I was looking for a jerk chicken restaurant just south of the Trinity University campus in San Antonio when I drove past a brightly painted converted service station. I hadn’t planned on visiting Hot Spot BBQ that day, but when the jerk chicken shack was locked down tight, I made a U-turn.
Owner Rochelle Arsate took my order through a screen-covered window on the side of the building. The pork ribs wouldn’t be ready for another hour, and the cabrito not for another week. It’s so expensive to purchase a whole cabrito (young goat), that it must be special ordered, and Arsate would be happy to cook one for you. She cooks everything else here.
Oak smoke bellowed from the pit room behind the picnic table where I watched Arsate take out a brisket and a rack of lamb ribs (available only by the rack for $16) for my lunch. The lamb ribs were so tender that eating them individually as you would pork ribs wasn’t working well. Stripping a layer of meat off the bones and wrapping chunks of it into homemade flour tortillas with a little pico de gallo was a better option anyway. That’s one thing that just doesn’t come together the same on white bread.
The brisket was tender too, maybe a little too tender. The peppery rub and smoky, crunchy crust provided great flavor and a nice layer of tender fat was left along each slice. A stiff breeze dried the slices out and they broke apart too easily, but they were still enjoyable. The beef short ribs could have used some of that tenderness. They looked the part with a deep red smoke ring, but the meat served off the bone and already sliced was just undercooked.
On another visit the brisket was about the same – great flavor, but it dried out quickly. Eat it first when you visit. This time the pork ribs were ready. A ruddy bark studded with black pepper coated the large spare ribs, and they were smoky, moist, and tender. The quarter chicken was just as successful with moist meat and crispy skin. It just needed a few shakes of salt to liven it up. Or, did I mention the tortillas and pico de gallo? They can fix just about any meat wrapped up inside.
A lusciously moist serving of pulled pork didn’t need any help. It was the best item on either visit. Large chunks of smoky pork were coated in a black pepper rub. Arsate told me she pulled it to order to keep it juicy, and the extra effort was worth it. This item alone makes this a destination worth seeking out in San Antonio.
Effort is what defines Arsate’s role here. On both visits she smoked the meat, took the orders, and delivered the food. She’s a one-woman operation who has been through a lot. The responsibilities were once shared between her and her father Ricardo until his health failed. Then it was Rochelle who was out of commission after a bad car accident. That shut down the restaurant altogether for over a year, but now she’s back running the pit and the barbecue is better than ever.