Sometimes, the stressors of life can make the world feel like it’s spinning faster than a haunted carousel operated by members of My Chemical Romance. If you’re in the market for a soothing pause, here’s what you should do: grab a meal from Lil Red, a Jamaican restaurant in Columbia City that serves phenomenal BBQ and soul food. You can forget about political scandals and the skyrocketing cost of living (for now at least), while supporting one of Seattle’s best takeout spots in the process.
Everything from the kitchen at Lil Red is pure comfort food royalty, whether eaten separately or in the same damn forkful. And while the menu here is made up of meals involving one meat, like peppery escovitch fish or pork ribs, and two sides, like smashed yams or collard greens, we’re here to tell you about the four things you cannot ignore: brisket, jerk chicken, mac and cheese, and the best mashed potatoes in the entire city. The charred brisket has an ideal blend of smoke and fat, the juicy jerk chicken has a ton of delicious heat, the spiced mac and cheese is like liquid velvet, and the flavorful garlicky mash deserves a standing ovation at Benaroya Hall followed by a backyard birthday party. With bounce houses.
It doesn’t matter if you eat your plate on the curb outside the restaurant or at home after a trip in the car—all the meats and sides hold up incredibly well. They also make for delicious leftovers the next day, as a next-morning brisket starred in a breakfast taco with some shredded Beecher’s flagship and avocado that made our hallway neighbors really jealous.
So maybe tender beef and spicy chicken won’t make a haunted carousel come to a full stop, as much as we want it to. But with a plate or two from Lil Red, you can feel great knowing you’re eating some stupendous soul food and doing your part to help a Seattle small business.
We haven’t found a better beef brisket in Seattle than Lil Red’s. Each thick slice is tender and smoky, with a ton of flavor from fat, charred ends, and a tasty spice rub. The side of BBQ sauce is sweet, rich, and doesn’t steal the meat’s thunder.
Tinted crimson from smoke, this bone-in, skin-on chicken is fantastic on its own. But when you drizzle Lil Red’s spicy jerk sauce on top, it’s a complete home run. If you’re sharing with someone else, the best way to go is with one brisket meal and one jerk chicken meal.
We’re not exaggerating here when we say that Lil Red serves the greatest mashed potatoes you will eat in this city, period. These are creamy, flavorful (thanks to a bunch of spices and roasted garlic), and taste just as comforting on their own as they do in the same bite with a mouthful of brisket, mac and cheese, or puddle of jerk sauce.
First, let it be known that Lil Red uses wide elbow macaroni with ridges, a pasta shape that’s architecturally designed to hold as much indulgent cheese sauce as possible. Now that we have logistics out of the way, let it also be known that these velvety, spiced noodles are excellent. Yeah, vegetables are great, but we endorse the mac and garlic mashed potatoes as your two sides.
Don’t forget that a fresh cornbread muffin comes with every meal order, and it’s the perfect intermission between bites of smoked meats and sides. We also like to toast them for a few minutes and then top (OK, completely overload) them with salted butter.
Please take a moment to acknowledge just how adorable this miniature pie looks in the palm of an adult hand. Done? Cool, now go ahead and order one. There’s a considerable tang from the combination of lemon and buttermilk, just enough sugar to cut through all that acid, and a flaky crust.