Urban Bar and Grill

827 5th Avenue, San Diego CA 92101
$$ American Recommended New Special Offer Gift Certificates Outdoor Seating

There is a surplus when it comes to the average run of the mill “Bar and Grill” in San Diego. Fortunately, if you’re looking for one that will satiate your craving for some good ol’ American comfort food while still receiving fine dining service, then Urban Bar and Grill is right up your alley. Outside, the patio seating area is filled with content Happy Hour goers imbibing as they dive into their starters. This seating is ideal for out-of-towners and locals alike who wish to be at the center of the stimulating streets of the Gaslamp Quarter. Inside, flat screens are mindfully positioned throughout to ensure restaurant goers can watch sports as they dine, because frankly, what would a bar and grill be without this focal detail? Take a glance at the menu, and you can let out a sigh of relief because there is literally something for everyone. The menu is diverse, and you can choose from some characteristic bar food such as Onion Rings or the innovative Truffled Macaroni and Cheese with bacon. No matter what you decide to munch on at this stellar spot, you will leave more than satisfied and ready to hit the downtown streets.

A House with Many Hearts

Review by

Fifth Avenue downtown doesn’t lack upscale eateries, sophisticated watering holes, or rustic-done-right establishments. From Gaslamp to Hillcrest, you can eat Far East, Southern, Northern Italian, or South of the Border - unless you desire a place with all of the above, and more. Urban Bar and Grill, formerly Max Steakhouse, has its culinary feet firmly planted as it takes progressive steps in the direction of San Diego’s ever evolving food scene.

Appealing from first sight, Urban Bar and Grill has a patio that fills the buzzing air of downtown with rich, buttery scents of grilled steak. It’s thrilling when I catch sight of a bowl of shrimp, scallops, and mussels peeking from twirled nests of pasta, and an ahi tuna stack colorfully stratified like a rainbow. People are enjoying themselves here, and I can see why - the posted “Specials of the Day” and oversized menu have everything you’ve been craving in the last two weeks. The descriptions of the food demand your attention but the aesthetics pull you in, similar to the staff who can’t wait to make you feel at home in the deep left side of the restaurant, or the swag, polished bar on the right. 

My guest and I slide into a comfortable booth upholstered with modernist tapestry, able to view the al fresco activity and the Padres game on five different flat screens. A bar would not be complete without the “game of the week” element, but elegant touches like golden curtains that drop from the lofty ceiling to accommodate private parties elevate Urban Bar and Grill above others. Oversized mirrors and chandeliers that remind me of Alice in Wonderland demonstrate the thought that went into the restaurant’s recent remodel. The restaurant is deceptively large. Airy and equipped with booths as well as tables, it has an expansive, but not lonely, feel.

The bar animates the south side of Urban Bar and Grill. Dine in this lighter space as well, where barstools, cloth-covered chairs, and tall tables reach perfect eye level to the wines, beers, and liquors available. Illuminated by teardrop lamps as well as recess lighting that accentuate the top shelf, the bar’s staff beam at you as if they want to hear all about your day, or, create something to improve it dramatically. Our host, Danko, has befriended a couple from Europe when I walk by. He pours them white wine from a chilled bottle as they all discuss the world “back home.”

Urban Bar and Grill is that kind of place: you find what you didn’t know you needed and then it carries you from course to delicious course.

The first course here is always warm, house-made pita and baguette with scratch hummus. For outstanding hummus, you need the right texture, and Chef Gerardo’s creamy hummus is smooth and balanced. We are also served Artichoke Spread - lemony, earthy, and demure in sweetness. As if the heart of the artichoke were reborn on a Meyer lemon tree and pulsed into its purest, finest flavor. This isn’t the fibrous, overly cheesy, oily artichoke dip you may know from other bars and grills. The Artichoke Spread should not be missed. The philosophy of letting a remarkable flavor singularly shine is exemplified. My near-obsession for anything artichoke aside, it’s apparent that someone put their heart into the creation of this dish - like divulging a family secret recipe.

