TNT Diner

A popular barbecue restaurant is expanding to Tacoma. Recognize these ribs?

A barbecue plate from Southbay Dickerson’s BBQ in Olympia.
A barbecue plate from Southbay Dickerson’s BBQ in Olympia.

A random observation after a post-hockey cocktail last year will bring a new barbecue restaurant to South Tacoma Way this year.

Expect a spring or later opening for a Tacoma outpost of Southbay Dickerson’s BBQ, founded in 2003 in Olympia.

Eric Dickerson, co-owner of Southbay with wife Suvantha Dickerson, tells the story of how he popped by the Mule Tavern on South Tacoma Way with a buddy after a hockey game. While exiting the popular bar known for its housemade ginger beer and tonic, Dickerson noticed a building across the street.

“Check out that cool sign,” he told his friend.

It was the Opal Lounge, a longtime bar with a prominent neon sign and in an old building with good bones.

“I went home and told my wife about this building. She said, ‘Shut up and go to bed,’” Dickerson said.

Not long after, the couple were in Tacoma, this time lunching together at Asado.

“We used Waze (a traffic app) to go home, and Waze took us down South Tacoma Way. And there was a for-sale sign on that building,” said Suvantha.

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Ribs and pulled chicken from Southbay Dickerson’s BBQ in Olympia. Sue Kidd

Added Eric, “It was a tiny little for-sale sign. We stopped and called. It was on a Wednesday. We looked at it on Saturday, and by Monday made an offer on it and it was accepted. It happened really quick, but I think it was destiny. We’ve been looking for a building for about four years to buy in Olympia.”

That Olympia search did not yield a building suitable for a second Southbay Dickerson’s, a Northwest-style barbecue restaurant.

By Northwest, I mean it’s a hybrid and not easily categorized. It’s got a little bit of Texas simplicity, a nod to Kansas City flavors in the sauces and a Northwest backbone in how the meat is smoked. They use cherry (and sometimes alder) in the smoker.

Dickerson’s palate and slow-and-low recipes were born out of backyard barbecuing in Olympia, where he grew up. He and Suvantha took the barbecue professional in 2003, starting their business by slinging food at the farmers market and regional events. They soon moved to their first of three spaces in Olympia.

“Our first location was on Capitol Way. It was 400 square feet and sat eight people. In the summer, I put like five or six tables outside,” said Dickerson.

He sometimes had to take charge of seat management for dawdling diners.

“I’m really thankful my customers were so understanding, but I’d say, ‘Hey you gotta go, we need that seat.’ A lot of those people still eat here all those years later,” said Dickerson.

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A jar of barbecue sauce from Southbay Dickerson’s BBQ in Olympia. Sue Kidd

He and Suvantha moved Southbay briefly to another Olympia location before landing at their current 10-year home at 619 Legion Way. That space seats about 100 spread across a two-level dining room with space for private parties. There’s also a bar — with a significantly long whiskey list — and an outdoor patio with picnic tables.

The Tacoma outpost of Southbay Dickerson’s will follow the same format as the Olympia location with a succinct menu that lists ribs, pulled pork and chicken, hot links and brisket smoked on site over cherry.

Those meats are served by-the-pound ($14 to $26), as sandwiches with two sides ($12.25 to $17) or as two- three- and four-meat platters with sides ($19 to $27.25). Sides cover all the barbecue basics with coleslaw, potato salad, baked beans, cornbread, macaroni and cheese and peach cobbler.

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Southbay Dickerson’s BBQ in Olympia. Sue Kidd

That whiskey list is just shy of 100 and contains broad styles. There’s everything from Buffalo Trace ($7 a shot) to Pappy Van Winkle 12-year ($50 a shot). The tap list includes South Sound brews.

The Tacoma restaurant will have a bar, but it will be smaller than Olympia’s Southbay. The entire restaurant will be about half the size of the Olympia location, with seating for about 50 and a small enclosed beer garden in the back with room for about 10.

“It’s going to be a comfortable place,” said Dickerson. “It’s a place you want to sit down and have a few drinks.”

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Smoked brisket from Southbay Dickerson’s BBQ in Olympia. Sue Kidd

He described what they believe to be a 1930s-era bar they uncovered during the tear-down.

“We’ve been rebuilding that as a centerpiece. We tried to keep the classicness of the building, the history of the building. You have to appreciate the history of something that’s been there that long, but I think we’ve made it our own.”

They described high-top bar seating and surfaces featuring brick that’s original to the building.

The on-site smoker will be completely stick-fueled like the Olympia one is, but it will be a slightly smaller smoker.

Another rib expansion: Seattle’s Bitterroot BBQ also is expanding to Tacoma. An outpost is planned for downtown’s Brewery Blocks project.

Southbay Dickerson’s BBQ

Where: 619 Legion Way SE, Olympia

Coming to Tacoma this spring: 5226 South Tacoma Way

Info: 360-943-6900,

Sue Kidd has been The News Tribune’s restaurant critic since 2008. She dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals. Sue is a South Sound native. She writes about new restaurants, openings and closures and knows where to find the best tacos in every neighborhood.