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Zef BBQ - Simi Valley (Near Los Angeles)

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    Zef BBQ - Simi Valley (Near Los Angeles)

    California might, quite literally, be the worst state for finding good Barbecue. I lived in Jacksonville, FL, Georgia, and Alabama, and I've done a BBQ tour of Austin, TX. All of these places have their BBQ merits. Conversely, I have not found a single BBQ place here in California that I would go back to a second time. I live in San Diego county, and have spent plenty of time sampling the food of LA. I often wonder why such an important niche has not been filled here in California. My friends, all locals, rave about one awful BBQ place or another, and it becomes clear to me that the average Californian has never actually had anything that I would consider BBQ. I suspect that most of them simply wouldn't know good BBQ from a hole in the ground (please, I mean no offense ... it's really not your fault).



    Zef (Hawaiian born and bred) began his venture as a grass-roots, backyard operation in Simi Valley, CA. When a writer and critic from eater.com sampled his food about a year ago, he enthusiastically sent thousands of followers in Zef's direction.


    Shortly afterward, he went from a back yard operation to a weekly drive-thru. Here's how the operation works: On Tuesday, Zef releases a menu for the week. On Wednesday at 10:00 AM, Online orders will go up. 30 seconds later, online orders will be sold out. On Friday, a (not so) super secret location in Simi Valley is disclosed, and the next morning the meats are ready. Orders are sold in hourly blocks. You show up during the block corresponding to your order, and you are served in your car. At 3:00, leftovers are sold to those unlucky enough to get an online order ... while supplies last. All leftover orders are cash-only. Be sure to bring plenty!

    My wife discovered him a few weeks ago. Because my in-laws live only a few minutes away from one of his not-so-secret sites, we made a trip to Simi Valley under the guise of "let the grandparents see their grand kids". Here was our experience:

    My wife arrived home at 9:55AM on Wednesday from an early morning appointment with our toddler. She ran inside grabbing her laptop and instructing me to "take care of the kids" (i.e. unload them from the car, change their diapers, and feed them breakfast). She began clicking like mad on each block to make an order, but as soon as she'd click on one, she was met with the words "sold out". Clicking on the next block yielded the same results, and the next, and the next. Defeated but still determined, she claimed that we might be able to get some leftovers if we went early and stood in line.

    On Friday night, I got my second Pfizer vaccination, and by Saturday morning I was light-headed and weak from the side-effects. I could barely watch the little kids while my wife pursued what might be BBQ heaven right here in California. My wife left at 1:00 PM to the (not so) super secret Zef BBQ location on a cold, balmy afternoon and waited in her car. Hundreds of cars circled the industrial park as servers approached the cars Chik-Fil-A drive-thru style, passing a sign that said "WEAR YOUR DAMN MASK". Meanwhile, one of the servers, rib in one hand and customer orders in the other, kept pulling her mask down and licking her fingers as she consumed that precious smoked meat. Honestly, we couldn't blame her.

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    After about an hour, My wife saw 2 people line up in the grass. At this point, she sprang from her car, confirmed that this was the leftovers line, and took her place (3rd in line). Once the online orders had been filled and all of the cooking was done, Zef was delighted to talk to his customers, show them around the pit, and graciously thank everyone for their support. He called my wife by name. The first person in line shelled out a lot of cash to buy out all of his remaining ribs. Luckily, when my wife made her order, there was still brisket left. She ordered half a pound of lean brisket for herself, and she ordered a pound of fatty brisket for me. Zef was also serving his own version of red beans and rice, made with his homemade chicken andouille sausage and elk (that's right! ELK). They sliced the brisket in front of her, wrapped it up in aluminum foil, bagged it up, and she was on her way. The 4th person in line bought out all of his remaining stock, indiscriminately, brandishing a stack of cash. This is why you need to be at the front of the line.

    After inquiring about the banana pudding, My wife was informed that a couple had flown in from Washington that morning just to have his BBQ. Incidentally, they pre-ordered the entire lot of banana pudding to take back with them. Here's their tweet:

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    So what's the verdict? When my wife got home, I was passed out with the kids unable to move. My wife greedily devoured her brisket and picked all of the elk out of the red beans and rice (leaving nary a single piece for me). When I awoke, I had a pound of fatty brisket that had been sitting in a ball of tinfoil for over an hour and a half. I pulled off a piece, threw it in my mouth, and was immediately in brisket heaven. I swear to everyone reading this post, this 2 hour old brisket was better than the freshly sliced brisket that I had at Franklin BBQ 2 years earlier. It was tender and dripping with collagen. It had a good bark, and had a superior seasoning inside and out. I proudly handed some to my 2 year old daughter who greedily wolfed down every piece (passing on good BBQ to one's prodigy is a father's duty). I had the few bites of the andouille sausage that were left which was spicy, unique, and much better than anything in the stores. The verdict then, is that we will be looking for excuses to go back to Simi Valley frequently from here on out. This is not only a top-level BBQ operation in terms of quality, but I'd go so far as to say that it's probably the best BBQ on the west coast (and I'm clearly not the only one). It's straight-up texas style cooking with some not-so conventional flavor combinations.

    As for Zef, he seems to be ramping up his operations little by little every week, expanding as he has the cash to do so. I hope that one day soon he is able to create a brick-and-mortar home, opening his door every day offering such top-quality food. For now, his small operation affords him the flexibility of experimenting with his menu and offering some truly unique dishes as his menu changes from week to week to suit his fancy. I sincerely wish him well, and look forward to thanking him in person the next time that we are lucky enough to eat his food.

