Sure, you can get smoky ribs or hot links at Spring
Street Smoke House. No problem.
But unlike most barbecue joints, it will also serve
you fire-roasted veggies or green salad with raspberry
vinaigrette. If you don't feel like a soda, there's
plenty of Pellegrino water. At one time the smoked chicken
sandwich even came with tarragon sauce and the sliced
brisket included a side of au jus.
But this place's uniqueness isn't about it being pretentious.
It's located at the border of Chinatown and Olvera Street,
where it occupies one of the all-time oddball barbecue
rooms. The white linoleum walls are spotted with posters
about fruit varieties and cheeses of the world, none
of which has anything to do with what's served here.
One wall is mirrored, as at many a small Chinatown restaurant;
another is hidden behind stacked-up cardboard boxes
of breakfast cereal and so on, in the country store/bait
It's disorienting. It's enough to make you grab a restorative
vitamin drink from the restaurant's cold case.
And yet this peculiar outfit is the very reverse of
flaky. Spring Street Smoke House turns out to be owned
by D&L Catering Inc., a downtown outfit that's been
around for more than 30 years, so it's a very professional
operation under all the weirdness. And it turns out
some rarely found dishes that are worth making a trip
Spring Street offers all the classic barbecue meats,
hickory-smoked from four to 18 hours. The chicken is
wonderfully dense and smoky.
The place also smokes its own hot links (beef or chicken),
and they are exceptional. In our part of the country
hot links tend to be scrawny and chewy, but these are
plump ones, with the proper astringent Louisiana-style
dose of chile.
The perfectly acceptable ribs pale a bit by comparison.
The barbecued brisket and tri-tip, otherwise perfectly
fine, are sliced paper-thin, like deli meats, so when
they're dosed with the house barbecue sauce, a ketchup-y
version with a lively dose of vinegar, it's really impossible
to tell one from the other.
So far this may sound like a caterer's idea of a barbecue,
well executed but far from down-home. But Spring Street
Smoke House has a couple of items so down-home you never
see them in the Southland.
One is listed on the menu as "BBQ pasta."
On the face of it, there's no reason smoked meat and
barbecue sauce shouldn't make as good a pasta topping
as marinara, but I've only seen pasta at one other barbecue
place around town, and there the pasta was ordinary
spaghetti. Spring Street uses penne rigate, a shrewd
choice for holding the sauce because of its broad, ridged
surfaces. The resulting dish may have a sloppy look,
like a photo from one of the "White Trash Cooking"
cookbooks, but it's luscious: smoky, sweet-sour and
Another homey item is the smoked bologna sandwich, not
only the least expensive sandwich on the menu but also
one of the best. Yes, bologna, but not the packaged
sandwich-sliced sort. They smoke a solid chub of bologna,
and when you order your sandwich they cut off some slices,
grill them and cram them into a long roll. The result
is smoky and wonderfully plush.
A couple of dishes do have the caterer's touch and a
barbecue purist may well take offense. Cajun stuffed
chicken is a pair of chicken breasts stuffed with Jack
cheese and chunks of jalapeño, wrapped with bacon,
grilled and smoked; it's the sort of California crowd-pleaser
you'd expect at a place such as Crocodile Cafe. The
"best beef sandwich you will ever eat" is
smoked brisket on a roll with Gorgonzola sauce (which
in truth adds more richness than Gorgonzola flavor).
They offer you barbecue sauce on the side, but I'd leave
it off. The Gorgonzola turns smoked beef into something
new and elegant.
You get a choice of two sides with most things. The
mellow collards lack the usual bitterness; the macaroni
and cheese has a subtle bit of hotness as if from Tabasco
and the baked beans have been doctored with a bit of
the house barbecue sauce. "Sukatash" is a
strange but pleasant soup of corn kernels, minced onions
and peppers in a thin, highly garlicky sauce.
In short, ignore the silly posters and the clutter of
cardboard boxes. This is one of the most distinctive
barbecues in town and performs at a consistently high
Spring Street Smoke House
Location: 640 N. Spring St., Los Angeles, (213) 626-0535;
Price: Sandwiches, $6 to $8; barbecue platters, $6 to
$11; specialties, $1 to $8.75.
Best dishes: Best beef sandwich, smoked bologna sandwich,
hot link platter, Cajun stuffed chicken, BBQ pasta.
Details: Open 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday,
11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. No alcohol. Street and
lot parking; curb service. Major credit cards.