Sunday, October 18, 2015

Corner Burger Joint

Posted By on Sun, Oct 18, 2015 at 10:18 AM

The very good Good Burger and rings. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The very good Good Burger and rings.

Is there a limit to how many burger places Humboldt can support? Will the day come when we crumple our ketchup-stained napkins, cast them to the floor and say enough? Yeah, no. 

Sixth and E Neighborhood Eatery has opened up in Eureka (603 E St.) with a small army of burgers and tricked-out fries. The modestly named Good Burger is a 1/3-pound of grassfed beef with lettuce, tomato, mayo, pickle and cheddar cheese, criss-crossed with peppery bacon on a soft, slightly chewy grilled bun ($11.99).

Fries with that. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Fries with that.
The schmear of avocado spread is creamy and has the advantage of not sliding off your burger the way a slab of avocado does, challenging you to rearrange your burger for proper topping distribution while pretending you are still listening to your lunch companions. The meat is none too tightly packed and has a juicy bite. (Nothing sadder than seeing perfectly good meat kneaded into an angry, gray lump.) Beside your burger in the cake tin that serves as your plate, you have the option of barbecue rub-dusted wedge-cut fries with skins or a nest of skinny, crispy onion rings in golden batter. See, we do have room for one more.
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Thursday, October 8, 2015

How to Eat Somewhere New

Posted By on Thu, Oct 8, 2015 at 11:57 AM

Marinated cod fish and chips at Taste of Bim. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Marinated cod fish and chips at Taste of Bim.
When a new place opens, the common wisdom is that you should try it in a couple of months when it's worked out the kinks. Are you made of stone? There's a whole unexplored menu to peruse and sample. What if there's something you've never eaten before? Once you finally break down and pull up a squeaky, new chair, here are a few things to keep in mind: 

Save it for when you're not on a tight schedule and keep your group smallish. The servers may still be finding their feet and managers might not have figured out how many hands they need on deck at different times. You'll never feel so benevolent-god-like as when you raise your palm to a sweating, apologetic waiter and say, "no problem."

The whole menu might not be available — relax. Ask your server what his or her favorite thing is and get that. (Asking what's good will nearly always get you an optimistic but unhelpful "It's all good.") At Taste of Bim, the Caribbean place that's taken up residence in Avalon's former kitchen space (613 Third St., Eureka) our waitress steered us to cod fish and chips ($9). Unlike the UK version, the chunks of fresh cod beside the little potato wedges are marinated with garlic and herbs before frying in a light and bubbly batter. Do you really need the cup of mild tartar sauce? There's so much flavor to the flaky, pleasantly briny fish that you might not. 

Juicy jerk wings. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Juicy jerk wings.
Another tip: Stick to basics and save the experimental items for later. Bim's half-dozen jerk chicken wings ($7) show up lightly blackened and the overnight-marinated meat is nicely spiced, but by no means hot. Must wings always be a test of manhood? Really? No. Here they are a way to enjoy the dark, fatty meat and tasty skin — chilis and earthy allspice and cinnamon enhance rather than mask their flavor. There is a side of creamy sauce not unlike the savory filling of a fancy, paprika-sprinkled deviled egg — again, not really necessary, but you can always dip your finger if you're among friends. Get the wings. And the plantains ($5). If you are a person who enjoys the not-too-sweet, firm and lemony fruit, these crisp-edged, piping hot slices are not to be missed.  

Fried plantains satisfy sweet and salty cravings. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Fried plantains satisfy sweet and salty cravings.


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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Little Orange Hen

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 12:03 PM

The retro allure of orange glaze. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The retro allure of orange glaze.
Back in the day (the historical period during which everybody started dressing like hell on Mad Men), every fancy French menu had a canard a l'orange — the dark, roasted duck with crispy skin ladled over with a sauce of stock, orange juice and zest and maybe a little booze — Grand Marnier or Cognac — stirred in at the end. Swells celebrated anniversaries, promotions and engagements by throwing on a shoulder-padded blazer and dining on duck with savory, fruity gravy. And it was good.

Then it vanished, like baked Alaska and everything flambé. If you want it, you'll likely have to bust out vintage Julia Child books and whip it up yourself. If you're not willing to put in the hours, order the cornish game hen with orange brandy glaze ($20 half, $28 whole) at the Larrupin' Cafe (1658 Patrick's Point Drive, Trinidad). True, it's not duck, but the meat is full of flavor, cooked as it is over the mesquite grill instead of in an oven. It's juicy throughout with the bright, lightly sweet glaze balancing out the smokiness of the blackened skin. The handfuls of dressed salad and the overstuffed twice-baked potato crowding the plate will also take you back to pre-nouvelle cuisine times. Besides, where else are you going to wear that old blazer?
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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Fair Factor

Posted By on Sat, Aug 22, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Majestic food stall flags in the wind. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Majestic food stall flags in the wind.

