Celebrating its 21st anniversary this year, the Sandbar Sports Bar & Grill has come of age and has established itself as a popular SoCal watering hole and taco spot in the historic Mission Beach neighborhood.
The triumvirate of owners Mark Cirillo, Joe Vaught and Eric Lingenfelder, the second in Verant Group’s growing collection of coastal hotspots, carved a niche in the bars business with Tavern at the Beach on Pacific Beach’s Garnet Avenue over two decades ago , and the opening of a new Sandbar location just last summer at San Diego State’s Snapdragon Stadium.
Alika Herrera, general manager of Sandbar, attributes the venue’s popularity to its beachfront, two-story structure, which features an upper skydeck with a retractable roof that offers stunning views of the blue Pacific Ocean and Belmont Park’s iconic Giant Dipper roller coaster.
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Sandbar Sports Bar & Grill
Address: 718 Ventura Place, Mission Beach
Hours: Open 365 days a year. Winter hours are Labor Day through Memorial Day. 11am to 11pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
But there’s more, including bright, white, airy decor with a lively beach bar and 25 TVs scattered upstairs and downstairs. On them, guests can follow major sporting events throughout the year.
There are also two pet friendly patios. And let’s not forget the award-winning tacos, craft tequilas, and cocktails.
“We’re known for our fish tacos,” Herrera said matter-of-factly. Then he babbled like a waiter reciting the daily specials while proudly listing the restaurant’s awards. His most recent award was Best Fish Taco at the Pacific Beach Fest.
We’re just warming up. It also earned second place in a USA Today poll for “Best Fish Taco in California”, first place for “Best Taco” in the Reader Tacotopia contest, and a two-time winner of the San Diego Bay Food & Wine Festival TKO Fish Taco Throwdown -Challenge.
For a quick taste of the legendary TKO (Technical Knock-Out) taco, we’ll start with a fillet of grilled or seared mahi mahi, wrapped in a cotija cheese-crusted flour tortilla, topped with guacamole, escabeche cabbage (a vinegar- on nacho slaw), grated carrots, jalapenos, fried cilantro, and onions “for aesthetics and crunch.” It’s drizzled with a duo of lime cream (lime-infused sour cream) and smoky chipotle aioli. This lollapalooza is served with corn chips and homemade toasted salsa. It is also offered as a plate with beans and guacamole.
“My guilty pleasures,” Herrera said, “would be the nachos, Southwestern chimi rolls, and fish tacos. I have these almost every day.”
Round one – the nachos. This towering tower of crunch and spiciness stacks mixed cheeses and homemade queso (mixed with meatless chorizo), refried beans, sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo and your choice of protein, whether carne asada or grilled chicken, over a layer of crispy corn chips.
Fancy some traditional pub grub? Try the Sandbar Bacon Cheeseburger, the BLTA (Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato, Avo) on a toasted brioche bun; the Sandbar Cobb with grilled chicken, steak, fish or shrimp; or the classic fish and chips with homemade tartar sauce and French fries.
“If you’re vegan, we’re here to accommodate you,” said Herrera, who recommends the fried avocado taco with black beans, pico, sour cream, shredded lettuce, and chipotle aioli.
Now add some liquid cheer including Big Ass Bloody Mary; the Mission Beach Melon Margarita; a strawberry agua fresca with a squirt of tequila, fresh lime juice and cheeky mint; an espresso martini or a refreshing seasonal slushie.
For early risers, breakfast is served until noon every day of the week and features treats like the Classic OG (“Original Gansta”) burrito with eggs, bacon, tater tots, tossed cheese, and avocado. There’s also brioche French toast with fresh berries and agave cream cheese, or a hash plate that pairs carne asada with meatless chorizo, bacon, avocado and breakfast potatoes.
To support local businesses and incorporate the freshest ingredients into the smallest possible space, Sandbar uses a harvest of local suppliers for the groceries and makes everything in-house, including all sauces, condiments and dressings.
While it’s a lively bar, it’s also a great family restaurant, offering a kids’ menu with some favorites for young taste buds like tacos, quesadillas, chicken breast fillet, and grilled cheese.
There are also soccer specials every Saturday and Sunday, including buckets of beer for $25, beer and a shot combo for $12, and a Bud Light or Michelob Ultra for $5.50.
Happy hour during the week from 3pm to 6pm features beer and margarita specials.
Taco Tuesday from 6:00 p.m. to the end features half-price tequilas and specials on tacos, including street style, beach style, and TKO style.
“Sandbar is a fun neighborhood spot with a wonderful staff and a relaxed environment where you can hang out and relax, enjoy great food and a spectacular view,” said Herrera.
This is true whether you’re a tourist, a local, another food and beverage industry worker, throwing a bachelor or bachelorette party, or even the manager of the eatery. Herrera, who started at Sandbar 11 years ago, rose through the ranks to GM after paying dues as security, bartender and manager.
Whether you choose street style tacos, burgers, nachos, burritos, or the TKO, it will likely be a split decision for the winner. Either way, you’ll likely return for the second round.
Recipe from Sandbar Sports Bar & Grill
Southwest Chimi Rolls
Makes about 15 chimi rolls
• 1 1/4 pounds. blackened chicken
• 2 c. black beans
• 3 c. mixed cheese
• 1 1/4 c. honey
• 1 1/4 c. corn
• 1/4 bunch coriander
• 1/4 pound diced yellow onion
• 1/2 tbsp oregano
• 1/2 T. cumin
• 1/2 T. chopped garlic
• 1/4 T. black pepper
• 3/4 T. Blackening Spice
• 7-inch flour tortillas, about 15
1. Mix all the ingredients together.
2. Place the chimi mixture on top of the flour tortilla.
3. Roll tortilla like a burrito.
4. Fry or bake in the oven at a moderate temperature. Could also use an air fryer.
Courtesy of Sandbar Sports Bar & Grill