You Need to Tell Your Friends About Kayu in San Juan, La Union

Once upon a time, I fell in line for 5 hours for barbecue.

It was in 2018. A winter day in Austin, Texas. There was no snow, but it was 7 degrees. When we arrived at Franklin Barbecue, there was already a queue consisting of around 30 people—some standing by the door, some with foldable chairs they brought with them—all hungry for some ribs and brisket.

I didn’t quite understand the hype until finally the doors opened at 11AM and we were ushered in. We ordered our meats and settled in a table, and I tasted some of the best smoked meats I’ve ever had in my life.

BBQ is an art. It’s also a science, and it requires tons of patience.

I figured, if I could wait on a foldable chair for 5 hours, I could also travel for 6 hours for some good barbecue.

When I saw Kayu’s heavily barked brisket on their social media pages, it brought back the feelings I had tasting my first-ever legit barbecue in Texas. Lucky for us, we don’t need to fly 13,000 kilometers as Kayu is just in San Juan, La Union. It's the first ever low-and-slow BBQ restaurant and smokehouse in La Union.

Kayu’s name means “wood” in Indonesian—inspired from the owners’ favorite vacation place. It also represents the wood—all locally sourced—they use for smoking their meats.

During my visit, they had run out of the wagyu brisket that I was craving so much for (sad life). Instead, we ordered the Smoked Beef Shortplate (PhP450) which was a little fattier but tasted just like a brisket would—it was very tender too. I don’t see how it couldn’t be—they cooked the meat for 14 hours, low and slow, over seasoned fruit wood.

I loved that the crust was flavorful but not overpowering, not spicy (some versions are very peppery). I would normally prefer a dry meat (and then I’d just dip it in the barbecue sauce myself), but they serve their smoked beef with a little barbecue sauce brushed already. The sauce is, delightfully, delicious—just the right balance of tanginess, sweetness, and heat.

An order of this comes with some amazing mashed potato with gravy (or rice, if you prefer).

My first bite of their version of smoked Kielbasa (PhP280) sent me straight to heaven. It was so good, I don’t think I can ever buy the frozen sausages I usually get from the grocery again. It was delightfully smoky and tasty, perfectly complimenting their signature barbecue sauce—which they serve with all smoked meats. Forgive me but I didn’t taste the sides—I was so enthralled with the meats. In fact, I think I finished half of the sausage plus a bunch of other things.

If you like sloppy, cheesy sandwiches, get the Philly Cheesesteak (PhP350) which is made with grilled steak pieces, sauteed mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, onions, and barbecue sauce. I must admit, I typically avoid this kind of food because most are … nakakaumay. But this was not. The flavors, the cheesiness, the sauciness—everything was balanced. It’s a sandwich you’d want to bite into again and again. And THE SIDE FRIES ARE SO GOOD.

In case the above are not enough for you to saunter over to La Union, behold the Baby Back Ribs. Expertly smoked for 6 hours, it’s tender, very smoky, and … shall I say, glorious. Look at that deep, dark bark! That’s as black as I remember the ribs from Texas. You’d think it would taste burnt, but it doesn’t.

Also, you’d probably think I’m weird, but I like my ribs “dry”. Not dry as in overcooked and tough, but dry as in not so moist and mushy that it’s like it was boiled or stewed instead of smoked or grilled. The ribs at Kayu are exactly how I like them. Get the full rack (PhP850 small/1,250 big), ladies and gentlemen. It’s a conversation piece and a crowd pleaser—certainly the star of the show.

I recommend pairing your meats with some cocktails, like the refreshing mojito, but beers would work just as wonderfully.

I’d be honest: part of the fun of dining in places like Franklin and Salt Lick in Texas was falling in line and indulging in unlimited pickles and bread loaves and all that (and probably also freezing in the cold). There was none of that at Kayu, but instead it invites you to embrace what we have. Locally sourced wood. Talented smokers. And a cozy place to share a delicious meal with friends right after basking in the hot sun and enjoying the beach. And did I mention that the barbecue is fantastic?

No 5-hour queues too!

MacArthur Highway, San Juan, La Union (near Gefseis Greek Restaurant)
Mon - Thu: 12:00PM - 9:00PM; Fri - Sun: 12:00PM - 11:00PM 
Budget: PhP500 up/head

Do you love Texas barbecue? What is your favorite barbecue restaurant?

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