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OC’s Smoke Queen Plans Standalone Restaurant, Smokers and All, in Garden Grove

Winnie Yee-Lakhani is putting down some very big roots in Orange County next year.

A woman in a mask holding a large silver tray of barbecue and sides.
Winnie Yee-Lakhani holding a tray of smoked meats and sides.
Wonho Frank Lee

One of Orange County’s best barbecue makers is going legit in Garden Grove, with plans to build a full restaurant and on-site smoker setup similar to what has been accomplished further south in San Juan Capistrano by Heritage Barbecue. Once successful, Winnie Yee-Lakhani — better known by her nom de ‘cue the Orange County Smoke Queen — will join only a handful of fully-legal barbecue restaurants with on-site smokers in the entire state of California.

The new Smoke Queen BBQ restaurant will hopefully open next year at 12941 9th Street in Garden Grove, though the timing is still in flux due to the unique nature of the restaurant, its needed permits, and all of the ongoing supply chain and price increase issues affecting businesses across the nation. The good news, though, is that Garden Grove is very much in Yee-Lakhani’s corner. “The city wanted this done last year,” says Yee-Lakhani, who has been searching for the perfect space for her smoke-focused restaurant throughout the pandemic. “They can’t wait.”

With a little help, the ideal space eventually arrived in the form of a remodeled, re-zoned home that had been purchased by Cottage Industries, the same developers behind Orange County projects like the Lab in Costa Mesa and Anaheim’s massively popular Packing District. “They’re very creative, and all about small business,” says Yee-Lakhani of Cottage Industries and owner Linda Sadeghi. “No franchises allowed, it’s all about the small people. Their projects are very personable and electric; I knew right away that they were the perfect partners for me.”

A drawing of a house turned restaurant with smokers, grass, and barbecue touches.
A rendering of the upcoming project in Garden Grove.
Yee-Lakhani

Next up: working together to make their united dream a shared reality for Garden Grove. Public showcases and private city planning meetings will determine the timeline and final look of the project, but there’s already widespread support for the group and the restaurant within Garden Grove. Plus, Yee-Lakhani says, they’re not tearing anything down, just rebuilding and rebranding an existing home. “We want to preserve the integrity and style of the home,” she says. “It’s all about the character. No one wanted to just come in with a bulldozer.”

If anything, the nationally known Yee-Lakhani is all the bulldozer the project needs. The always-energetic pitmistress is a Malaysian-born, Mandarin-speaking female phenom who infuses her Chinese heritage with her cooks, turning out dishes like crispy smoked siu yuk pork belly and char siu to fans weekly at pickup locations across Orange County and Sundays at Smorgasburg in Downtown Los Angeles. She’s a longtime powerhouse in the Orange County restaurant scene overall too, having spent years in the industry as a worker and franchise owner. Next up for Yee-Lakhani and her 500-gallon offset smoker named Drogon: Taking north Orange County’s barbecue scene to new heights.

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