Kelly’s is ould school in Old Town
by Dr. Ink
When we locals think of Old Town, images of tourists packed into look-alike Mexican restaurants pop into our heads. The giant fishbowl margaritas, plates of food swimming in beans and cheese, mariachis – it’s a faux trip below the border for all those pasty Midwesterners who, thankfully, keep our economy shaking like maracas.
Ah, but there is more to Old Town. Many not-so-common restaurants and shops are tucked here and there, including an Irish pub that sits just a few blocks southeast of the main drag.
Well, OK, I might be exaggerating to call it Irish. While the name certainly implies shamrocks, the actual place is more American dive bar than traditional Guinness pub. Save for a few Irish-friendly signs on the walls, Kelly’s doesn’t work too hard to be a replica of the quaint drinking stops found in the “ould” country.
And that’s just fine. In an area known for Mexican kitsch, a little American authenticity feels good. As do the Happy Hour prices at Kelly’s. Sink into one of the bar’s 20-plus chairs or sit at a table and pull out your $10. Yep, I said $10. From 11 a.m.-7 p.m. you can get domestic drafts and bottles for $2.50, wells and house wine for $2.75 and premium drafts for $3.75. With 20 taps and a full bar, those prices can provide a lot of satisfying drink for a sawbuck (don’t forget to tip your hardworking bartender).
The Happy Hour ambience is dropping-by-after-work-for-one calm. Mostly men in their 40s filled the bar, while a few tables held groups. Several flat-screen TVs throughout the spacious bar area were tuned to sports programming. Pool is available in an adjacent room, as is an Internet jukebox.
Getting to Kelly’s could require a little Irish luck – if you come from the south, slow down or you’ll miss the turn-in on the curve. When you get in the lot, you might feel a little like you’re playing Tetris as you attempt to slide your car into the haphazard parking places – a game that could turn to bumper cars later if you overindulge in the affordable beverages.
While Kelly’s isn’t particularly tied to its Irish roots, it does know where it is in San Diego – and that means, yes, Mexican food. But unlike the sub-par comida you might get at some Old Town haunts, this menu Mexicana is homemade and delicious. Luz’s Kitchen (you might recognize the name – they also operate the kitchen at Rosie O’Grady’s in Normal Heights) is a separate business occupying the back section of Kelly’s and offering a full menu of traditional burritos, tacos, tostadas, etc., plus pub fare such as shrimp cocktail ($9), wings ($6) and fish and chips ($7) among other selections. Build-your-own breakfast is available on weekends for $8, which includes any combination of American and Mexican breakfast items from the menu.
For Happy Hour, my friend and I shared the rolled tacos ($5). The cooks at Luz’s make the rolled tacos from scratch using good-quality ingredients. Served with dollops of sour cream and guacamole and covered in lettuce and pico de gallo, they were a satisfying snack to enjoy with our draft beers.
No mariachis needed.
2222 San Diego Ave.
San Diego, CA 92110
Happy Hour: Daily, 11a.m.-7 p.m.
Excellent selection but both my and my companion’s first round of beers tasted inexplicably watery. Our second round – from a different set of taps – was better.
It’s not fast but nearly all of Luz’s food is homemade, including the chicken fingers.
Well-poured cocktails for $2.75 are a great deal!
The bartender seemed off-kilter, taking forever to get our drinks and then giving us change for a 10 instead of a 20. Her replacement at shift change was an improvement.
Eight hours a day, every day.
Note about the ratings: Each category is based on 1-5 glasses, with 5 being best. Drinks and food are rated as to quantity and quality, while duration is based on the number of days and hours Happy Hour is offered. Value and service are self-explanatory.
Want to make me happy? E-mail Dr. Ink about your favorite Happy Hour and I’ll drop by with my stethoscope: email@example.com.