There is something wonderful about a small, focused, locally owned restaurant where the owners are hands-on and know their clientele. The Four Kings in Universal City is such an eatery. Open for only a few months, this small shop located in a strip mall just off Pat Booker Road in UC has developed a cadre of die-hard fans, and for good reason.
The inside of the restaurant isn’t fancy, but you can go up to the order area and get a sample of the day’s soup, peruse the sandwich and salad makings which are on display, and watch the chef build your lunch if you wish. The veggies always look especially fresh and good; they are purchased from Straight From the Crate, a farm to market store also located on Pat Booker Road.
One of the strengths of Four Kings is that it offers a limited menu — 8 sandwiches and 6 salads, if I remember correctly — plus a soup of the day, a featured sandwich, and a variety of desserts which, like the rolls used for the sandwiches, are baked on-site daily. This allows the small staff to focus on excellence in these specific offerings, thus avoiding the error made by many new restaurants that try to offer too many different dishes and end up doing none of them well.
On one visit, I tried the soup of the day, a chicken Florentine.
Generous pieces of white meat chicken were accented by a rich broth redolent of sherry, cream and butter; spinach and roasted red pepper bits added nicely to the overall taste and appearance of the soup. This soup was simply excellent, and I have noticed that no matter how HOT the weather is, people inside are enjoying their cups of soup.
My favorite sandwich is the Bahn Mi: luscious Vietnamese 5-spice pork on a homemade roll, completed with homemade mayo, carrot slaw and cilantro.
This pork sandwich was amazingly good, with just the right balance of richness and flavor. The home-made mayo worked to bring the flavors of the sandwich together. The pork was moist and the portion more than generous. I thought I would take half home, but that didn’t happen.
The tuna sandwich on a homemade roll is also very good.
Tuna can often be lost in an over-mayoed, over-veggied tuna salad, and the tuna taste can be non-existent in a poorly constructed sandwich. Here the tuna tasted fresh and the homemade mayo and accompanying veggies complemented rather than overpowered the tuna.
Also a winner is the Black Forest ham and cheese, here served on a house roll rather than the usual pretzel roll.
As you can see, the amount of ham was generous, and the ham, cheese and veggies worked well together to make a filling sandwich. The house rolls are very fresh and really good, so no great fillings doomed by packaged, bland breads here.
On one visit, I really wanted to try the Thai beef salad, but the beef was all gone, and the chef suggested substituting the Vietnamese 5-spice pork for the beef.
The veggies were crisp and the pork worked well with them; the combination of the traditional salty dressing and a sweet dressing tasted really good and brought out the flavors of the vegetables. Overall, it was good, but I can see how the beef would be a better flavor in this offering.
All of the breads and desserts are baked on the premises. Usual offerings include cupcakes, cheesecakes, brownies and cookies. A chocolate malted cheesecake was a winner.
Rich and creamy, the chocolate flavor was strong but not overpowering.
On another visit, a triple fudge brownie and a cinnamon roll were both excellent.
The brownie was chewy and fudgy and just moist enough. The cinnamon roll was topped after purchase with a soft cream cheese icing that brought the roll to gooey perfection.
If there is a downside to Four Kings, it’s the pre-bagged chips that are on offer to go with the sandwiches. Bypass them — they aren’t worthy of the sandwich offerings here. Get a cup of soup; you’ll be glad you did.
Four Kings has limited hours, open Monday through Saturday from 10-4. Daily soups, specials and desserts are usually posted daily on Four Kings’ Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FourKingsCafe.