Have wheels, will travel. Such is the culinary path for mobile restaurants like Barrel No. 51, a barbecue trailer that I first visited when it was serving sandwiches in the parking lot at American Lake park last summer.
Flash forward to October and the restaurant now has a new location in Tacoma’s Lincoln Business District just off 38th and M (near Safeway), and has a newly expanded menu with more smoked meat offerings. I’m glad for that because my first visit to Barrel No. 51, which I wrote about here, left my barbecue loving heart wanting. For a restaurant that has “BBQ” posted in big script on the side of the trailer, there was a shocking lack of things that comprise a barbecue restaurant – like smoked meats. When I last visited in August, the menu listed only a pulled pork sandwich. It was fine, but overly sauced. A sloppy Joe was less successful. I skipped the crispy chicken and fish fillet sandwiches.
Today, diners will find a restaurant with a far better location (or at least more convenient for me), and more authentic barbecue offerings. In both concept and delivery, Barrel No. 51 now makes much more barbecue sense. They still offer the pulled pork sandwich (it was far better than my last visit), but now they offer pulled/smoked chicken sandwiches, smoked pork riblets and barbecue baked beans with smoked pork.
Sandwiches are bargain priced at $6 with a choice of fries or slaw. I opted for slaw and was rewarded with a chile tweaked mayo dressing clinging to crunchy, fresh cabbage. I was tempted to pile the slaw into the pulled pork sandwich, Carolina style, but I resisted once I tasted the pork: Smoky, sublime and slow cooked. It carried just the right supple texture pork achieves when the meat is cooked long enough for the collagen to dissolve into a delicious fat bath. A slight pink tinge confirmed the meat had the requisite smoke ring from a trip in a smoker.
I ordered my pork sandwich ($6) naked – I’m not a fan of too much sauce mucking up the smoky flavor of pork – and I’m glad I did. The smoky flavor was permeating, but not overly assertive. The thick, sweet molasses barbecue sauce would have masked that delicious smokiness.
My dining partner’s pulled chicken sandwich ($6), also ordered sans sauce, was similarly smoky with just the right level of moisture to make it a luscious sandwich.
If given the choice between medium and hot barbecue sauce, you should skew toward spicy if you prefer just a little lip tease of heat. Medium didn’t even register as spicy for me. Your palate may think otherwise. I’m immune to the powers of most medium spicy sauces, a hazard of this eating job.
They had run out of smoked pork riblets ($6) and baked beans ($3) on my visit, but I’ll be back to try both. Lesson: Get there early.
BREAKING BARBECUE NEWS: Check back here tomorrow for a report on a new barbecue restaurant that blew me away with some of the best ribs I’ve had in months – and it’s located in a gas station (I did not make that up; and there is no need for alarm over its locale, I assure you). Check back here tomorrow for the report.
Barrel No. 51 Barbecue
Where: 1222 S. 38th St., Tacoma (at 38th and M in the parking lot of Pawns 4 More)
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays