Loreto's Fried Turkey: The Bird is the Word

Comments (0)


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 10:00 AM
click to enlarge Fried Turkey at Loreto's - G. SNYDER
  • G. Snyder
  • Fried Turkey at Loreto's

At Loreto's in Compton, the art of fried turkey extends well beyond Thanksgiving. While most Americans will carve up their centerpiece this holiday -- then subject themselves to a week of leftovers before tiring of the bird -- a small take-out shack in South Central has made a name by specializing in all things turkey, served year round.

The menu at Loreto's, written on a dry-erase board near the door, reads like something Bubba Gump would dream up if his fixation with shrimp suddenly transformed into turkey. There are turkey sandwiches, turkey salads, turkey soup, turkey "soul" tacos sluiced with turkey gravy -- and pretty much anything else you can imagine assembled from bits of succulent turkey meat.

At the center of Loreto's is its eponymous owner and chef, Joe Loreto, who runs the shop exclusively with help from his family. Almost ten years ago, Loreto opened for business -- prompted by the popularity of his turkey dinners and his desire to open a healthful homestyle restaurant in the neighborhood. The final inspiration came to him in a dream, according to Loreto, in which he recalled the word's of a local pastor calling his parishioners to "realize their full potential."

The Loreto family gathered enough money to purchase a modest strip-mall space in one of the poorer sections of Compton, adjacent to a liquor store and an impromptu car wash. "Everyone said that we shouldn't open during a recession, or that we should focus on pork or something more popular," says Loreto, "but I always knew that it was going to be about turkey."

Two tiny tables compose an impossibly small dining room, with assorted brik-a-brak taking up the rest of the space: a rather large aquarium stocked with fish, an antique ice-cream churn, and a dusty wooden cathode-ray TV. Some days, Loreto will juggle the entire operaton himself, bouncing between answering phone calls and carving turkey legs, all while wearing one of those floppy white chef's toques. Two school kids come in and order a few turkey tacos -- a buck each -- then roll over to grab a soda next door while they wait. An older woman pops her head inside the screen door, and asks Joe to heat up a few turkey enchiladas while she goes to cash a check.

On an average day, Loreto will fry around three or four whole turkeys in the kitchen's large hot oil tub, rubbing them first in a mix of "cajun spices." For anyone who has attempted to fry a turkey at home, rest assured, Loreto's method is much less conducive to house fires. After the bird is plucked out, golden brown and crispy outside but exceptionally moist inside, it's carved up for various items, all of which are cooked to order.

The bones and trimming are saved for turkey stock, which will later comprise Loreto's famous homemade gravy. The recipes are a combination of the cooking Loreto grew up with and those of his wife, which means an eclectic fusion of "soul food" and Latino cooking that reflects both Loreto's personal history, as well as the shifting demographics of modern-day Compton. Think sweet potato pie, turkey burritos with green chile, braised greens with turkey necks, and some Betty Crocker-esque turkey enchiladas topped with black olives and a blanket of melted cheddar.

A highlight is certainly the turkey pastrami sandwich, made from chopped turkey that is smoked and seasoned with hearty amounts of pepper, then swabbed with yellow mustard and a couple dill pickle slices. There is a bit of light and dark meat and some crispy bits of skin here and there, all of it unbelievably succulent and tender. Loreto even bakes his own whole-wheat rolls especially for the sandwiches.

"I figured if I was going through so much trouble with the turkey, there was no point in cutting corners on anything else," Loreto says. You can also, of course, have a traditional turkey dinner, with carved slices, rice pilaf and whatever vegetable is in season at the moment.

As the orders for fried turkeys roll in the week before Thanksgiving (whole birds run about $60 for a 15-pounder), Loreto explains that each year in business has brought more goodwill and popularity with community. He even mentions plans to launch a mobile trailer for catering in the near future. Meanwhile, he's happy to extoll the virtues of a turkey diet to anyone who will listen. "It may make you sleepy the day you eat it, but it will give you plenty of strength the day after." If all the turkeys sitting in foil baking pans across the country could be transformed into Loreto's impeccable product, Thanksgiving might be scheduled more than just once a year.

To order a whole turkey for Thanksgiving, make sure to contact Loreto's by Nov. 15 to ensure availability.

Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

Reach the author at gsnyder@laweekly.com or follow him on Twitter at @G_Sny.

Related Location

Related Content

Now Trending

  • 4 Places to Get Good Poke in L.A.

    While even poke stalwart Sam Choy isn’t sure of poke’s exact origin, it's apparent that the current form of Japanese-influenced poke became pervasive throughout the “grindz” culture in the 1970s. Since then (and even more so since President Obama’s win), poke has become one of the go-to island food memories...
  • 6 L.A. Kickstarters That Wish They Were Potato Salad

    Do you love potato salad? Maybe you're one of more than 4,000 backers who collectively contributed more than $40,0000 in less than a week to Zack Danger Brown's now infamous potato salad Kickstarter, whose goal was initially set at $10. With ample publicity from nearly every corner of the mainstream media...
  • Want a Great Piña Colada?

    The Piña Colada is the national drink of Puerto Rico, where the name means "strained pineapple." While several bartenders claim ownership of the drink's creation, it can most likely be traced back to the 1948 invention of Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut (emulsifiers and all) in Puerto Rico, which meshes...

Around The Web


  • The Tasting Menu Trend
    In Los Angeles especially, but increasingly across the country, restaurants are either switching to tasting menus, putting a greater focus on a tasting-menu option (while offering à la carte items as well), or opening as tasting-menu operations from day one. The format that used to be the calling card of only the fanciest of restaurants is becoming ubiquitous, even at places where the waiter calls you “dude” and there isn’t a white tablecloth in sight.
  • Milo's Kitchen: A Treat Truck for Dogs
    Milo's Kitchen, a part of California-based Big Heart Pet Brands, is taking its homestyle dog treats on the road this summer with the "Treat Truck." The dogified food truck is making stops all over the country, ending up in New York early September. The truck stopped at Redondo Beach Dog Park Friday morning entertaining the pups with treats, a photo-booth and play zone. Milo's Kitchen Treat Truck offered samples of the line's six flavors, all with chicken or beef as the first ingredient, and all made in the U.S.A. with no artificial colors or preservatives. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Smoke.oil.salt's Spanish Cuisine
    Smoke.oil.salt chef (and Valencia native) Perfecto Rocher is valiantly trying to bring the experience of Spain, specifically Catalonia, to the brick space (under a tattoo parlor) on Melrose that used to be Evan Kleiman’s Angeli Caffe.