At this point, it’s distinctly un-Texan not to like, or at least root for, the backyard ’cue guys who started selling food outside breweries and then in food trucks. Brandon Hurtado joins that list with Hurtado Barbecue. The restaurant has been open for a mere couple of months, and they’re still selling food to go as of this writing, even though the dining room, with its fairly comfy dozen tables, is closed.
My dining companions and I met up just before opening time the week before all local restaurants were closed for dine-in. There was a good bit of social distancing in the line outside (fewer than a dozen folks), but there was a steady stream of humanity rolling in between opening time and when we left at nearly 1 p.m.
Let’s start with what’s different here than at any other barbecue place. Brandon doesn’t keep secrets, and when I asked about the barbacoa, thinking it was some kind of secret family recipe, he laughed. The secret is Big Red. The beef cheek is smoked and then braised in the classic Southern tooth-rotting beverage until done. The result: The soft/crunchy meat is sweet and slightly addictive, and it works well stuffed into a tortilla. Unfortunately, Hurtado has only flour tortillas. The barbacoa makes up for the fact that burnt ends aren’t routinely on the menu.
Brisket, barbacoa, smoked turkey, ribs all priced by the pound
Smoked quail $5.50
While waiting in line, one of my dining companions, a student at a local culinary arts high school, floored me by telling me she could process a whole raw chicken and casually discussed her favorite ways to prepare fowl. She was interested in the quail, which turned out to be an adorable piece of poultry the size of my hand. Still, we thought the bird was smoked beautifully, seasoned well with some citrusy-pepper spice, and it wasn’t the least bit dry.
You can order fatty or lean brisket here, and the lean version is surprisingly moist and flavorful. Both cuts have the obligatory cherry-pink smoke ring but are not overly smoky. The real test of lean brisket is how well it holds up as leftovers, and Hurtado’s did not disappoint. No dry meat here, even after a day in the refrigerator. The restaurant also offers a sweetly spicy mustard sauce and an even sweeter, tangy ’cue sauce. The spicy zing of the barbecue version was damped by the almost Kansas-style sweetness. But that’s a matter of preference. Neither the lean nor the fatty brisket actually needed a lick of sauce.
Neither did the smoked turkey, although the bird did pair well with the mustard sauce. Again, the meat was slightly smoky without being overwhelming and delicately moist. The house-made sausage, stuffed with gooey cheese, was a pure delight, with a kiss of spice and a satisfying pop when you bit into it.
There are two other unique dishes on the menu: brisket elotes and spicy coleslaw. I had high hopes for the elotes, but it was essentially warmed (not grilled) corn with the crema and cheese on top. However, the heaping helping of brisket on top tasted just fine. The devilishly spicy slaw with pickled onions was on point, especially as a chaser with the fattier brisket or sausage.
The pork ribs were as good as anywhere else, with the meat sliding off the bone. Hurtado also serves beef ribs but only on weekends. The Hatch chile mac ’n’ cheese was the only disappointment –– the thick, gooey cheese covering slightly overcooked macaroni wasn’t that spicy.
When Hurtado was selling by Arlington’s Legal Draft brewery, I circled the line a couple of times but never managed to try the food. Hurtado seemed to sell out of everything but the pork. With the new restaurant, those sold-out signs are becoming scarcer. And while –– or if –– you can, it’d be nice to support the new ’cue guy on the block.
Hurtado Barbecue, 205 E Front St, Arlington. 682-323-5141. Accepting online orders only at Hurtadobbq.com. All major credit cards accepted.