BBQ Pittsburgh Tacos at Smoke in Lawrenceville

BBQ Pittsburgh Tacos at Smoke in Lawrenceville

In case you did not know this, I am a big planner. I plan where I want to get tacos usually a few days in advance based on work schedule, activities I have set to do on my days off and type of transportation.  About a week in advance, I planned on getting tacos with Nate after work on a Saturday.  I knew I had a busy week ahead of me with work, ultimate frisbee, self defense practice, biking, cooking and lifting so I wanted to go to a place that I could drive to, dress up a little, relax, and enjoy fancy tacos. I had my mind set on Smoke BBQ Taqueria on 4115 Butler Street in Lawrenceville.

Exterior of Smoke BBQ Taqueria

Before I get to talking about tacos, I need to address some important facts about Smoke:

  1. No reservations-I learned this through friends who have had to settle for nearby restaurants due to very long waits. So I was really nervous going on a Saturday night. Nate and I arrived at 5pm.  Thankfully, there was no wait to sit at the bar, but there was a 45 minutes for a table.  We had no preference so the bar worked for us.
  2. Cash only- a little annoying especially for expensive tacos and drinks, but there is a PNC nearby.
  3. Anti-Taco Tuesday- no day of the week should be off limits to tacos!  On Tuesdays, they solely have burgers but I did hear from the bartender at the Library ( where we went after Smoke) that the burgers are phenomenal and every inch of it is homemade, even the cheese.
  4. On Sunday, Smoke is open only for Brunch- Check hours online before going because they vary each day.  They also have happy hours and late night specials.
  5. Takeout is an option- I would totally consider takeout on a Saturday and bringing back fancy tacos to Mount Washington to munch on while watching the Defenders.  The only downfall with takeout is that you can’t smell the meat in the smoker from your living room couch and coffee table.
I need a sign like this at my apartment that says ‘TACO’!

Nate and I took our seats at the bar as soon as we arrived.  Besides not having to wait for a table, it was also beneficial sitting right next to each other at the bar since it was so boisterous inside. While sitting there, we took in all the rustic decor. I could tell Smoke put a lot of thought into their decorations with the cool ‘bar open’ sign, old glass bottles above the bar, quirky metal sculptures and scattered pig artwork.

Although we were at the bar, neither one of us ordered a specialty boozy drink (Nate is weird and was 3/4 of the way through a no-booze challenge he picked up from one of his podcasts). Instead, we tried their homemade horchata. HorchataUnfortunately, I was not impressed by the horchata. I am not sure if it was because brown rice was used instead of white rice, but it tasted mostly of cinnamon and water.  It had a very watered down taste and not as full and creamy as the horchata at Let’s Taco’ Bout It or Totopo.

Now to the food menu.  Nate and I did not even look at the front side of the menu where the appetizers were located. We just had our eyes locked on the full length taco page on the back side.  There were so many tacos to pick from including: brisket with a mustard BBQ sauce, pork with apricot habanero BBQ sauce, chicken and apple with jalapeno mayo, chicken with avocado cream and fresno hot sauce, ground sirloin and brisket with avocado cream, bacon with jalapeno mayo, black bean with a sweet corn and poblano relish and roasted tomatillo sauce, chorizo with smoked jalapeno pico de gallo, rib with porter BBQ sauce, burnt ends brisket ends with coffee BBQ sauce, smoked mushrooms with ancho chili corn sauce, and egg with roasted tomatillo sauce.  I usually do not list sauces with the taco fillings but they were all so interesting and different!

tacosWith all those tacos and sauces to choose from, we surprisingly decided quick. I went with the pork, because the apricot habanero BBQ sauce sounded bomb and I chose the chicken and apple because I was curious to try that combination. I did over hear that the chicken and apple is one of the most popular tacos on the menu, so that just amp’d me up even more with my decision.  Nate went with the pulled St. Louis ribs and the burnt ends. I literally couldn’t wait to try these tacos.

Chicken and Apples Taco

After a solid wait, our tacos arrived wrapped in foil and placed on a tin rectangular tray.  With a giant grin, I opened up the chicken and apple taco first. My immediate thought was that the chicken looked like nice giant chunks of rotisserie style chicken.  The apples were thinly diced.  Every taco filling as wrapped in a buttermilk flour tortilla made fresh daily.  It looked like a baby brother to a burrito.  Nice and full of chicken, salty cubes of bacon and thickly shredded cheese, all covered in jalapeno mayo (which was not spicy).  And just a wee bit of cilantro on top that was completely masked in taste by everything else.  Salt was a dominant flavor stemming from the bacon and cheese.  And with the addition of the mayo, it was a heavy taco.  It was like eating a brick of cheese.  The cheese was overpowering especially towards the end of the taco.

Pork taco

Next I unwrapped the pork taco.  Unlike the chicken taco, I could predominantly taste the smoked pork.  The caramelized onion and the apricot habanero BBQ sauce worked so well with this taco that the main focus was all the smoky and sweet flavors making up the taco as a whole.  Uniform taste.  Loved this taco.

Burnt ends taco

Out of the two I had, the pork was my favorite until I had a bite of Nate’s burnt ends taco with smoked onions, roasted poblanos, coffee BBQ sauce and cilantro.  There is only one way to describe the cube of meat I had in that bite: a meat gusher (relative to the fruit gusher). So how do they make this meat with exploding bursts of juicy goodness?

burnt ends taco
Detail shot of the burnt ends taco-goodness

Smoke takes the burnt ends of brisket, cube it and then mix those cubes with the onion and poblanos and put in back into a smoker for 10-16 hours.  That was definitely Nate and I’s favorite taco there so far.

Nate also had the pulled St. Louis rib taco with house pickles, onions, porter BBQ sauce, and cilantro.  The rib meat was a little chewy but I still liked it better than the chicken and apple.  For me, I ranked the tacos here (that I had so far) as the following: burnt ends> pork> rib>chicken and apple (Nate agrees).

I wanted something else after the two tacos.  Nate insisted on the homemade doughnut so we split one.  It was large so sharing the doughnut was the right call.  The flaky sugary glazed coating over fresh dough hit the sweet spot for sure and was a nice addition to meal.

donut So two tacos and sharing an appetizer, another taco, or doughnut would be the right amount of food for us again next time.  The homemade chips and queso looked bomb from other tables and since the tacos take a good bit of time to prepare, an appetizer would probably be a good idea. As for tacos for next visit, I am thinking the gringo (ground sirloin and brisket) and burnt ends.  If I were to split a taco instead of an appetizer, I would also like to try the smoked mushroom.


Price: Tacos $6-7.50 per taco-oh my!, Horchata $3.50, Donut $4



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