This small Hillman City restaurant has some of Seattle’s finest barbecue, and with giant portions to boot.
Some advice before visiting Emma’s BBQ: Wear your eatin’ pants. This small Hillman City restaurant does not mess around when it comes to the portion size of their excellent barbecue.
5303 Rainier Ave. S., (Hillman City) Seattle; open Monday-Friday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday noon – 7 p.m.; 206-413-1523
When asked about regional influences in her cooking, owner Tess Thomas said it’s “Emma-style” before explaining that her mother was from central Arkansas so her barbecue shares a bit with both Arkansas and Memphis. Emma used to run her own place in Bremerton (you can still see the mural on Dr. Martin Luther King Way over there; Emma’s great-granddaughter Miceala helped make that happen). Whatever the provenance, this barbecue is some of Seattle’s finest.
Tess has opened her restaurant at an age when most are enjoying retirement; her granddaughters handle front-of-house and social-media operations, and at least one close friend helps in the kitchen. There are three tables (one of which frequently hosts great-grandbabies doing homework or playing games) and a long, narrow counter with abundant purse hooks and a few stools. All orders come packed in takeout containers, even if you’re eating in — it’s a smart choice for the almost-certain leftovers.
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The menu: Meats are available in dinner combos, which come with two sides and your choice of white, wheat or cornbread (if you’re really lucky, the cornbread will be right out of the oven), or a la carte by the pound. A sandwich, served on a rectangular roll (and with either coleslaw or potato salad), is a sizable meal. Barbecue classics are all represented: pork ribs, pulled pork, brisket, chicken and hot links. Round things off with collards, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes or baked beans. There are two sauces — mild or hot — and both are wonderfully smoky, not sweet.
Don’t miss: It’s impossible to play favorites with the meats. The chicken, served chopped off the bone, has a noteworthy succulence, while brisket is a bit leaner than tradition dictates and shows off a notable smoke ring. When it comes to pork, the ribs barely cling to the bone but can still be eaten out of hand; the pulled pork has plentiful pieces of “bark” mixed in, the crunchy, blackened crust from the outside of the roast that’s like bacon at its best.
How to order: If there’s a line, you’ll probably be handed a menu that doubles as an order sheet. Pencil in your choices and it will all be carefully double-checked when it’s your turn at the register. You can also take a menu with you and call ahead.
Prices: A pulled-pork sandwich with coleslaw ($11.75), three way combination dinner ($28), blackberry lemonade ($3.50) and soda ($1), totaled $44.25 before tax and tip, a pigout dinner for two plus leftovers for three additional meals.