Little J’s at 5306 Washington isn’t the kind of place diners are likely to just wander into. It’s a decidedly relaxed neighborhood hangout. A recent email, though, tipped us off that the menu ambitions exceed the casual look and feel of the place.
The food program was originally under the purview of a third-party endeavor: a “pop-up” named Bourbon & Bacon. Eventually, one of the partners sold out and the food program was simply rolled into Little J’s as its regular menu. The dishes on that menu are well worth making a special trip for.
The menu descriptions, like “pork tacos with cilantro, jalapeño crème, arbol chili, queso fresco, pickled red onions and black bean hummus,” would not be out of place on better restaurant menus — or at least on a gourmet food truck. Best of all, the tacos taste every bit as good as they sound, with moist, roughly chopped pork, noticeable heat and big flavor impact from the rest of the bold elements. The flour tortilla shells are fried in-house until papery and crisp.
The pork tacos weren’t the only item packing heat. The Hell Burger does, too. It isn’t as vicious as it sounds, though. Little J’s makes its own pickled jalapeños and they’re on the sweetness level of bread and butter pickles, only hotter. Rounding out the toppings is more of the punchy chile arbol sauce that's found on the pork tacos, pepper jack and arugula. Jalapeño buttermilk sauce bridges the gap between comforting creaminess and heat. A puffy, eggy bun adds to the appeal, and if the fries aren't hand-cut, at least they're dusted with plenty of Cajun seasoning.
Not everything Little J’s does is necessarily magical. Adding those hot and sweet house-pickled jalapeños to "Dirty Mac" macaroni and cheese is a great idea, but there has to be enough sharp cheese flavor to actually stand up to it.
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Misses like this, though, are of little consequence when there are strokes of brilliance like the caprese-meets-sandwich burrata BLT, with tomato slices bathed in tangy balsamic glaze and thick bacon on toast slathered in basil pesto. Applying the burrata is a joyful, do-it-yourself endeavor, as a big ball of it comes on the platter, leaving diners to slather on the cheese as they please.
The setting is humble, with a big bar in the middle, bright lights and video games. Yet even those who have no need for a beer or a shot to cap off the evening ought to stop by just to check out the food at Little J's.