The brisket bento at Kemuri Tatsu-ya in Austin | Photo by Jane Yun
The brisket bento at Kemuri Tatsu-ya in Austin | Photo by Jane Yun
Texas is huge, like, boring. If you live in central Texas, it takes forever to cross state lines. But the sheer size of the state also means that a plot people live here, which makes it incredibly diverse – despite the cowboy stereotype. Luckily for those of us who love to eat, there’s been an exciting new wave of legit Texas barbecues serving up smoldering culinary crossovers and masterful mashups that are bursting with global inspiration and cultural pride. Prepare to taste tender ribs that fall off the bone and a juicy brisket that melts in your mouth with the vibrant, punchy flavors of Mexico, Asia and the Caribbean as these pitmasters and chefs bring a barbecue experience sizzle that you’ll only find in Texas.
We’ll start by saying that the 225° barbecue is officially out of control. A look at the truck’s Instagram page reveals an impressive mix of solid Central Texas barbecue, Jalisco-style birria tacos, Tex-Mex specialties and street sides like elote topped with ground brisket and crunchy corn puffs. Then owner/pitmaster Rene Ramirez takes it to another level with over-the-top creations like “baseballs” — bacon-wrapped chicken thighs stuffed with brisket, jalapeños, and cream cheese — and dino ribs. of gargantuan beef served to pop out of the birria ramen like a cartoon baguette in a grocery bag. The joy behind 225° BBQ’s eclectic offerings is obvious and well, that’s what we’re here for.
At Khói Barbecue, Don and Theo Nguyen blend traditional Texas barbecue with flavors inspired by their Asian heritage as well as Houston’s diverse dining scene. You can get in on the action in one of Khói’s monthly pop-ups – dates are announced on the duo PageInstagram as well as incredible eye-catching images like the bún bò huế brisket, a scintillating bowl of smoked lemongrass prime rib broth and shrimp paste filled with vermicelli and a skillfully smoked slice of brisket. Or, bánh xèo, a savory crepe that serves as the perfect vessel for smoked brisket, prime rib and barbacoa, punctuated with aromatic greens and sweet and sour nước mắm. (Pssst, a brick and mortar location is in the works!)
Excuse the pun, but Blood Bros. BBQ is on fire. The killer barbecue combined with the creative fervor has earned the restaurant both praise from top culinary publications and a legion of loyal fans. Owner/pitmaster Quy Hoang, fellow owners Terry and Robin Wong, and their staff post a lengthy daily menu (with a few twists) of everything from pork belly banh mi to gochujang glazed ribs to a crispy gordita with cheese. And the Sunday specials, or should we say “Especiales de Domingo”, are largely Tex-Mex and Mexican. How do we even decide? You can do it eeny-meeny-miny-moe or stick to the classics which, unsurprisingly, Blood Bros. BBQ also nail. Smoked brisket, ribs and homemade sausages are available daily.
Take the informal after-work vibe of a Japanese izakaya and sprinkle in a little Texan flair – it’s Kemuri Tatsu-ya. The barbecue served in this fun and funky mashup, from the folks behind Austin’s Ramen Tatsu-ya, is a welcome departure from typical Texas barbecue joints. Try the Berkshire pork ribs with a carrot-ginger glaze and tangy yuzu cream, and (BBQ purists, look away) the beef brisket with a sesame-pecan miso and serrano limón. Of course, it wouldn’t be an izakaya without yakitori and kushiyaki, and here the meat and vegetable skewers are grilled over binchotan charcoal and Texas wood. Try the beefy mushrooms made with dry-aged ribeye and black pearl mushrooms marinated in koji butter.
North Texas just got a little hotter, thanks to the addition of Willie Meshack’s barbecue to Plano’s dining scene. At the family restaurant, Robert Plaza serves up a solid selection of well-executed Texan barbecue, including pork and brisket ribs, smoked jerk chicken, sauces and sides inspired by wife Yolande’s Trinidadian roots. Try meat by the pound or sandwiched between fluffy fried bread with a side of fried plantains.
Valentina’s brand of barbecue is often considered a mashup or “the best of both worlds,” but for those who grew up in South Texas, it’s just what we ate growing up. Pitmaster/owner and San Antonio native Miguel Vidal delivers this regional amalgam like no one else, as evidenced by the ever-growing line. Smoked mesquite brisket, pulled pork and chicken, fajitas, sausages and ribs are fantastic and worth devouring a la carte or in a hearty sandwich with smoky barbecue sauce, pickles or coleslaw. But we love the warm handmade flour tortillas and homemade salsas from the trailer’s “Mex” menu. Try the smoked brisket taco with lime-sea-salt guacamole and tomato serrano salsa, or the delicious Real Deal Holyfield breakfast taco of fried eggs, potatoes, refried beans and bacon with the possibility of adding smoked meat.
Loro is the culinary collaboration between Austin’s James Beard Award-winning chefs Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue) and Tyson Cole (Uchi, Uchiko). Grilled and smoked meats with flavors borrowed from Southeast Asian and Japanese cuisines take pride of place at this casual Asian smokehouse. The smoked flank steak (ground steak with shishito salsa and pickled onions) is a popular choice, as is the smoked brisket with gastric chili and Thai herbs, which is available after 4 p.m. And while meat takes center stage on the menu, don’t miss the snacks and veggies – or boozy slushies for that matter. Bonus: Loro has expanded to include locations in Dallas and Houston, with more on the way.
Deciding to paint your restaurant a shade of pink somewhere between bubblegum and salmon is a bold move, but hey, what else would you expect from the guys serving Southeast Asian curries with a Texas barbecue? Curry Boys BBQ is a joint effort between Andrew Ho and Sean Wen (of Pinch Boil House) and Andrew Samia (of South BBQ). The most popular dish is the brisket smoke show – an oak-smoked Prime beef brisket served with succulent green curry – but The Missing Link, Penang curried smoked pork sausage, is a can’t-miss sleeper.
Fredericksburg, best known for its small-town charm and rich German heritage, is now home to the Korean-inspired Eaker BBQ. Owner/pitmaster Lance Eaker was serving barbecue from a truck in Houston before his wife Boo joined the operation and the couple moved to Fredericksburg. Boo’s Korean heritage has inspired many of the flavors now found on the menu, such as mesquite-smoked gochujang pork ribs that are seared just before serving. Brilliant kimchi and a refreshing Korean cucumber salad are the perfect accompaniments to fattier meats like delicious Prime beef brisket and pulled pork. Don’t forget to try the kimchi fried rice!