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Smoke -- new BBQ (maybe) on San Pablo, Berkeley

I heard today that the little Mexican restaurant adjoining the car wash on the west side of San Pablo has been replaced by a place called Smoke. My friend was pretty vague, but he mentioned brisket and sandwiches. Didn't know if (despite the name) they actually smoke their meat there. Oh, and he said it was "gourmet." Anyone else know anything?

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  1. Just opened about a week ago. Chef Tina hails from Texas, and knows her way around the kitchen. In addition to Texas BBQ of ribs and brisket, she offered tea smoked salmon last week (prepped in a wok). So it's more than just a Texas influence. I plan to go over this week. It's definitely likely to be a chow worthy location.

    Hours are limited as they get their feet wet:
    wed-friday 11-2 (I think)
    i forget the weekend schedule.

    2 Replies
    1. re: escargot3

      'car wash on the west side of San Pablo'

      anyone know the address?


      1. re: escargot3

        I stopped by today. Hours are wed-friday 11-2, sat-sun 11-4, closed m&t. Looks good!

      2. Here's more info:

        The address is 2434 San Pablo and the phone is 510 548-8801.
        The website is: www.smokeberkeley.com

        Menu includes a Feta Leek Tart, Salads and Texas Slow Smoked Beef
        Brisket and South Carolina Pulled Pork plates, sandwiches and sliders.
        Her Chocolate Pecan Pie won the Blue Ribbon at the Blanco County Fair
        and is to die for. She is serving fresh squeezed lemonade. No sodas.

        The food is fresh and locally sourced including the vegetables which
        come from Catalon Farms.

        Sounds promising.

        2 Replies
        1. re: escargot3

          Thanks for supplying all the information. It does sound promising.

          1. re: Glencora

            Try the delicious, moist Tea Smoked Salmon with ginger cilantro sauce, endorsed by Mrs. wolfe.

        2. I stopped in for lunch today. The brisket (plate, $8.00) was some of the best I've had, tender and moist. They're ramping up slowly, so they only had a mild sauce for it, but it was pleasantly citrusy without being too sweet. I asked about the South Carolina pulled pork; they aren't currently dressing it with the SC vinegar sauce, but that's coming too. They do their smoking in-house.

          Only a couple of tables, order at the counter, and chat with Tina the owner, a Chez Panisse alum, while you wait and while you eat.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ernie in berkeley

            I'm curious as to what makes it particularly South Carolinan as opposed to North Carolinan- have any idea?

            1. re: Pius Avocado III

              You can get the classic tomato and vinegar sauces in SC, but the thing that usually distinguishes it is a yellow mustard based sauce. There's a good post on serious eats at http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/10/so...

          2. I drove by Smoke, by the car wash where La Villa Taqueria used to be, and hey, they were open. Got a Brisket sandwich and quite liked it. Smokey and flavorful, slight dryness moistened by tasty red sauce. Tangy cole slaw as a choice for side dish. This bodes well. Plotting return visit soon.

            1. brisket plate (8)had brisket that was moist, tender and some portions were dry. nice tangy, sweet sauce.
              wasn't sure of the smoke in the meat. small portions of cornbread, salad, and potato side as well.
              lemonade(1.5) made to order. pretty tart as i didn't want sugar in it.
              open days scheduled tuesday thru saturdays for now. limited staff.

              1. Wow, that brisket is great. I tried both that and the pulled pork in sliders, brisket was the definite winner. I'm going to be craving it until I make it back to have a full plate. I thought the sauce on the brisket was great but they said it was the same on both, so it must have been a rub on the brisket.

                Good eggy potato salad, classic cole slaw.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  "classic cole slaw" without mayonnaise.

                2. Link:

                  Smoke Berkeley
                  2434 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                  1. Walked by here today and the plates look really good. Excited also because I think I'll be able to work what they have into my unfortunate gluten-free restrictions.

