Barbecue With Frills

The trimmings may be fancy, but the main dish is mainstream.

BARBACOA IS TO barbecue what Cactus is to Mexican food: a little fancier, a lot pricier, and with a bunch more shiny accessories. In the real Texas—whose flag this Queen Anne hole-in-the-wall appropriates for its tray-size menu—barbecue is the kind of thing that gets slapped down, sans utensils, on a sheet of white butcher paper in some hot-as-hell smokehouse, garnished only by a slice of dill pickle and a stack of Wonder bread.

Barbacoa translates that minimalist aesthetic into antiqued walls, iron chandeliers, and prices that are about double what you’d pay in the Lone Star State. The barbecue in Midland wouldn’t condescend to share a picnic table with Barbacoa’s gussied-up barbacoa. Nonetheless, taken on its own terms, Barbacoa—which also offers “upscale Tex-Mex,” as I heard a nearby diner reassure a worried friend—has plenty to offer.

The appetizers are dressier renditions of Tex-Mex and interior-Mexican classics, with a bit of southern drawl thrown in. Fried green tomatoes are a “southern tradition” bigger outside the South than in, but Barbacoa’s—thick slabs simply battered and lightly fried ($4.25)—would pass muster with most Mississippi moms (though I did give up on the weird pasilla chile mayo served as a garnish). Barbacoa’s campechana ($7.25), a spicy Mexican shrimp cocktail, was an eye-opener, served warm in a martini glass atop a Bloody-Mary-ish stew of habanero ketchup and pico de gallo. A very pricey ($12.95!) asiago cheese tamale was the only first-round disappointment, mainly because the kitchen failed to heat it through, forcing me to steer my fork around lumps of cold, rubbery cheese.

If a menu offers only one vegetarian item, it had better be spectacular. Unfortunately, Barbacoa’s barbecued corn, peppers, and beets ($11.95), sparsely arranged on a gigantic plate, felt like a menu afterthought. Fortunately, the chilaquile served with them ($2.95 as a side) were outstanding: a dense stack of tortillas layered with piquant green sauce and white cheese. The same perky green sauce was ladled generously over a plate of sweet-spicy barbecued chicken enchiladas ($11.25). (Sides of buttery, chile-rubbed corn ($1.95), smoky borracho beans ($1.95), and garlicky greens with bacon ($1.95) accompany many of the entr饳.)

The main event—arguably the whole point of a barbecue place, when you get right down to it—was the barbecued brisket ($15.95), an unpretentious pile of sliced beef that was tender, mildly smoky, and just spicy enough. My beef-eating dining partner pronounced it a close (albeit pricier) facsimile of the real Texas deal. It’s not Dallas—hell, it’s not even Kansas City—but for Seattle, this may be as good as it gets.