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BJ’s specializes in more than brews and pizza pies

When BJ’s opened its doors in Santa Ana back in 1978, the pizza was a big hit with diners, and the chain was born in the beach cities. The La Jolla location has just been renovated and updated, with new furniture, fresh paint and a striking stone floor.

BJ’s still serves plenty of pizza and handcrafted beer and cider on tap, but it also has a huge menu to suit a variety of tastes.

The La Jolla BJ’s is not the largest in the chain, but it has the most thriving take-out business. If you live within the three-mile radius of this one, take advantage of the service when you don’t feel like a night out at a restaurant.

As the menu notes, there is a whole lotta pasta available at BJ’s, everything from fettuccini Alfredo ($8.95) to Cajun pasta ($12.95). A popular lunchtime item available from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. is the lunch-sized pasta and soup or salad.

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You may not think of BJ’s as a hamburger place, but try the awesome burgers. Not only are they made with Angus ground beef, these burgers are made fresh, not frozen, and you’ll really taste the difference.

You get a half-pounder served with delicious, wedge-cut seasoned fries or half a giant baked potato, and BJ’s baked potatoes are really gigantic. You can add a salad to any burger for another $2.25.

The open-faced chili cheeseburger ($9.25) is a real diet-breaker, but if you’re game, it’s a dilly. The dish is topped with onion rings and served with sliced tomatoes and pickles. You’ll probably need a doggie bag for this one and for many other items on BJ’s large menu.

The hearty sandwiches are hearty, starting with the roast beef ($8.95) and including blackened chicken ($8.75), turkey cobb served on a toasted garlic cheese French roll ($8.95).

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The salad offerings are huge as well, and the selection is impressive. There are 10 salads in all, including the Santa Fe, a colorful dish topped with tortilla strips and blackened chicken breast, Caesar with BJ’s oven-baked seasoned croutons and fresh parmesan cheese ($7.75).

BJ’s famous deep-dish pizza comes in four sizes, mini to large, and invites diners to be creative with the toppings. We loved the barbecue chicken with Roma tomatoes ($7.70 for a mini) and the vegetarian ($6.95 for a mini).

The restaurant also serves a crispy thin-crust pizza on the appetizer list. This 10-inch European-style pie is available with cilantro pesto and two kinds of cheeses or with fresh basil and Italian sausage ($8.75).

The appetizer list is full of great beginnings to a BJ’s meal. The garlic cheese bread ($4.50) is terrific. Likewise for the chicken wings ($8.75) and mozzarella sticks ($6.75).

You can sample the beer and cider for $1.50, a five-ounce taster, or select a four-taster set for $4.95. BJ’s brews a variety of seasonal specialty beers in addition to the regular list of beers. Several wines are available by the glass or by the bottle.

There’s one signature dessert that sets BJ’s apart. It’s the famous pizookie ($4.95), a freshly baked, hot out-of-the-oven cookie topped with two scoops of vanilla bean ice cream. This specialty is served in its own deep dish, and you can select the cookie batter from among several choices including chocolate chunk and macadamia nut.

The service is friendly, and the atmosphere is casual. BJ’s opens at 11 a.m. and stays open for dinner.

BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery is at 8873 Villa La Jolla Drive. Call (858) 455-0662.

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