Across the American South, there are at least as many barbecue styles as there are states. In locations like our native North Carolina, there are multiple preferred preparation, sauce and service methods, mostly because of the traditions that began and evolved in different geographic regions. But one thing is the same with all barbecue in this slice of the world: If any two people are eating it and talking about it, there’s going to be disagreement.
The Virginia barbecue landscape is no different. Through some research I’ve learned that some say each sub-region of the state prefers its own style, leading to no fewer than a half-dozen typical presentations that pretty much run the gamut in the Q world. Others propose Virginia is the original home of true Southern barbecue. I’ll be honest that of all the states in the South, Virginia is the one with which I’ve thus far developed the least amount of barbecue knowledge. Of course, as you’d expect me to say, I aim to change that.
So at the suggestion of a former colleague and past Virginia resident, my wife Molly and I visited a little spot called Alamo BBQ during a road trip up Interstate 95. The restaurant, which advertises that it specializes in Texas-style barbecue, is located in Church Hill, touted as Richmond’s oldest neighborhood. For history lovers like us, Alamo is just a few blocks from the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church where Patrick Henry gave his famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech during the American Revolutionary period. After eating, we walked off just a few of our dinner calories by visiting the church and attached graveyard.
We already knew before even entering Richmond that Alamo would be our kind of place because of the scouting we always conduct before traveling. The farther we travel, the more extensively we scout. I love barbecue. Molly loves tacos. That’s just what this eatery’s online menu showcases, along with a lengthy list of tempting sides. It never hurts a restaurant’s cause when it hits the sweet spots in both sets of our foodie tastebuds. What Alamo BBQ promises, it delivers.
I ordered a two-meat, three-sides BBQ platter with beef brisket and pulled pork, along with cowboy beans, jalapeno mac & cheese, and candied yams. I figured I needed the sweet yams to tone down the kick of the other two sides, and I was right! The mac was super cheesy and full of pepper punch. The cowboy beans spurred their own spice in each bite. The sweet yams were just the soothing sugar I needed.
I’ve enjoyed a lot of pork and a fair amount of brisket in my life, and Alamo’s offerings of both were top notch. The meats came combined in one spot on my plate, and if I had to compare the overall flavor profile of them I’d have to say they reminded me most of the Kansas City barbecue I’ve sampled. The sauce was much more tomatoey than most in a broad Southern barbecue sense, but it complimented the smoky meats very well. And I felt like I got plenty of food for the $15 I paid. Brisket is a $1 upgrade to the platter price.
Molly was also quite pleased with her tacos. She ordered one beef and one chicken taco, both served on flour tortillas with cheddar jack cheese and a roasted corn and black bean relish. We always sample each other’s food to get a greater representation of a restaurant’s menu, and I loved the relish as it was full of fresh flavor and crunchy texture that balanced with the soft tortilla and hearty meat. Molly especially liked that the menu defines what comes on each basic taco and all you need to do is decide which meat to feature in your selections. Often a taco menu is unclear about what will be on each tortilla or shell. That’s not the case here, and that’s worthy of praise.
Of course, there were plenty of menu items we didn’t get to eat on our visit. There’s a side of Texas caviar, which, and don’t be fooled by traditional knowledge, is a mixture of red onion, bell pepper, celery, black beans, white corn, honey, lime and cilantro vinaigrette. They also sell sides of Southern greens, potato salad and cornbread with honey butter, which I’ve come to love at other barbecue establishments on the East Coast. And as far as meats go, you can get pulled chicken, smoked sausage and blackened tilapia. There’s even a “Texas Train Wreck,” your choice of meat over mac & cheese, cowboy beans and cornbread, topped with diced onions and jalapenos. Whew!
Don’t miss the angled, back-in parking across the street from Alamo. We circled the neighborhood a few times, including a comical Chevy Chase-style roundabout experience, before noticing the free and easy-to-navigate spaces.
When you get to the restaurant, you walk up and order at a window, sit down in the outdoor dining area and wait for your name to be called when your food is ready. There’s no table service, but there is an optional tip jar at the order window.
Even in the middle of summer, it wasn’t too hot for eating—which has been a major struggle for us at outdoor barbecue restaurants in other Southern cities like Atlanta in the past—because there’s cover over the seating, and they had fans blazing in the afternoon on which we visited. The place offers a very relaxed atmosphere. Funk music and other diners enjoying an assortment of cold beverages with their meals helped create that feel for us.
I absolutely recommend a visit to Alamo if you’re in Richmond. I know there are plenty of other barbecue locations in Virginia, and I look forward to trying more of them, but I left this delicious joint with an early-explorer opinion that the state’s Q menu is as vast as any other in the South. I mean, this is hip Texas barbecue in a historic neighborhood in Virginia, the state where many outsiders believe its debatable whether you’re still in the South at all. And though such locations and cooking styles lead to quite a few arguments in the barbecue foodie world, to me it just means there’s more to experience and more to love.
Alamo BBQ, 2202 Jefferson Ave., Richmond, Va.