                    Mentioned this place to my bf and he says, "I refuse to go to any new burger/meat place that doesn't serve chips." He means fries. I hope they bother with a little deep fryer and make fries because I don't want to go alone.

                    Besides Berkeley Bowl West's cafe and 900 Grayson, it's not easy to get good, unadulterated food around this area.

                    Looks like the prices are reasonable, and the customers were happy.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Toothsomeone

                      Eat at Smoke, get a new bf.;-)
                      It's only 1500 feet to the nearest Jack in the Box.

                      1. re: wolfe

                        Not sure which is worse, a bf that demands a booth or demands chips (fries).

                      2. re: Toothsomeone

                        Gee, seems like there might be a few more options.

                        I think it would be ok to go without him. And you can either go with other friends or by yourself.

                      3. We stopped by for lunch today. Tina was delightful, very welcoming and proud of her menu. We tried the tea-smoked salmon (loved that tangy sauce) and the pulled pork sandwich. Sides were the tangy cole slaw, which was a hit, and the potato salad. We were "gifted" with a slice of the chocolate pecan pie, also a winner. If there's such a thing as "healthy" BBQ, this is it.

                        18 Replies
                        1. re: Barb S

                          I liked it. I had the brisket plate. I was expecting slices and it was more like nuggets - bite sized pieces. This would have worked well in the sandwich, but I was expecting slices. Taste was good. Slaw was fine. Little corn muffin was cute and tasty - I was unsure whether the little bit of heat I was tasting was from the muffin or the sauce. I was still hungry after my meal. Tina was very nice. I'd have gladly paid $2 more to be full. The salmon sounds delicious.

                            1. re: lmnopm

                              For $2.50 more you can add a slider. I've done this with the brisket sandwich. But you're correct that portions are a little smaller than at other local BBQ joints.

                              1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                How does this fare compare to Everett & Jones?

                                1. re: Toothsomeone

                                  Hard to compare, because E&J has ribs, chicken and links in addition to the brisket, and I don't think they have pulled pork. E&J's brisket can be dryer. Only one level of heat in the Smoke sauce (fairly mild) for now. Better potato salad at Smoke.

                                  1. re: Toothsomeone

                                    Smoke's brisket and sauce are both superior to E&J's. The only thing I really like at E&J are the hot links.

                                  2. re: ernie in berkeley

                                    Yes, but the prices are also somewhat lower. Thanks for the solution to my insatiable BBQ appetite!

                                  3. re: lmnopm

                                    Spice is in the muffin--- it has hot red and green peppers in it.

                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                      Second visit - the tea smoked salmon. It was an excellent piece of fish and a generous portion, too - served over a bit of rice, plus a side, for $8.50. Not knowing how big the fish would be, I also ordered a pork slider, which was not necessary. Tina, who is no spring chicken, has a delightful eagerness to please and to do things right. Hopefully the overhead in that spot is low enough that she'll have the chance to thrive there.

                                      1. re: lmnopm

                                        I believe Tina Ferguson-Riffe is not the friendly older woman who works the counter but the skinny, younger, tattooed woman who usually stays in the back.

                                        Ferguson-Riffe is also a member of the Berkeley Medical Cannabis commission, so maybe the name is a double-entendre.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          The friendly older woman introduced herself to me as "Tina", fwiw.

                                          1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                            she told me her husband was a documentary film maker. looks like he did "Waiting to Inhale" about Medical Marijuana

                                            she's credited as caterer on one of his projects

                                            1. re: drewskiSF

                                              hmmm, what is the name of the restaurant again? I think I starting to see something here. Any reports on her brownies?

                                              1. re: drewskiSF

                                                oh, to be clear, i should have said the "she" i referred to is the older woman at the counter. she also introduced herself as Tina and I'm pretty sure she's the owner/chef.