Urban Bar and Grill’s menu goes beyond doing one thing well. Options abound, but are cleverly divided to prevent your appetite from being overwhelmed; among them, No Fork Needed-Gourmet Urban Angus Burgers, Sandwiches, Chophouse and Grill, From the Ocean, Pizza, Entree Salads, and Chicken and Pasta. Urban Bar and Grill has taken what Californians like to eat, what out-of-towners want to try, and incorporated tender vegetables, season peaked-fruits, and carefully chosen herbs with classic sauces and infusions to keep the wide selection vibrant and surprising.

Of our four starters, the Tuna Tartare demands the most attention with eye-popping colors from avocado, tomato, cucumber, and pineapple. Prism-shaped egg roll crisps dotted with sesame seeds praise the stack, ginger refreshes, and I’ll never eat ahi without pineapple again.

The House Made Jalapeno Popper has a characteristic kick, tamed with cream cheese and sweetened by fresh crab meat. Chipotle aioli makes this daring, but it isn’t too much for my heat-sensitive palate.

Chef Gerardo doesn’t subscribe to the dense, flat, one-dimensional crab cake theory. His flaky Crab Cakes articulate “Aloha.” Fresh chopped chives, diced red peppers, and corn comprise the interior of this take on the East Coast tradition.  The mango salad that tops the crab cake is paired with slow cooked poblano pepper and harissa aioli. Heat meets sweet, with flavors thoughtfully reinventing this classic.

Shrimp Ceviche is marinated in lime juice and passion fruit puree, a testament to the extra care that goes into everything here. As I take a first bite of crispy plantain chip, I overhear a server ask his regular guest if he’d like his usual (the 16 ounce Cowboy Steak). Attentive and smiling still, the servers are by now handling several tables - dates, colleagues, lone diners and girls night out gatherings - and doing it with orchestrated ease and speedy efficiency.

Salads need depth (crunch) and imagination (innovative sweet and savory additions) to satisfy. Two salads were placed in front of me next, representing two of the “side” salad options as opposed to the entree salads. The Spinach Salad: delicate with strawberries, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and raspberry vinaigrette; sharp with red onion slivers; bold with crunchy pepitas (pumpkin seeds) redolent of lime; and creamy with bleu cheese crumbles, surpasses “satisfy.”

In the Beet Salad, plentiful golden as well as ruby red beets alternate over mixed greens, candied walnuts, and fresh, local goat cheese. A balsamic vinaigrette and reduction gave this salad an artful, brush-stroke allure.

“We serve whatever fish is freshest,” Danko told me, serving Blackened Escolar. Escolar, meaty but flaky, is freshest  today. Escolar is a worthy meat alternative, and Chef Gerardo wouldn’t serve food that would leave you unimpressed or hungry. Topped with citrus and herb sauce, a thick, tender grilled asparagus spear lays between the Escolar filet and mellow artichoke heart risotto. It speaks of spring into summer and I wish I could make it last as long.

For every dish that’s reinvented with new ingredients, there’s a comfort food that needs its rightful place in a chef’s repertoire. Scallops in a Blanket is warming - to put it simply - and shellfish, like everything else, is better with bacon. The wasabi in the bed of mashed potatoes isn’t revolutionary enough to knock this entree out of comforting status. I wouldn’t have known wasabi was in the mashed potatoes if I hadn’t read the menu. Cranberry teriyaki glaze tops the scallop that sliced with ease into a delicate, pale center remarkably close to its natural state.

My favorite item on any menu is the chop. There are choices for vegetarians, children, and picky people, but if you want a chop - an honest steak that you need to devise a plan to consume - Urban Bar and Grill will not disappoint. There are Tenderloin Kabobs if you want to have fun, the aforementioned Cowboy Steak if you’re serious, BBQ Baby Back Pork Ribs (but of course), and lucky me, I get a lamb chop with a rosemary sauce (and for good measure, a healthy, tall rosemary sprig). Chef Gerardo marinates the meats and grills them all to your desired temperature, and every grilled meat item comes out with caramelization and crust - because he takes your carnivore cravings to heart. I hold two lamb chops cut from a rack as ladylike as I can, but give up quickly. I am indulging in a lost art. Pink in the center, charred so slightly at the edges, a classic reduced sauce beneath, and no pretenses. Broccoli florets, zucchini, and roasted red pepper beneath take me into autumn with this dish. 

