Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, La Jolla
I had done zero research before I dropped in here, so I literally had no idea what to expect. I was driving past, saw it by accident, had an hour to spare, and stopped in. I ended up being very pleased. Rock Bottom's beer, food and atmosphere competes even with Karl Strauss La Jolla--which is saying something since Karl Strauss won the mid-size brewing company of the year award at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival.
The interior is large and well set up. It is mostly restaurant space, with a nice long bar and an area of high top tables designed for people gathering for a few drinks.
It turns out Rock Bottom is a chain with 30 locations all over the country. Beers, however, are brewed on-site (unlike BJs, or even Oggi's). And the La Jolla location is blessed with a great brewer. I sampled eight of their beers and ended up rating all of them 3 or higher, half of them above 3.5. The beer board is a TV, which makes for easy updating, and I was impressed that they included the "date kegged" for each of their beers. That way you know how fresh something is, which matters especially for IPAs.
Service at the bar was excellent: friendly, quick, knowledgeable, able to manage a bustling after-work crowd. You could tell the staff like each other and get along, which makes a huge difference to the atmosphere (compare that to what I saw at La Jolla Brewing). The kitchen was good. I tried the nachos, which were excellent but definitely came in a sharing size. Bring a friend.
San Diego Sunset Blonde (Kolsch, 5% ABV). Clean, fresh, crisp, refreshing. 3.25/5
Surfer's Solitude (Red Ale, 5.8% ABV). Quite good. Medium body, smooth, perhaps slightly too sweet. 3.25/5
La Jolla Mosaic IPA (7.2% ABV). Citra and mosaic hops in a dance on the tongue. Not quite balanced/mellowed. Lingering bitterness. 3.25/5
Hoppily Never After (Black IPA, 7.1% ABV). One of the best black IPAs I've had. Subtle, smooth, hoppy. If you were unaware of the dark brown color, you would crush this all day. Smoke/roast aftertaste. 4.25/5
Fire Chief (Red Ale, 5.8% ABV). They had the keg release party while I was there. Brewed with the help of some local firefighters. Proceeds support The Burn Institute. Lighter than typical red ale, extra citrus hops. Really tasty. 3.75/5
Ham's Smoked Porter (5.3% ABV). Yep, tastes like smoked ham. Quite delicious. A little harsh on the finish. Smoke on the nose and palate with roasty malts. 3.5/5
Longboard Brown (Brown Ale, 4.8% ABV). It is solid black in color, I would have guessed it was a porter rather than a brown. Roasty, caramel, sharp opening, lingering finish. 3.5/5
The Angry Cricket (Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter, 9.5% ABV). BBA, in my opinion, is a fad that needs to die off or at least become a bit less prominent. Sometimes it is brilliant, but usually the bourbon comes through as sour, somewhat harsh, and often oxidized. In this case it is less less harsh and less oxidized than usual, but I don't think barrel aging really helped this beer. 3/5
There's some construction in the area so it is a bit slow to navigate the intersection and parking lot right now, but overall the lot is large and parking should normally be no problem. It is quite close to the 5, so access is easy, too. I will definitely be back.