                                                . . . and i haven't tried any brownies there ;-)

                                                1. re: drewskiSF

                                                  I didn't see any brownies when I went. Might you be thinking about her chocolate pecan pie? It's an attempt to find a middle ground between the consumer demand for pecan pie and avoiding the gluey mess that pecan pie typically is. The reports above are favorable, but I was neutral toward it--- I don't care for brownies and it was like a brownie in a pie crust.

                                                  Edit: ha ha, I just realized the context of the thread, which was mostly collapsed when I responded.

                                                  1. re: drewskiSF

                                                    Yeah, the older woman at the counter is the owner because I asked her "Are yoiu the owner' and she said 'yes'.

                                                    The brisket was sliced. I forgot to ask for sauce on the side, but it was dressed nicely and not drowning in the sauce. You could taste the meat. It was tender with a nice touch of fat.

                                                    The cornbread was fine. It wasn't sweet, but it wasn't too dry.

                                                    I am not a fan of the potato salad or the slaw. The slaw is oil dressed and sweet For me, cole slaw means mayo. The mashed potato salad had bits of celery and the taste of eggs, but I prefer my potato salad to have cubes of potatos and not be the consistancy of mashed potatoes.

                                                    That chocolate pecan pie is great though. It tastes like raw brownie dough with a bit of crust and is studded with pecans. If looking for pecan pie, this isn't it. However, it is the best brownie in the Bay Area ... just in pie form.

                                                    No "truffle pops". Today''s special was mac and cheese (sold out). Also sweet tea was on the menu today and cherry lemonade. Still dying from an endless cold so only warm drinks are appealing to me now. Will try when I'm feeling better.

                                                    I like the sensible portion with price. Those humungous portions usually are what put me off bbq. The only problem was the meat was luke warm (took a taste in the car).

                                                    This is good food with good ingredients. Just think California-style ... and that doesn't have to be a bad thing

                                                    If you don't want to lose restaurant address links ... speak up ... Occupy Chow

                                                    "Restaurants" Database To Be Eliminated

                                    2. Went back again to try out more of what Smoke Berkeley has to offer. This time the pulled pork called to me. In the plate (not sandwich) I got a nice sized pile of moist, chopped pork, lightly smoky and just barely warm, sauced and boxed up with a cute little corn muffin and a side (I chose Potato salad). It was filling and delicious. High quality ingredients, skillfully prepared by folks who care. Good stuff going on here, y'all.

                                      Smoke Berkeley
                                      2434 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                                      1. They've started dressing their pulled-pork in a pungent and deep vinegar-pepper sauce, which I think is Carolina style. I think they're the only place around that has this style--I've never come across it before. It's delicious.

                                        Also (maybe a special) excellent mac-and-cheese, with a nice crust of cheddar on top.

                                        Someone else will have to report on the "truffle pops"--chocolate-dipped chocolate truffle on a lollipop stick--I didn't have room for one.

                                        They're planning to expand their hours soon.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                          Looney's Smokehouse has both a N. Carolina vinegar based sauce & a S. Carolina mustard based.

                                          i've eaten there once. the pulled pork was lightly smokey, tender, and juicy. it was a bit fattier than most too.

                                          1. re: drewskiSF

                                            Both Memphis MInnies and Roadside BBQ also carry North & South Carolina sauces.

                                            Roadside BBQ
                                            3751 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

                                          2. re: ernie in berkeley

                                            If the pulled pork came already mixed with the vinegary sauce, that's how B does their occasional whole hog. I'm not a fan of that style.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Do you prefer to apply the vinegar sauce after the fact, or you just don't like vinegar sauce?

                                              When I do pulled pork, I mix about half the amount of vinegar sauce I want in with the pulled meat, leaving room for more on top. For my paalate, the vinegar is good at hiding/compensating for the fattiness of the meat.

                                              1. re: BernalKC

                                                I always want my sauce on the side.

                                                I've tried a lot of Carolina-style vinegar sauces and never found one I particularly liked. Maybe our pork's not fatty enough to balance it.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  The aha moment for me in North Carolina was discovering how much sweeter and spicier the vinegar dips were on balance than what I'd been served here at home. Also using some proportion of cider vinegar in some cases for a mellower tanginess.

