My friend from Del Cerro called. She recently moved there from Del Mar and was still knee-deep in boxes. "I've discovered my new favorite restaurant," she gushed. "You've got to try it." She was referring to Bully's East, which is located off Highway 8, between her new home and her office. She began to patronize it after her move.
Bully's East was new to her but certainly not new on the local restaurant scene. It has been in business since 1971. The small local chain was founded by George Bullington four years earlier in La Jolla. Bullington and JD Dahlen, who worked with him in La Jolla, opened the second location. After Bullington passed away, Dahlen bought Bully's East and continues its solid reputation for good food and good service at reasonable prices.
The restaurant's popularity was evident by the jammed parking lot. I had to circle the lot several times and then wait for someone to leave. In the meantime, others parked down the street and walked back to the entrance. "It's like this all the time," the manager said, "but we work hard to keep the waiting time as low as possible. Many of our guests enjoy relaxing at the bar with a cocktail or appetizer before being seated." The reason for the popularity? He replied, "We give more bang for the buck! Our food tastes great and we're inexpensive." Locals love the place.
I was impressed by the casual ambiance of the restaurant. This is really a "come as you are" place. Businessmen in suits and ties mingled with people in jeans and cutoffs. Yet, everyone seemed comfortable.
The restaurant is located in a low shake-roofed building. There is a small main entrance and an enclosed patio nearby. An ornate old fashioned wood bar dominates one wall. Guests may dine at tables in the dining room or in small semi-private booths. These booths are encased in a wood frame with a small roof overhead. The effect creates a sense of intimacy. Lighting is dark and the atmosphere is club-like. The noise level can be high when the restaurant is busy, but it is the sound of people having a good time.
Bully's East has an extensive appetizer menu. The seafood cocktail, with crab, shrimp, lobster, prawns and scallops is really big. Oyster Rockefeller and Little Neck Steamed Clams are also favorites.
Steak and seafood are the best reasons to dine at Bully's East. Australian Lobster and Alaskan Crab Legs are guaranteed fresh and are offered as main dishes or in combination with steak. The Porterhouse and New York steaks are large cuts. Prime rib, the house specialty, is hand-selected USDA choice and aged to perfection.
I chose the full-cut prime rib, 22 ounces of succulent meat. It came at perfect temperature (medium) and was tender, moist and full of flavor. A small pewter bowl of beef stock on the side (a jus) and the creamed horseradish added exciting flavor.
The wine list consisted of very acceptable standard California offerings, with leanings towards the reds to enhance the beef on the menu. The 1996 Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon was featured, a wine with good body and strong taste of fruit and tannins.
Here's an inside tip: My server informed me that "bones" are available. These are prime rib bones with lots of meat hanging on that have incredible taste. They're not on the menu. You have to ask for them.
Bully's East has an extensive dessert menu. My favorites are the Macadamia Nut Mud Pie, which is chock full o' those delicious, crunchy nuts and the "Dial Chocolate 911" if you need an emergency chocolate fix after the meal. This lovely item is made of double chocolate devil's-food bundt cake with chocolate filling, hot fudge, strawberries and lots of whipped cream. This is a great dessert for sharing.
Here's another feature to keep in mind: The kitchen at Bully's East is open until 12:15 a.m., for convenient and comfortable late night dining. On weekends, a brunch menu is available.
The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner. The address is 2401 Camino del Rio South. It is the first driveway on the right after turning east off Texas Street. Reservations are available for large parties. Call (619) 291-2665 for information.
Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association.