R & J Southern Homecooking in Downey gives an authentic taste of true soul food. A medium-sized restaurant, not fancy but comfortable and homey, R & J has all the classics and does them very well. Julie, the owner, took the helm with her mother and sister 17 years ago, and has run the place herself for the last 10 years. Occasionally, someone will call her “Chef Julie,” but her response is this: “A chef makes things that they want to serve to people, while a cook makes people the things they want. I’m a cook.”
Breakfasts consist of the standards such as eggs and pancakes. A better choice, however, is to opt for one of the Southern breakfasts. Choices include grits and eggs, biscuits and gravy, pork chops with grits and eggs, boudin (a Louisiana specialty), and fried fish with grits and eggs. All the breakfasts include their country fried potatoes.
Lunch specials include crawfish, shrimp and fries, chicken curry, and pork chops with rice and gravy. The highlight of the lunches might be the po’boys, stacked high with either fried shrimp or fried oysters. The oysters are plump, hot, and delicious. It is a big sandwich, both in size and in flavor.
Side dishes at R & J are not to be missed. The collard greens are tender and extremely flavorful. The hush puppies have bits of jalapeno in them which elevate the taste of this humble treat. Fried okra is a textbook example of what it should be, lightly breaded, hot and not greasy. The yams are perfect, closer to savory than sweet. Other sides include red beans and rice, mac and cheese, coleslaw, and succotash. This truly is a taste of the South.
At dinner time, there are dozens of excellent choices. Gumbo is a fixture, chock full of goodies including crab legs, with a long-simmered roux adding that depth of flavor only present in a real gumbo. Fish and seafood are a specialty. Sand dabs are a local fish with a texture and flavor similar to sole. Oysters, scallops, and catfish appear on the menu.
Traditional dishes are popular for dinner. Juicy Southern fried chicken is available either plain or smothered in a delicious gravy. Pork chops and steak are also available smothered in gravy. Slow-cooked meats are a specialty, bringing a rich flavor to the table. The short ribs are huge, cooked just to that point where they are tender but not quite falling off the bone. The gravy is incredibly rich, a long-simmered beefy sauce that should be mopped up with the bread to get every bit of flavor. Ox tails up the flavor scale even more; these are rich, tender, and have a depth of flavor that is unmatched. If there is any must-try dish at R & J, it would be the ox tails.
R & J is only a few minutes away from Los Angeles and Orange County, yet the feeling is of dining in a roadside restaurant somewhere in Mississippi. The flavors are true to the South. It is a fixture in the area, even down to the Sunday after-church crowd. Service is friendly, more like the “Southern Hospitality” you would expect in a small town. R & J Homecooking is true to its roots and an excellent choice for fine Southern and soul food cooking.