SEATTLE — Tucked inside a former butcher shop on Rainier Avenue South, Lil Red's Jamaican BBQ and Soul Cuisine might have flown under the radar – if only the food weren't so amazing.
Some customers regularly drive an hour for the oxtail or pork. It’s long been a fan favorite on the Columbia City neighborhood Facebook page. And now, word is out internationally – thanks to a new book.
Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue by Adrian Miller designates Lil Red’s as one of the 20 best black-owned barbeque joints in the nation.
No one was more surprised than owner Erasto “Red” Jackson. He learned about it from a newspaper reporter.
"She's like, 'Did you know you're on a gentleman's list of top 20 BBQ places in the nation?' I was like, 'No,’” he said, laughing.
Red’s wife Lelieth agreed, adding “When the article came out, he was like, 'Sweetie, I just wanted my little restaurant. That's all. I just want to feed people.'"
She’s the “Lil” in the restaurant’s name, and the Jamaican title refers to her heritage. But the recipes are 100% originals from Red himself, who studied the art of barbeque as a home cook.
He started serving others years ago at an annual event he and Lil threw for neighbors, friends and family.
"Every year we would have a BBQ and people would come over,” Red said. "People actually started scheduling their summer vacations around it."
Sometime later, he started by selling plates out of the back of his 1991 grey Volvo station wagon. Word of his cooking spread, and in 2016 the Jacksons opened the brick-and-mortar location in Columbia City.
"Honestly the lord blessed me with a great staff,” he said. "We make everything in house. We make our own bacon, we make our own sausage."
They grind three kinds of meat – chuck, brisket and rib eye – to make their popular “Butter Burgers.”
Every meat is also smoked on-site. Sunni Easton is the pitmaster, and also happens to be Red's mom.
"He's fulfilling his dream and doing something that he loves at the same time,” she said.
Red’s flavors encompass a little bit of everything. He uses Texas-style salt and pepper, and goes sweet, ala Memphis or Kansas City. Customers also swear by the mac and cheese and sweet tea.
"If I didn't have bills, and if I didn’t have staff to pay, just people coming in and enjoying the food and telling us they enjoyed it would be payment enough,” Red said.
Lil Red’s is open six days a week, and offers both breakfast and lunch/dinner menus.
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