You can smell the fryers from the parking lot as you stumble through the lumpy pasture toward the whirring rides and tinny pop music playing on the other side of the turnstiles. Once inside the Humboldt County Fair, the maze of traveling food stands and the barrage of signs for jumbo and beer battered everything can overwhelm. How do you best use the limited real estate in your belly and will you be able to keep it down if you hop on the Tilt-a-Whirl? 

John Williams gave his chicken and fries a thumbs up. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • John Williams gave his chicken and fries a thumbs up.
Here are some of the heaviest hitters scored 1-5 for three criteria: fair factor, or how on-theme the food is; value, the cost vs. satisfaction and/or bragging rights, keeping in mind that most prices are slightly inflated at these things; and fair tummy, the gentlest way to describe how much this treat is going to hurt you, especially on the Gravitron.

Sausage and peppers on a roll. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Sausage and peppers on a roll.
Banger on a roll with onions and peppers, $8

Available at a stand that also advertises "Kurly Fries," the hefty pork sausage is snappy and peppery, and the bun is soft, though nothing special. It's a solid actual food item on the off chance you are truly hungry and not just driven by midway hedonism. Sausage and peppers still has that classic street food cachet without a crippling amount of grease.
Fair factor: 4
Value: 4
Fair tummy: 3

Lamb from the Lions. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Lamb from the Lions.
Lamb burger, $7

The Ferndale Lions are selling lamb — there's a joke in there somewhere. In any case, they're keeping it rural by parking their yellow truck right by the livestock barns and offering locally raised lamb patties a bun's throw from the wool stand. Follow the grill cook's suggestion and just add salt, pepper and a deep red slice of tomato. It's juicy and not too gamey, plus the 4-H atmosphere ups its fair factor. Shucks, it's downright wholesome.
Fair factor: 4
Value: 4
Fair tummy: 2

Dairy Princess Sarah Richardson scoops away. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Dairy Princess Sarah Richardson scoops away.
Humboldt Creamery ice cream, free

Dairy princess Sarah Richardson is in her crown and sash scooping four flavors of the local ice cream every day of the fair. If there's something more county fair than that, let us know. The crown is very sparkly, and she and the other servers are handing out little paper cups to fairgoers at no charge, blithely pretending not to notice the same faces returning for multiple cups. The scoop is modest, so if you get back in line and make yourself ill with five servings, that's on you.
Fair factor: 5
Value: 5
Fair tummy: 2

A gator you can wrestle. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • A gator you can wrestle.
Alligator tail nuggets, $9 

Is it really alligator? Go ahead and ask to see the frozen packages of meat. The eight surprisingly tender bits of white meat are fried in a highly salty, spicy batter and served with — what else? — chipotle mayo. And just as you suspected, it kind of tastes like chicken. How can something that can drag you into a death roll taste the same as a chicken? In any case, this is one of those only-at-the-fair things and some of its cost is justified by checking an item off your bucket list. And didn't you just pay $1 to see the giant alligator in that trailer? Just go easy if you're going on any rides more jostling than the carousel.
Fair factor: 5
Value: 4
Fair tummy: 5

Marionberry cobbler for sweet-tooths. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Marionberry cobbler for sweet-tooths.
Marionberry cobbler, $6

While a berry pie or cobbler carries serious fair creed, this one looks better than it is. The filling is tooth-achingly sweet and the dough is heavy and bready. It's a generous portion, to be sure, but only the most committed jam freaks will be able to finish it, and they will pay for it in the end.
Fair factor: 3
Value: 2
Fair tummy: 5

Fried pickles. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Fried pickles.
Fried pickles, $6 

If nothing else, it's truth in advertising. And if you're not ready to commit to a massive pile of pickles, you can talk the guy at the counter into selling you a half order for $3. The pickles are hot and crispy, salty and sour, but maybe too much so. The batter is a little hard and seriously greasy. Those who want even more vinegar, salt and spice can give the "awesome sauce" bottle a squeeze. If nobody in your party is CPR certified, you may want to keep moving.
Fair factor: 4
Value: 3
Fair tummy: 5

Behold: funnel cake. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Behold: funnel cake.
Funnel cake with powdered sugar, $6

