A Different Approach: The Return to Smoke BBQ Taqueria in Lawrenceville

A Different Approach: The Return to Smoke BBQ Taqueria in Lawrenceville

On my journey to find and share my favorite taco in Pittsburgh, I decided that I may need to take a slightly altered approach.  Instead of focusing on visiting every restaurant and stand that has tacos (which I will eventually do too!) and trying maybe only 1-3 different tacos on the menu, I will be going back to restaurants that have the potential to have the best tacos in Pittsburgh.  My ultimate goal is to find where the best places to get tacos are and my overall favorite taco in Pittsburgh.  I still have a lengthy list of restaurants to visit, but if I find a place where the tacos really stand out to me, I will definitely want to go back to try more of the tacos.

With that being said, I am confident to say Smoke in Lawrenceville is ranked high as one of my favorite taco spots.  I like Smoke because of the unique specialty tacos they serve with the highest quality and freshest ingredients.  During my first visit back in October, I was overwhelmed with how many specialty tacos Smoke serves.  From my first post, you can see that I tried the chicken and apple and pork tacos and sampled Nate’s selection of burnt ends and rib tacos.  The burnt end taco is definitely a contender for my top pick!  With such a pleasant visit the first time around I was so excited to try more tacos off the menu, I just had to think of when I had the prime opportunity to return.

Treat yo self!

After a long day of work on Sunday along with a trip to the gym, I was ready for a “treat yo self” kind of night.  I have been cooking and dining in frequently and after a full weekend of work and the gym trip, I was willing to spend a bit more on fancy tacos.  The stars lined up Sunday for my return to Smoke.

For my solo date night, I made it to Smoke around 6:30pm.  As expected for a Steeler game Sunday night in Pittsburgh, it was pretty quiet inside.  I was able to grab a seat almost anywhere, so I picked a spot at the bar where I laid out my taco notebook and trip notes for my upcoming New Orleans adventure.

Italian 75 at Smoke

As part of my “treat yo self” night, I ordered the daily drink special that was listed on a board at the bar.  A word of advice here is to always check what the drink of the day is before opening the drink menu.  It must have been my lucky night after hearing what was in the drink of the day- The Italian 75: gin, lemon, sugar, meletti, aperol, and cava (a blend of native Spanish grape varieties made using the champagne method but its not actually champagne).  With all the right ingredients and prep done, this was a very light and refreshing beverage with a perfect balance of sweet and bitter.  Almost tasted grapefruit-y to me.  For only $5, this was a bargain and definitely cheaper than anything else I was about to order.

brisket and gringo tacos
Brisket on the left, gringo on the right

The hardest part of the evening, was picking which two tacos I wanted to try.  I knew gringo would be one of them but I had a hard time deciding if I should get the burnt ends taco for myself this time or try a new taco to compare it to.  When in doubt, I talked to the bartender.  He said the chicken and apple is the most popular (just like I heard last time-very consistent) and his personal favorites are the brisket or chicken and apple.  I decided to branch out and order the brisket along with the gringo.

It does take some time for the tacos to be made here which I believe is due to the complexity of the fillings.  Once the tacos arrived in their foil, I was ready to tear into those homemade buttermilk flour tortilla tacos.

Brisket taco

The first taco I tried was the brisket.  When I opened the wrapping, the I noticed just how much meat was in this bad boy.  Four thick layers of brisket with a little bit of cilantro, sauteed onions and hot peppers laid on a bed of mustard BBQ sauce. Now that I think of it, I was so intrigued with reading mustard BBQ sauce on the menu that I completely forgot hot peppers were in this taco!  I do believe that is why I did not mention in my first blog here that I would try the brisket, but I am glad I stepped out of my heat boundaries. The hot peppers were definitely noticeable especially by the end of the taco but my Italian 75 helped with the heat.  Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty spicy and I did write in my notebook “holy crap it’s spicy” but I think it was worth it.  My favorite part of this taco was biting into the smokey, tender brisket and then having the mustard BBQ sauce compliment it so well.  The taco could have used a dab more of the sauce but overall, I found another fantastic Pittsburgh taco in the brisket.

gringo taco

To keep rolling on the brisket train, I tried the gringo taco next.  The gringo consisted of house ground sirloin and brisket mixed with pico de gallo, cilantro, cheddar cheese, crispy tortilla crumbs and drizzled with an avocado cream.  I liked the ground sirloin here far better than the ground sirloin I had at Cafe Diablo.  The ground sirloin at Cafe Diablo was a little too dry and odd with cheese, lettuce, and tomato toppings.  The ground sirloin at Smoke had avocado cream and brisket juices filling in every nook and cranny! I could smell the richness from the meats and cheeses from a good foot and a half away.  Even with the combination of meats and cheese the taco seemed a lot lighter than the chicken and apple. The texture was to die for with the onions from the pico de gallo and the crispy tortilla crumbs balancing out the softness from the ground sirloin, cheese, cream, and the flour tortilla.  The gringo may have me just slightly more impressed over the brisket.

With all the brisket and ground sirloin, forget about after workout protein shakes after the gym and just come to Smoke to get all the protein you need!

Although I could have used one more side or another half of a taco, I stuck with 2 tacos and had a scoop of chocolate ice cream when I got home.  I wanted to treat myself but I do put a cap on the lavish life.

gringo taco, brisket taco, italian 75

After this second visit, Smoke is definitely a place I would HIGHLY recommend to taco lovers.  I would confidently say its one of my favorite spots due to Smoke’s quality and care they put into each taco.  The tacos simply just blow my mind with each bite.  I feel as though the tacos are pretty healthy here with homemade ingredients and I never got that greasy vibe from any of the tacos here.  MOST IMPORTANTLY, I found two tacos here that are candidates for my favorite taco in Pittsburgh: the burnt ends and gringo.

Price: One brisket taco $7.50, one gringo taco $6.25.  Man it’s expensive. Don’t forget, cash only here too.  Bring some rolls.Tom Haverford money




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