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Is there a wide selection of gastropubs in South Bay? Uh, no.

I'm desperate. This is Friday night. I’m in Chula Vista, lookin’, walkin', searching…

Aha! In the big shopping mall at 3rd and H, a sign: “BJ’s.” It’s an eatery, it’s a pub, it's huge, it’s a…uh oh. A chain: BJ’s Restaurant Brewhouse, 555 Broadway, Chula Vista, 619-591-2490.

They have over 100 places throughout California and beyond. Still, they started in California (Huntington Beach, in 1978), and they do brew their own beer. (Well, their breweries distribute. Nearest one to here is in La Brea.)

If you can just swallow your “this ain’t local” thing, the food’s actually pretty good.

And it doesn’t have to be that expensive. I go the appetizer route. I like the four mini bruschetta: squares of focaccia bread topped with cheese, tomatoes, onions, roasted red peppers, basil, and a pesto dipping sauce ($2.95). Or tomato bisque for $5.75. Or baked potatoes with different toppings.

Soup-salad combos are about $11, and the deep-dish pizzas that launched BJ’s back in the seventies start at $10.25 and top out at $23.95.

Michelle, gal behind the bar, is pretty knowledgeable about their drinks. The star of BJ’s brews that I’ve tried is Tatonka stout ($5.25 a pint). It’s like the mild li’l brother of Arrogant Bastard, but not bad. I’ve tasted the Jeremiah Red (nicely fruity) and the Piranha Pale Ale (almost enough lemony bitterness to justify the name).

What I’ll definitely have next time: the messy, chocolately thing the couple next to me is sharing. I have to ask. It’s BJ’s own foodie invention, the Pizookie, a hot, baked-on-the-spot dessert cookie of white chocolate and macadamia nut or chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin walnut that they serve in a kinda pizza pan with a vertical pile of vanilla ice cream.

So yeah. You want to dis BJ’s for being a Walmart of brewpubs, but it buys you off quite nicely.

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