A pair of code compliance officers from the City of Dallas approached Jamie Sosa on a Sunday afternoon in February. A line of customers looked on as the officers told him to shut down his barbecue trailer for the day. He was operating without a permit, and received a $250 ticket. Sosa took the ticket and kept serving. “I have hundreds of dollars’ worth of barbecue in my smoker, and I have a crowd that I need to feed,” he told the officers. They promised another ticket for every two additional people he served. He got five more tickets before they left. “I’m not mad at them,” Sosa said. “They’re just doing their job.” Such is the life of an underground barbecue slinger.

Sosa has since gone legit, selling barbecue and burgers from the Oak Cliff Korral event center parking lot along West Davis Street. He said it’s less stressful after spending the last few years looking over his shoulder for city employees. Enforcement was lax when he started his barbecue business back in late 2020, so Sosa never bothered with permits. He just parked his trailer-mounted smoker wherever he thought customers would find him. A year into it, he got his first ticket from code compliance. The next time, they sent the police to shut him down and shoo off his customers. He donated all the barbecue that remained to a group for the homeless. It was a tough lesson, but he couldn’t yet afford to get his permits, so he snuck around more carefully.

“We didn’t have a set location because we were running from the city,” Sosa said. He always parked Sosa’s Barbecue within a five mile radius of his native Oak Cliff neighborhood, and shared his location on Instagram hours before opening. “They followed me on Instagram,” he said of code compliance, so he’d give out the address only through private messages. “There was too much heat,” Sosa said, so for several months last fall he decamped to Denver, where his mother lives.

“We were making more money over there than here,” Sosa said of Denver. He credits the lack of competition and code enforcement. His younger brother, Joshua, was helping him and suggested they stay in Colorado for good. “We started something in Dallas and we need to finish it,” Sosa responded. “Our customers are waiting for us.” He came back to Texas during the holiday season. Sosa’s now in his fourth year, and his barbecue is only getting better.

Back in early February, I found Sosa in a Ross Dress for Less parking lot in West Dallas. His business was limited to Saturdays and Sundays back then, but had gotten so popular that another mobile barbecue operation set up closer to the entrance of the sprawling parking lot, maybe hoping to funnel away business. Sosa had a griddle fired up next to the cutting block for his signature brisket quesadillas. They’re made on giant flour tortillas with ground ancho chiles mixed into the dough. The quesadillas are absolutely stuffed with chopped brisket, shredded cheese, salsa verde, diced raw onion, and cilantro. All the barbecue was impressive, but what he’s serving just a few months later is a big step up.

After moving to the more permanent spot at the Oak Cliff Korral, the hours for Sosa’s have expanded significantly to six days a week. Sosa switches over to serving burgers after 6 p.m. on weekdays. The Sosa’s Special Burger is a double meat, double cheese patty melt with crisp bacon on Texas toast. Grilled onions provide some sweetness, and the fresh grilled jalapeños give a little crunch and heat. It comes with a side of tater tots and a drink for $18. Loaded fries topped with cheese and chopped brisket are also available.

I stopped by for lunch on a recent Tuesday to find no line, and some spectacular barbecue. Thick-cut slices of fatty brisket had the perfect doneness: The fat was soft, but not melted, and barely held together the tender beef. Black bark from the oak smoke surrounded each well-seasoned slice. The pork ribs were satisfyingly simple. There’s no sauce or glaze and minimal black pepper, so the flavors of salted pork and smoke shine through. The meat was easy to tear from the bone, but didn’t fall off.

The smoked turkey was juicy, though the bark was a bit chewy. For a three-meat plate with two sides ($26), I’d include the plump jalapeño cheese links from Kiolbassa sausage. Sweet and savory brisket beans and a creamy mac ’n’ cheese studded with chopped bacon and jalapeños were the only sides, and both were flavorful. I loved the lime agua fresca Sosa makes (flavors rotate daily) in glass jars that sit in the ice chest among the canned drinks and bottled water.

Sosa’s skills have developed over four years of building his business, but I wondered where he got his passion for barbecue. He said he learned to love it when working at the now-closed Post Oak Smokehouse in Irving. He left the restaurant and Dallas to go earn bigger paychecks in the California oil fields. Sosa bought his first smoker in 2016. In 2020, a friend convinced him to stick with barbecue and work for himself. Sosa put down a big deposit on the Bewley smoker he now cooks on. “When you spend that type of money. . .” he said, indicating that the smoker investment meant the end of the old fields. By the time the smoker and its trailer were complete, he had to borrow money from a friend to buy a truck to pull it all. Then he just had to sell as much barbecue as possible. “Being broke, that pushes you a lot,” he said.

“I always have the mentality waking up, ‘Hey we’re gonna sell out,’ ” Sosa told me. He needs that positivity to keep him going, because he doesn’t get it from his family. “The dumbest thing you ever did was the barbecue,” is the refrain from his grandparents, according to Sosa. They can’t understand why he left what they saw as a good job in the oil fields. He was living with them when he started Sosa’s Barbecue, but has since found his own place. Sosa said the move to a legitimate setup has brought him peace, but hasn’t changed some minds. “I thought my family was going to be proud of me,” he said. Regardless, Sosa is closer to his goal. “We’re not there to the brick-and-mortar yet, but this is a good stepping stone,” he said.

Sosa does have the longtime support of Marlene Gonzalez, an employee who has helped him serve through the lean, nomadic years. His girlfriend, Jennifer Rangel, provides moral support, and runs the register and cleans restrooms when required. Sosa has added more staff recently, like Jorge Ramos, who has now taken on some cooking and slicing duties. “He reminds me of myself when I was starting to cook,” Sosa said. The new employees give Sosa a sense of responsibility he didn’t have when he first opened. Back then, he was happy making customers happy, often giving away many generous samples. His accountant asked, “Are you running a charity or are you running a business?” Now he’s making money, but Sosa said his biggest blessing is his faithful customers. His mission now is simple, he said: “I want to be of service.”

Sosa’s Barbecue
3900 W. Davis, Dallas
Phone: 469-428-5667
Hours: Tuesday 6–midnight; Wednesday–Thursday 11–3 and 6–10; Friday 11–3 and 6–11; Saturday–Sunday noon–8
Pitmaster: Jamie Sosa
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2020