Family, friends, neighborhood, city, and smoked meats. These affections circulate at the heart of Johneric Concordia and The Park’s Finest BBQ, an around-the-way band of friends and blood-relatives born and raised in southeast Echo Park’s Historic Filipinotown. A Belmont High grad, Concordia’s youth revolved around Temple Street, and he’s quick to explain how barbecue saved his life from L.A.’s grimy nineties, staying off the avenues by playing a crucial role as grill-master for his community’s backyard boogies. Pairing Filipino flavors with traditional U.S. barbecue, Concordia eventually extended his passion into a full-on catering crew, turning Weber-man-for-hire to bring Mt. Malindang pork ribs, tri-tip with horseradish crema, San Pablo pulled pork with Sawsawan and pineapple-tinged barbecue sauce, and flour-based cornbread bibingka to citywide parties, gaining major word-of-mouth rep and dominating the number one spot on Yelp.
Late last year, Concordia achieved his dreams of establishing a place where he and his crew could “feed people, feed dates, feed friends, and feed people coming off of the job who just want a place to kick back and eat,” when he cobbled together Kickstarter funds to launch The Park’s Finest BBQ on Temple. A functional room with bright walls, the doors are open to L.A. to share his savior. “We’re from the neighborhood, what else are we going to do?” the owner asks. Kick back, drink some beer, get loud, and gorge on smoked meats.
Which is what we did during a recent preview dinner hosted for media and local restaurateurs, where nearly fifteen plates of Flintstone’s-sized cuts of smoked meat hit the table. Concordia narrated the business’ step-by-step growth, revealing how Kogi co-founder Mark Manguera instituted “restaurant boot-camp” to turn the team leaner and meaner; how The Oinkster and Maximiliano’s owner Andre Guerrero gifted them with plates, glasses, and sage advice, and how Beer Belly’s Jimmy Han helped set up the craft beer taps. Concordia himself has gone from a grill-master to a true barbecuer, proudly embracing two hardworking smokers full of hulking cuts in his kitchen.
Most of the smoked meats kill it with their slow-cooked pliancy, smoldering notes, and weave of Filipino flavors. Smoked chuck roll, cut into cubes and stewed in coconut milk, sweats a luscious, tropical sweetness counterbalanced by a kick of chilies; a slow-smoked Jurassic short rib slams onto the table, scored with slits on its tender side to increase the surface area for digging into a secret rub of spices set off by a biting horseradish crema; sliced turkey bares a Swedish massage of cayenne and lemon pepper, juicy and lush after lying breast-down in 190 degree heat for ten hours; and slick slabs of candy-coated ham glazed every half-hour over twelve hours melts sweetly on the tongue. Cornbread, collards, and a Parm-blanketed take on elote stand up just as well as sides.
Of course, there’s a reason why we prefer Paul Westerberg’s whelps to Adam Levine’s moves and Dirty Beaches to One Direction. It’s that surfeit of heart and rough edges, proudly embraced and thrown back with bravado. Concordia goes for it full-throttle, while admitting some of his techniques are still a work-in-progress.
To that end, precise pulled pork comes shredded-to-near-gossamer, but is all but tasteless before a strong squeeze of Sawsawan reveals it as the ideal sponge for this marriage of sour vinegar, heat, and pronounced pepper found in a North Carolina barbecue sauce, with sharp spikes of soy and garlic from abroad. Pork ribs, unquestionably flavorful, can be a little chewy, perhaps a blessing in disguise yielding more sustained enjoyment. A banana leaf-wrapped, Himalayan-salted salmon is smoked several hours past any desirable structure or flavor.
Rough edges aside, Park’s Finest remains a must-try to experience what L.A. pride taste like when it hits the plate. A blending of cultures and flashing of community pride that’s unique in Los Angeles, with owners giving the city back twice the love it receives. Take a look at what’s cooking in our slideshow of Park’s Finest BBQ.