All hail the ultimate fair food. It's at once down-home and bizarre, like a frizzled coral reef of deep-fried batter. The first few bites are spent marveling at the crisp lightness of it as you pick at the edges. Next thing you know, you're gasping for air with a face full of powdered sugar resembling Al Pacino in Scarface. But we both know you're going to get one anyway.
Fair factor: 5
Value: 4
Fair tummy:5

Deep-fried Snickers bar on a stick. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Deep-fried Snickers bar on a stick.
Deep fried Snickers bar, $4

Dear God in heaven. All is lost. You might think this will be like those fried Oreos you tried at BarFly. Instead, it's like being struck square in the chest with a deep-fried sledge hammer that's been dipped in chocolate, peanuts and caramel, and then having someone drizzle chocolate syrup over your broken body. Is it worth $4? Maybe for the bragging rights or if you're planning on a Leaving Las Vegas-style exit via insulin shock. And make no mistake, if you get on a ride, you will regret it. Just listening to them rattling and shaking in the background might do it.
Fair factor: 5
Value: 2
Fair tummy: 5

Fried peaches count as health food at the fair. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Fried peaches count as health food at the fair.
Fried peaches, $6

The same stand that sells the Snickers bar will fry you up two canned peach halves in batter topped with soft-serve ice cream and whipped cream. The sprinkle of cinnamon sugar is gilding the lily a bit, but it's the fair, after all. And after the Snickers bar, this is practically a salad. It's not half bad and the generous portion doesn't make you want to go into the light, but give it another 30 minutes before you risk the Pharo's Fury. That thing goes faster than it looks. 
Fair factor: 4
Value: 5
Tummy: 4

In fact, follow the 30-minute rule for everything, including the bumpy ride out of the parking lot. 



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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Eat Your Spaghetti

Posted By on Tue, Aug 18, 2015 at 11:38 AM

A big pile of little ravioli. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • A big pile of little ravioli.
If not the smell of the sauce (or "gravy" as they used to call it), the huge portrait of the owners with a tuxedoed Marlon Brando and young Sophia Loren that hangs in the back room of Roy's Club (218 D St., Eureka) should tip you off that you're in an old-school Italian-American joint. Like 1925 old. So let go of your need to have everything al dente for one meal, sit down and eat your spaghetti. Capiche?

Somewhere on the premises (maybe upstairs?) a pasta machine is rolling out reams of the stuff — spaghetti, ravioli, fettucine — fresh. The smoked salmon ravioli ($11.50 lunch, $18.95 dinner) is filled with house-smoked fish, cream cheese, marscapone and Parmesan. Your plate will be piled with the little squares (a nice change from the enormous throw-pillow variety) tossed in a dill-flecked lemon cream sauce dotted with fat capers — a tartness that works well against both the mild, smoky fish and the cream — and sprinkled with parsley and more Parmesan. Those averse to cheese with seafood are advised to look away as I enjoy mine.

It's OK, liver lovers. Enrico Caruso had haters, too. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • It's OK, liver lovers. Enrico Caruso had haters, too.
Some of us who love the earthy, heavy flavor of chicken liver have been forced to suppress our desires, partly for fear of being cast out and partly because chicken liver is a risky order. Overcooked livers can turn to a dry, gritty paste, and undercooked — no. Just no. Take the chance on the chicken livers Caruso (lunch $11.50, dinner $16.50). It's named for the legendary opera singer Enrico Caruso, so fair warning on the richness. The livers themselves are perfectly done and they add remarkable meatiness to the tomato, Marsala wine and mushroom sauce over thick homemade spaghetti. The depth of flavor and the soft pasta make this a comfort dish that could leave you nostalgic for the old neighborhood (whether or not you lived there). As the story goes, Caruso was booed in Naples for not paying the professional cheer section and so swore off the stages there, saying he'd only be back for the spaghetti. Principles are important but a man's gotta eat.


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Friday, July 24, 2015

Arcata's Best Chile Relleno, Determined

Posted By on Fri, Jul 24, 2015 at 2:24 PM

Three chiles enter, all leave ... in our stomachs. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Three chiles enter, all leave ... in our stomachs.


Okay, lovers of Mexican food, we heard you. You said last week's entry into the Arcata bracket, the eggy, crepe-y delish dish from Fiesta Grill and Cantina, was inadequate competition against the traditional battered and fried version from Carmela's. So we returned to that foggy college town and made the rounds again, this time including the late nomination Valley Azteca (5000 Valley West Blvd #6).

Mmm, squeaky traditional cheese. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Mmm, squeaky traditional cheese.


