Wandering around Honolulu’s Chinatown in January 2011, I chanced upon an amazingly good Chinese BBQ (known in Chinese as Char siu, meat seasoned with five spice, honey and other things that turn the outside skin or meat bright red) at a hole in the wall aptly named Char Siu House (photo below), with a small counter and butcher’s block and maybe three card tables for people who want to eat in rather than carry out (like me.) I had some delicious pork, moist, full of flavor, crispy red skin. As I was eating, a food tour suddenly arrived and the guide noted that this was the Honolulu’s best Chinese BBQ place, or some such.
With this memory in mind, I finally tried New Le’s BBQ here in Des Moines (photo above)- in what passes for a Chinese ,or more accurately, an Asian, neighborhood – on Second Avenue. (The street has a popular Asian market, Double Dragon, that I go to every once in awhile for hard-to-find-elsewhere items and just because it’s an interesting place full of unfamiliar foods. There’s also a few Thai and Vietnamese Po restaurants.) Le’s has been around for years and an Asian friend recommended it. But it looked so uninviting from the outside that I passed it by – until yesterday. I was surprised to find it was far more cheerful inside. Instead of a drab butcher shop, I found a slightly less drab restaurant with lots of empty tables (midday on a Saturday), a lit-up display on the wall of the Chinese entrees available and a case full of bbq-ed meat that left little to the imagination (still-intact ducks with spindly necks and heads, dangling from hooks, looking like they’d been flattened by a steam-roller; a pigs head). I ordered some duck, pork and ribs – and we tried them last night. The red crispy ribs were best – moist well-seasoned meat, tasty-edible skin. The pork was first runner up – moist meat with a smokey flavor but lots of fat and crispy skin that wasn’t as edible as it looked. Even more of the same with the duck. Oh well.