Fowl, on a spit, over wood that's on fire, and, well, that's all I need, really
764 S. Western Ave. (@ 8th, in Koreatown)
Phone: 213-382-4090 | map
16527 S. Vermont Ave. (west of the 110, in Gardena)
Phone: 310-715-2494 | map
The Pollo a la Brasa Western is the last structure remaining on a strange triangular strip that divides 8th Street from itself. There is no parking, unless you find a meter.
See that stack of wood that walls this building on two sides? That, dear friends, is the fiery chariot by which meat on a rotisserie skewer ascends to Valhalla. The scent of wood and smoke and chicken blends in a trio of intoxication.
The inside is tiny, with brushed metal and fake brick, and five tables with yellow seats which fit four if the four are reasonably at ease with each other. All the doors are open to let in a refreshing crossbreeze.
The menu has a few things that aren't chicken--grilled rib eye steak and anticucho (grilled beef heart)--but you are not concerned with them. You want the rotisserie chicken: 1/4, 1/2 or the entire bird.
The cuarto. I am unsure of words to use here, because everything seems inadequate. I am a big fan of properly crispy chicken skin, and the skin is a scarred landscape of brown, crackingly sweet darkness, ready to be pulled away and crunched. The meat has that pinkish tinge that Peruvian rotisserie does--don't worry, it's done--and is softer than a 1970s easy-listening yacht rock compilation, practically collapsing away from the bone.
A few unself-conscious minutes later I eye the bones sadly, wondering if more is hidden somewhere. I should have gotten the 1/2; I could have blown through that and still been longing for more. It is chicken, and since a quarter chicken with a couple of extras is about five bucks, it's doable.
With this you can get a few sides, like rice, salad, or beans. The salad is an eclectic mass of cool, leafy, vegetably things to crunch, the fries are big pale girders, and the rice is white, sticky and stubborn.
The black beans are ladled from a vast pot; they're saucy and infused with meat, rustic and absolutely all right with me. They are, in fact, my current favorite batch of black beans. I am also curious about the aguadito, Peruvian chicken soup, since the chicken here is so brilliant.
The aji is an airy green sauce with a tongue-bashing bite. The chicha morada is more clovey than most, and I like it.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), BBQ, Peruvian, Mid-City/Koreatown )
I used to pass by this on Cesar Chavez, invariably on my way to Olvera Street or Little Tokyo, until the signs got larger, darker and more vibrant so that they could not be ignored.
Corrugated metal covers the walls, ornamented with Dodger pennants and license plates from other states. The breathy hiss of exposed air conditioning ducts is drowned out only by the electric blues ambling from the speakers. A small room with racks of small-brewery beers can be seen in the back. On each table is a paper towel roll, packets of lemony towelettes, and an unopened loaf of Town Talk white bread, ready for soaking and swiping.
One can power through a number of their specialties with the Sampler Plate, basically a sauce-draped tray of carnivore-bait. The Hot Links have a gritty attitude, dark and moody inside from somehow having soaked up juices. I finished them first.
I usually don't get ribs because eating them is hell on facial hair, and these do not disappoint that particular conceit; I am thankful for the paper towels. The Spare Ribs are big girders of still-pink pork, not falling off the bone but willing to be convinced. They could be left on the grill to get a little more burnt around the ends for my taste.
The Pulled Brisket is good, tender with a fatty cap and smoky, but since I unfairly compare everything to the Passover brisket made by the mother of a good friend, I withhold any claim of beefy brilliance. The Smoked Chicken, though, is probably the strongest item here, hidden under everything else. Just shy of fork-tender but not shy at all, the chicken is the most willing to soak up the sauce and create a new personality.
Spring Street bills itself mostly as Carolinean, but the barbecue sauce has, in my opinion, a Texan vibe, darker and not as runny. The spicy sauce is sassy but not painful, and benefits from a few shakes of Trappey's pepper sauce.
The baked beans you see cringing behind the mound of spice-rubbed carnage are nice and seem homemade. Their french fries are solid, seasoned three-quarter-inch beams with a bit of crackle.
The Pulled Pork Sandwich is a good summer chowdown with some risk to your shirt. The spicy sauce is more strongly felt here, giving a slight burn to the lips; spread underneath the thumb-thick shreds of moist pork, it soaks through the long toasted bun. The chopped, blocky slaw on top adds a peppery cool. The sandwich does not want to be picked up after a few minutes of sauce-absorption.
