Baby Blues Bar-B-Q. There have been gun battles fought in the Carolinas between partisans of mustard-based barbecue sauce and those who prefer their pork doused with vinegar. Certain barbecue cooks in beef-loving Texas would just as soon throw your mother-in-law on the grill as a pork rib. But Baby Blues serves it all. Like the best uptown essays into the art form of barbecue, the cooking here arises less out of fierce, quasi-religious devotion than out of genial connoisseurship. As such, the restaurant may be lacking in the charming, cussed idiosyncrasies that lead otherwise sane individuals to chatter in cumin-tinged tongues. It’s just a nice, slightly pricey place to eat ribs, baby-back or otherwise. Baby Blues has a strong sideline in Carolina pulled-pork barbecue, stringy mounds of smoky meat that may not have quite the universal appeal of spareribs, but fit much more neatly into a sandwich. 444 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, (310) 396-7675. Open Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–mid. MC, V. Beer and wine. Takeout. JG $$ Dos Arbolitos. The relocated Dos Arbolitos is a little swankier than its grungy predecessor, but it is still one of the better Mexican restaurants in the San Fernando Valley, right down to the smoky grilled-tomato house salsa. Sure, the sopes are uninspired; the pozole is too funky and rich. But campestre, involving long-braised pork steaks, rubbed with a smoked-chile paste and topped with fried green pepper and a swirl of blackened strands of onion, is tender enough to cut with a plastic fork. And the costillitas are wonderful, tiny little chewy ribs blanketed with a salty, grainy sauce of chiles and tomatillos that stains the soft meat the color of an Ensenada sunset. 9034 Woodley Ave., North Hills, (818) 891-6661. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $12–$18. Mexican. JG ¢ Hamjipark. This sticky-table dive down on Pico does a rather spectacular version of pork-neck soup, simmered until the meat has turned almost to jelly and thickened with a brick-red purée of chiles — if you weren’t nursing a hair-of-the-dog shot of soju, you might almost mistake it for a Oaxacan mole colorado. The crunchy, sticky grilled pork ribs are not sad to eat either. Hamjipark has a gentrified branch up near the Chapman Market, with the ambiance of an outer-arrondissement sidewalk café, but on Sunday morning, when the roof of your mouth is a killing floor, the grungier Pico restaurant is where you want to be. 4135 W. Pico Blvd., (323) 733-3635; also 3407 W. Sixth St., (213) 365-8773. JG $ Mei Long Village. The restaurant has ribs all right, sweet, fried in the Shanghai style and dusted with sesame seeds. But even if Mei Long Village served nothing but dumplings — terrific steamed bao stuffed with sweet red-bean paste, flaky sesame-flecked pastries filled with root vegetables and bits of pork, the best soupy crab dumplings in town — it would be worth a visit. Mei Long Village is also the perfect place to try any of the famous Shanghai standards: garlicky whole cod braised in pungent hot bean sauce, braised pork pump, and big pork lion’s-head meatballs, tender as a Perry Como ballad, that practically croon in the key of star anise. The new-wave Shanghai classic jade shrimp, stir-fried with a spinach purée, is especially good, firm, subtly garlicked, garnished with deep-fried spinach leaves improbably glazed with sugar. And did we mention the stir-fried jellyfish head with ginger? Oops! Must have slipped our minds. 301 W. Valley Blvd., No. 112, San Gabriel, (626) 284-4769. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $8–$12. Chinese. JG $ Phillips. For many of us, Phillips is a Saturday-night ritual: the called-in order, the drive to the south end of the Crenshaw strip, and an hour in line outside the restaurant, trash-talking the Lakers, guzzling off-brand soda pop and admiring the bootlegged Reverend Shirley Caesar CDs somebody always seems to be selling from the trunk of her car. A small-end slab from Phillips can hold its own with any barbecued spareribs in the world. The extra-hot sauce, tart with vinegar and so crowded with whole dried chiles that the ribs occasionally look as if they have been embellished with Byzantine mosaics, has tempted better men than you and me to gnaw the flesh right off their fingertips. 2619 S. Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 731-4772. Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.– mid., Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., closed Mon. 1517 Centinela Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 412-7135. Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., closed Sun., Mon. 11 a.m.–8 p.m. 4307 Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 292-7613. Mon. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–mid., closed Sun. No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V. Barbecue. JG $ Phong Dinh. The famous baked fish at Phong Dinh is a monster of an animal, a thick-skinned Vietnamese catfish barely shy of a yard, blackened and smoking, the twin prongs of its signature mustachio charred into crumbling Salvador Dali curls, weeping yellowish goop from its body cavity. Yet when the fish lands on your table, mouth agape like Aaron Brown deprived of a Teleprompter, it is sweet-smelling, crisp-skinned and steaming with a pleasing feral muddiness that five generations of scientific aquaculture have completely eliminated from the American cat. The restaurant is also noted for its game, and if you are in the mood for grilled wild-goat ribs, or snails steamed with ginger, or the classic Vietnamese saute called luc lac made with cubes of alligator instead of beef, Phong Dinh is definitely for you. 2643 N. San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead, (626) 307-8868. Open daily, 10:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $15.95-$35 (more with exotic meats). AE, M, V. JG $ Woody’s. As you blast down Slauson toward the Westside, Woody’s Bar-B-Que is visible from a long way off, a white plume that looks from a distance as if it might come from a belching bus or a car fire, but quickly sorts itself out into a meat-fragrant cloud of woodsmoke. What you get here is, y’know, barbecue: crusty pork ribs spurting with juice; thick, blackened hot-link sausages with the chaw of good jerky; chewy, meaty little rib tips; giant beef ribs; and charred, only occasionally stewy-tasting, slices of well-done barbecued beef brisket that even Texans condescend to like. The sauce is one of the sweet brick-red kinds, hotly spiced with red pepper flakes, that you sop up with slices of damp white bread until all of it is gone, less a condiment than a way of life. 3446 W. Slauson Ave., (323) 294-9443. Also 475 S. Market St., Inglewood, (310) 672-4200. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Takeout only. Cash only. JG $ Zeke’s. This mini-chain of barbecue restaurants was conceived by Leonard Schwartz — which is to say, by the chef who reinserted meat loaf into the American canon 20-odd years ago at 72 Market Street. He’s either a compassionate conservative or a card-carrying postmodernist, and it is impossible to tell just which from the evidence of his food alone. Zeke’s plays both sides of the fence in the barbecue game, serving essentially Piedmont-style pulled pork (with the controversial Carolinian mustard sauce), spare ribs that slouch toward a Kansas City style, and fairly magnificent Texas-style brisket, rimmed with a pink rictus of smoke. The side dishes, which are so beside the point at central Texas barbecue stands as to be practically nonexistent, tend to be pretty great — including hush puppies, potato chips fried to order and the only barbecue-hut coleslaw I can ever remember finishing. 7100 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. Also 2209 Honolulu Ave., Montrose, (818) 957-7045. AE, MC, V. Lunch and dinner daily. Takeout. JG $$
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