For me, Chinese barbecue has always meant the Cantonese variety offered at many Oakland Chinatown delis: a row of glistening roasted ducks hanging in a window display, along with slabs of cha siu, a whole crisp roasted pig, and soy sauce chickens.
Allie Daddy’s BBQ in San Leandro is not that kind of Chinese barbecue. Instead, skewers of lamb, beef, chicken, and vegetables are the stars here. The flavor profile is also entirely different; while Cantonese barbecue tends to feature five-spice powder, at Allie Daddy’s BBQ, nearly all the skewers come topped with cumin, red pepper, and sesame seeds.
Allie Daddy’s BBQ opened last fall in a San Leandro strip mall. The interior is small yet modern, but I couldn’t help but notice the Communist-inspired decorations. In a nod toward Mao-era propaganda posters, my table had a picture of cartoon rabbit wearing a hat with the signature red star, who held a carrot and a Little Red Book under his paws. On the wall was a cartoon of a boy and a girl wearing the same hats with the words “Young Forever.”
At night, the crowd is decidedly young, and every table had a giant pile of skewers, mostly lamb and beef.
So, I started with the beef skewers, which I ordered spicy. They were visibly dusted with red pepper and sesame seeds, and had a strong flavor of cumin. Despite being cut into small pieces, the beef was tender, lightly charred on the outside, and perfectly pink in the middle. The lamb skewers were equally good. Maybe it’s due to the cumin, but the lamb’s natural sweetness shone through without any gamey flavor. Many groups just ordered plate after plate of lamb and beef skewers, and for good reason — these were two of the best skewers I ordered.
Next up was the lamb rack, which consisted of a single lamb lollipop. Out of all the items I sampled, this one had the best smoky flavor. It was just as good, if not better than the lamb skewer, but at $6, it wasn’t a great value.
Less successful was the pork belly, which is usually the most succulent of all meats. I ordered it here on two occasions, though, and both times it was so dry that it was difficult to pull from the skewer. Thankfully, the spareribs were much better. Each skewer came stacked with bone-in short ribs that were flavorful and tender. But I was ambivalent about the sausage, which resembled and tasted like a hot dog.
For those who prefer chicken, there are plenty of cuts to choose from, including wings, drumsticks, cartilage, gizzards, and hearts. The wings were nicely blackened around the edges, and there was no hint of dryness. The chicken cartilage was fried rather than grilled, and the generous portion arrived in a wicker basket. I enjoyed the seasoning and crispiness on the outside of the cartilage, but the inside was a bit too hard; a little more time in the fryer might have made the pieces crispier in the middle.
I also ordered the whole quail and the quail egg skewer. The quail had plenty of char without sacrificing juiciness. Meanwhile, the eggs didn’t have any visible grill marks, but retained a soft, creamy yolk inside.
Nearly every table had a few of the barbecued oysters, which were some of the biggest oysters I’ve ever seen. The oysters were plump and came topped with glass noodles and minced garlic, which overshadowed the flavor of the oysters a bit. A better choice was the baby octopus. The tiny octopus legs developed a grilled crust, while the body was tender. The same couldn’t be said for the squid, which lacked seasoning and was tough to chew.
While meat is usually the star of barbecue and vegetables are an afterthought, I was impressed with many of vegetables here, especially the Chinese chives. While chives are often eaten as a garnish, I was surprised how much I enjoyed eating an entire skewer of whole grilled chives. The cumin complemented the sharp flavor of the chives, and they were grilled just enough to develop a slight sweetness — an excellent accompaniment to the grilled beef and lamb. And if okra is listed on the specials, I highly recommend it; it was cooked just enough to reduce its natural sliminess without losing any of its crunch. I also enjoyed the eggplant and the enoki mushrooms, which came topped with a generous amount of garlic sauce. The grilled tofu was exceptionally juicy and flavorful. I’d pass on the corn on the cob next time, though. The kernels didn’t burst when I bit into them, and the corn was over-seasoned.
Unlike many American barbecue places that offer slices of white bread on the side, even the bread here comes barbecued. The barbecued bread consists of a slice of white bread with a slightly salty, mildly sweet crust; it’s essentially a savory version of toast. Likewise, the barbecued Chinese buns, also known as mantou, came with a light dusting of that salty-sweet crust. I liked them both, but wished they were more uniformly covered with the crust. I preferred the fried version of the mantou, served with sweetened condensed milk for dipping.
While beer is a typical accompaniment for skewers (there’s even a flashing LED sign in the window that says “Beer Cave”), there’s also an array of tea and juices that rival any boba shop. I tried the “whatever” fruit tea, which tasted like fruit salad, and the “Purple Rain” kumquat lemon juice, which came with a yellow layer on the bottom and a reddish-purple layer on the top. Both were a bit too sweet. I recommend the roasted oolong tea crema, which had a robust tea flavor and a creamy, salty mousse on top — because after all this spicy, salty barbecue, you’re going to need something equally tasty to wash it down with.
Allie Daddy’s BBQ
15032 Farnsworth St., San Leandro
Hours: Tues.-Wed. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Thurs.-Sun. 11.a.m.-12 a.m.
Cash, all major credit cards
Beef skewer … $2.25
Lamb skewer … $2.25
Oyster with garlic sauce … $2.50
Garlic eggplant … $5.99
Chinese chives … $1.75