    Here's to hoping that meathead and his crew are able to make the time to go out there, vouch for his BBQ, and add to his publicity.

    Finally, here's some food porn:

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    Last edited by coreyo; March 18, 2021, 03:10 AM.

    That is righteous looking brisket! Thanks for sharing!


      Sounds like an awesome experience! I will have to check them out next time I am in SoCal.


        You are right.....there are very few (to none) good BBQ joints in Los Angeles. All the BBQ I've experienced is overcooked ribs and dry brisket. I'll have to try it out. Thanks for posting.


          My father flew in to visit us from Florida, and we all went to my In-Law's house in Simi Valley for Father's Day weekend. My wife and I sat side-by-side with dueling computers on Wednesday to lock in an order at Zef's. 4 seconds after opening, all but one of the time slots was taken. 30 seconds later and our order was made, but wait! the asian-inspired pork belly "burnt ends" were already sold out. A quick revision of our order, retry ... wait! the pork ribs are already sold out. About 60 seconds in, we managed to fill our order: 2 pounds of brisket, 1 dino bone, and 1 pound of tri tip for my wife. We breathed a sigh of relief and then reviewed our order confirmation. Oh no! We didn't order any banana pudding! Too late now. The couple from Seattle is back!

          Zef's super secret location now changes weekly, because he is starting to get mobbed by walk-ins. You don't know where he is going to be on any given week until you've successfully filled and paid for an order. This week, he was at an industrial park on the east end of Simi Valley. When we arrived today at the address to pick up our food, we thought we were at the wrong place. We drove several layers deep past various warehouses only to find his tent and smoker all the way in the back with a line of cars all patiently waiting to have their orders filled. From the street, you would never know that anything was there, and I think that's the idea.

          Zef's brother came to our van to verify our order to be filled, and I said "The fattiest cuts that you have please". He returned a few minutes later and said "You're not from around here are you!? Where did you grow up?". He later explained WRT Californians: "The people around here don't understand brisket. When they say 'give us the leanest cuts possible', I think to myself, 'why don't you just get the tri-tip instead?'." Meanwhile, a big bag full of barbecue was being handed to the vehicle 2 spots ahead of us. Zef's brother handed them their food, and in a gesture of gratitude they reciprocated with a 6 pack of artisan beer for the chef and his crew.

          We arrived home and dug in. As per usual, the brisket was the star of the show. There was not a mediocre inch of meat anywhere in our order, and I still maintain that it consistently beats what you'd get from Franklin Barbecue hands down. (It's also arguably more difficult to get too.) The bark had an occasional hit of sharp peppercorn, which is something that I love. My 2 year old daughter ate an entire thick slice of brisket all by herself and asked for more (that's probably $12 of world class brisket). My 14 month old daughter also greedily snatched up the little pieces of brisket that we gave to her. I informed my dad that his life was officially over, as he would probably never taste another brisket as good as this one.

          I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the "Dino Bone" that we got. Words won't do much justice except to say that every inch was finger-pull tender and squirting juices:

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          I just wanted to give another shout-out to Zef. You are an artist, and you have enriched our lives. Here's to the only legitimate barbecue outfit west of the rocky mountains. To anyone in southern California, I hope that you'll take the time to check them out.​


            Great write ups.
            Really hard to fine good BBQ in this area too and the plague has only made it harder for pits to survive.
            One pit owner fought the law to keep open and the law won. He’s looking at fines in the $800K range plus legal fee’s.
            Two of our best Memphis Fire in Winona and Cherry St BBQ in the distillery district are keeping alive thru pick up and Uber eats, the very few others are never mentioned.
            Great to see other pits flourishing in difficult times.


            • coreyo
              coreyo commented
              Editing a comment
              I've heard about some of the extreme lockdown enforcement in Ontario. We did what we could during the lock-downs to keep the businesses we loved afloat. I think that Zef's operation started largely by accident out of his back yard during the height of the pandemic. There were a number of laws passed here in California, but luckily many of the police departments refused to enforce them.

            • smokin fool
              smokin fool commented
              Editing a comment
              Yes, some of the laws enacted here were so draconian the police refused to enforce saying they were not going to quash peoples civil rights enforcing laws the bordered on the most vile of political regimes.
              July 5th is supposed to be the date it starts to open up here again, hope so, I need underware bad....
              Lets hope Zef's operation is a model for other pits.

            "Californians don’t know jack about barbecue." - Me, a California native who’s traveled around the country eating good barbecue.

            Outstanding write up, coreyo !!!

            I’ve had more lousy barbecue from places people raved about than I care to admit. I used to be one of those guys - making the creosote covered crap that plagues the western states. Then I visited Texas a decade ago and my life was changed. That trip was followed by one to Memphis. Smoking meat with a proper wood fire is unbeatable, and those trips forever changed my methods and goals for barbecue.

            ​​​​​​​Now I need to make the trek up to Simi.


              THATS WHY WERE LEARNING HERE TO COOK OUR OWN. Really looks like great Q


                Thanks for the great write up. I live in Thousand Oaks (right next door), now I am going to have to try and get some of that goodness!


                  I will be adding this to a dedicated post, but thought I should also follow up here. Logan is FINALLY opening up a brick and mortar restaurant on 2315 Keuner Dr, in the same building where the old El Torito used to be.
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