I generally avoid chain restaurants above the fast food level and even then, it’s usually a trip through McDonalds for a quick Egg White Delight or Wendy’s for one of their salads that can make for a quick, semi-healthy lunch when I’m on the go. I’ve been curious about places like Applebee’s and Chili’s though, and it took a several mentions of the Sizzler in Oceanside from a young surfer co-worker who is always on the lookout for value/quantity-based meals, and sang the praises of the $7.99 “Unlimited Craft Salad Bar” they offer. That and the somewhat affordably priced steaks piqued my curiosity.
My last experience with a Sizzler was years ago in a somewhat bleak suburb of Detroit and it was not a memorable experience. In fact, it was somewhat depressing. That said, this once mighty powerhouse of a chain that boasted several hundred units and sales approaching $1 billion filed for bankruptcy in 1996. Since then, they have rebranded and emerged into a pared down but healthier chain with a much more contemporary image. That new image was on full display in the Oceanside location with updated graphics portraying young families, action sports and plenty of patriotic images.
And speaking of images, most of the menu items are represented with nice photography that lines the wall of the entrance, leading up to the register where orders are placed. That threw me off a bit as I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the choices but I pulled it together. For the sake of this story, I went way beyond my normal lunch consumption and ordered the Unlimited Craft Salad Bar where you can choose from more than 50 fresh items and a 14-ounce Ribeye Steak with “rich, robust flavor, tender and juicy with generous marbling.” It was also labeled as the “most flavorful.” Yes, I’m a sucker for well-written copy. I’m not sure exactly what they are referring to with the words “fresh” or “craft” in the salad bar description, as there are selections there that are definitely not fresh or crafty. But hey, for $7.99 for all you can eat at lunch who cares and $11.99 at dinner, I’m not going to freak out on their generous use of those words.
So I’ll start with my steak. The cashier offered me a nice temperature guide with photos accompanying it for me to choose the desired doneness of my steak. Then, as advertised, the steak arrived at the table sizzling and the food runner asked if I wanted to cut into it to check the temperature. I was quite confident that they’ve cooked enough steaks at Sizzler to get it right and sure enough it was spot on. I ordered it with a side of garlic-mashed potatoes and for $19.99 it was a damn good steak, full of flavor, well-marbled, and a great value.
While I’m on the topic of entrées I should mention they offer two other steak options including their popular 8-ounce and 10-ounce Sirloin and a 20-ounce Porterhouse. There is a Steak & Lobster combo for $23.99 and Steak & Chicken, Shrimp and Linguine combos. Burgers and sandwiches are plentiful as well as the Bourbon Peppercorn Sirloin Cuts and some seafood options that include a Cedar Plank Salmon, Grilled Salmon, Barramundi and Fish & Chips. A kids and senior portion of the menu is offered as well for 10 and under and 60-plus. Oh, and how could I forget their famous Sizzler Cheese Toast that was served with a couple of hot rolls? From what I’ve been told this stuff has a cult-like following. It was pretty darn good.
After I devoured my delicious steak I made my way over to the extensive salad bar. Let me start by saying that if you are feeding a crowd of hungry kids or adults and are budget-minded, this should be on your short list of options. The standard salad offerings were well presented and looked fresh so the salad eaters in your group should be very happy. There are also several soup options including a clam chowder, and on the day of my visit an Albondiga that was not bad. There is a pasta portion of the bar with a couple sauce options and meatballs. I’m not going to Sizzler for spaghetti and meatballs but as one of 50 options it did the trick. I could not confirm this but I have a feeling that the fried chicken was not breaded and fried on-site, but that’s just my hunch. My lunch companion was a big fan of filling the hard taco shells with various fillings and now that I think of it, this place would be perfect as a munchies fix after whatever it is you do to get that kind of hunger going, as the creative options are limitless. The dessert portion of the bar presents Bread Pudding, Apple Crisp and a bunch of toppings including gummy bears.
My suggestion for truly appreciating Sizzler is to go in very hungry and with an open mind. It’s a hell of a value and there are enough options that I’m confident you will find something that will make you happy.
Sizzler Oceanside is at 3805 Plaza Drive in Oceanside. Call (760) 726-2000 or visit www.sizzler.com for more information.
Lick the Plate has interviewed over 700 chefs, restaurateurs, growers, brewers and culinary personalities over the past 10 years as a column in The Coast News and in Edible San Diego. He can be heard on KSON, FM94/9 and Sunny98.1. More at www.lick-the-plate.com