Up your foodie cred
Some foodies like to hit up the fine-dining restaurants, some like the ethnic spots, and some like the gut-busting, Guy Fieri-type cafes.
And then there are those who are the far-flung adventurers. The more obscure and hard-to-find the restaurant is, the better.
A cafe inside some other type of business, like a weird market or a church? Check. Strange clash of cultures (say, Nigerian pizza or Salvadorian pho)? Awesome. No Yelp review? Best of all.
I have a friend who is obsessed with this type of food hunting, and he clues me in to good places. I would argue he takes it too far—he often seems to rate the restaurant higher if he’s the first among his friends to find it. So, we sometimes have to agree to disagree. Just because everyone knows that Lalo’s Restaurant is the best Mexican eatery, including some 180 Yelpers, doesn’t mean that it’s not true.
I asked him for his latest find, and he told me about 3N1 Barbecue, a place that hits all the requisite requirements: limited hours (Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.); weird, barely Googable name; no Yelp reviews; and located in the back of a convenience store deep in Del Paso Heights.
I followed my GPS to a strip mall, which was occupied with an air-dancer guy advertising 3N1 and three dudes sitting in the parking lot next to a smoker.
A sign read “lamb,” which activated my out-of-the-ordinary-dish alarm. The convenience market is so multicultural that it sells two types of canned corned mutton (popular with Indian-Americans), canned menudo, and many big bags of rice and exotic flours. It even has rib-tip tacos in a meeting of soul and Mexican food. All my food-hunter senses were tingling at this point.
The menu here is limited, so it was easy to try almost everything. The four meats offered are pulled pork, chicken, ribs and hot links (no lamb on this day, despite the sign).
Recently, I found myself bitterly disappointed by some dry, tough ribs at a popular downtown barbecue spot, but these ribs erased that memory with a good mix of fat and pull-apart meat falling off the bone. The chicken, however, is chopped, mixed, both dark and white meat—it would have been more fun to get in there and eat the pieces with my hands. It was only lightly smoky and somewhat dry.
I think pulled pork is overrated, but maybe I haven’t had enough good pulled pork. This pile of pulled pig was unpleasantly wet but did retain a strong pork flavor. The hot links were peppy and snappy. All of the meats were definitely better with the tangy, spicy barbecue sauce.
The side of chili tasted suspiciously like it came from a can—not accusin’, just sayin’. The potato salad had nice, firm russets; delicately diced celery; and old-school pickle relish, but the supersweet mayo killed it for me. The greens had a deep, nicely bitter flavor and no meat—none needed.
I didn’t try the sandwiches because I could see the commercially made, overly soft rolls on the shelf. Why would you want those getting between you and your barbecue? A slice of 7Up cake that came from a Ziploc bag on the counter tasted reminiscent of pound cake and proved a good way to end the meal.
The guy at the counter seemed a little down and said that the restaurant has been open eight months and has, so far, experienced “good days and bad days.”
I hope it has more good days in the future, and I’d also like to up my foodie cred by pointing out that I reviewed it first.