tom’s chinese bbq + dim sum / city heights – san diego
Jake used to live in the heart of City Heights and used to work at the Albertson’s on University near I-15. We spotted this place some years ago (six to seven, almost the whole length of our relationship) just driving up and down that dreaded street: Tom’s BBQ. We could tell it was Chinese from the top sign we couldn’t read but we didn’t really know anything else about it. Whenever one of us would mention it, we’d shrug our shoulders and decide to go somewhere else. This weekend, we finally went there.
We had a little bit of time to kill and I needed a little food in my belly. But we were planning on partaking of another place for San Diego Burger Week, so we didn’t want a whole lot to eat. We came in here and peeked around.
It doesn’t look like much inside. The first thing you see is this:
It’s a crappy photo, I know. The glass was a uh, bit dirty/scratched up. The whole place kind of seemed like there was a coating of something all over the place. But that’s pig hanging there, plus more pig that looks like it’s bbq’d, and then whole roasted ducks (with the head’s still attached).
There’s a little menu telling you the prices. You can get items whole and a few of them by the pound. I want to come back to try the pork offerings.
Over on the wall is this chalkboard menu with Chinese and English items with prices for the BBQ and dim sum that have been adjusted over time. It’s way high up on the wall, kind of small and easy to miss. I zoomed in to get this photo.
Near the trays of dim sum is this little paper menu listing all of the offerings they have. Whole lot of pig parts there. I suspect nothing goes to waste. Duck feet is much cheaper than chicken feet. I wonder why that is.
Starting at the far left end are some of the sweeter dim sum items. On the far left are the pineapple and coconut buns (.80 cents each), egg custard tarts (also .80 cents) and baked bbq pork buns (.90 cents).
Then there are these fried pork almost-ball-shaped items called xian shui jiao (which I only guessed the name of by price, which was .70 cents), sesame balls (under the Styrofoam and .70 cents) and har gow shrimp dumplings (3 for $1) or siu mei (pork filled, also 3 for $1).
I didn’t inquire after these items, but I suspect they are the various pig parts and maybe rice cakes? In the back, where the cutting board is, I saw a lady chop up some of the pig for someone.
These are the dim sum items we got, which came to a whopping five dollars. There is one table inside with two chairs and we parked it there to eat our treats.
This! I have never had this before. It’s possible I’ve seen the name at other dim sum places but had no earthly idea what it was. By deduction I figured out it is xian shui jiao. It’s filled with pork deliciousness and is deep fried and gloriously tasty. The dumpling wrapper had the same consistency as the fried sesame ball – chewy, doughy, soft. It’s not really crispy on the outside, but there’s a kind of shell that adheres it all together. This was Jake and I’s favorite item. In fact, I liked it so much that I got another one before we left.
This is the baked bbq pork bun. The bun is a bit airy and there’s more bread to filling. Jake didn’t like the bread on this one as much, he thought the flavor was a bit weird but I thought it was fine. The filling is a bit on the sweet side, and the bread is also a touch sweet so it might be a little overkill for some.
Jake and I both preferred the steamed bbq pork bun version. I always love the spongy, squishy texture of the steamed buns. This one was a bit small and a could have used a bit more filling but was still yummy.
I’ve eaten sesame balls my whole life. This was a good version, though maybe just a *tad* too greasy. The filling was creamy and tasted good with the soft, chewy dumpling.
I really got this for Jake, which seems weird in retrospect because he’s always fine with whatever I choose. I know he likes pineapple so I wanted him to try this. I didn’t really care for it, I didn’t like the pasty-smoothed out pineapple filling. I didn’t like it didn’t even remotely look like pineapple, either. It just tasted like a weird sweet paste, similar to the red bean paste/filling in texture but … not red bean tasting. I didn’t really even think it tasted like pineapple. * Update: Kirbie let me know she thinks this is a COCONUT bun – I asked for pineapple, but maybe they just gave me coconut. In any case, it didn’t taste like coconut to me, either.
Overall, Jake and I were pleasantly surprised to find that this place had dim sum and was so freaking cheap. I would have never guessed and honestly if I had known about the dim sum treats, I bet I would have wanted to come in sooner. We didn’t try all of their offerings, but I know without a doubt I’ll come back for that xian shui jiao because DAMN that was tasty. Their roast pork looked especially scrumptious and very crispy so I hope it’s just as good as it looks!
4414 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92105