4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Roast ducks in a row at Tom’s Chinese BBQ

Whole hog and fowl prepped the same way for generations in City Heights

Roasted ducks hang behind the counter at Tom's Chinese BBQ
Roasted ducks hang behind the counter at Tom's Chinese BBQ

My plan for the day had been to check out a roast duck shop I wanted to write about, one that recently opened up in the suburbs. But first, my wife insisted, I needed to get acquainted with an old roast duck shop, the place her refugee mom often mentions. So, Poway would have to wait; instead I charted a course for City Heights, and finally, belatedly, paid a visit to a local institution, Tom’s Chinese BBQ.

Place

Tom's Chinese BBQ

4414 University Avenue, San Diego

Seemed like a worthwhile switch to me. Newly opened restaurants get most of the press these days, while these long tenured establishments continue to plug away with relatively little notice. I’m not sure exactly how long Tom’s has been open, but long enough that it hasn’t been featured in the Reader for the better part of a decade. It’s been a favorite of the immigrant community for what must be at least 30 years. My wife remembers going there in her youth. She explains that, on celebratory occasions, her family would forego the likes of birthday cake in favor of a whole duck from Tom’s.

According to her, little has changed about the place. It’s still a hole in the wall on University Avenue, still all take-out, still cash only. Whole ducks still hang by the neck, browned and glistening, behind the counter.

A quarter pound of crispy pork belly

It’s not all ducks here, by any stretch of the imagination. I suspect my wife only intervened because she was actually craving the shop’s crispy pork belly ($17.50/lb). And, when a door opened to the kitchen, I could see guys in the back butchering an entire pig.

Not that I needed proof this was a whole hog sort of operation. The Reader’s own Ed Bedford notoriously tried the pig rectum here back in 2008. That’s still offered ($13.95/lb), and the menu likewise features the intestine ($13.45/lb), stomach ($13.45/lb), and head ($16/lb).

But I don’t want to give the impression that the less conventionally popular parts of the pig are the reason to visit. Tom’s proves an excellent, old world-style source not only of roast pork ($17.50/lb), but also BBQ pork ($13,95/lb) — two options where familiar cuts from shoulder to loin might wind up. You can pick up a hind leg for $3.50, a foreleg for $4.50, and best of all, spare ribs for $13/pound.

Half a roasted duck, chopped into pieces with a large cleaver

We stuck to a quarter pound of the pork belly, and it was as succulently fatty as its skin was crispy, all as simply rendered as could be, and hacked into pieces with a large cleaver by the small yet strong woman working behind the counter.

She similarly got to work chopping up the whole duck we split with my mother-in-law, ($33, or a half duck for $17). That cleaver cut through the bones like they were breadsticks, quickly turning an intact fowl into dozens of discrete, just bigger than bite-size pieces. Once we took it home, I rarely knew which part of the bird I was eating at any moment, only that it was always that ideal mix of gamey and aromatic, the skin nearly always crispy, and the meat rich and juicy without fail.

Now I feel as though I’ve gotten a solid baseline for roast duck in San Diego, and may proceed accordingly to try it elsewhere. Though it’s becoming more and more clear that family will keep me coming back to Tom’s Chinese BBQ for many more years to come.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

When you mess up, just say sorry.

Fighting the crowd is another aspect of surfing
Next Article

Ken Harrison R.I.P.

Reader freelancer became radio newsman in Bishop CA
Roasted ducks hang behind the counter at Tom's Chinese BBQ
Roasted ducks hang behind the counter at Tom's Chinese BBQ

My plan for the day had been to check out a roast duck shop I wanted to write about, one that recently opened up in the suburbs. But first, my wife insisted, I needed to get acquainted with an old roast duck shop, the place her refugee mom often mentions. So, Poway would have to wait; instead I charted a course for City Heights, and finally, belatedly, paid a visit to a local institution, Tom’s Chinese BBQ.

Place

Tom's Chinese BBQ

4414 University Avenue, San Diego

Seemed like a worthwhile switch to me. Newly opened restaurants get most of the press these days, while these long tenured establishments continue to plug away with relatively little notice. I’m not sure exactly how long Tom’s has been open, but long enough that it hasn’t been featured in the Reader for the better part of a decade. It’s been a favorite of the immigrant community for what must be at least 30 years. My wife remembers going there in her youth. She explains that, on celebratory occasions, her family would forego the likes of birthday cake in favor of a whole duck from Tom’s.

According to her, little has changed about the place. It’s still a hole in the wall on University Avenue, still all take-out, still cash only. Whole ducks still hang by the neck, browned and glistening, behind the counter.

A quarter pound of crispy pork belly

It’s not all ducks here, by any stretch of the imagination. I suspect my wife only intervened because she was actually craving the shop’s crispy pork belly ($17.50/lb). And, when a door opened to the kitchen, I could see guys in the back butchering an entire pig.

Not that I needed proof this was a whole hog sort of operation. The Reader’s own Ed Bedford notoriously tried the pig rectum here back in 2008. That’s still offered ($13.95/lb), and the menu likewise features the intestine ($13.45/lb), stomach ($13.45/lb), and head ($16/lb).

But I don’t want to give the impression that the less conventionally popular parts of the pig are the reason to visit. Tom’s proves an excellent, old world-style source not only of roast pork ($17.50/lb), but also BBQ pork ($13,95/lb) — two options where familiar cuts from shoulder to loin might wind up. You can pick up a hind leg for $3.50, a foreleg for $4.50, and best of all, spare ribs for $13/pound.

Half a roasted duck, chopped into pieces with a large cleaver

We stuck to a quarter pound of the pork belly, and it was as succulently fatty as its skin was crispy, all as simply rendered as could be, and hacked into pieces with a large cleaver by the small yet strong woman working behind the counter.

She similarly got to work chopping up the whole duck we split with my mother-in-law, ($33, or a half duck for $17). That cleaver cut through the bones like they were breadsticks, quickly turning an intact fowl into dozens of discrete, just bigger than bite-size pieces. Once we took it home, I rarely knew which part of the bird I was eating at any moment, only that it was always that ideal mix of gamey and aromatic, the skin nearly always crispy, and the meat rich and juicy without fail.

Now I feel as though I’ve gotten a solid baseline for roast duck in San Diego, and may proceed accordingly to try it elsewhere. Though it’s becoming more and more clear that family will keep me coming back to Tom’s Chinese BBQ for many more years to come.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Sammy Davis, Jr.’s “Salt” meets Peter Lawford’s “Pepper”

Salt and Pepper and One More Time
Next Article

Monarch butterflies in San Diego up against the wall

Parasites and wasps so bad this year
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town The Gonzo Report — Making the musical scene, or at least reporting from it Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close