TLO Restaurant Review: Four J’s Diner
9:44 AM EDT on November 1, 2016
With the exceptions of the few readers who send me death threats on the regular, I love meeting you guys in real life. It’s a real self-esteem builder when I hear “Hey, are you…” and then am told how much my food reviews are loved and how they can’t wait to try the next place I write about. That means a lot to me as, for the most part, I really don’t have too much else going on in my life.
I have a nice, tight list of restaurants I’m working through, a list that Patrick and I add to frequently when something special catches our eye (a.k.a. Grandy's, KD's, GattiTown) that we think might make a fun review. And as packed as that list is, there’s always a chance we’ll miss something and that’s why I always appreciate it when readers offer up a suggestion to a place that might be worthy of TLO coverage. Take, for example, this letter I received recently from TLO reader Chris G.:
“Have you tried Four J's for authentic Laotian food? If not I would like to see a review of a real hard-working man who works another job during the day and then joins his wife at night to serve this incredible and tasty meals straight from Laos to Oklahoma City's south-side.”
While I did have a heartbreaking crush on a Laotian girl in middle school, I can’t say that I’ve ever had Laotian food. Sure, living in this area so close to Little Saigon I’ve had plenty of Vietnamese and Thai food, not to mention multiple trips to the buffet at Hy Palace, but Laotian…there doesn’t seem to be any of those joints around, does there? Thanks for the tip, Chris G.!
Located in what seems to be a newly fabricated building amongst the ancient tire shops, wireless phone dealers and taco trucks, at first glance, Four J’s (2920 S. Agnew Ave.) is a Southside oddity, the lone Asian eatery for blocks and blocks, with a sparse interior that feels more like a tag agency office, almost making me do a double-take to make sure I was in the right storefront.
It was around lunchtime on a Friday. Even though the place was empty, as my dining companion and I sat down at a table, there was a steady stream of pick-up orders. We were greeted immediately with smiles and menus from our server, as containers of hidden carry-out filled with an otherworldly aroma would waft around our heads, turning all the pictures of their lunch specials into a hunger-induced blur.
The conveniently-priced lunch menu was filled with items such as chicken basil fried rice, chicken pad kheemao and chicken spicy garlic with rice, but it was the reliable offering of chicken pad Thai with spring rolls ($7.75) that my friend just couldn’t pass up and I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t wait to swipe some of that peanutty-goodness off of her plate.
I, on the other hand, ordering off of the big-boys menu, couldn’t pass up the dish with most intriguing name I’ve ever heard: Seua Rong Hai or, affectionately enough, the Weeping Tiger ($10.50). I don’t care where I am or what it is, if there is ever a dish that sounds like it could be a Mortal Kombat finishing move, call me Blub-Zero because I am gonna put a total fatality on that concoction. GET OVER HERE!
I will admit that, judging from the absolute no-frills look of the joint that, even if the food was good, I wasn’t expecting much from the presentation or delivery. I was figuring they’d just dump our stuff into some Styrofoam containers, portion out a few packets of soy sauce and send us on our way. I couldn’t have been more wrong: when our food was brought out to us, they were delivered with a gorgeous presentation worthy of a pocketful of Michelin Stars.
Even better was the taste of the food. Four J’s is no fly-by-night Asian take-out strip-mall fast-foodery; this is a top-notch gourmet experience simply masquerading as a cheap lunch. The pad Thai was quite unlike any I’ve had anywhere before, with the usually overpowering peanut-taste seriously quelled by a wide variety of head-swimming spices that make every bite into the sticky noodles and tender chicken a different experience. If you do miss that overt peanut taste, however, the creamy dipping sauce more than makes up for it, but I preferred to use that for the cool spring rolls filled with vegetables that are still so fresh they are delightfully crunchy—I’m willing to bet the insides were purchased that morning. It was like a whole Sprouts produce aisle compacted into a fun-size treat.
But it’s the Weeping Tiger where I truly hit the jackpot. Each cut of marinated grilled beef melts on your tongue like a lozenge made of tender steak. Each pinkish sliver is to be enjoyed by itself, savored and experienced like it were a tab of fatty windowpane; Lucy in my stomach with digestion. The meat is meant to be dipped in this wonderfully tantalizing bait-and-switch juice—what is at first taste a cool citrus rush quickly becomes a stinging heat; hence a Weeping Tiger or, almost as good, an eye-watering Louis.
Seriously, folks, this dish is bucket list material.
Four J’s is unlike any other place in Oklahoma City, the ultimate definition of a culinary diamond in the rough that, from their small kitchen, is completely introducing a heretofore new taste sensation that practically no one else is cookin’ up on these Godforsaken streets. So take it from this ol’ hungry bastard, the Full-Plate Killah: take the next bus to the Four J’s and tell them that you want it “Tiger Style,” because the food they make ain’t nothin’ to funk with.
And the survey said: you’re well-fed. Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler.
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