For five years, Cliff Allen manned his mesquite wood grill in a cart smaller than a prison cell. Now, his “Make Every Bite Count” philosophy is found in a barbecue shack on N Williams. Smoked pork shoulder and lamb summon Austin, Texas—little more than meltingly tender flesh, fatty halos, and sumptuous curls of oak-wood smoke. Juicy baby backs, upholstered in sticky, crackly bark, vie for PDX’s barbecue crown. And the golden jo-jos humiliate every fry in town. But the smoked fried chicken sandwich is the real star: thighs, skins on, smoked to smithereens, baptized in hot oil for crispy ruffles, then glazed in jalapeño jelly and captured in a monumental, char-blistered sourdough bun.
Any questions about the Lone Star State’s culinary greatness? With unforgettable piles of pork ribs, red chili, and homemade cornbread, Podnah chef (and Texas food ambassador) Rodney Muirhead provides the unequivocal answers. Just give in to this smoke-scented eatery and gobble up the concoction of corn chips, chili, and cheese served in a Fritos bag that’s been gently folded open. It’s a lot to handle, but save room for the ridiculously tender brisket sandwich, a side of cornbread, and a little bowl of greens—which is there to cancel out the effects of a sweet pecan pie.
The roadside shack from the minds behind Laurelhurst Market does not disappoint. The short menu centers around dry-rubbed, Fresno-chile-marinated chicken, smoked over oak and grilled to order with sweet Alabama-style “white gold” sauce (essentially mayo with vinegar and sugar). Get that juicy, crisp-around-the-edges bird with a side of creamy fried jo-jos and a spicy, chicken liver-jazzed dirty rice.
Hungry locals make a beeline for the parking lot of a pawn shop on NE MLK Boulevard all year long, thanks to this cart’s super-tender, white oak–smoked ribs and brisket. Psst: buried under Matt’s meaty slabs lurks a lesser-touted gem: a dangerously snappy jalapeño cheddar sausage, oozing saucy cheese and laced with sucker punches of fresh chile. Order it.
On jam-packed weekend evenings, kids sometimes outnumber adults at Russell's fir-appointed dining room. Which explains the warning scrawled on the chalkboard near the register: “Wandering children will be given a double shot of espresso and a puppy to take home.” Blame the parental inattention on the slow-cooked pork ribs, slathered in five distinct varieties of barbecue sauce. But parents be warned: Unless you happened to wean your little bumpkin on bottles of habanero sauce, even the mildest rendition (“kind,” ostensibly tempered for “kids and delicate palates”) will elicit urgent shrieks of “Too spicy!” Fortunately, the friendly management provides other diversions—mild chicken strips and ice cream sundaes—to keep the little ones eating happily while the parents pig out with utter abandon.
For years, finding a decent rack of slow-smoked ribs in Southeast Portland was a problem best solved with a trip up to Northeast—the quadrant that’s been the unofficial mecca of PDX barbecue. That was before Smokehouse Tavern staked its claim as Southeast’s premier ‘cue spot, two doors down from Nostrana. Helmed by the short-lived Top Chef contestant B. J. Smith, it has the same metaphorical butcher block as the original Smokehouse 21 (now closed) with beef brisket to pork cheeks, but amped up with a full-fledged cocktail menu, a few stylish starters, and even brunch.