                                          3. Tina got a larger smoker today and hopes to use it somewhere up the line for ribs on the weekend.

                                            I got the salmon today with the salad as a side. The salad was a spring mix with a few grape tomatoes and slices of of cucumber. The blue cheese buttermilk dressing she makes is wonderful. She should sell bottles of it. There's also a Mediterrean vinagrette.

                                            I liked the mac and cheese. It is not the creamy kind but the cheese quality is excellent. Had the pork sliker and I also liked the porky c hunks of pig and will probably get the plate next time.

                                            I like this place. I like I can pick up a healthy tasty salmon to go.

                                            1. I've had the brisket, and my serving was quite moist, tender, and flavorful. There's no pink 'smoke ring', but that's not really necessary.

                                              I do wish the serving size was bigger - it's a few slices too small for my stomach. The brisket is so good, that it really only needs sauce sparingly, and mine was served smothered under it. A tasty, but itty-bitty cornbread muffin came with the meal. All in all good, but frankly a little pricey.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: epicurious_sf

                                                is it still $8 for the brisket plate + 1 side?

                                                1. re: drewskiSF

                                                  here's a picture of the smoked brisket plate .... for $8.00 ......that was a few weeks ago.

                                              2. New this week: pastrami! Juicy, just enough brine, nice smoky flavor, served with "bread and butter" pickles (kind of like half-sours).

                                                They're doing test runs of ribs, too, and I got a sample sparerib, also juicy and tender, with an ancho rub and a squirt of peppery sauce.

                                                1. Ribs! Tina was experimenting with them recently and was satisfied enough to add them as regular Friday and Saturday specials. Very tender and smoky, just enough fat to moisten them up, and with a great rub. The portion was generous--I couldn't finish the plate of four or five meaty ribs (with a big mac-and-cheese side), and they reheated up nicely for dinner.

                                                  Hot BBQ sauce is now available, in addition to the mild and the vinegar sauces.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. Went back again last week. Brisket still moist, smokey and tender. Cornbread got bigger. Now they have new spicy sauce which I recommend. Tina said she is making her own pastrami. Looking forward to trying that.

                                                    Smoke Berkeley
                                                    2434 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: flavorenhancer

                                                      was in there for the first time yesterday. They were able to do a combo plate for me with the pulled pork and the brisket with some of the hot bbq sauce and the pepper vinegar sauce on top and coleslaw on the side with jalepeno corn bread added.

                                                      The portion isn't huge, just 5 oz of meat altogether, but as a lunch plate it's actually just right for those of us who have to return to the office without falling asleep. I thought the brisket was okay, (I'm a bigger fan of Double D in Oakland), but I thought the pulled pork was excellent. moist and went well with pepper vinagar. I thought the slaw was okay, though a little tart for my taste. The cornbread was excellent though. A nice portion, moist, cakey, topped with a bit of honey.

                                                      I'm looking forward to going back for the smoked salmon, and the mac & cheese looked REALLY good.

                                                      1. re: nicedragonboy

                                                        Do you have a trick for knowing when Double D is open?

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          I've only been able to find them open for sure on Saturday early afternoon from 11:30am-3pm. I'm sure that's not their only hours, but that's usually the time I go and I've only found them closed once out of the last 5 times I've gone at that time.

                                                      1. Apparently channel 5 was there filming a segment.

                                                        1. Tina is doing smoked half chickens on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (with any leftovers in a chicken salad on Thursday). It looked great -- a lacquered reddish brown -- but I'd already ordered ribs. Also a nice watermelon and feta salad.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Glencora

                                                            I had the smoked 1/4 chicken yesterday. ($8 with Mexican cornbread and one side; $12 for 1/2 chicken and 2 sides) They offer a choice of light or dark. We both got dark. It's a good deal for a takeout dinner, considering you could easily pay more for a sandwich. I don't really like the cornbread. Always a bit dry. Though I'm not a cornbread fan in general. The baked beans are fine. The potato salad I tasted was too mushy for me. I actually added a salad from home, though she does offer green salad as a side. Ask for the sauce separately if that's what you want. I didn't, and it was poured all over it. Didn't really bother me. The chicken was very smokey. Firm, not falling apart. I might get it again, then again if I want takeout chicken I'm awful close to Zaki's.