You can eat the seasons here, (regions of the world, too) and pair it with some of the best wines the Western Coast has to offer. The wine list is divided by varietals, each described in a paragraph including food pairings.

We finished the evening with made-in-house Vanilla Creme Brulee, fragrant and complete with a caramel-colored crust. Alongside it was Creme Brulee Cheesecake and Chocolate Cake with a moist center beneath vanilla ice cream. Fresh, sliced strawberries and mint sprigs garnished the desserts on a plate painted with raspberry, chocolate, and caramel sauces.  This trio of happily-ever-afters sends us on our way while the first happy hour of the night still hops at the bar. 

Urban Bar and Grill doesn't try, approach, prepare, or present things to their guests hoping they will work. Chef Gerardo and his staff put their hearts into each plate and seating every day and night, with vision and mindfulness as reflected by the wishes of the patrons. They accomplish this by adhering to a simple culinary truth - when you start with the right ingredients accompanied by an astute approach, your finished product will be superior.


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Business Info

  • Address: 827 5th Avenue, San Diego CA 92101
  • Cross Street: F Street
  • Location: Downtown | Gaslamp Quarter
  • Cuisine: American | Asian | Hamburger | Italian |
  • Cost: | Inexpensive
  • Category: Fine Dining
  • Star Rating:
  • Reservations: Recommended
  • Dress Code: Casual
  • Meals Served: Lunch | Dinner |
  • Parking: Street | Valet Parking |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | MasterCard | Discover |
  • Corkage Fee: 15.00 | Per 750ml bottle. 2 bottle limit per table.
  • Staff: Gerardo Espinoza | Executive Chef
  • Phone: (619) 235-8700
  • Features: Full Bar, Late Dining, Catering Services, Live Entertainment, Organic Ingredients, Outdoor Seating, Private Room, Prix Fixe Menu, Smoking Area, Takeout Available, Wheelchair Access, Valet Parking, Happy Hours,
  • Occasion: Child Friendly, Romantic Dining, Dining Alone, Business Dining, Meet for a Drink, People Watching, Quiet Conversation, Special Occasion, Trendy / Hip,


Urban Bar and Grill - Filet Mignon with Shrimp Skewer
Urban Bar and Grill - Shrimp Cocktail Urban Bar and Grill - Tomato Mozzarella Salad Urban Bar and Grill - Burger Urban Bar and Grill - Creme Brulee Urban Bar and Grill - Executive Chef Damien Stanley

Business Hours

Reservations Available
4 p.m. - 11 p.m.
4 p.m. - 7 p.m.
9 p.m. - 11 p.m.
4 p.m. - 11 p.m.
4 p.m. - 7 p.m.
9 p.m. - 11 p.m.
4 p.m. - 11 p.m.
4 p.m. - 7 p.m.
9 p.m. - 11 p.m.
4 p.m. - 11 p.m.
4 p.m. - 7 p.m.
9 p.m. - 11 p.m.
4 p.m. - 11 p.m.
4 p.m. - 7 p.m.
9 p.m. - 11 p.m.
4 p.m. - 11 p.m.
4 p.m. - 7 p.m.
9 p.m. - 11 p.m.
4 p.m. - 11 p.m.
4 p.m. - 7 p.m.
9 p.m. - 11 p.m.


Frequently Asked Questions
Urban Bar and Grill offers guests a chance to enjoy San Diego’s up and coming artists every Friday evening in the bar area from 9pm to 12am
The Urban Bar and Grill North Room may be booked as a private area for groups of 10 to 50 guests.
Yes, Urban Bar and Grill has a barrier-free entrance and is wheelchair accessible throughout.
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Customer Reviews & Ratings

4.5 out of 5 stars based on 1 votes