The sincerity is here, but it does feel designed. The tables and chairs are too new, the smoky scent too crisp and fresh, the wood planks too undented to evoke the sense of bluesy-and-battered roadside joint. Give them a few years to chip the paint and scuff the floors, to create a nice black layer of char. For now, I appreciate the friendly zeal of the people here; it reminds me of Dave's Chillin-n-Grillin, young people with a real appreciation for meaningful comfort food.
There are three public parking lots within easy reach.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), East Side/Downtown, BBQ, American, Soul/Southern )
The Corner Restaurant That Time Forgot
21150 Ventura Blvd. (east of Canoga)
Phone: 818-348-2020 | map
I haven't met the lucky soul whose brother this is, but you can imagine a triangle being clanged upon and the cowhands coming a-runnin'. It's not wholly Texas style, nor KC, and a distance from the Carolinas, but it's a kitschy collection of barbecue stylings.
Upon entering you tumble like Alice down the rabbit hole to a decor of several decades ago. There's brick, lacy curtains around the windows, worn wooden tables, seriously red vinyl booths, jars of BBQ sauce for sale, and customers who have been coming here since your mom and dad's high school days (on our first visit, we saw an awesomely rendered pair of sideburns framing a truly heroic moustache). The waitresses are friendly without the need for hollow smiles.
Sweet Lord o'Mercy, there's a lot of food here. Tri tip, bar-b-que chicken, beef ribs, baby back ribs, burgers, broasted chicken, smoked sausage, shrimp, beer-battered fish, even a Country Broccoli Salad for those of you who shy from the carbonized flesh of your yummy fellow mammalians. Starting with some side orders: the chili is Texas style, dark, moody, nearly beanless and kicks the back of your throat. The BBQ beans are stand-your-fork-up-in-it solid, and very tasty. The fist-sized block of garlic cheese bread, one of the very best things here, could double as a mattress if you didn't mind the crumbs and butter.
The BBQ sauce is just shy of too-sweet, so it isn't meant for slathering on top of things. The pork ribs are good, if not as revelation-spurring as Dr. Hogly Wogly's over on Sepulveda. The broasted chicken, however, is what My Brother's is famous for, somehow grease-rich without being greasy, and fantastically moist contrasted with crispy. Honey hush.
Is it the best BBQ in the Valley, let alone L.A.? I can't say until I've tried the tri-tip, the Litmus Test of BBQ eateries. Purists will understandably look to more authentic joints, but it's the home-kitchen ambience and a reliable post-meal stupor that includes this place on my list. They cater, too.
There's a parking lot in back, but not the first lot. It's the second lot. You'll get it.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), BBQ, American, The Valley )
This sounds like something you'd find along the interstate somewhere in Oklahoma, with people waddling from the door to their dirt-spattered Yukons and Suburbans*.
However, its owner Andre Guerrero has garnered some acclaim in the fine-dining realm; he wanted to provide high-end home-style stuff without the pretension. The Oinkster certainly has no pretentious demeanor; it's a "slow fast food" place boasting a large, umbrella-dotted, bamboo-hedged outdoor patio. The diner-style interior is lined with chrome and red vinyl.
As might be expected from a place called The Oinkster, there's a BBQ pulled pork sandwich. It's wet, in a soft bun drenched in juices. The pork is absurdly relaxed from being brined in soy and honey, then roasted, then smoked. It isn't quite at nap-generating level, but it makes a pleasing combination with the red cabbage slaw and grilled onions. You can acquire a Carolina BBQ sauce (more of an au jous than a thick BBQ sauce, so your bun gets even more drenched), a stone ground dijon mustard, and a hot sweet mustard to accentuate your bites.
There's also house-cured pastrami, nicely fatty and moist and equally unstable due to liquid absorption. The rotisserie chicken keeps its juices intact, and is decent. I will get to the burgers sometime when I finish going through all these napkins.
On the side? Not a lot, but how much do you need? Belgian fries**. Black beans, watery but flavorful, with meat mixed in to give them oomph. Plantains, even, and they're sweeeet. To drink? Try the Oinksterade (orange lemonade with cane sugar) or one of their milkshakes made with Fosselman's ice cream. They also make something called the Ube Shake (pronounced "ooh-bay"), a lovely lavender concoction made from purple yams. Honest. Don't walk away now. People get addicted to this thing. I'm addicted.
It's open fairly late (10 or 11 depending on the day), so it's a tempting spot to cruise into when passing by on Colorado.
* My deepest tongue-in-cheek apologies to Oklahomans along Route 412 who drive Mini Coopers and do not stuff themselves at pork-intensive food establishments.
