Southern in L.A. II: The Heart of Barbecue


Southern in L.A. II: The Heart of Barbecue

Photo credit: Katelan Cunningham

     When I think about barbecue, I think about backyards, family, a down home easiness emphasized with beer, and inevitably secret sauce on your face and fingers. Park's Finest BBQ had all of that, but I didn't expect to find it in Filipinotown.

     Between the sign for Historic Filipinotown and the skyline of Downtown Los Angeles, you could easily pass this new storefront. The sign is a sagging banner and the parking is less than inviting--that is to say there is none. But inside, the place offers a casualness of a family joint and the crux of any barbecue joint: delicious sauce. I dropped in on a Wednesday, when all they serve is what they call their Worker's Plate. It's a little bit of everything: pulled pork, barbecue chicken, smoked sausage, coconut beef, white rice, grilled vegetables and cornbread — Filipino style.

     Park's Finest is growing from its family-run catering company into a storefront and their simple menu reflects their catering roots. Everything is a la carte, served with their two sauces. Having lived in Savannah for several years and grown up in Texas, I know that the regional barbecue sauce battle is a vicious one, and any barbecue sauce connoisseur would be hard-pressed to give a passing grade to even the most tender of meats without an exemplary sauce. I'd say Park's sauces, with their delicate hints of Philippine flavors, definitely make the cut.

Photo credit: Katelan Cunningham

     One is primarily vinegar, with some soy sauce. The other is a thick red sauce, very sweet, with a bit of a pineapple taste. Both lend just the right kind of heat. I'm not a person who enjoys the teary-eyed, heartburn-inducing, sweaty-forehead, runny-nose kind of spice. That's no fun for me. This spice is sneaky. It lingers in your mouth and sets the stage for all the delicious meats to come. It sets the temperature for the food.

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     Now, onto the meat. The smoked sausage is juicy, cooked just right with bit of spice, but nothing I haven't tasted before. The chicken has perfect crispy skin to contrast the fall-off-the-bone juicy meat underneath. Next up, the pulled pork. The flavor erupts from the obvious time that goes into cooking it, but what is really different about this pulled pork is its texture; it has a bit of crispy crunchiness. The crunch on the ends of the thin strips of pork is a delightful notch up from your typical pulled meats. The meat with the most Filipino flare was the coconut beef, cubed beef, cooked to just the right amount of chewy in a coconut sauce that I expected to be a bit too thick and a bit too sweet. But I was wrong. The coconut milk sauce this beef basks in is merely a savory comrade. The coconut does not overwhelm or fight with the bite-sized beef. It is an indulgent surprise, but not the biggest one. That is the cornbread.


Photo credit: Katelan Cunningham

    Bibingka is not a word I’m familiar with especially after the word “cornbread.” I didn't know what this foreign clarifier had to offer a Southern staple as steadfast as cornbread, but after trying it, I don't think I'll look at plain cornbread the same again. A quick Google search will show you that Bibingka is a rice cake made with coconut milk, a dish traditional to the Philippines. This recipe somehow mixed with cornbread results in a dense, extremely moist square of yellow yummy. It was definitely the sweetest thing on my Worker's Plate. There are pieces of corn scattered throughout the bread and a dusting of sugar on top, adding to the crispy outside and making a great companion to the buttery inside.

     Maybe the tradition of barbecue is one that deserves a little shaking up. Korean barbecue and Filipino barbecue have made a name in LA cuisine, and I am hoping to try some new spins on this genre of food I grew up eating in the South. Whether the barbecue is derived from the melting pot of culinary influences of the United States’ Deep South, or the Southeastern region of Asia, or both, there's always comfort in a family heirloom sauce, plate of tender meat, and a fun environment in which to enjoy it.

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