Papalo, La Mesa Village and Chef Drew Bent’s Sonoran Desert-Inspired BBQ

Where does creative inspiration come from? It’s different for everyone, but for Drew Bent, it was the smell of the Sonoran desert.  “After I left Lola 55, (which he helped open and subsequently earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand distinction) I was driving to Tucson with my wife. It was raining during the drive, and once it stopped I rolled down the window to smell the fresh air. I inhaled the air and turned to my wife and told her that he wanted to make food that tasted like this air smells. I wanted to make food inspired by the desert, which is vast, beautiful, calm, and quiet, Bent said. Usually, BBQ is heavy, but he wanted meats with bold flavor that wasn’t going to weigh a person down and remind you that you ate it hours later. The desert summoned him to create a new genre of barbecue.

“We already have plenty of Texas-style BBQs in San Diego. Somebody has to come by and evolve foods, and that’s me,” Bent said. “This is food what the desert feels like to me. Plus I want to respect and honor the cuisine and people of Mexico.”

Papalo Herb of the Americas

Papalo, which is Chef Drew’s favorite herb, is slightly medicinal, slightly anise or menthol flavored, used in a lot of Oaxacan cuisine that grows wild in the desert. That name seems apropos for the whole philosophy of this new restaurant.

“I’m so happy to be in La Mesa. I’ve loved the village ever since I first came here. It felt right immediately. It’s calm, tranquil, and beautiful, yet full of excitement for new concept restaurants,” Bent said.

The menu, for now, is limited. Pick a protein such as smoked pork or beef or the smoked Cherry Pecan glazed pork ribs, or a unique Mole BBQ Chicken, add a side or two such as Mexican Saffron Red Rice, Citrus Pickle Slaw, Broccolini or a Sonoran Wedge Salad. If you like sandwiches, try the ground brisket beef cheeseburger or if you are a Vegan eater try a Cactus sandwich.

Mole BBQ Chicken plate with wedge salad and beans
Chef Drew’s Loaded Chips
Wedge Salad

If anyone can create a new BBQ genre Chef Drew can. 

Papalo is open for dine-in or pick-up Sunday through Thursday 12:00 pm-8:00 pm and Friday and Saturday 12:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Located at 8323 La Mesa Blvd. Order online at or call 619-391-3396

Comments are closed.