Move over Kogi BBQ, I'm in for a new obsession: Cambinos Asian BBQ. And for this one, I can unplug the Twitter because Cambinos is a stationary brick-and-mortar, open at regular hours, and only found here in O.C. Although it may never get lavished with Newsweek articles or NPR segments, in my opinion, it deserves all of that and more.
So far, it has relied on good, old fashioned word-of-mouth from the strength of its product. A product, which other than the word BBQ, has nothing in common with what Kogi serves.
At Cambinos, BBQ means meats from all that clucks, moos, oinks or swims, marinated with flavorful things and chargrilled to order. Some are lubed in sauce prior to service. Some are skewered on bamboo sticks. All are served over dependable jasmine rice and piled on paper plates.
This is backyard BBQ food. The kind of grub common to all Asian family reunions when the charcoal grill is carted out.
And in Cambinos' Mix Plate ($9.95) one gets to enjoy the fruits of the fire without aunties telling you how much weight you've gained or asking you leading questions about your future.
The chicken skewer is burnished with a mahogany sheen and freckled with crunchy char, deeply flavorful and moist. The beef skewer is tender enough to be torn by bare fingers, slightly sweet and perfumed with lemongrass. The beef short ribs is a kalbi doppelganger and explodes with lip-lickin' fatty juces when bitten. A chicken thigh is chopped into strips, glazed in a hoisin-based sauce with a similar purpose as teriyaki. Veggies, like broccoli, red onions, squash, and bell peppers, are also grilled just to heat through, but not enough to wilt.
But the raison d'être is the pork spare ribs. These defy comparison to anything that I've ever had before or since: a citrusy, tangy, garlicky, sauce-covered masterpiece that collapses from the bone in unctuous, sloppy mouthfuls.
It can only be summed up with one word: incredible.
At this point you might ask, "So is it Asian?" Yes, no, and um...I'm not sure. The restaurant's name itself is a portmanteau of Cambodian and Filipino (Cambinos! Get it?!) -- a subtle hint about the nationality of the owner and his wife, respectively.
But any conclusions you may draw from this would be misleading. While there are some Cambodian and Filipino influences, the food is wholly original, born out of experimentation and pluck. And if you asked the owner himself, he'd say it was "camping" food since that's where he honed his recipes.
He is James Sar, a charming fellow who was originally in the steel business and got out when his friends and family encouraged him to open this restaurant last September.
How do I know all this? Simple: the dude told me his story.
My date and I were the only customers there on a Saturday night. So after bringing out our food, he struck up a conversation as he rooted for the Lakers on the flat-screen in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. James is like that poker buddy who brings the beer and knows all the good jokes. And when he hosts a party at his house, you RSVP immediately because you know he's going to do his BBQ.
Cambinos Asian BBQ
5721 Lincoln Ave. Ste F
Cypress, CA 90630