First things first. We called Fiesta Grill and Cantina (3525 Janes Road) and demanded (okay, asked politely) a traditional, stem in, battered and fried chile relleno. And it delivered. Man, did it deliver. Check out that squeaky queso fresco dotting the delicious, chewy batter. The batter itself was puffy, a wee bit chewy (reminded us of inari), sodden with rich red sauce. It included a side of above-par rice and beans that had just the tiniest hint of garlic. Well worth dipping into with bits of torn-off tortilla.


Mexican brunch? We say yes. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Mexican brunch? We say yes.

Just up the road, Valley Azteca proved to be cool and pleasant respite from the week's hot weather. It was our first visit and the tastefully decorated white cantina-esque walls and dark leather booths immediately impressed us. We bellied up to the bar while waiting for our order. The owner explained that the house version was made with an Anaheim pepper. We chose not to be disappointed that it was of the eggy, omelette-y variety, instead focusing on how the Anaheim's bite was complemented by the green onion garnish. The lightness of this chile relleno was refreshing after the solidity of other entrants. Our call? Valley Azteca for your Mexican food brunch, every time. The hole-in-the-wall restaurant opens at 9 a.m. and appears to offer a nice selection of vegetarian items as well.

A deep, dark, satisfying relleno with cilantro garnish. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • A deep, dark, satisfying relleno with cilantro garnish.

Our final entrant was that student stand-by, Carmela's (1288 G St.). It's hard to describe how much we appreciated the savory sauce this monster was swimming in. We plucked scraps of pepper and onion from its container and savored every last bit of it, holding back from licking the plate only by sheer force of will. As for the chile relleno itself, well, one of our reviewers described it as a "Mexican ravioli." Mmm, that dense, sharp, ricotta-like cheese! That savory batter! We agreed that the flavor in this particular dish was well layered and subtle.

The winner ...

So, we're not going to lie to you guys, this was a nail-biter. We decided to skate controversy and put Valley Azteca on the sidelines (again, brunch!), doing a bite-by-bite comparison of Carmela's and Fiesta. With just the tip of each pepper left, we had to call in a tie-breaker. Our production staff left their computers and dutifully picked up their forks, only to reach another stalemate. Too close to call? A fervent analysis began, citing the merits of a bitter pepper, the ratio of batter to cheese, whether the accompanying rice and beans should factor in. In the end, that traditional cheese and spectacular rice and beans won out. Congratulations Fiesta Grill and Cantina! Thank you for bringing your A game, and welcome to the lightning round. We will crown #humboldtsbestchilerelleno in our annual Best of Humboldt edition — on newsstands August 13.

But wait ... did we miss a restaurant? We saved room for more. Any last-minute entries? We want to be thorough. Email, comment, hit us up on Facebook or Twitter. Let's do this!
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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Chile vs. Chile: Fortuna Strong

Posted By on Sun, Jul 12, 2015 at 10:09 AM

The Fortuna contingent brought it hard this week, forcing us to revise our standards. Two different restaurants produced three very different rellenos, with a spectrum of chiles, sauces and batters. All were delicious, and as such we’ve decided to be more inclusive. There is no black and white when it comes to pepper, cheese, batter and salsa: the world deserves a relleno rainbow.
dsc_3409_lacosta.jpg
When we put the call for regional nominations out on Facebook, we were bombarded with recommendations for La Costa (664 S. Fortuna Blvd), including at least one cryptic message: “Try both kinds.” Both kinds? What witchery was this? So we called to inquire and the nice lady assured that they did, in fact, have two different types of chile rellenos to choose from. We got them both: a yellow, omelette-y envelope swaddling a pale Anaheim pepper, and its dark, stout masa-battered counterpoint with the traditional Poblano within. Both yielded to our forks with a gush of cheese, and both were swimming in a savory reddish sauce so thick it could pass for gravy. After sampling (and sampling, and sampling) both, we chose the thick-battered Poblano version as an in-house favorite, pitting it against….

dsc_3426_tacoloco.jpg
Taco Loco (955 Main Street), is another Friendly City favorite that came highly recommended. We gave a deep sigh of appreciation when we opened the takeaway box and saw the plump, brown-battered chile smothered in green tomatillo sauce. A tinfoil-wrapped package of warm tortillas sat waiting for us to tear, scoop and savor. Lovers of all things green will not be disappointed by Taco Loco’s dish: you get a lot of pepper per forkful, the tomatillo sauce is delightful, and the chef definitely knows their way around a spice cabinet. The only off-note was a slightly strange aftertaste, leading us to think their grease traps might need cleaning.



