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An American BBQ Legend Is Popping-Up At a Former Taquería in the San Gabriel Valley

“Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to shake your soul up and force you to recognize what you were put on the planet to do.” 

Adam Perry Lang is taking a short break from his demanding barbecue routine that begins when he lights up his double-barrel Texas pit smoker built by Aaron Franklin, nicknamed “Shotgun Willie.” It’s 8 a.m. and while the rest of the city is preparing to get their work day started, Lang has already labored for six hours. 

Lang is taking a moment to reflect on how exactly he landed at the current iteration of his APL Barbecue Pop-Up, operating from a former taquería in a strip mall that shares its parking lot with a 7-11, in the deepest reaches of unincorporated eastside Pasadena. It will be yet another day of selling out of his cherry wood-smoked sweet and sticky pork ribs, applewood-smoked honey, basil, and garlic chicken, hickory-smoked pork shoulder, and his famous, colossal, pecan-smoked beef ribs in a mere two to three hours.  

“Maybe barbecue is what I should have been doing all along.”

For the last three weeks, smoked meat-seeking souls from all around the city and Southern California have made their way to this sleepy stretch of Rosemead Boulevard to partake in an age-old tradition of patiently waiting for their tray of buttery, melt-in-your mouth meat that tastes like smoke. Many customers bring lawn chairs for a convivial affair that, on weekends, can demand wait times of at least two hours. Despite L.A.'s barbecue scene growing in the last few years, earning respect from the rest of the country’s barbecue capitals along the way, waiting long hours for barbecue in L.A. still feels like a new phenomenon.

“A long time ago, I realized that treating a kitchen like a laboratory started to turn me off, so I started to question why I got into cooking as a profession. Back then it meant I wanted to go the other way and make a connection with fire rather than just turning on an electric switch to cook. I’m coming back to that.”

APL slicing into his famous barbecue beef rib. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
APL slicing into his famous BBQ beef rib. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

Ten years after APL moved to Los Angeles, the famous pitmaster and author, considered to be an icon to many, is finally giving his followers what they want: straight-up expertly cooked barbecue. 

However, the journey to get to APL’s truth in Los Angeles was not an easy one. This current pop-up comes about four months after making the painstaking decision to close his steakhouse in Hollywood after four years. That experience was humbling for Lang since it was the first restaurant he is forced to close. His move to L.A. came after riding a wave of success with the“Barbecoa” restaurant he opened with Jamie Oliver in London, and years of working at prestigious restaurants like Le Cirque in New York. 

“Opening a steakhouse in Hollywood seemed like a logical step at the time, but at the end it ended up pulling away from my DNA,”he continues, opening up about it all to L.A. TACO. “It was a completely gutting experience and felt like a horrible failure, but I got to work with so many amazing staff and investors.” As he prepares for another day of service in the middle of San Gabriel Valley’s suburbia, he is coming to terms with the sad, “fast casual” reality that many other small business restaurant owners have confronted: the traditional restaurant equation does not make any business sense. 

“The bottom line is shrinking more and more and what we are going through with COVID waves, third-party dining apps, and changing eating habits…it’s all dysfunctional as a restaurant owner.” 

The solution? According to APL, it was to strip his operation back—all the way back. But more importantly, instead of flailing around and complaining about the changing times in American foodservice, he would just keep moving and cooking. “What the hell else am I going to do? Sell insurance?!” He jokes.  

APL’s new operation finds just he and his right-hand chef, Marcus Lewis from Long Beach, who has worked alongside Lang in every kitchen since the famous chef moved to L.A. That’s it. The menu varies from $10 pulled pork barbecue sandwiches on Martin’s potato buns to his famous $75 APL-style smoked beef rib half plate that is enough for three carnivore-identifying grown people.

APL's famous BBQ beef rib. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
APL's famous barbecue beef rib. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
A slab of pork ribs and some sides.
A slab of pork ribs and some sides. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

In less than a month, APL has become a bonafide barbecue destination. Many of his sales now come from return customers. As for the future of the pop-up, he’s taking it week by week. For now, Lang is sure  he will be at this location until the end of May. He is currently waiting for another double-barrel smoker that Matt Horn is lending him so he can slightly expand the pop-up’s menu, which will include a smoked turkey taco that he wants to offer out of respect to the former taquería that used to be in the same location, called “Tacocita.” 

The chef has also grown to appreciate the San Gabriel community and the type of “grateful,” working-class customers from the area who have made it out to the pop-up. These customers are a stark contrast from the Hollywood types he used to serve at his former APL steakhouse. 

“This old man one day stopped his truck and came up to me,” Lang recalls. H’e didn’t speak a word of English, but from what I could make out, he was telling me that his family in Mexico have done barbecue for the last 150 years. He was looking at my smoker and giving me the thumbs up. He then goes into his truck and hands me the biggest can of Modelo, smiles, and walks away. I called him back, grabbed a rack of ribs from the smoker, wrapped it up, and gave it to him as a thank you. That was probably the most beautiful experience I’ve had yet in this San Gabriel Valley barbecue experience.”

It was a long way to get there, but Adam Perry Lang has finally found his way back home to barbecue. 

APL barbecue Pop-Up is at 203 S Rosemead Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107. Open Wednesday to Sunday from noon until sold out. He recommends showing up by the latest 11:30 a.m. at the latest to make sure you get to try the barbecue.

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