Hi @droolingdoggie ,
Welcome to the So Cal Board and hope you find some tasty eats on your drive down. @BradFord @chienrouge @ipsedixit and others already had some good recommendations. While I’m from So Cal all my life, and know of the various “HK BBQ / Cantonese BBQ” offerings locally, there’s sadly been a downward trend / collapsing of restaurants specializing in HK and/or Cantonese cuisine for years now. David Chan did a few great articles discussing this over the recent years. I ended up doing a few “food journeys” on HK / Cantonese BBQ in the past few years to see the state of things (not good). I envy you and all the SF Onioners with your access to places like Ming Kee (so good!).
(Note: I think we all understand what @droolingdoggie is looking for now (it’s technically “Cantonese BBQ”), but a Google Image search of “HK BBQ” will turn up countless images of Char Siu (BBQ Roast Pork (boneless), Roast Duck, Soy Sauce Chicken and more (hanging meats, etc.)). I think in various parts of America at least, that’s what folks think “HK / Cantonese BBQ” is (and not the skewers). Just mentioning it to cut the OP some slack. Heck, my friends from Hong Kong (living here in the U.S. now), when we chat, they understand that’s what most folks mean when someone here asks for “a good HK BBQ eatery” with Char Siu, Roast Duck, etc. But I guess this is like all us Americans / Europeans who refer to Xiao Long Bao as “Soup Dumplings” (uh oh, don’t start the “XLB are not Dumplings” debate again! (Hahaha, old joke from old Chowhound days). (@ipsedixit @sck @hyperbowler and all)
Back to your original question @droolingdoggie: For So Cal, my favorites would be…
Roast Pork Belly and Roast Duck
Ruby BBQ - 9561 Garvey Ave ste 1&2, South El Monte, CA 91733
They make the best Roast Pork Belly we’ve had in So Cal (not counting Roast Suckling Pig (whole) - that’s an entirely other discussion). The skin is crackling and crispy-crunchy. However, the skin may not last long enough to get to your mom’s house in OC in time (when you get it, leave it partially cracked open to prevent any accidental “steaming” in the to-go container). Definitely sample some of the Roast Pork Belly fresh in your car as soon as you get it.
Ruby BBQ also makes our favorite version of Roast Duck, however, none (zero) of the local So Cal Cantonese BBQ restaurants have a good version with slightly crisped skin. @ipsedixit can shed light into why (US Food Safety regulations). But you have my favorite version of Roast Duck in California anyways up in the Bay Area. But yes, Ruby BBQ’s version is our favorite locally. It has the juicy, flavorful Duck meat, their Duck Jus is delicious and not too salty, and the Duck Skin is as close to being “almost slightly crisped” as you can get around here sadly.
Ruby BBQ does not offer Char Siu, nor any of the other standard meats found at other eateries (like Soy Sauce Chicken, Wings, Chicken Feet, etc.).
Be sure to order a side of Steamed Rice to enjoy with the roast offerings.
(Note: CASH ONLY)
9561 Garvey Ave., Suite 1 & 2
South El Monte, CA 91733
Tel: (626) 279-6854
New Duong Son BBQ - 9211 Bolsa Ave # 115, Westminster, CA 92683
One other place to consider (not sure where in the O.C. your mom is at) is a surprise offering of “HK / Cantonese BBQ” by way of Vietnamese-Chinese folks, and it’s in Orange County.
Their Roast Pork Belly is pretty good (not as good as Ruby BBQ), but since it’s in O.C., it might be better for the crispy skin to survive (the travel from restaurant to your mom’s place).
Their Roast Duck is OK, not as good as Ruby BBQ, but still quite good for flavor (but like all So Cal places, no crisped skin). They also have Char Siu, but we haven’t tried it before.
(Note: CASH ONLY)
New Duong Son BBQ
9211 Bolsa Ave. #115
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 901-1600
Sadly, there are no great Char Siu makers that we've found here in So Cal, but for standard offerings, any of the places listed in this thread are fine. The best artisanal variations of Char Siu locally are too inaccessible for your drive from SF to OC to casually pick up along the way (2 local chefs have been trying to do it right, but both have moved to dinner only and it's not even always on the menu).
There is nothing wrong with OK Char Siu (Roast Pork that’s usually red in color), especially if your mom is craving this dish and she doesn’t get to eat it very often.
Sam Woo Barbeque - 514 Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91803
@droolingdoggie , I haven’t been to Sam Woo BBQ since before the pandemic, but they’ve been a mainstay of So Cal for decades. They have numerous locations but most were shutdown due to tax evasion. @ipsedixit which surviving locations are still OK for the OP to visit? The one on Valley I listed here? That one looks open still. Thanks.
@droolingdoggie , at Sam Woo BBQ you’ll find that classic setup of roasted meats that are hanging in the heat lamp window, and you choose what you want and they’ll chop it up for you on the spot and pack it to-go. The Char Siu, Soy Sauce Chicken are all OK. Perfectly fine for anyone who’s craving the “HK / Cantonese BBQ” meats. We’re just viewing this with a more critical eye since this is a food lovers board. (In other words, it’s fine, but not “best of the best”.)
(Note: CASH ONLY)
Sam Woo Barbeque
514 Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91803
Tel: (626) 281-0038
I’ll post other Chinese cuisine restaurants in another post. Hope this helps! Enjoy.