So, ultimately, Fortuna’s best chile relleno is also the fan favorite: La Costa! Felicidades to the Friendly City, and welcome to the big time! In a few weeks we’ll pit your winner against Eureka, Arcata and McKinleyville, for the final determination of who makes #humboldtsbestchilerelleno!
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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Chile vs. Chile: The Fast Food Edition

Posted By on Sun, Jul 5, 2015 at 4:33 PM

Expectation is a double-edged sword when it comes to experience: it can both elevate the mundane and intensify the disappointing. Never was this more was this true than with Los Gallos Taqueria at the Bayshore Mall. In case you think we’ve rigged this race, Los Gallos has been a dark horse favorite in the world of Humboldt taco aficionados for years. Not only does it occasionally have carne cabeza, that delicious, tender face meat, but the tamales and sauce are a cut above your average mall food. When we saw that their rellenos are prepared far in advance of serving, however, our hopes sank. We each took one tentative mouthful, and then put down our forks for the day. Limp, watery, rubbery, under-seasoned, with gritty cheese and a garnish of browning guacamole and bland beans — to say we were disappointed would be an understatement. But, after all, we choose chile rellenos as our point of comparison for Mexican food in Humboldt County, and perhaps they’re a dish too far for your average lunch-on-the-run joint …

Los Gallos does garnish right, at least. - DREW HYLAND
  • Drew Hyland
  • Los Gallos does garnish right, at least.
… or are they? A seven-minute turnaround at the Speedy Taco food truck (1223 Broadway) yielded a salivation-worthy, deep brown monster of a chile relleno with a fistful of piping hot corn tortillas to sop up the extra cheese and piquant green sauce. The thick, oozy cheese inside hit every millimeter of umami area on our tongues, and the pepper itself had just the right amount of bite. The one off-note was the slightly soggy batter, which, if we had to guess, likely came from the dish having been frozen. After all, we know they’re not making the whole thing from scratch in that little trailer.

Dense and cheesy at Speedy Taco. - GRANT GOFORTH
  • GRANT GOFORTH
  • Dense and cheesy at Speedy Taco.

And the winner is ...

Did you really have to ask? It’s Speedy Taco! Congratulations guys, you’ve made it to the next round!
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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Chile vs. Chile: Eureka

Posted By on Sun, Jun 28, 2015 at 5:21 PM

Our epic quest to find Humboldt County's best chile relleno got underway this week, with gustatory explorations on Tuesday and Thursday. Our criteria for a good relleno? Stem in, naturally. Poblano pepper or nada. Good ratio of batter to cheese to pepper, with no one aspect reigning supreme. And whatever the Spanish version of je ne sais quoi is, that x factor that takes the dish from sufficient to sabroso.


TUESDAY
Esmeralda's Mexican Food, 328 Grotto St., Eureka.

The friendly, tattooed waitress assured us that "her mom makes the best chile relleno." Nepotism aside, our first bite revealed she just might be right. Cheese was soft and oozy, complementing the puffy, brown batter and the perfectly cooked pepper. There was a nice bite to the pepper, with a sweet burn of an aftertaste. Not bitter, not too hot. The kind of pepper you want to try when you're looking to level up on your spicy game.

A forkful of Esmeralda's chile relleno. - DREW HYLAND
  • Drew Hyland
  • A forkful of Esmeralda's chile relleno.

THURSDAY
Pachanga, 1802 Fifth St, Eureka.

So much cheese. We love cheese. Nice, eggy batter. Fantastic, zippy, tomatillo sauce. Ultimately, though, the cheese (stringier and a little more mozzarella-y than Esmeralda's) overwhelmed both batter and pepper. Points for atmosphere: friendly attentive waitresses, a kid's corner and lots of ladies who look like they know what they're doing sweating in the open kitchen. We get why this spot is a local favorite.

Pachanga's does not skimp on cheese. - DREW HYLAND
  • Drew Hyland
  • Pachanga's does not skimp on cheese.

And the winner is ... Esmeralda's! It's hard to override our love of cheese, but when it comes to the yo no se que (figured out the translation) of a good relleno, Esmeralda's nails it.

Next week:Eureka Part II. Where should we try? What spots deserve to go head to head against Esmeralda's in the bracket? Let us know here, on Facebook or Twitter. #humboldtsbestchilerelleno
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Friday, June 5, 2015

Boathouse Barbecue

Posted By on Fri, Jun 5, 2015 at 3:21 PM

Sunshine, ribs and pulled pork. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Sunshine, ribs and pulled pork.
Barbecue has gotten a little esoteric. At once secretive and boastful, the macho hype surrounding the grill can make you long for the simple sweetness of pork cooked low and slow without all the fuss. This is a good time to swing into King Salmon for hole-in-the-wall Polynesian barbecue at Sammy's BBQ & Catering (1125 King Salmon Ave.). Two meats and two sides will run you $12. 


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