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The fire is still burning at landmark NC barbecue restaurant Phillip Brents | Fri, Aug 15 2014 01:36 PM

Mention the Barbecue Pit in National City and instant images of comfort food for several generations of South Bay families come to mind. The Texas-style barbecue restaurant opened in 1955. The food is just as tasty now as it was then.

“Everything’s the same as when it first opened,” said Todd Browning, who serves as general manager of the landmark National City restaurant. “My grandfather did barbecue in the 1930s in Texas and brought it out here.”

It has been a hit with diners ever since. Browning noted that one customer who filled out a birthday club coupon was born in 1918.

This is a restaurant that has clearly stood the test of time.

“You don’t see a lot of Texas-style barbecue,” Browning said. “Most barbecue here has the sauce on the meat but we have the sauce on the side, though our pulled pork sandwich has the sauce on the meat. Everything on our menu is prepared homemade in the restaurant except the potato salad and desserts.”

The restaurant has been in the Browning and Jenson families for decades. The first Barbecue Pit restaurants opened in 1947 in downtown San Diego. The North Park location followed in 1951, and then the National City location.

The families have also operated restaurants over the years in Pacific Beach, Linda Vista, El Cajon, Escondido, Chula Vista and San Marcos.

The Fletcher Hills location opened in 1973.

The interior décor is western-themed with wood paneling, scenic paintings and mounted wildlife. The iconic huge elk head still occupies one corner of the National City restaurant.

Tradition counts a lot here.

Longtime customers, or customers from decades ago reacquainting themselves with the eatery, will recognize some familiar faces still at the NC location.

Cashier Lynda Desingano has worked at the restaurant since 1978 while manager Tony Daniels has logged 28 years at the restaurant. Meat-cutter Jerry Bigler retired last November after starting as a bus boy in the 1960s.

Dine-in or take-out orders are popular with customers. The restaurant also does a lot of catering. Browning said the restaurant recently catered an order for 1,500 people and can also serve more modest gatherings of 30 to 40 people.
All meats are slowly pit barbecued with oak wood. By slowly, Browning said the minimum time is six to seven hours. He said the smoking process take as long as 10 to 12 hours.

The barbecue pinto beans are smoked in the pit like the meats.

It is the homemade barbecue sauce, however, that most longtime customers will likely point out as their favorite at the restaurant. The family recipe, of course, is a secret. The taste is somewhere between sweet and tangy.

One of our review staff detected a hint of apples and cinnamon.

The restaurant moved to its current stand-alone location in the South Bay Plaza Shopping Center parking lot in 1990. Browning has served as general manager of the National City location for nine years.

“I like the area,” he said. “The people are nice. I enjoy the people I work with.”

When the restaurant first opened, it was the only barbecue-themed restaurant in the area. But about eight to 10 years ago, Browning noted, other barbecue restaurants began to open.

“There are barbecue restaurants everywhere now,” Browning said. “We just try to stay consistent and serve the best quality meat. We’ve managed to keep the fire burning despite the tough market.”

Most-served items, according to Browning, include the famous barbecue beef sandwiches, ham sandwiches and pork spare ribs.

Popular pit barbecue combo plates include the No. 10 beef sandwich plate ($8.99) and No. 3 pork rib plate ($12.59). Also popular are the beef and ham plates ($8.99 for small and $13.49 for large orders).

Customers can also order combinations of beef, ham and ribs or chicken and ribs.

Combo plates come with two sides (baked beans, cole slaw, macaroni salad, green salad, potato salad or french fries), plus roll with butter and the restaurant’s famous barbecue sauce.

The barbecue sauce is also sold separately. A pint costs $4.50 while a quart is $5.50.

The restaurant also offers daily specials for lunch and dinner as well as soups and desserts.

Orders are prepared to go at no extra charge.

Business hours are Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The restaurant is located at 920 East Plaza Blvd. Call 477-2244 or 477-2245 or visit the website at www.thebbqpit.biz.

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