Ambience, Cheap eats, Family, Homestead, Ingredients, Neighborhoods, Nontraditional, Presentation, Service

Smoke Barbecue Taqueria.

Looks like I have tacos on my mind lately. Couldn’t resist another trip to Homestead this week.

Why — now that’s easy.

Ridiculous, right? Even in a photo taken in a hurry on my semi-crappy phone camera, that pork is tender and juicy but not dripping wet, the tortilla fresh, the sauce and accoutrements well-proportioned. That one there is pork with an apricot habanero sauce and caramelized onions.

Finding it the first time can be a minor pain, peeking out from a storefront on Eighth just east of the Homestead Grays Bridge, the A-frame sign on the sidewalk the best giveaway that they’re there and open. And it is cash-only, which in this iPad-and-a-Square world, I don’t quite understand.

I know I’ve said before that some of the street-style tacos around are overpriced for what they actually give you. But at $3.50 that sucker is a bargain. I liked the chicken one as well — pickled onions, Fresno hot sauce and just a lick of avocado cream. The standout on the short, sweet regular menu for me has been the taco with meat from pork ribs. Barbecue sauce made with porter beer and pickles and onions. Simple but not easy and worth savoring. You’ll want to rip through it in three bits or less, but I beg you: chew your food. Live a little.

I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to order the vegetarian taco. I just like the others too much. And the breakfast taco — I haven’t been there early enough yet. I usually stay pretty local in the mornings. It’ll happen at some point.

Jeff Petruso and Nelda Carranco run the place. He’s from Meadville. She’s not. They met in Austin — the fun one in Texas — and talked about opening a barbecue-style taqueria there. Two things that simply belong together.

Rents here were right and no one was doing anything like this. They put a lot of themselves into the place. It’s small but not cramped. Comfortable. Service was a bit slow at first because it was just the two of them. Hours were a little inconsistent. They’ve hired a couple folks and that’s pretty much a thing of the past.

They make everything themselves. Tortillas — if they run out, that’s it for the day — agua fresca, all the sauces and the meats.

And they make their own horchata. This is one of my favorite things on this planet. Not that I’ve been to others, I’m just saying. Horchata’s a sweet-spiced rice milk with cinnamon, some nutmeg. A little dust of lime zest on the top when it’s served over ice. Light. Smoothly refreshing.

I went in once on an abominably hot day. Fans blowing, dehumidifier running. There was no air-conditioning. And if you’ve been paying attention, I’m a large mammal. Heat, um, impacts me. That horchata was bliss. It’s plenty delicious other times. But that day there was nothing more perfect.

If I ever feel the need to spend money on food anywhere near that sprawling Waterfront development, I’ll make this my first choice.


14 thoughts on “Smoke Barbecue Taqueria.

  1. Lisa says:

    Um….hello!!! For wanting to support local business, Jacob, you sure are clueless about why small businesses are cash only!!!!! If they were to accept debit/credit cards, they would have to pay a surcharge to those companies and that’s less cash in their pocket! This is exactly why I hate food bloggers!

  2. Benjamin says:

    Agree entirely, Smoke is fantastic. You absolutely have to try the vegetarian taco though. I’m very much a meat fan, to a fault, and it’s one of the few vegetarian options I’ll easily order.

  3. Cash-only seems more and more like a Pittsburgh small business affectation. Why other reason is Primanti Bros cash-only? Somehow only accepting cash has became an indicator of hardscrabble authenticity.

    The financial argument is weak with services like Square available.

  4. Bob Dobbs says:

    cash only is b.s. inconvenient to customer . end of story . (i dont patronize places that won’t accept a debit card.)

  5. Lisa says:

    Maybe they’re not up on the latest and greatest technology and they’re spending more time cooking awesome food. Again, why foodbloggers suck. Waste of energy? Haha! One would think you’re writing for the LA/NY times and getting paid for it or something? Talk about a waste of energy.

  6. Lisa says:

    Haha! Did you talk with the owner of Smoke and inform/educate him/her about Square/ ask why they have a cash-only policy or did you just passive-aggressively hid behind your laptop and question their cash-only policy? (Rhetorical question.) Yet another “know-it-all” passive-aggressive food blogger.

  7. The primary reason why smaller, independently-owned businesses accept cash-only is to keep some of the money off the books. While I cannot confirm this is the case for Smoke, it is for many. Although it is deniable that retail may be heading toward a cashless transactions, any transactions via wire also shave percentages off the margin, which in the case of a BYOB restaurant, may be a lot thinner than you think. For instance, if food cost is 35% of the price, by the time you pay for your fixed costs and labor, you may only be seeing a 15% profit margin on sales. Which is commendable. However if 80% of your transactions are going through wire (and therefore inherently booked income), even a 3% wire fee can reduce your profitability drastically. Okay, so the question is “will accepting cards net me more volume?” Perhaps.

    For most fledgling businesses, the benefits of cash-in-hand outweigh the conveniences of taking cards. There is often a bank hold on wire funds. Vendors don’t give terms like they used to. They want money up front, either in cash or check. They charge service fees for paying in credit. So cash on hand is practical too. As they mature, if they survive, they will often grow to accept cards. Look at Vivo. For years, Sam only accepted cash, and people were more than willing to pay it to him. Now, he takes plastic. At both of his places (Bite Bistro and new Vivo in Sewickley).

    The bottom line is that opening a restaurant is a big gamble, with lots of overhead and a low success rate. Some places are “hardscrapple” and leverage the “cash only” option to their advantage until they find their feet and know what type of volume they will get. If it’s good food, people will come. They will pay, cash if necessary.

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