I don't know how many times I've been asked for a recommendation for the "best take-out roast duck in San Diego." And boy do I hemm and haw, and when I finally do make a recommendation, I preface everything with so much "fine print" that it ends up reading, or sounding like one of those automobile adds. The reason that I've become rather gun shy with regards to roast duck, Chinese BBQ, and even Dim Sum recommendations in San Diego, is that, well, if anything, these offerings have proven to be consistently.....inconsistent. Which is why a place like Yum Cha Cafe may do rather well here. If it's going to be inconsistent, it might as well be cheap.........
If I'm going to do roast duck comparison, I might as well have a baseline. So I think this place is as good as any:
Yes, it is Sam Woo, but no it is not in San Diego. This location of Sam Woo Barbecue is in Alhambra, and in my opinion has one of the better, most consistent take-out Roast Duck in SoCal. Yes, there are several Sam Woo's, Irvine, San Gabriel, and the City of Industry/Rowland Heights location was fairly close to where we lived. But not all Sam Woo's are created equal. This older location has always been good.
But oh my have the prices gone up over the years. Half a duck here is $9.25!!! More expensive than anywhere in San Diego.
What makes the duck here so good? First, the skin is not overly tough. Second, the duck is neither too meaty and dry, nor just skin and bones and tough. Saltiness does not overwhelm the duck, even though "jus" is ladled over the duck. And it is not greasy in the least.
The Missus's typical response after the first bite is always, "what's the big deal....." But She'll always go back for more. The flavoring is subtle, with a very mild-sweet finish.
Sam Woo Barbeque
514 W Valley Boulevard
Alhambra, CA 91803
Sam Woo San Diego:
Compare this with Sam Woo(aka "Sam Woo the Killer Whale") in San Diego. Surprisngly, a half roast duck here in San Diego is cheaper than in Alhambra ($7.50). I had made up my mind to never get roast duck from here a while ago; but this place gets Ed from Yuma's stamp of approval, so I decided to give it another go.
The duck has a tendency to be bony and tough. The skin is hard, and the "jus" is really salty. I don't mind the rather brusque service, but there a real disregard for the customers here. It wasn't always that way, but I've noticed it getting worse every year. Take for example the simple take-out container housing the duck:
It was covered in a variety of Chinese BBQ sticky-oily drippings and hand prints...I made out a thumbprint on one side of the container, that belongs in one of those CSI shows, but the photo didn't come out. If this happened to some little ol' Chinese lady in Alhambra or San Gabriel, that duck neck would have ended up shoved up.....well you get the picture.
Sam Woo BBQ Restaurant
7330 Clairemont Mesa Blvd Ste 103
San Diego, CA 92111
Is the place I usually recommend in San Diego, thoughitiswithafewreservationssinceI'vegottensomeprettylousyduckfromhereattimes. Jasmine's little take-out stall roast duck (which does not resemble the duck served in the restaurant) was surprisingly even cheaper than Sam Woo's ($7.25 - half duck).
You can just see the inconsistency of the roast duck, if you compare this rather good roast duck I purchased in November of last year.
Even though the chopping technique was on the sloppy side, the flavors were pretty good.
Compared to the duck I purchased for this post a few weeks back.
This one was a bit on the greasy side, and tasted rather bland. The duck served at Jasmine is usually more meaty than the version at Sam Woo SD.
4609 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
Yum Cha Cafe:
Just for giggles, I thought I'd grab a half duck from the new Yum Cha Cafe, which turned out to be the most expensive of the three San Diego Roast Ducks ($8.25)!
The skin was tough, the meat on the dry side, and the rich duck flavor was lacking.
You may be better off having something else.
Yum Cha Cafe
6933 Linda Vista Road
San Diego, CA 92111
So there you go. Holding my feet to the fire, I'd usually recommend the roast duck from Jasmine Express, or even take-out from Golden City, but those recommendations are not without reservations. Since I've been doing this food blogging thing, I've posted on a bunch of places that do Chinese BBQ, but there's one place missing from my list. That place is Tom's Chinese BBQ on University. When we first moved to San Diego back in 2001, the roast duck was pretty good. But the quality and flavor got worse and worse, until it just wasn't worth the effort....so maybe, just maybe, one day soon after I recover........