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Jun 4, 2009 10:55 PM

Review with Pics: Cambinos BBQ in Cypress


Move over Kogi BBQ, I'm in for a new obsession: Cambinos Asian BBQ. And for this one, I can unplug the Twitter because Cambinos is a stationary brick-and-mortar, open at regular hours, and only found here in O.C. Although it may never get lavished with Newsweek articles or NPR segments, in my opinion, it deserves all of that and more.

So far, it has relied on good, old fashioned word-of-mouth from the strength of its product. A product, which other than the word BBQ, has nothing in common with what Kogi serves.

At Cambinos, BBQ means meats from all that clucks, moos, oinks or swims, marinated with flavorful things and chargrilled to order. Some are lubed in sauce prior to service. Some are skewered on bamboo sticks. All are served over dependable jasmine rice and piled on paper plates.

This is backyard BBQ food. The kind of grub common to all Asian family reunions when the charcoal grill is carted out.

And in Cambinos' Mix Plate ($9.95) one gets to enjoy the fruits of the fire without aunties telling you how much weight you've gained or asking you leading questions about your future.

The chicken skewer is burnished with a mahogany sheen and freckled with crunchy char, deeply flavorful and moist. The beef skewer is tender enough to be torn by bare fingers, slightly sweet and perfumed with lemongrass. The beef short ribs is a kalbi doppelganger and explodes with lip-lickin' fatty juces when bitten. A chicken thigh is chopped into strips, glazed in a hoisin-based sauce with a similar purpose as teriyaki. Veggies, like broccoli, red onions, squash, and bell peppers, are also grilled just to heat through, but not enough to wilt.

But the raison d'ĂȘtre is the pork spare ribs. These defy comparison to anything that I've ever had before or since: a citrusy, tangy, garlicky, sauce-covered masterpiece that collapses from the bone in unctuous, sloppy mouthfuls.

It can only be summed up with one word: incredible.

At this point you might ask, "So is it Asian?" Yes, no, and um...I'm not sure. The restaurant's name itself is a portmanteau of Cambodian and Filipino (Cambinos! Get it?!) -- a subtle hint about the nationality of the owner and his wife, respectively.

But any conclusions you may draw from this would be misleading. While there are some Cambodian and Filipino influences, the food is wholly original, born out of experimentation and pluck. And if you asked the owner himself, he'd say it was "camping" food since that's where he honed his recipes.

He is James Sar, a charming fellow who was originally in the steel business and got out when his friends and family encouraged him to open this restaurant last September.

How do I know all this? Simple: the dude told me his story.

My date and I were the only customers there on a Saturday night. So after bringing out our food, he struck up a conversation as he rooted for the Lakers on the flat-screen in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. James is like that poker buddy who brings the beer and knows all the good jokes. And when he hosts a party at his house, you RSVP immediately because you know he's going to do his BBQ.

Cambinos Asian BBQ
5721 Lincoln Ave. Ste F
Cypress, CA 90630

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  1. Nothin' like meat skewers with distinctive char on them to get the primal juices flowing, Elmo. Do they happen to have a liquor license, I could see myself munching and slurping quite easily with that food.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ChinoWayne

      You know what? I forgot to look! My guess is no. I zoomed on the pic I took and I didn't see any beer or wine. Though you're absolutely right, this food would go well with a brewski!

      1. re: elmomonster

        So this is a place where you need to think ahead (about brown paper bags). That works for me.

    2. Mmmmmmm... do want! I see the mix plate is $10... is it the usual huge portion? Looks like it from the picture but...

      3 Replies
      1. re: Das Ubergeek


        It's HUGE! One plate of the mix fed me and my lovely dining companion amply. We are light eaters, but still, it filled us up. The mix plate, as that last picture notes, is discounted 2 bucks on Saturdays!

        Hope this place gets the Ubergeek treatment! It deserves it.

        1. re: elmomonster

          I hope to get to it... this weekend is the Weekend of Family Christenings so it may have to wait :(

          1. re: Das Ubergeek

            I know what you mean. We need at least a couple of weeks in my family just to recover from being hit with the champagne bottle...and then sometimes it doesn't break the first time. Oh, mama!! ;-D>

      2. This post gets the "Making Thi So Hungry He Actually Drops Saliva On His Laptop Keyboard" award for 2009.

        I know 2009 is early yet, but I feel pretty safe in giving the award.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Thi N.

          WOW! Thanks Thi! I'm honored. And I feel pretty confident that I didn't even do the food justice!

        2. Thanks for the recommendation Elmo.

          Since reading your report I have gone to Cambinos twice. Once with my girlfriend and once with my parents. Both times the food has been really, really good. Each visit, I spilt the combination plate (with GF and Mom). I did add an extra beef skewer to the plate so that we got a true sampling of all the meats.

          The meats are extremely tasty and well cooked. Slightly sweet but not too much. It tastes like a cross between a good teryaki sauce and a citrus marinade. Sweet and salty in a good way. A nice bit of char on the meat really puts it over the top. My favorite on the plate had to be the pork rib. This meat tasted more "vinegary" than the other meats. Really outstanding. Both my girlfriend and Mom also voted this the best on the plate.

          I also ordered a side of the pickles and daikon radish. Both are good and go well with the BBQ. The pickles really do stand out in my opinion - small pickles mixed with a lot of fresh garlic slices. Nice back hit of heat from the garlic. Again, a great combo with the meat.

          Also had the corn on the cob with my parents. Grilled without the husk and topped with butter and a spice mix. Very tasty and extremely fresh.

          The cupcake was better than I expected (even after reading the other reviews). Buttery and cinnamony and oh-so-good.

          The owner, James, is really cool and fun to talk to. It is obvious he likes food and is very interested in you enjoying yourself at his place. If you aren't sure what to order or want to know about the food, ask him. He is extremely easy to talk with.

          The place is small but immaculately clean. It is a bit hard to see from the street, however. As you approach on Lincoln, it is located in a small stripmall behind the Pho restaurant (the easiest landmark to see from the street).

          I highly recommend this place and am grateful to Elmo for pointing it out.


          4 Replies
          1. re: HB_Jeff

            i'll definitely have to check it out, and now of all times when I'm going back to school. Professional schooling and being a chowhound just don't mix.

            1. re: kevin

              If you're the same kevin who introduced all to Cafe Hiro, you'll find this yet another reason why Cypress is cool.


              1. re: elmomonster

                yep, that's me. but i've out of the cypress area for quite some time so now out of the loop. my bad.

            2. re: HB_Jeff

              I'm glad you got to try it Jeff. I still have to try that cake. James is a cool dude, ain't he?!


            3. Thanks Elmomoster for the tip on someplace new and different in Cypress. Most of the other places seem to be of the "cookie cutter" variety.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Joani Macaroni

                True. Cafe Hiro and now Cambinos is the exception. Although California Fish Grill is still darned good, eventhough they're officially a chain now.


                1. re: elmomonster

                  calif fish grill is the joint a few fronts down from hiro, right? i guess i never made it there. always pulled in to hiro instead.