These days, visitors to Portland and Austin are finding that the two cities have more in common than “Keep it Weird” bumper stickers. Turns out, they’re both home to some of the finest Texas-style barbecue in the country.
Sure, that’s no surprise when it comes to Austin, but Portland? Could the land of salmon and huckleberries really be a hotbed of brisket? With more than half a dozen Texas-style barbecue joints and counting — and the barbecue editor of Texas Monthly singing their praises — the answer is a resounding yes. And in true Portland fashion, these odes to Texas ‘cue are pushing the boundaries in their own creative ways.
We can thank Rodney Muirhead for laying the groundwork back in 2006. That’s when the Texas native opened Podnah’s Pit Barbecue to national acclaim. Soon after, he turned the space next door into La Taq, a Tex-Mex taco bar using the same smoked meats served at Podnah’s.
But that was just the beginning. Right now, the city is enjoying a serious barbecue boom that started when Matt Vicedomini opened Matt’s BBQ food cart in 2015. An East Coaster who earned his pitmaster chops in Australia, of all places, Vicedomini took his studies of Central Texas barbecue as seriously as a Ph.D, and it shows. A year after opening, he earned The Oregonian’s cart of the year, and the lines that form for his expertly smoked meats are still legendary.
Now, he’s forging a mini empire. His spinoff Matt’s BBQ Tacos cart earned a spot on Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant list in 2019, and his meats form the backbone of Thai-inspired Eem, which opened in early 2019. This partnership with Earl Ninsom of Paadee fame is one of the hottest new restaurants in Portland, and the duo are already discussing a second location. Vicedomini is also looking to centralize and expand his smoking operations to a larger commercial space to meet demand.
Joining Vicedomini in the Texas barbecue food cart army is Bark City BBQ, opened in 2017 by Virginia native Michael Keskin, who pairs his exceptional smoked meats with surprising sides like pickled avocadoes, brisket nachos and banana pudding milkshakes. And then there’s Holy Trinity Barbecue by Texas-native Kyle Rensmeyer, which opened in spring 2019 to immediate acclaim in Portland Monthly. He even consulted pitmasters in Fort Worth when coming up with the recipe for his housemade Czech-style sausages. And Darren Bottinelli at Botto’s BBQ further exemplifies Portland’s appetite for great ‘cue, as people flock to Bottinelli’s food cart for his falling-apart tender ribs, cheese-stuffed sausages and meat-filled kolaches.
On the other end of the spectrum is Top Chef alum Doug Adams, a central Texas native who gives barbecue an upscale spin at Bullard. Opened in fall 2018, it was named one of Esquire’s best new restaurants in 2019 thanks to dishes like smoked pork shoulder for two with hominy cornbread, smoked garlic hot sauce, and sweet papaya pickles.
Clearly the city’s pitmasters, and their fans, take barbecue seriously. With strict adherence to Texas-style rules, combined with Portland’s typical boundary-pushing creativity, the Rose City has quickly become the barbecue capital of the West.