Dining Review: Oinkster goes well beyond pork

Is it sacrilege to love the chicken salad at a joint famous for its house-cured pastrami?

The Oinkster in Eagle Rock sells its pastrami and its home-cooked Carolina-style pulled pork by the pound, such is the clamor by carnivores. And its meaty sandwiches are wonderful, don’t get me wrong. But the Thai chicken salad is what had me hankering for more.

The restaurant inhabits the site of a former Jim’s Burgers chain. It’s still got the red roof and the funky sign poles, but this is a fast-food joint hipsterized. Green shoots of bamboo surround the outside deck to block the view and noise of Colorado Boulevard. Metal or plastic seats, wooden benches and metal tables give an eclectic feel. Inside, raised tables and chairs and comfy red booths cover the pebble floor.

Chef Andre Guerrero, known for his work at higher-end establishments, sees Oinkster as a way to make his imprint on what he calls “slow fast food.” He’s made an impression. The place is packed on weekends and even managed a line the day after Thanksgiving. Guy Fieri of the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” even paid a televised visit.

On our first visit, we went for the meat, including the signature Oinkster pastrami sandwich. Pastrami is piled on toasted French bread and covered with caramelized onions, Gruyere cheese and red coleslaw. We kept pulling slabs of pastrami out of the sandwich to savor alone. That’s also a strategy to make the gigantic sandwich more manageable. This is a meal to share.

The pulled pork sandwich, brined and smoked in house, was tasty with its topping of onions, slaw and vinegar-based Carolina barbecue sauce, but the pork itself seemed a little dry. The burger called the royale might as well be named “the kitchen sink.” It’s a one-third pound burger, with (take a deep breath) cheese, chili, bacon, pastrami, pickles, onion, tomato, lettuce and homemade thousand island dressing. The rest of our party was just starting on our sandwiches and sharing bites when we looked over and realized the teenager’s royale had disappeared. He blamed the sandwich’s architecture. “I couldn’t put it down or it would fall apart.” I blamed the pastrami and chili.

The chicken salad sandwich would seem to pale in comparison to these other offerings. Not so. Slow-roasted rotisserie chicken made a moist filling with mayo, house-made bread and butter pickles, tomato and onion, all on focaccia bread. The twice-cooked Belgian fries, crispy perfection, come with garlic aioli, ketchup and chipotle ketchup, all house-made. Piggy fries, covered with thousand island, caramelized onions and shredded cheddar, were too much of a good thing, unless you’re sharing at a table of 10.

The Oinkster offers a full and interesting beer list as well as a variety of high-end sodas, “oinksterade,” root beer floats and some thick, gorgeous shakes. We tried the pumpkin pie shake. So much easier than baking.

The beet salad is a sweet and tangy reprieve from the festival of meat and carbs, with chopped beets, mixed greens, minced tomatoes, scallions, candied pecans and a balsamic dressing. A little fried ball of goat cheese broken up across the salad is a nice counterbalance to the sugary pecans. The Thai chicken salad is my favorite — full of moist chicken, red and green cabbage, mixed greens, scallions, carrots, cucumbers, peanuts and topped with thin fried strips of wontons. The chili lime dressing and green curry sauce are a spectacular combination. This is what I’ll return for. Though if somebody needs help finishing a meatier meal, who am I to refuse?

REBECCA BRYANT is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Caribbean Travel & Life and other publications.


What: The Oinkster

Where: 2005 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. Lot and street parking, beer served.

Hours: Open Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m. to Midnight.

Info: theoinkster.com and (323) 255-6465.

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