A touch of swagger is essential if you want to compete in the barbecue game. It’s a business where, from backyards to brick-and-mortar storefronts, bragging rights and word-of-mouth praise are a grillmaster’s stock and trade.
It also helps to let people know a little bit about what sets your seared and smoked delicacies apart from others.
Sameer Aldabashi’s chosen name for his new barbecue restaurant—Halal Boss Smokehouse—is inspired.
It’s also a bit audacious in far Northern California, where every tri-tip slinging spatula swinger can’t wait to tell you why their meat can’t be beat.
But Aldabashi has the chops—both the skills and cuts of meat—to back up the “boss” moniker. He started barbecuing professionally in his early teens, when his family migrated from Yemen and his father opened a grocery/meat market with a food court in Oakland. If you know, then you know—some of the best barbecue ever can be found in that city’s bodegas and mini marts, and Sameer said his family’s competed with the best, drawing patrons from all over the Bay Area in search of what he described as “something a little different.”
The first difference is in the quality of meat. Halal meat is raised and processed according to Muslim law, which is surprisingly similar in some requirements to “certified organic” but far more strict and far-reaching. These rules include that the meat cannot contain hormones, preservatives or other chemicals; animals must be humanely raised and killed; and all blood must be drained.
Additionally, HBS adds Middle Eastern flair to some of its barbecue entrees and other dishes that makes them truly unique—and incredibly tasty.
HBS is a real family restaurant. The current staff consists of Sameer and his sisters Yulanda and Fahdah (who said she prefers to go by “Jasmine”). Sameer mans the grill, Yulanda prepares the specials, and Jasmine runs the register and serves food in the immaculately clean and nicely appointed dining area.
During a recent visit, my dining companion and I ordered separate Smokehouse Combos ($18 each), which feature a choice of two barbecued meats and two sides, served with a dinner roll made even more delicious when used to sop up some of HBS’s sweet barbecue sauce. Between our two trays, I sampled the lamb ribs, tri-tip and beef links, all of which were delicious (beef ribs and smoked chicken were the other options). Sauce is served cooked-in or on the side to order, and I took mine on the side to try both the mild and the spicy varieties, both of which were delicious. All of the cuts made this meat lover’s heart sing with delight.
The sides I sampled, the Boss BBQ beans and macaroni salad, were also exceptional. The beans were thick and sweet, like HBS’s barbecue sauce, with a subtle taste and aroma of honey. The macaroni salad was light and refreshing—a simple, savory contrast to the beans—and included peas and finely chopped onions and red peppers.
Additionally, I lucked into a sizable helping of the daily special, one of Yulanda’s original concoctions so new that it was yet to be named (“I can cook dishes but I can never name them; I just know what I put in them,” she said). After ordering, I spotted Jasmine delivering a plate to another customer and asked if I could try a small sample. I was expecting a spoonful or two when Yulanda appeared with a heaping plate of her creation: gluten-free penne pasta with chicken, spinach, black beans, corn and cilantro, all in a heavy cream sauce colored by and kicking with cayenne pepper. To my good fortune, the extra entree was fantastic. Other daily specials include lamb kabsa (a meat and rice dish), salmon and rice, and a variety of traditional Middle Eastern dishes and Yulanda’s originals.
My companion and I left HBS feeling full and happy, both from our food and the friendly conversation with the Aldabashi family. There’s still plenty more on the menu to work through—chicken, fish and tri-tip sandwiches, fried and crispy chicken wings and burgers. I can’t wait to return.
Halal Boss Smokehouse
1600 Mangrove Ave., Ste. 175
Hours: 10:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. (closed Tuesdays)