Red Robin hits the Spot

Red Robin is a family-friendly restaurant with a cheery ambiance.

There’s a large patio area wrapped around the side of the restaurant, and many lunch-goers enjoy its relaxed atmosphere for alfresco dining in a protected area. The bar area is another focal point at Red Robin, although it never infringes on the family atmosphere.

Visitors to the University Town Center Shopping Center may not run right into the Red Robin. The restaurant is tucked away in a corner near Macy’s Department Store. But once you’re introduced to this informal eatery, you’ll want to keep on coming back.

The menu abounds with burgers, shakes and other classics that hark back to the 1950s diners, and the food is as good as it was in those good old days. You’ll even find a root beer float.

We counted nine specialty drinks, excluding soft drinks, beers and wine, and a wide selection of margaritas. Your sweet tooth will be in seventh heaven with one of the monster milkshakes or malts. These old-time favorites come in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, banana, raspberry and peach, and they’re all served in a huge glass with a refill container on the side. The cost of these satisfying, alcohol-free libations is $3.99 a piece.

Smoothies have made their way onto the menu along with the old soda fountain drinks. Among them are a dreamy orange smoothie ($3.99), a mocha smoothie ($3.99), and the restaurant’s signature groovy smoothie, a blend of multiple fruits and vanilla cream ($3.99).

Red Robin boasts that its burgers are gourmet, and they really are a cut above. You can opt for anything from a cheeseburger made with your favorite cheese ($8.29) or go as wild as you like with the toppings. The Whiskey River barbeque burger features cheddar cheese, crispy onion straws and Red Robin’s excellent barbeque sauce, plus lettuce, tomatoes and mayo ($8.49).

The burgers are served with all the delicious steak fries - made with cholesterol-free vegetable oil - you can eat, and the colossal burger menu doesn’t end there. Red Robin offers what they call “knife-and-forkers,” such as parmigiana burger ($9.99), bruschetta chicken burger ($9.99) and chili cheeseburger ($9.49). The chili is so good, we order it as an appetizer for $2.99 a cup.

There are several chicken burgers on the menu, including blackened chicken ($8.99), crispy fried chicken breast ($8.99) and teriyaki chicken ($8.99), along with grilled salmon burger ($9.29), a garden burger ($8.29) and lettuce-wrapped protein burger ($8.29).

Red Robin offers a surprising assortment of entrees, including a few brand-new offerings such as the gourmet mac and cheese with chicken ($11.49), jumbo shrimp-and-slaw platter ($11.99), and the seafood duo platter, which comes with fried cod fillets and jumbo shrimp ($12.99).

When the temperature heats up, the salads become a very popular item at Red Robin. There are at least half a dozen choices, including the newest sensation, apple-harvest chicken salad ($10.49). This combination of fresh field greens, juicy grilled chicken slices, diced apples, candied walnuts and goat cheese is dressed with a delicious Dijon vinaigrette.

Several soups and salads are also available at the Red Robin. Try the Caesar chicken wrap ($9.29) or the turkey breast with hickory-smoked bacon and avocado on a buttery croissant ($9.29).

The servers are friendly and the atmosphere is made for fun, but the food is always taken seriously and prepared fresh from the large open kitchen. What else can you ask for when you pack the whole family in for a casual lunch or dinner?

Red Robin is at 4373 La Jolla Village Drive. Call (858) 450-0343.