This trip to LA has been a way for me to revisit my former life and allow myself to reflect on those things that created a chowhound out of me. For example, the wafting smoky aroma of Leo's BBQ has been integrated with me since my childhood of wandering around Crenshaw Blvd in the early 70s, though it's only been a few years since I had my first taste of the goods. Also, I realized that the location of Tasty-Q is the first Taco Bell I ever ate at. So I thought it fitting to have my own little taste off with my folks. Not being an official taste-test but more of a sampling, I got ribs and links from Leo's and brisket and chicken from Tasty-Q. From the outset, I was biased towards Tasty-Q. While I was ordering, one of the women behind the counter offered me a sampling of the hog's head cheese they make especially for new years. Flecked with bits of dried chiles, the best way I can describe it was that it tasted like home. It was pure, simple, and undoubtedly a product of a labor of love. And it was headcheese -- and a darn good one. I was tempted to buy an order, but I already had ordered way too much.
I feel like I need to be fair to Leo's because back in NYC, Leo's would be hard to beat. Like some old establishments, it was pretty apparent that Leo's was not in the business of marketing for new customers. Though their meat was well smoked and tasty on its own, it was drowning in a completely lackluster sauce. The ribs tasted better with enough sauce wiped from it, and the links had the mushy consistency of blood sausage, but were nice and spicy (again better with less sauce). Moreover, the sides tasted as though it came from a carton (potato salad) or a can (beans).
Tasty-Q, on the other hand, epitomized soul food. Being the younger sibling on a Blvd of smoky meats, Tasty-Q has a big smoker set at the opening of the parking lot bellowing out smoke to attract passersby. And the headcheese sampling you already know about. I felt that I should have ordered the fried turkey, but it was too late after I placed my order. The brisket was the winner of the sampling. It had just enough sauce to coat the pile of wonderfully smoky and tender meat. The chicken was unusually large and meaty and quite good for being ... just chicken. The potato salad and beans were also the real deal.
Before you guys go on about how you can find better ribs or brisket elsewhere (yes, I've read the BBQ taste-off thread), let me just say that while it's always about the food, I also believe it's also about the love, and while Tasty-Q may not be the be the best I've ever encountered (ehem... Flints in Oakland), you'll find lots of love and care at Tasty-Q. Though if you have to eat it there, take my word and sit at a bench outside, the interior is still a hole.