By Dr. Ink
For those who eschew chain restaurants, Wood Ranch Grill offers a little more style and plenty of breathing space, at least when dropping in for happy hour held on weekdays in the roomy bar lounge.
In addition, the drink and food deals cover all bases, starting with a decent craft beer list. All of them — either drafts or by the bottle — are $2 off their regular prices.
Cocktails and wines by the glass fall into four price categories, from $6 to $9. And various appetizers range from $3 to $5, with the top tier including a few of the restaurant’s heart-and-soul dishes such as an abbreviated portion of baby back ribs or a single beef rib smoked in pecan wood.
“Would you like some fresh bread?” my waitress asked immediately after handing me an organized listing of the happy hour specials. It’s free, and actually two large rolls that were buttered on the outside and hot and puffy beneath their tan crusts.
From my booth against the front window and in the quietude of the rather stylish lounge, I could hear a couple sitting at the U-shaped bar comparing two different lemonade cocktails they had ordered.
Both are on the happy hour menu; the “Ranch” version for $6 and the “Newport” for $7.
Initially intent on slugging down a couple of cold craft beers on this muggy afternoon, I read the descriptions for both lemonade drinks while continuing to eavesdrop.
The guy, a jock type with an obvious sweet tooth, was effusing about the Ranch lemonade, which is made with sugary raspberry rum, house-made lemonade and fresh raspberries.
I love berries of all kinds, but when my waitress indicated with a negative facial gesture that it’s a cloying drink, I decided to pay an extra dollar for the Newport, and was glad I did.
It’s made with Ketel One vodka, perhaps a weak pour during happy hour, but wildly refreshing nonetheless when mixed with fresh lemon juice, mint, pureed cucumber and a judicious hint of simple syrup. I drank it with embarrassing velocity.
An order of five grilled shrimp ($4) went down too fast as well, only because the crustaceans were a couple notches smaller than medium in size. Dressed lightly in balsamic vinaigrette, they sported a nice char flavor and were served on a substantial bedding of super-fresh coleslaw. The cabbage is what ultimately sated my appetite.
Wood Ranch is a small but growing chain established 25 years ago in Moorpark, California. It has about 20 locations, with only one in San Diego, which is maybe why it doesn’t feel like a corporate goliath. I’ve had satisfying dinners here, and based on this comfortable and affordable experience in the bar lounge, I’ll be back for more.
Discounts apply to a solid variety of craft beer on tap or by the bottle. The drink list also extends to several cocktails made with fresh-squeezed juices and so-so wines by the glass. The Newport lemonade with Ketel One Vodka, mint and cucumber is especially refreshing.
Based on a few visits, the food has shown consistently good quality. An appetizer of five succulent, grilled shrimp on the happy hour list was served on a bed of tasty balsamic coleslaw. My only complaint is that the shrimp were kind of shrimpy in size.
You’ll save an average of $2.50 on food and drinks, and up to $3.50 on the hard lemonades.
From the hostess to the waitress and bartender, the staffers were friendly without being overbearing. And happy hour menus were promptly presented upon my arrival.
The bar lounge is roomy, spotlessly clean and designed nicely without appearing as prefabricated as other chain restaurants.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.