While the San Diego foodie cognoscenti audibly wring their hands about the fact our town only got one star in the Michelin Guide California, something else has been happening. Quietly, under the radar, the 619 has grown a really good barbecue scene. From Andy Harris’ Grand Ole BBQ and Coops West Texas BBQ to Hanis Cavin’s The Pioneer, local barbecue joints are doing things the old ways well and doing things their own way even better. One of the seemingly least likely of these is a little shack in the parking lot of one of Spring Valley’s genuine gems, the Valley Farm Market (9040 Campo Road).
When people think of barbecue in America it tends to be pork or beef that come to mind. Sticky ribs, pulled pork and glorious beef brisket get the headlines and the heart racing. Chicken, on the other hand, tends to be an afterthought: barbecue’s poor sister.
That’s likely because not enough people have had the opportunity to try the Valley Farm BBQ’s smoked chicken. It’s also likely because too many people have burnt too many chicken breasts on too many backyard barbecue grills. Those chunks of nearly carbonized protein give barbecued chicken a bad name.
But that’s what Valley Farm’s smoked chicken isn’t. Here’s what it is: smoky, savory and lusciously, almost heartbreakingly moist. The lightly bronzed surface hints at the smoky flavors and perfection of the seasoning. But what makes it is the precision of the cook: the degree to which the meat itself simply cries chicken.
I expected to love the wagyu beef brisket. What could be better than the king of low-and-slow barbecue done with the best, most marbled beef available? Why, a lot, as it happens. There’s a reason the Japanese serve really small portions of wagyu: It’s so rich you don’t really need more, and I didn’t want more. The brisket sandwich was plainly over the top with fat (and not in a good way). The pulled pork sandwich is better: moist, tender and savory, with just enough barbecue sauce.
The better beef bet at Valley Farms (and nearly as good as the chicken) is the tri-tip sandwich. The cut is a triangular muscle of beef from the bottom sirloin. While an inherently tasty cut it presents challenges; particularly the fact that slicing against the grain (which enhances tenderness) is complicated by the tri-tip’s odd shape. When cooked and cut properly it’s juicy and magnificent, and that is exactly what Valley Farms does. My advice? Forget the bread. Just eat the medium-thick slices with or, as I did, without the accompanying tangy-sweet barbecue sauce.
Spring Valley may not be the first community in San Diego County that comes to mind for great food. At least, that is, according to the same food snobs who express a patronizing sort of sympathy for how we, in San Diego, “was robbed” in the Michelin Guide. Me? I just say: “our barbecue is better than your barbecue.” And hey, Valley Farms BBQ definitely doesn’t make you put up with pretentious waiters.