When I’m home in SoCal, heading out to Eagle Rock isn’t normally on the agenda, especially for food. But when some friends told me about The Oinkster’s house-cured pastrami sandwiches and ube milk shakes, Eagle Rock started sounding mighty nice.
The Oinkster is the brainchild of Andre Guerrero, a Filipino American chef who’s a veteran of the Southern California restaurant scene. His other restaurant, Max in Sherman Oaks, offers contemporary Pan-Asian fine dining that’s a stark contrast to The Oinkster’s laid-back, order-at-the-counter vibe. (We also took my parents to Max for a Mother’s/Father’s Day dinner, so basically it was an Andre Guerrero weekend.) We ended up going to Oinkster twice in four days and were able to try a good cross section of the menu.
The Oinkster Pastrami sandwich is a thing of beauty—pastrami with Gruyere and a red cabbage slaw. The pastrami is cured for two weeks (the old-fashioned way) according to a recipe Guerrero developed over a period of two years. It’s not a melt-in-your-mouth pastrami like they have at Katz’s in New York, but it’s definitely the some of best pastrami I’ve had on the West Coast.
Aside from the sandwiches, the pastrami also tops the Royale burger, and it’s also featured in their excellent chili. If you’re from Southern California, you’ve likely had a chiliburger at one of the many Original Tommy’s hamburger stands that are down here. Tommy’s chili is legendary in L.A., so it may be blasphemous of me to say this, but…The Oink’s chili is so much better. In fact, I don’t know what I really saw in Tommy’s chili other than the novelty of it. I went back to Tommy’s with my wife a few months ago, and on its own, the chili reminded me of dog food. It really needs to be paired with fries or a burger. The Oink’s chili can definitely stand on it’s own, and it has a freshness that you’ll never get from Tommy’s chili.
The BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich features soy/honey-brined pork that’s slow roasted and smoked and topped with red cabbage slaw and caramelized onions. The pork is nice and tender on its own, but my wife said it’s like Kalua Pig without the salt. When you pair it with The Oink’s own vinegary Carolina BBQ sauce, it’s just about perfect. Make sure you get some at the counter when you’re getting your other condiments…the first time we went, we forgot the sauce because we didn’t know it was on the counter and the bottles weren’t labeled very well. Instead, we used the house-made Oinkster Mustard as a substitute, which was fine, but not as good as the Carolina sauce.
Guerrero prides himself on using Kennebec Potatoes for his Belgian Fries, which he says are the same potatoes used at In-N-Out. I know many people who don’t like In-N-Out’s fries, but I’m definitely a fan, and I liked The Oink’s fries a lot. They use the traditional Belgian double-fry method to keep the fries crispy and fluffy, and they pair up nicely with The Oink’s chipotle ketchup and garlic aioli, and of course, it goes great with the aforementioned chili. The rotisserie chicken, also pictured above, was really good, but I like my birds to have a crispier skin a la Zankou Chicken.
There’s a wide selection of other desserts all baked by Guerrero’s pastry chef girlfriend, Jan Purdy. They include the excellent peanut butter and jelly cupcake, a very popular item so snap one up if they’re in the dessert case, and a nice carrot cupcake. Next time, i’m going to try the brownies and the lemon bars.
But if it’s your first trip to The Oink, you must christen the occasion with an Ube Shake. Ube’s going to sound weird to most people because it’s a purple yam native to the Philippines, but it’s actually very popular in desserts, especially ube ice cream. The ube shake is rich and creamy and is a beautiful shade of light purple. If you’re not very hungry, I think the Ube Shake could actually serve as a meal replacement instead of dessert. Think of it as a Filipino Jamba Juice.
I’m going back to SoCal in July for a wedding at Occidental College which is very close to The Oinkster. Sounds like I’ll need an ube shake to cool off just before wedding.
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