Johneric Concordia, a former community organizer who now runs The Park's Finest BBQ with his family in Historic Filipinotown, likes to tell his customers how he and his family got started behind the grill. "This was a rough neighborhood, in the '80s, '90s. BBQ kept us out of trouble. It saved our lives," he says. "Because you don't shoot the DJ, and you don't shoot the BBQ guy."
And thus is The Park's Finest, which is not to be confused with The Park, a homey little bistro in Echo Park, or Park's BBQ, the Korean BBQ restaurant in Koreatown. The name, rather, is a riff on The World's Finest, Concordia's favorite comic book store as a kid. (At Glendale Boulevard and Park Avenue, it was "less than a mile and five gangs away from our house," he says.) The family's Filipino-style BBQ was, the family joke goes, the best in the park -- the neighborhood one, or Echo, or Cypress, or Highland, or Elysian -- and so the name stuck.
The yarn continues: During those days when Historic Filipinotown was considerably more grungy than it is today, the Concordias fired up their Webers in neighbors' backyards, at birthday parties, house parties, quinceañeras, graduations. It was only in 2009 that The Park's Finest launched as a professional outfit, and even then they had only enough money to start as a catering company. Over the last few years, they've held community fundraisers to raise capital for their budding restaurant, including one on IndieGoGo that crowdsourced more than $15,000 to help get their brick-and-mortar location off the ground. Late last year, the mobile grill finally found a permanent home in a former Japanese restaurant on the stretch of Temple that otherwise is known to most nonlocals as the location of the Doll Factory where Vulvarine and other Derby Dolls bash it out on the roller rink. Family and friends pitched in to make improvements and dressed the walls with coats of paint. The Park's Finest BBQ officially opened its doors in January.
The flavors here are familiar and, depending on what side of L.A. you're from, possibly also unfamiliar: There's cornbread on the menu, but it's influenced by the bibingka, a Filipino sweet rice cake. The resulting cornbread bibingka is lighter and sweeter than the chunky, dense squares served on the side at American joints. The tri-tip is rubbed generously with coarse salt, pepper and garlic and onion powders and smoked for several hours, rendering a tender chunk of meat. The coconut beef has a wonderfully pronounced smokiness and a low, slow heat that lingers. If you get the pulled pork, which you should, also consider the cucumber salad to give it a crunch.
All of the portions are generous, especially for the price (most everything is around $10); for future reference, the inevitably leftover pork is really fantastic the next day in a sandwich.
All of the meats can and should be generously doused with one or both sauces on the table. There's a tangy version of the classic vinegar-based sauce, or the house signature BBQ sauce that's an offshoot of the one originally created by Concordia's father using pineapple, soy sauce and cane sugar. Of the two, it's hard to say which one's better and on which meat; there are no hard and fast rules here, though, so mix and match as you please.
Overall, The Park's Finest serves up damn fine BBQ, and it's almost a relief that the food lives up to the moniker. Because at a time when even food trucks have well-oiled public relations machines, you can't help but want to root for a truly homegrown place, like this one, that unabashedly posts up homages to labor leader Philip Vera Cruz at its entrance, serves its own version of soul food and digs deep into its own roots to potentially become a neighborhood safe space of sorts.
For now, The Park's Finest is open Thursdays through Sundays for lunch and dinner, but it's growing bit by bit and will expand its operating hours, they hope, soon. Based on the tables pushed together in irregular rows to accommodate the families and groups noshing on plate after plate of BBQ when we were there, the neighborhood that has invested its heart and wallet appears to have taken to it, as has The Oinkster's André Guerrero, who has become somewhat of a mentor to the young restauranteurs. The crew's finest hour, it seems, has yet to come.
Check out Anne Fishbein's spectacular photo gallery of The Park's Finest.