TACOMA, Wash. — In Tacoma's Lincoln District — the city's original international neighborhood — the rat-a-tat-tat of a heavy cleaver has been drawing customers to Thọ Từờng BBQ for more than 25 years.
Handling the cleaver is Phúc Ngô — the duck master. Born in Vietnam, he learned his trade in Seattle, before opening his own restaurant in 1998. He is here day and night, seven days a week, for nearly 27 years.
"We always have a wait and that's because everything is made fresh. No leftovers. So our customers know to come early and grab the food before we run out," said Linh Ngô, Phúc's daughter, who has helped out in the restaurant since childhood.
He'd been there since 3 in the morning, roasting duck in an oven that has left burn marks up and down his arms — the price of perfection.
"It's important to maintain the moisture of the duck when it's being roasted," he told us. "I want to make sure the skin is crispy and shiny."
Whether it's roasted duck or pork, the goal has always been consistency. The result: just about every new customer becomes a regular.
The pork is crispy and juicy and comes with fresh vegetables and pickled cabbage. The duck noodle soup is the very definition of comfort food. The flat duck seen below is Phúc's original recipe: roasted in a way that retains all the flavor.
Tho Tuong BBQ Dish Highlights
"Even on his days off he still goes, picks up the fresh lettuce, the fresh duck. He picks out everything so his product is always on par," Linh said. "You know he put his life into this place. This is his baby."
It may be his baby but customers all over the Northwest feel some ownership of this place. The secret has been out for a while and has become an institution, especially in the Vietnamese community.
"There's folks coming from Mukilteo, from Everett, from Lynnwood and there's folks ordering all the way from Portland, Vancouver, Washington," Linh told us. "So people are driving an hour and a half, two hours here and we're really happy we get support from everywhere."
Thọ Từờng is located at 715 S. 38th St., Tacoma, WA 98418. They are open Tuesdays through Sundays 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. But be warned and prepare to wait in line, as they close when they sell out, which is around 2 p.m. on weekends and 3 p.m. on weekdays.