’s it. I’m staying. I mosey in through the patio to the green-walled room. Not that you see much of the walls. Even on a Tuesday the place is crowded.

I sit at the bar’s last free stool. Now I’ve gotta know about this guy Pliny. I do a quick online check on Pliny the Elder. Man. The guy was awesome. Roman scholar, naval commander. He died trying to save a friend and his family in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii. He also talked up hops for beer.

So Kim the barkeep comes up. “I’ll have that,” I say.

“What?” she says.

“The Pliny,” I say.

“We don’t have ‘Plinny.’ Only ‘Plyny.’ That’s how the Russian River Brewery people say it, and it’s their beer. So what’s it to be?”

Sigh. Plyny it is. Specially as this is one of the few pubs I know with Pliny the Elder on tap.

O’Brien’s Beer Cheeseburger.

The owner, Tom Nickel, is a World Beer Cup Champion brewer himself, and he has nurtured just about the whole San Diego brewing scene from its get-go. The pub has been running since 1994.

But now I’m head-down in the menu. Big one too. And I notice the prices. They are so reasonable. Small soups, like the albondigas (meatball), go for $6 (large is $9). Small Caesar salad’s $5, $8 with chicken. Full-on Harvest Salad, with turkey, apples, and cranberries, plus gorgonzola cheese to put the bite in, is $12.

Turkey and Brie Melt on grilled sourdough’s $8. And hey, for pre-St. Paddy’s Day treat, why not corned beef and Swiss on rye for $7?

And now I’m spotting the little blackboard near the kitchen. Under a sign that says this is an “Official Chapter Bar of the American Outlaws” (Oh yeah. Soccer), a hand-written board says “Taco Tuesday,” and lists three tacos.

“Did you spot the Specials board outside?” says Kim. “Check that before you decide.”

I do.

Old friends gather

And out there I spot something so obvious, you never think about it: An actual ham-burger. A burger topped with ham.

“Burger patty topped with ham, bacon, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, $10,” it says.

I’ve never thought of that before, the question as to why it’s called ham burger if the meat’s straight beef?

Bit flush at the moment, so what the heck, spend $10 more, get one of each taco, and the ham-burger too.

And the tacos, they’re interesting. The first is confit duck ($4.50). Uh, “confit?”

“It means the duck’s cooked in its own fat,” says Kim.

It comes with salsa verde, and, unlike most of the duck I have ever had, is really tasty, savory, and not tough. Maybe because it’s cooked low and slow. The best thing is the spicy avocado sauce with cilantro, Serrano pepper, and sour cream. It makes that usually dull duck meat sizzle with flavor.

Middle taco is the shrimp ($3). Beer battered. With chipotle sauce. And the thing about this is there is a ton of shrimp, and they’re zingers. Some pepper in there knows how to hurt. Good though, and ain’t this what beer’s for?

The tofu Veggie Taco ($4) is nice and nutty, and so right for the flavor of the oversized corn tortilla. Maybe more rabbity than beefy, but that’s okay. It’s a Beyond Burger patty, salsa fresca, avo, and cabbage. And did I say tender?

“Oh God!” Kim is shouting. “A Raiders’ mug! I don’t touch Raiders’ mugs!” She’s reaching for one of the regular customers’ hanging glass mugs. It has a Raiders’ badge on its base. “I don’t touch Chargers mugs either. Specially not since Rivers left.”

My burger comes just as I’m starting to lean back and feel perfectly full. Dammit. I’ve got to get a handle on my gluttonous impulses.

Actually, it’s tasty, in a modest way. There’s the meat patty, slices of ham, slices of bacon, and grilled onions to wet it down and flavor it up. While I’m noshing, I check the history of the mystery: why’s a hamburger called a hamburger? For starters, “ham” didn’t start off meaning salted pork. It meant “back of the knee,” like the hamstrings of pigs’ legs. So forget “ham.” Name’s about where it came from, not what it is. It started in the 1800s as “Hamburg-style beef,” which was chopped meat eaten raw. Same with wieners: they came from Vienna (“Wien”), and frankfurters (from, uh, Frankfurt).

The thing about this place is it’s a real pub. Real atmosphere. Real passionate interest in beers. They rotate new beers in all the time, Kim says.

And, well, bottom line is, it’s kind of genial. You leave feeling better, and not just because of Pliny the Elder.

  • The Place: O’Brien’s Pub, 4646 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa, 858-715-1745
  • Hours: Monday, 10:30am-11pm; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 10:30am-12am; Friday, 10:30am-1am; Saturday, 11am-1am; Sunday, 11am-6pm
  • Prices: Albondigas meatball soup, $6 (large, $9); small Caesar salad, $5, $8 with chicken; Harvest Salad (turkey, apples, cranberries, gorgonzola), $12; Turkey and Brie Melt, $8; corned beef, Swiss on rye, $7; the Big Nickel (2/3lb burger, cheddar), $13; Ham-Burger (meat patty topped with ham, bacon, grilled onions), $10; confit duck taco, $4.50; veggie taco, charred chipotle sauce, $4; shrimp taco, $3; harvest salad, $12
  • Buses: 27, 44, 60
  • Nearest Bus Stop: Convoy Street and Engineer Road
Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

A friendly reminder from your neighborhood meth dealer

Surefire Meth-od
Next Article

Cold Turkey for Thanksgiving

The first feature to feature flatulence
Comments
1
This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.
March 20, 2020

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
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
Close