Smoke in black and white

Smoke Taqueria (Pittsburgh, PA)

September 2012

Homestead is a borough just beyond Pittsburgh. It can feel like a very monotonous compilation of big box stores and  confusing parking lots, but when one crosses the tracks and really enters the main drag, there are remnants of the old, bustling community that once thrived on the steel industry. For example, the historical Carnegie Library of Homestead still boasts a bowling alley that predates manual pin resetting and an indoor pool. You can almost feel the ghost of an ornately dressed bather brushing by you as you take in the sparkle of the antique tile. Like many a story in this region, when the steel industry left, jobs and consequently people left. The neighborhood fell to decay, but recent endeavors are reviving a reason to visit Homestead, reasons beyond a shopping list for a bulk supply of toilet paper or hardware. My current number one reason to “trek” to Homestead? Smoke BBQ Taqueria!

Smoke’s commitment to its craft quickly becomes apparent. The vintage letters line the windowsill of the large, glass storefront and lead to bold color accents, hardwood floors, exposed brick, a mix of vintage and modern furniture, a carefully crafted menu and most importantly, the very enticing scent of smoked meats and tacos in the air. The atmosphere is warm and cozy. You might feel like you are traveling and have stumbled upon a winner of a hole-in-the-wall joint. That’s because you have!

Anyone can throw a heap of stir-fried meats onto a taco shell, add some shredded lettuce and call it a dia, but Smoke prepares their tacos holistically. They smoke the meats in house, so the flavor is intensely intertwined in the process, not spooned on right before service. The flour shells are rolled on site, adding another layer of fresh distinction. The menu’s sides evidence a mix of the owners Pittsburgh and southwestern stints: apple jalapeño slaw (Pittsburghers love their slaw), mascarpone macaroni ‘n cheese and creamy, red potato salad with leeks and crispy bacon!

Smoke is a BYOB establishment, but unless I were to bring a bottle yielding a handcrafted margarita or mojito, I find contentment in the fresh fruit agua fresca. In this case, the flavor of the night was a refreshing strawberry water with the extra flavor of lime zest.

Between two trips, I have tried most of the taco offerings, but much like the Burg Gourmand (a true Smoke aficionado), my consistent favorite is the Pork Taco with apricot habanero sauce and caramelized onions.  Additionally, Smoke offers menu specials. On this occasion, we immediately opted for the lightly fried, chorizo balls, which were similar to a falafel with a south-of-the-border spin.

Smoke is as adorable as it is delicious, so get yourself to Homestead! Who knows? Maybe the revival of the neighborhood’s former character will emerge between Amity and Anne street.

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