A Meaty Trip Through L.A.’s Cantonese Barbecue Scene

We’re doing the Year of the Pig right

When husband-and-wife team Leo and Lydia Lee opened RiceBox in downtown’s Spring Arcade Building in September, they were continuing a tradition passed down through three generations. Lydia’s grandfather ran a barbecue shop in Hong Kong; it was the sort of blue-collar place you’d find on most corners in the busy metropolis, complete with plastic stools, low-slung tables, and glistening meats dangling from hooks. The family biz gets an upgrade at the Lees’ small takeout spot: With high-quality proteins and scratch sauces, the menu salutes classic Cantonese siu mei (roasted meats), a genre that encompasses dishes like char siu and soy sauce chicken, chopped to order with cleavers and served over rice and greens. The Lees’ take is especially relevant for L.A.: The Cantonese restaurants that once dominated Chinatown, and later Alhambra and Monterey Park, have given way to those featuring cuisines of other Chinese regions, reflecting changing immigration patterns over the decades. Though there’s no one doing Cantonese ‘cue quite like the Lees—sample their porchetta-style pork belly with ginger chimichurri—there are still several siu mei traditionalists across the SGV offering a taste of Hong Kong and, appropriately, a way to celebrate the Year of the Pig. 541 S. Spring St., Ste. 131, downtown, ricebox.net.


4 Must-Try Joints

Crispy Pork Belly (燒肉)

Ruby B.B.Q.

Known in Cantonese as siu yuk, this pork dish is all about the crisp skin: golden brown, slightly puffy, and impossibly crunchy. Slabs of pork belly are punctured and rubbed with salt before being roasted, transforming the dermal fat into a crackling shell. South El Monte’s Ruby B.B.Q. serves plates of neatly stacked slices with hot mustard or hoisin sauce for dipping. 9561 E. Garvey Ave., Stes. 1 and 2, South El Monte, 626-279-6854.

Roast Duck (燒鴨)

Ho Kee Cafe

Perhaps the most iconic example of Cantonese barbecue in America, roast duck is often seen hanging front and center in shop windows. The techniques involved are intricate but yield a beautiful balance of textures: tender marinated meat and lacquered bronze-colored skin. At Ho Kee Cafe, a popular Hong Kong-style spot favored by expats, sliced roast duck is a house favorite. 533 S. Del Mar Ave., San Gabriel, 626-766-1076.

Soy Sauce Chicken (豉油雞)

Monterey Palace

Whole chickens are simmered in an aromatic stock made from soy sauce and star anise. A close relative is “white cut chicken,” a salt-marinated bird poached and served with a pungent paste of ginger and green onion. Monterey Palace, an old-school dim sum restaurant with a dedicated barbecue takeout counter, is a specialist in both. 1001 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park, 626-571-0888.

Char Siu (叉燒)

Sam Woo BBQ

The O.G. of Cantonese barbecue in L.A., Sam Woo first opened in the late 1970s, later expanding to numerous locations across Southern California. Head to the chain’s oldest-surviving outlet, in Alhambra, for real-deal char siu: tender cuts of marinated roasted pork brushed with a sticky red glaze made from maltose sugar and other spices. 514 Valley Blvd., Alhambra, 626-281-0038.


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