Barbecue naturally means a lot of things to a lot of people, whether it’s smoked meats cooked low over wood or high-heat grilling done using charcoal. Los Angeles, for all its regional variations with things like Mexican and Korean food, isn’t beholden to one barbecue ethos or another, meaning it’s entirely possible out here to find Kansas City-style sauced ribs on your plate next to a bark-heavy, sauceless Texas brisket.
Then there are the places pushing boundaries even further, taking flavor profiles from around the world and introducing them into the tradition-heavy universe of barbecue. Here are four of the best new-school barbecue spots in town, all of whom are doing things just a little bit differently.
The Park’s Finest
Filipinos represent a huge portion of the Los Angeles population, making high-quality Pinoy food an easy thing to find. Less common is true Filipino barbecue, a rich meat-over-flames tradition that roots its history to more than a century of pork grilling back in Southeast Asia. At The Park’s Finest in Historic Filipinotown, the Concordia family does a little bit of everything, marrying those traditions from the Philippines with straight-up Southern barbecue, but presented through a truly LA lens. The family has actually been catering since 2009, but opened their flagship restaurant at the start of 2012 to lots of buzz from the community. Since then they’ve become a destination for folks traveling to Dodgers games, locals who enjoy the wide array of craft beer, and anyone who wants to eat really, really well.
The star of the show is undoubtedly the coconut beef
The star of the show at The Park’s Finest is almost undoubtedly the coconut beef, a smoked chuck that’s cubed and cooked off in a heavy coconut cream. Served over rice, it’s rich, hearty, and uniquely Park’s Finest. You also shouldn’t skip on the cornbread bibingka, perhaps the finest side dish to any barbecue place in Los Angeles. Cornmeal mixed with rice flour and baked in a banana leaf, the bibingka is equal parts main meal accompaniment and dessert all its own. Folks also tend towards the ribs, sweet Filipino-style longganisa, but the most important thing will always be to order too much, share with friends, and just have fun. That’s how the Concordia family has always done it.
The Park’s Finest, 1267 W. Temple St., Los Angeles.
The Hungry Pig
Not far from The Park’s Finest is The Hungry Pig, housed in a former longstanding Thai restaurant space on Temple. Owner Eiddy Pennson used to run Quickie Thai from the address, but changed over to the Southern-meets-Thai Hungry Pig in 2013. Now, customers come from all around to enjoy the seamless fusion of Thai flavors, grilled meats, and slow-cooked pork.
At first blush the menu is a relatively straightforward read: there’s the pulled pork sandwich, the slow-smoked ribs, the tri-tip. But at The Hungry Pig, the devil is in the details, like the braised pork belly cooked in a medley of Chinese spices, or the kimchi-influenced slaw that works as a side with just about everything. You’ll also find a few straight Thai looks, like the chicken satay with peanut sauce that’s offered by the pound. Don’t skip on the curried mashed potatoes either, which may be among the most decadent versions of the otherwise lifeless side you’ll find.
The Hungry Pig, 2920 W. Temple St., Los Angeles.
As much a pop-up dinner party as anything else, the ongoing Littlemeats series offers a modern reflection of what’s possible on the plate in today’s culinary-focused LA. Rotating Sunday suppers with with house chef Stevie Cho are the most smoked meat focused of the bunch, as the evening affairs see the otherwise quiet chef trotting out an impressive collection of Texas-leaning barbecue. Cho cooks with equal parts passion and humility, combining his personal Korean heritage with the traditions of an old pitmaster.
The focus for Cho, like most barbecue aficionados with a Texas bent, is on brisket. Largely left to it’s own low and slow devices, Cho has tapped into what may be the best single cut of brisket in all of Los Angeles. It also doesn’t hurt that his sides, be they kimchi deviled eggs or creamy mac and cheese, are as strong as the meat itself. It’s just a shame that Cho isn’t doing these dishes every day — which is why you’ll have to sign up with the Littlemeats team for his next Sunday supper.
Stevie Cho at Littlemeats, check littlemeatsla.com for pop-up address and information.
Though no adherent of the slow-cooked, smoke-focused barbecue favored by professional Southern pitmasters, there’s no denying the beautiful finished product at Mexican newcomer Salazar in Frogtown. Chef Esdras Ochoa has a history himself with Sonoran-style cooking, and has been doing takes on carne asada for years as both an illegal street vendor and, later, at his restaurant Mexicali Taco. With the almost entirely outdoor Salazar, Ochoa is doing something even bolder: getting back to tradition.
The return to Sonoran form couldn’t come at a better time for Los Angeles either, as the city continues to embrace true mesquite-grilled beef in a way that hasn’t been seen for a generation. Other options are popping up all over town now, but Salazar’s iteration may be the most focused of them all at the moment. Whisper thin, almost translucent flour tortillas are made on site, right next to the massive grill that Ochoa and his team work with nightly, turning out tender bits of steak meant for compiling into what may be the city’s strongest new taco.
Salazar, 2490 Fletcher Blvd., Los Angeles.