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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Barbecue, Southern
Casual restaurant

Mon–Thu 11:00am–9:00pm
Fri–Sat 11:00am–10:00pm
Sun 11:00am–9:00pm

Features Kid-friendly, outdoor dining
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Not accepted


Northeast Portland
325 NE Russell St.
Portland, OR
(503) 528-8224
Russell Street BBQ
How can such a sweetly hokey barbecue joint be so divisive?

Barbecue is one of those topics you just don’t want to broach, like politics, religion, or pizza. All across America—but especially in the South—there is a whole lot of passion without much unification. Everyone has an opinion, but there’s little regional confidence to help back any of it up. It’s like Lord of the Flies, only for ribs.

Russell Street is right in the middle of this argument, with some fans and some detractors. Its supporters love its Texas classics like pimento cheese sandwiches and Frito pie, and the fact that it uses carefully raised meat that is free of hormones and antibiotics (a claim most exemplary Texas barbecue joints can’t make—or don’t really care to); its critics point out that the meat often feels rubbery, perhaps due to the restaurant’s use of lean meat, as attested to on their menus. Beware the barbecue joint that advertises lean meat.

One thing is certain: any experienced Southern-barbecue pilgrim will balk at a menu full of grilled tofu, grilled salmon, and grilled chicken breast slathered in sauce. It does call into question the seriousness of the place as a barbecue destination. Shrimp? Not on your life, partner.

But fries are good, sides are reasonably good, and cheap as the dickens. We suspect the slew of pigs has a lot to do with its popularity. There are lots of pigs here: wood pigs, ceramic pigs, pig posters, and on and on. Red-checkered tablecloths set the mood, as does the goofy paraphernalia on the walls.

As far as the main event goes, well, it doesn’t. Ribs are rubbery and not very smoky, brisket has come dry and chewy, and sauce seems to be what this place is really counting on for success. Sure, in Texas, there’s sauce, but it’s hardly the point—not even close.

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