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DINING: R-Gang Eatery

The sign on the wall says it all.
Photo by Steven Persitza

R-Gang Eatery’s moniker couldn’t be more apropos. Seemingly, the name refers to the staff that graciously works at the venue, being part of a team and all, but the name captures a wider audience. You the diner. Literally while waiting for a friend to use the facilities when we were leaving, we found ourselves in the bar area suddenly having a conversation with four staff members just as if we were part of the gang, or rather R-Gang.

R-Gang inhabits the former Bussalucci's space on Fifth Avenue. A long standing icon in its day, the property has been reimaged into a fun, fancy-free establishment where laughter and conversations are almost part of the sound system. There is even a sign in bold red letters in the courtyard that simply says “FUN”. Pretty easy to get the picture of what owner and executive chef, Richard Sweeney (a former Top Chef contestant) is going for here. Heck, if you’re lucky you can even meet his lovely mom, Lucy, clearly the matriarch of the place.

Like its predecessor, R-Gang is a little bitty venue with lots of big, bold flavors and style. Don’t be fooled by the intimate nature of R-Gang because this is a place to cozy up, hang out and enjoy food the way it should be. Leave your inhibitions at the door as you will probably get to know your fellow diners. The interior still has that great homey feel to it. Non-descript table and chairs fill the rooms with simple décor. A staircase leads to the second floor that’s available for large parties or group gatherings.

Leading out towards the patio area brings you to the cutest little; we call it “mini” bar. Don’t worry though because like the place itself, this bar can serve you up whatever concoction you could want. Just ask. Or try one of their own signature drinks like then Mama’s Mojito (Myer’s platinum rum muddled with fresh mint, lime wedges, simple syrup and topped with club soda-$8) and the Basil Sangria (a blend of red wines, brandy with juice of oranges, apples, pears, basil and cinnamon-$8). Both of these drinks brought the house down and made for a great brunch beverage. The sangria was one of the most original tasting cocktails we’ve had in a while. R-Gang also has a variety of bloody Marys for the brunch crowd.

The patio area is the place to be, especially if it is a typical San Diego day. There are large, white umbrellas to keep the sun out of your eyes and the tables are lined up against the glass partition to the street and along its walls. Nothing like people-watching with a division between you and the interesting folks walking by. Hey, you never know in Hillcrest. Being brunch the menu offered multiple offerings of savory and sweet and sometimes both in one.

Our merry band of diners went gaga over the fiRe Steak & Eggs (flank steak marinated in a fiery blend of chilies & spices served to order with two eggs, any style, fruit, potatoes and toast-$15), the Scramblz (there are four verities of this concoction but we went with the Bacon, cheddar and tater tots version -$10) and the Chicken & Waffle (French waffle meets fried chicken with a vanilla-jalapeño infused maple syrup-$13). Unable to resist, we also ordered the Biscuits & Gravy, well, because we just had to (Italian sausage in a tomato-roasted pepper milk sauce over house made biscuit with scrambled eggs-$10).

The fiRe steak (the capital “R” always signifies you are at “R”-Gang) packed a nice touch of heat and was served in little showcases on the plate allowing you to mix and match whatever components you desired. The steak was a tasty cut of meat, nicely seasoned and prepared. The Scramblz was a mountain of food. Eggs, bacon, cheese and tater tots in a “come-one-and-all” bowl of comfort goodness. This baby could have easily feed three hungry takers, which is good because we shared. The chicken and waffle was a down home delight. Again the components were separated, allowing you to be in control. The chicken was moist and tender and the waffle light and airy. Bring them together and add the spiced up maple syrup and, well, just call it a night. Delicious! The biscuits and gravy were an unexpected treat. Not the usual heavy cream gravy (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but a lighter, red pepper flavored creamy sauce. It was familiar and new at the same time. Plus the biscuit was perfectly baked and soaked up the creamy goodness.

Great food aside, the staple of R-Gang is the unsurpassed service and not just from our server but the entire staff. Between Mom (Lucy) and our funny, knowledgeable server (Norah), the runners and even Richard himself stopped by to say hello. This place is clearly a reflection of Richard’s personality and desire to have fun and enjoy great food. We chatted for a bit and learned of the “tater tot Tuesdays” featuring “Russian Rue-tot”, a feisty game featuring a dish of eight tater tots and one of them is filled with a whole habanera pepper. Ouch! Or the “white trash tater tots filled with Velveeta and Spam. Sheer joy and fear clearly gave our faces and reaction away because seconds later a plate of them sat before us, courtesy of the chef. Do you need to ask? Yes, they were decadently divine.

The pricing at R-Gang is also very reasonable especially when you measure in the large portion factor of the dishes. Being that we were there for brunch meant that we need to come back for the dinner menu especially after we heard that there is chicken pot pie available. Oh well, all in the line of duty. Enjoy!

The Good – the vibe of this place rocks, so friendly on all counts.

The Bad – this is good ‘ol comfort food which can be tough on the waistline.

Details »
  • City: Hillcrest
  • Phone: 619-677-2845
  • Name: R-Gang
  • Address: 3685 Fifth Aveune