Being a certified BBQ judge just sucks sometimes. Once we taste get a taste of competition level ‘Que, we get SO spoiled. Nothing really can come close when it comes to eating ‘Que in a San Diego restau. Those competitive pit masters work hard all year long practicing their cooks to perfection. So, you can just imagine what it takes to get a call at the end of a comp. Your team worked hard for it and deserves that win, or at least to place somewhere in the Top 10.
Coop’s would get that call in my humble opinion. On my first visit here, I smartly ordered the 4 meat combo so I could take some home. Ended up being 3 meals for me! I ordered the ribs, the rib tips, pulled pork and brisket. All were just excellent. It’s possible their smoke kissed brisket was my favorite and I’m much more of a pork lover, so that’s saying a lot for me. It was a bit overcooked, but that’s to be expected in a reastau, where you have to make extremely large amounts and it sits there for a long time. But it still had that fatty juiciness you want in a brisket.
This has been my experience over and over again with local eateries….even one like Brazen BBQ in Hillcrest, which wins many awards in competition (and rightly so), but their brisket is always overcooked. Too tender? Is there such a thing? Yes, but still better than under cooked and tough.
I absolutely was floored over their ribs. Ribs will always be the reason I live, breathe and devour BBQ. It had a touch of that caramelized sauce on the bark that just makes it for me. The texture of the meat had also just the right amount of pull to them. Again, I do NOT want it falling off the bone, which is a commonly misguided term. That can mean overcooked and dried out, but not always (It works for Cali Comfort!). These were cooked to perfection for me. And the smoky level was just right. You want to taste a bit of that, but not have it be overwhelming. They use hickory and mesquite woods in their smoking process and these are the most common, at least in Southern California.
Being a sauce loving girl, it means a lot to me to not HAVE to put sauce on a meat. Coop’s meats are so tasty and smoky on their own, it’s a pleasure to only have to dip a corner of the meat, just because I liked their sauce a lot. It’s more on the thin side, but not overwhelmingly so. Check out this article from Colleen Rush on Thrillist about how to spot fake BBQ places requiring sauce being slathered all over their meats. 7 Foolproof Ways to Spot a Fake BBQ Joint.
On my second visit a few months later, I ordered their 6 meat combo, so I could retry all that I’d already had and then sample a couple more. Lack of consistency can be a theme in most restaurants whether BBQ or not, so I always hope I can duplicate a good meal previously ordered. While I found the brisket a touch on the dry side, it was still pretty darn good, as were the ribs and pulled pork. This time I tried their jerk chicken. They smartly used the more tender and juicy thigh meat and it was quite tasty and not too spicy. They were slightly smoky too. I also tried their hot links which were quite spicy but damn, they were super flavorful.
On my first visit I tried their collard greens…they were a little too bland for me. I like it when it’s cooked with ham hocks, these were not. The sweet potatoes on the other hand were to die for! Wow, just the right amount of candied goodness! Unfortunately, the sweet potatoes are only served on Sundays so I was not able to order them on my second, weekday visit. On this second visit I tried their mac ‘n cheese. The pasta was also a bit too overcooked for me and needed salt. It was just ok. I haven’t had any knockout mac ‘n cheese yet in a BBQ joint. I did order their beans and these were quite delicious
Never been a fan of sweet tea….until now! Wow, it’s super sweet and, but I guess it has to be to overcome the sweetness of the sauce. But it’s blended just right and truly refreshing. I’m glad I tried theirs. The cornbread was good too, moist and slightly sweet. Try some honey on it….because you don’t have enough sugar on it all as it is!
Prices are comparable and fair. Specials are offered each day. Check web site for details. Owner Bradrick Cooper recently won a fried chicken challenge competition and has been planning to open a fried chicken joint in the same shopping complex seen here very soon.
Counter service only. Both times it was the same girl behind the register and she was super friendly and helpful. So was one of the guys who were packing up my stuff to go. They seem happy to be there. How refreshing!
Not that I need validation of my own taste buds, but it was nice when I asked Troy Johnson, the food critic for San Diego Magazine, what his fave BBQ place in SD is and he didn’t hesitate for a minute. “Coop’s.” The man has good taste obviously.
First visit, I got there about 11:45 am on a Sunday. I knew it would be right before the church rush, and I’m glad I arrived when I did. Only 8 tables, and just a few were occupied when I got there. There were a few big churches within a block or two and the girl at the counter said it gets SUPER BUSY right after the churches let out and boy was she right. Nothing like some tasty BBQ after some great preachin’!
Extra Goodies: Join their Birthday club and get deals throughout the year. $10 off for your birthday when you spend $20. $5 off for spending $20 several times a year too.
2625 Lemon Grove Ave.
Lemon Grove, CA