Pros: Good food and drink
Very long and diverse menu
Cons: Calories, salt, alcohol.
BJ's Restaurant and Brewery, or in short BJ's, is a brewhouse-style restaurant that operates over 100 locations across the U.S.
Let me start out with saying I don't like chain restaurants. But if I had to pick a favorite dinner place for us -that is two grown ups with two kids- it had to be BJ's. How come?
In short, BJ's is, for me, the ultimate comfort food, in a lively atmosphere, accompanied by good beer, with great service and at a very affordable price. I usually pay around $60 to $70 for the four of us- a couple of beers included!
Strangely enough, my first encounter with BJ's was on a business trip in the Houston, TX area. We had nachos, fish tacos, burgers, and of course a couple of pitchers of beers. To my surprise, everything arrived quickly, the food tasted great, and the beer was actually good. I say this as a native German, and mind you that beer in the U.S. is not always what I would call 'beer', but in fact at BJ's they do serve real beer.
The first thing you notice in a BJ's are the TV's everywhere, sports-bar type, a bar area, and some more quiet dining areas. You can watch TV and be in the crowd, but you can also get a little farther away for a more quiet dinner. But in any location, you can see at least two or three TV's, so it's not a romatic dinner experience but a lively place.
Also, usually you can see some functional brewing equipment somewhere, big copper kettles that actually make beer.
The menu can be a bit intimidating. It is very long, from the typical sports-bar wings, fried calamari, burgers, fries, steaks, chicken, sandwiches, to more exotic things like asian salads, spring rolls, fish tacos (I'll come back to those laster), jambala and -here comes the speciality- deep-dish pizza! Add a selection of side- and dinner salads, pasta, huge baked potatoes, shrimps, salmon, other fish, pot-roast... the menu just doesn't seem to end! Even for vegetarians, there are some choices although it's probably not the strength.
So let's start with a couple of favorites of ours-
I usually get the 'wedge salad' and either fish tacos or a brewhouse burger.
The wedge salad is a quarter of an iceberg head, not cut, with the choice of your dressing, and bacon bits and red onions on top. This is a real favorite that both my wife and I always order at BJ's.
Fish Tacos are a great choice if you want to stay 'light', and come neatly arranged in silver taco stands, nachos, and a side of guacamole and salsa. The tacos are fried Tilapia (usually) with the usual toppings such as shredded cabbage, white mayo-based sauce and limes. Very delicious.
At this point, if we want to leave the 'light' and 'healthy' choices behind us, let's get to the ultimate comfort food: Burgers. Wow. You can get any topping you like, made to order. I usually get the brewhouse cheeseburger with bleu cheese crumbled on top and bacon. You have the choice of thin or thick cut fries. The thin-cut version are, I must say, some of the best french fries I know.
I've tried the Jambalaya, and it is great, too. A bit on the spicy side, with nice slices of sausage, shrimps, and delicious tomato based sauce.
My wife usually takes some pasta, which seems to be very good, too.
Kids meals choices seem endless, too, and some of the favorites are two mini-burgers, chicken strips, mac&cheese, small rack of ribs, corn-dogs and 6" deep-dish pizza. They also feature 'smiley face' fries which are my daughters favorite.
Deep-dish pizza- wow. The guys at BJ's know how to make it, and surprisingly, it doesn't take that long. It doesn't seem to add much time to your order, typically after 20 min you'll have your meal with or without pizza. The pizza is served on high iron stands that they will put on your table and are great for sharing.
The beers.. from 'lightswitch lager' (a light beer that the girls usually like) to 'jeremiah red' (a super malty 7.3% ABV brew), as well as hefeweizen, pale ale, India Pale Ale, porter.. a beer lover's paradise. I won't go into much detail here, but let me tell you this is really good beer, and I know what I'm talking about (just look at my belly).
Our usual BJ's location is in Cupertino, California (right next to Apple) but I've been to many BJ's across the country and have to say the quality of food and drink is surprisingly consistent. Even with the large selection, it's the same wherever you go. This is true as well for the overall experience, quick and friendly service and lively atmosphere.
The exception to the rule are airport-based locations. I've been to two airport BJ's and was not impressed. The menu is condensed to one page, and microwave-heated food is served to paper plates. Bah. They should not call it BJ's.
As a family with young kids, BJ's is a great place to go, because it's noisy. Even if the kids scream, it doesn't matter. Also there are TV's everywhere, people to watch, kids menu's to color, crayons, the whole deal. Many people seem to go there with kids.
Nevertheless, it is a great place for grown-ups too, to watch the game, go out on a casual business dinner, or even hang out by yourself at the bar and watch TV while having some food and a beer.