                                                          2. Tina's added a smoked lamb sandwich to the menu (currently a special, but she says it's very popular so it might become a regular thing). A big pile of thinly-sliced, smoky medium-rare lamb, tender and moist, on Acme pain de mie with a spread of dijonaise. Excellent.

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                                              That does sound good. Someone who considers himself in the know told me Tina uses liquid smoke on the small items (whatever that means). Think so? And should I care?

                                                              1. re: Glencora

                                                                Ask her! I suspect she might use it in the sauces, but not in the meats themselves. The smokers provide plenty of flavor.

                                                                1. re: Glencora

                                                                  No. So does Hillstone Restaurant Group (Hillston/Houston's/Bandera/Gulfstream/Grills), so do tons of people. Is it the pure way? No. But if you can't taste it, who cares, as long as the meat is actually being smoked in the first place.

                                                                  I'm a fan of Smoke and had great experiences both times I went in there.

                                                                2. re: ernie in berkeley

                                                                  Thanks for posting, EIB. I'm eager to go there and try the lamb.

                                                                3. Went tonight. Really disliked what I got.

                                                                  Got brisket and a pulled pork sandwich. Both brisket and pork were very dry. I understand some people go for a leaner brisket than I do, but I can't believe this is anyone's idea of flavorful.

                                                                  I feel like this will come off as Internet hyperbole, but the meat truly did remind me of high-school cafeteria hot dish meat, although they're starting with better ingredients to be sure.

                                                                  Latest previous comment on this place came 5 October 2012 and the consensus up till that point seems pretty positive, which is why I went.

                                                                  I much preferred the brisket at B-SIDE BBQ further south on San Pablo.

                                                                  Was this an off night? I'd like to be persuaded to give 'em another chance, because I liked both the people (a man and a woman) in there tonight.

                                                                  Ugly Plate

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: UglyPlate

                                                                    I also went based on the good reviews, however, I went in mid December. Had the pork ribs.The flavor of the sauce (not the spicy one) was good. I didn't like the meat though, particularly the preparation and resulting texture. There was not much flavor in the meat itself, seasone/smoke or otherwise. It was slightly chewy actually...definitely not slow smoked. It was not even close to fall off the bone with the fat slightly rendered which is the way I like it. I had about 4 ribs with the plate. They were large ribs but what was a bit odd was they they came out steaming...as in hot but not from a BBQ, grill or ?? The meat was not tender with some chewiness so I was not impressed. I remember feeling disappointed. Will head to B-side.

                                                                    1. re: UglyPlate

                                                                      I went a few months ago (sometime during college football season, that's all I remember), and was similarly unmoved. I didn't hate it as much as you do, but I remember thinking that better BBQ existed in the Bay, especially considering the not-at-all-cheap prices they were charging. Never went back.

                                                                    2. Went for a late lunch yesterday and was so disappointed. The ribs simply had no smoked flavor whatsoever. They were large (not my preference, but I can make do) and fall-off-the-bone tender, but no smoke, no satisfying chew, no flavor. The sauce (medium spicy) was one-note. The corn bread had an odd fish taste.

                                                                      I admit to being picky re BBQ and always trying to find an ideal that may not exist outside of St. Louis back in the day. But it just seem to miss the mark too much for me.

                                                                      One bright spot -- the coleslaw!! That is my ideal coleslaw, the one that I make at home, down to the celery seeds. Perfect sweet/sour/oil/vinegar style.