Cantonese-style roasted meats, or siu mei, are a lunchtime fixture in Hong Kong. Entire pigs and whole fowl are seasoned, air-dried, roasted, hacked into bite-sized pieces, and served in street stalls and restaurants throughout the city.
Here in Los Angeles, the most popular varieties of Cantonese-style barbecue are maltose-glazed roasted pork (char siu), blistered-skin pork belly (siu yap), juicy roasted duck (siu ngaap), and soy-sauce chicken (yao gai). From Silver Lake to South El Monte, here now are the eight essential Hong Kong-style barbecue restaurants to experience across Los Angeles.
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This Cantonese go-to in the San Gabriel Valley is known for playing the hits, though the crumbly, thinly sliced char siu is definitely not for everyone. The one thing that seems to be on every table is the Hong Kong-style roast duck, with the flavorful, gamey meat subtly scented by notes of anise and five-spice.
Needle does way more than char siu, but leave it to chef Ryan Wong to go through countless iterations of the Hong Kong favorite. One bite of the Berkshire pork belly with perfect caramelized edges and a chopstick full of small batch jasmine rice says it all — When it comes to char siu, Needle has no credible competitors in the Southland.
Monterey Palace’s BBQ takeout is firing on all cylinders. And don’t worry if the prices feel too good to be true — the char siu boasts candy-like edges and supple meat, while the siu yuk (aided by a little sauce before being crowned with crispy slices of skin) is tender enough. The three-item combo, a $10 blitz of sodium-infused bliss over rice, is an absolute steal. Cash-only.
The carving at this cash-only El Monte joint can be hit or miss, but the meats are always on point. From a properly fired roast duck to gleaming white siu yuk and the lean shoulder cuts of char siu, nearby residents are lucky to have truly excellent Cantonese food at very affordable prices.
The good folks at Food Talk Central unearthed a true gem in the siu yuk at Ruby BBQ. The perfectly golden-brown skin has an even crunch that gives way to a melting hunk of meat. Subtly spiced to take the edges off any harsh porcine scent, the siu yuk is a paragon of the genre. Make sure to come early before they sell out and bring cash as it’s a cash-only establishment.
The pricy roast goose that needs to be ordered in advance is the specialty at Sham Tseng BBQ. The restaurant is named after one of the most famous roast goose purveyors in Hong Kong. Don’t miss the excellent soy sauce chicken and a very serviceable siu yuk.
Chef Johnny Lee serves Cantonese hits out of this small shop adjacent to Howlin’ Ray’s in Far East Plaza. He’s struck gold with the siu yuk — a newish dish of skin-on pork belly that looks more like what’s served at Majordomo then anything found at a Cantonese restaurant. With a bed of egg noodles and a side of always-solid char siu, the siu yuk is one of the better meals to be had in Far East Plaza where the competition is stiff.
It’s easy to want to support Leo and Lydia Lee, the humble, hard-working couple who run one of LA’s best siu meis in the heart of Downtown. It’s even easier when the food is this good. Char siu is impossibly juicy and marinated in Lydia’s grandmother’s recipe from the family’s restaurant in Hong Kong. The porchetta is surprisingly tender, and the gremolata is an offbeat but welcome addition to the rice.