9 p.m., June 28
Chinese BBQ in City Heights
Ducks, chickens, and pigs all meet a savory, crispy, soy sauce-drenched end.
There’s not much to Tom’s BBQ in City Heights. The storefront comprises a counter, register, display case, and a table that looks like it isn’t for sitting at; at least, not for customers. All of this is slammed into a strip mall with a couple Mexican stores and a laundromat. In the display, the Chinese barbecue hangs from hooks and slings, crisping in the bright heat of high powered lamps. It’s the grim and beautiful scene of roasted meats — Hellraiser combined with Food Network — characteristic of siu mei shops in Hong Kong and the world over. There are no side dishes and no beverages. Cash is the only allowable currency.
And it’s damn good.
I got in late, when all the char siu pork was gone, but I did manage to acquire a half pound of roast pork with crispy skin and some fried buns. The pork was fatty and beautiful, rich in flavor and seductively tender, but the skin had been roasted to a crispness that almost hurt my teeth. The dumplings were sweet, almost like a doughnut, but stuffed with an ambiguous meat paste. I ate three without batting an eyelash.
The cost of entry is marvelously low. Barbecued meats are in the $10/pound region, with bits of offal and other gnarly pieces available much cheaper. Pork intestines and chicken feet? If you’re on a budget, go for it! The whole, roast ducks are less than $20, which is about what a duck costs to buy in the supermarket and the golden brown birds at Tom’s look better than most people can do at home.
Since Tom’s only does the BBQ, it’s no good for getting a whole meal. Well, you can eat just barbecued pork, but if you want a vegetable or something you had better cook it at home. Realistically, add a little steamed bok choy, some rice, and a bottle of Hoisin sauce and you’d have yourself one hell of a meal on the cheap.
4414 University Avenue