Best Bizarro Eating On The Edge

Al the Wop’s

Photo by Larry Dalton

In many ways, our thinking hasn’t changed much since people thought the earth was flat. Safe, fat and happy, we fear sailing off the edge if we venture beyond malls and the matrix of metropolitan mediocrity. But beyond the ’burbs is precisely where you must go to suck up the best of bizarre eateries. Just follow the Harleys.

Pick up the trail just south of Freeport, into the California Delta where Highway 160 turns into a levee road meandering along the Sacramento River. You’re on the edge now, riding the levee, banking through sweeping turns as pear orchards and rice fields and the rusty tin roofs of riverside shanties flash by. The Delta breeze cuts diamond-shaped ripples on the river’s otherwise smooth, silent surface.

Pass through tiny Hood and Courtland. Push on toward the microwave TV relay towers that pierce the sky in the near distance.

Just five more miles now and you’ll be in the historic village of Locke. There is only one time in Locke—yesterday. Wooden row houses, constructed for the Chinese workers who built the Delta’s network of bridges, locks and levees early in the 20th century, are bowed and weather-beaten into surreal form. Even more surreal, right in the center of Locke on Main Street—but, oddly, not Asian at all—you’ll find Al the Wop’s.

It’s easy to find. Harleys are parked in front of a white, enameled structure with red swinging doors. The sign really says “Al the Wop’s”—and don’t sweat the slur because the joint is Italian-owned.

You plunge into musty, wooden darkness. Hundreds of $1 bills are stuck to the ceiling in a rite of passage that involves folding the bill around a silver dollar and a thumbtack and throwing it upward. The bills flutter in the swamp-cooler breeze like the cilia of some strange, alcohol-fueled protoplasmic organism.

A doorway at the rear of the bar leads to a dining room packed with bikers, boaters and tourists, most of whom are scarfing down Al’s specialty—thick, gristly steaks grilled the old fashioned way, burnt and crispy on the outside, red and bloody on the inside.

Something special is going on at Al’s, but you’re still not sure what. “What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve ever seen here?” you ask the man tending the bar. He launches into a bawdy tale of alcohol and depravity so sordid it cannot be related here, other than to say it involved two half-sisters, a Harley-Davidson doing a burn-out across the wooden barroom floor, and a man with extremely stinky feet.

Definitely bizarre, and that’s when it hits you.

Perhaps you have sailed off the edge of the earth, after all.

Al the Wop’s, 1323 Main St., Locke, (916) 776-1800.