Maybe no three letters in the restaurant name make me hungrier than B, B and Q.
In one incarnation, BBQ was an obvious appeal to those hungry for Texas beef and pork in the South—and often in these well-blended parts, for stores selling both. But the explosion of delicious, mostly Chinese, Asian spots with “BBQ” in their names opened up a brave new world of extreme – and highly satisfying – flavors with barbecue found in almost all culinary regions in China. You can’t continue to ham without a scorecard.
In Cantonese, barbecue is known as Siu Mai. It is written not only in the names, but in the windows where the ducks hang whole, and the lumps of dark red pork shriek for consumption in large quantities. Barbecue seems to have its roots in Canton. But in restaurants on the western tip of China, there is a good chance you will find roasted lamb.
I recently heard about grilled starfish being a subject of craving in coastal Shandong. and grill freshwater fish from the Heilong River near the Russian border. There are intensely flavorful variations on the southern sweetest barbecues in Sichuan, Xinjiang, and Hunan. But there is a wide spread of roast pork, so beloved char siu A meat that has followers goes beyond worship. It extends into every culinary pocket imaginable.
This is the meat you’ll find in local destinations like Delicious BBQ area (523 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel; 626-872-2889), Xinjiang BBQ (306 N. Garfield Ave. , Monterey Park; 626-288-3988), Feng Wei BBQ (133 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; 626-307-7405), Sham Tsing BBQ (634 W. Garvey Ave, Monterey Park; 626-289-4858) … And the Sam Woo BBQwith many branches, lots of listings, but pretty much everywhere!
Which brings us, notably, to the culinary mystery at Burnt Belly, the American/Asian barbecue stand in the vibrant Blossom Market Hall in the heart of Old San Gabriel. Blossom Market (www.blossommarketall.com) is a delightful reflection of the highly stirring, endless, bubbling melting pot that is San Gabriel Valley.
Besides Burnt Belly, options include Banh Mi Bar, Caribbean Gourmet, Sushi Rolland, Spotless Burgers, Café et Cetera, Manduyo Korean Fusion, La Olla Mexican, Rori’s Artisanal Creamery, Honey & Hive Acai Bar—and enough coffee (at AK Fresh Roast) , tea (at Circle Tea Bar), and beer and wine (at Angel & Mason) to keep diners well-lubricated while wondering about dashi and doingan, along with smoked brisket and farro, that make collard miso greens unlike any tasting before.
Coming back to Burnt Belly, let’s start with the meat, which is… unusual. I’ve eaten smoked breast from coast to coast. One of my favorite cookbooks is “The Brisket Chronicles: How to BBQ, Braise, Smoke, and Cure the World’s Most Epic Cut of Meat,” by Steven Raichlen, which I’ve given as a gift to culinary friends over the years.
I’m incredibly biased about breast meat, perhaps more than any other food. And I love Burnt Belly’s breast meat. You don’t chew it. It dissolves before you get your teeth on it. The smoke is just right. Tenderness is perfect. The sauce is amazing. This is a great brisket – I’m not sure it’s at least Asian.
The same can be said about the burnt brisket ends, which are exactly what they sound like – the edges of the meat getting more tender, crispy, and more quality with every second of smoking and every chew. There is also a burnt end in the belly of the pig, which gives a rare and delicious choice of two near perfect tastes, along with chicken – half and pulled. And that’s it… for the meat at least.
But then, with most dishes – one meat, two or three types of meat – there is a choice of two sides. Decisions must be made. There’s a great potato salad of Yukon Gold potatoes, smoked bacon, and eggs, as good a potato salad as you’ll find in town, with mayonnaise. There are three Macaroni and Cheese with bacon crumbs (they love bacon…and so do I!). There are caramelised sweet potatoes – is it a side dish or a dessert?
And then, there’s the miso vegetable. Having miso is unusual. But then what dashi And the Doenjang? Simply put, dashi is a table sauce and soup broth, the essence of the elusive taste of umami. The doenjang is a fermented bean paste, the result of mixing soybeans with brine and… time. It makes green cabbage unique, like no other.
But then, although much in Burnt Belly is familiar, a lot is… outside the alternate universe. This is not an Asian barbecue. This is not an American barbecue. This is also both at once. Only in SG Valley – again.
Meryl Schindler is a freelance critic for Los Angeles dining. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- evaluation: 3 stars
- Tabuk: Blossom Market Hall (also known as San Gabriel Masonic Lodge #546), 264 S. Mission Dr. , San Gabriel
- Information: 626-225-3642; www.burntbelly.com
- dishes: American BBQ with Asian touches
- When: Lunch and early dinner, from Wednesday to Sunday
- details: Soft drinks; No reservations
- atmosphere: Surrounded by a variety of quirky food stalls, Burnt Belly is a unique stand-out, with some of the best barbecue meat in town (burning rock end!), along with some unexpectedly Asian side dishes. It’s a very tasty culinary adventure, with a beer and wine stall nearby.
- the prices: About $18 per person
- Suggested dishes: 1, 2, 3 Meat Dish with Two Sides ($18-$26), 4 Sandwiches with One Side ($13-$16), 6 Sides ($4-8)
- credit cards: MC, p
- What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth a trip from anywhere!), 3 (Excellent, even exceptional. Worth a trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (Good place to go for a meal. Worth a trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 ( If you’re hungry, which is nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic.) 0 (Honestly, not worth writing about.)