* The idea with Belgian fries is the dipping sauces beyond the normal ketchup: chipotle ketchup, roasted garlic aoli, curry dressing, dijon-horseradish mayonnaise... I need time. More time.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), BBQ, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
Obviously a local favorite, the good doctor's BBQ eatery with the whimsical name is crisply painted and arranged on the outside (that's astroturf you see in that outdoor area there), and close and bustling on the inside. Classically kitschy wood paneling covers the walls, and if you're sitting in the right spot, you'll get horribly blinded by the setting sun when the front door opens. Booths are crammed with people feverishly attacking their meals.
The menu is simple, but still damnably hard to choose what you want because of the incredible smells permeating the restaurant. They start you off with a half loaf of soft white bread perfect for soaking up juices, and some whipped butter. They also bring you your sides before your plate of barbecue. The baked beans are my favorite, golden-tinged and silky, almost a chili. The coleslaw is actually really good, old-school style with raisins, creamy without being mayo-heavy. The potato salad is solid.
There's sandwiches of course: hot link, sliced pork, sliced ham, and sparerib, although I'm unsure how they deliver that as a sandwich.
It's the dinners, made in that low & slow Texan BBQ style, that make you useless for the remainder of the evening: single item, 2-way combos, 3-way combos. Far be it from me not to sample as many different things as can be piled on a single plate, so I went for a 3-way. The plates are a celebration in carnivorousness, everything swimming in juices and a mahogany sauce that has you tasting your lips for hours afterward. A too-sweet BBQ sauce would be overwhelming, and thankfully this is not.
It's hard to concentrate at this point. The hot links, dark almost like a blood sausage, are sliced a few times before cooking so have that grilled-through quality I like. The spareribs are quite good. The sliced pork is tasty, considering I expect BBQ pork to put me into a contented doze. But the brisket beats them all: sauce-soaked meat that's a little crisp and black around the edges, falling away from itself into tiny timbers of awesomeness.
They wisely bring you a basket of napkins and packets of lemon-scented wipes.
In the unlikely event that you're hungry enough for dessert, they have sweet potato pie and pecan pie. What you didn't eat for dinner gets wrapped up without ceremony into plastic bags.
They cater. OMG.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), BBQ, American, The Valley )
BBQ Wit' An Island Ting
390 E. Walnut Street (west of Los Robles Avenue)
Phone: 626-449-8095 | map
Hutch's has been around since the late forties, and seems like it's back in the process of reinventing itself. The exterior is a wonderfully weatherbeaten house, the sign says it's a BBQ joint, the decor is nearly nonexistent, and the menu is heavily Jamaican-inspired. Some paint has been applied, the napkins are cloth, the waitstaff impeccably dressed, but the old tile floors and hole-spotted white ceiling suggest a work in progress.
Because it was a house, the restaurant is split into several rooms. One side has charming paned windows and tries to convey a cultured dining experience. The middle room wouldn't be out of place in a German pub. The left side has an ugly, haunted, forgotten-back-room vibe amplified by a crooked mass-produced painting and tiny speakers blaring Broadway showtunes.
As I said, the menu is Jamaican-inspired, and one can catch glimpses of the dreadlocked chef working the skillets. The plantains are lightly fried and glazed and want only some hot sauce dashed atop (we asked for some, and they brought us a dish of perfectly tongue-stinging, cough-inducing Jamaican-style hot salsa). The brown stew chicken is savory, easy enough to work around the bones. The roasted garlic potatoes have a nice little crust on them. The roasted veggies are pleasingly blackened on the sides, and are actually better than the red beans & rice which are a bit bland.
Probably the best dish they have is the curried goat, tender like pulled pork and richly textured like steak. If you haven't tried goat, it's better and healthier than you think it is.
They serve Red Stripe beer in frosty mugs, but of course that doesn't work for Red Stripe, a brew best thrown down straight from the bottle on a hot day. For dessert there's peach cobbler, of course, and a boysenberry cobbler... and while there ain't many boysenberries in Jamaica, we will forgive them this sweet departure.
Perhaps the Pasadena crowd would feel threatened if Hutch's altered its American "BBQ" history, but personally I think it needs to embrace its international flair and do some more painting and tropical picture-hanging. Certainly it needs to stop playing the showtunes and think about some reggae, calypso, Afro-Cuban jazz, or blues. I like hearing Judy Garland at Old Dog New Trick Cafe in New Orleans, but not here.
We were there on a slow and sleepy summer evening, so I will return to try some of their sandwiches for lunch, like the hot link or BBQ chicken.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), BBQ, Jamaican, Pasadena/San Gabriel/Alhambra )