Attention, brisket bros: The West Valley has a new barbecue king.
My friend and I are about halfway through our luscious brisket and pulled pork sandwiches at Eric’s Family Barbecue in Avondale when we notice the guy down at the other end of the table, taking meaningful, focused bites from his meat-laden tray, nodding his head and muttering “pretty damned good” repeatedly. A short chat reveals him to be part of the Little Miss BBQ team, here to see if the hype he’s heard and read is true.
Turns out, it is, according to both me and Little Miss BBQ guy. And that speaks volumes, don’t you think? The two restaurants are not carbon copies, not by a long shot, and if somebody put a gun to my head and made me pick my favorite purveyor of smoky, unvarnished, Central-Texas-style barbecue in the Valley, I’d still choose Little Miss. That said: Eric’s, with its subtle Mexican inflection, is outstanding, and many of its preparations go toe-to-toe with those at LMB.
Eric’s is the brainchild of longtime friends Eric Tanori (the pitmaster) and Anthony Garcia (who makes the sides), who enlisted their wives – Anna and Casie, respectively – to make desserts and handle marketing.
In Central Texas fashion, meats are given a simple salt and pepper rub and cooked with mesquite in an offset smoker, in which indirect heat and smoke emulate the pit barbecue of the region. The fatty brisket, loose-textured and cut in great slabs, is first-rate, sporting a crunchy epidermis of thick, black bark over pink, smoke-ringed flesh, with a whiff of earthy mesquite throughout. Not quite as succulent as LMB’s, but still outstanding.
Texans love their beef, but to my mind, the best meats on the menu are slippery pulled pork, shredded into silky, smoky, cumin-scented threads, and spice-crusted spareribs whose tender meat doesn’t quite fall off the bone – just as it shouldn’t. Should you need it, giant squirt bottles of barbecue sauce (plain or spicy, both bright red with a hint of steak sauce) are placed on every table.
Tanori’s smoked turkey is good, too, especially on a self-made sandwich built on a shiny brioche bun that I’ve given a squirt of intensely mustardy Carolina-style barbecue sauce – love it! – the whole thing heaped with sweet, caraway-seed-scented coleslaw. House-made jalapeño-cheddar sausage links are too coarse-textured for my taste, and their thin casings need more snap. But there’s nothing wrong with gooey, straightforward mac and cheese; fresh-tasting, sour-cream-bound potato salad; earthy, chile-sparked elote (Mexican street corn); and the soupiest, homiest, most pork-loaded pinto beans on the planet.
Desserts, so often an afterthought in barbecue joints, are outstanding here: ultra-creamy banana pudding and tiny, wonderfully sticky pecan pies.
Eric’s is awesome, a welcome addition to the Phoenix pantheon of ’cue. Even the gods over at Little Miss agree.
Eric’s Family Barbecue
Contact: 12345 W. Indian School Rd., Avondale, 623-535-0993
Hours: W-Su 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (or until sold out)
Highlights: Brisket ($21.99 per pound, $8.99 sandwich); pulled pork ($16.99 per pound, $7.99 sandwich); pork ribs ($16.99 per pound); mac and cheese, potato salad, frijoles, elote ($2.79 each)