f I’m being honest, the East Bay doesn’t have enough barbecue. There’s only a handful of small, family-owned joints around here—and I support them when I can. So, when a local friend told me about Ruby Q Smoke Fusion, a new barbecue spot in East Oakland, I made sure to check it out. I was extra hyped when I found out that it was run by a young married couple from the area, Reuben Mcelligott and Edlyn Rodriguez.
“It’s called fusion for a reason. I mean, look at the neighborhood we’re at and who we serve,” Rodriguez says.
She’s talking about Fruitvale, where you’ll find some of the best taco trucks anywhere on the entire West Coast. The daughter of Mexican immigrants from Jalisco, Rodriguez knows the inside of a kitchen, having learned from her mother. But Ruby Q doesn’t serve traditional Mexican fare. Instead, it’s a fusion of Rodriguez’s culinary heritage combined with her husband’s family trade: Southern-style smoked and grilled meats.
The restaurant opened in June 2020, at the height of the pandemic, but with Rodriguez and Mcelligott’s dedication to serving great food while representing their cultures, it has flourished in a much-needed way. Though he jokes that his name sounds “white” because of his Irish grandfather, Mcelligott is a millennial Black dude who was raised around the corner. He was a 90s kid who never fully fit into any box and enjoyed skating, sports and hip hop—all elements that are on display on the restaurant’s walls.
More importantly, the space is a homage to Mcelligott’s mother’s family, who first started their barbecue business in Louisiana in the early 1900s, and whose influence can still be felt and tasted over a century later. “We use the family recipe from back then for our barbecue sauce. It’s something my family has been doing for as long as I know,” he explains.
Both Mcelligott and Rodriguez are proud of their family’s legacies, and together, they’ve launched a dynamic and affordable culinary outlet that reflects where each of them come from—in a city known for its eclectic spirit of diversity and newness.
o what exactly do American barbecue and Mexican food look like when they’re combined together? Try Ruby Q’s barbecue brisket quesadilla—a soft, warm and decadently cheesy mixture of avocado, queso Mexicano, pico de gallo and, of course, a mound of lightly crisped, not-too-tangy brisket inside the gooey middle. You get a taste of both cultures in each mouthful. As a Mexican American from the Bay, I can honestly say it’s the most flavorful (and filling) quesadilla I’ve ever eaten. Sorry, abuelita.
A single quesadilla could easily be your entire meal. But this is barbecue, so you’ll have to toss in a side of pulled pork nachos to go with that. Though I’ve eaten nacho remixes like this before, this version was on another level: the perfect combination of fresh tortilla chips, homemade guacamole, cheese, and juicy, fall-apart-on-your-fork pork that has been slow-cooked for hours. If that’s not your style, try the Louisiana gumbo with sausage that is “smoked while you sleep”—a nod to Mcelligott’s Cajun roots—which isn’t commonly offered in traditional barbecue settings.
However, the Ruby Q experience goes beyond its culinary heritage. The entire time I was there, the spot was hella active with locals. It’s a homey environment where the entire neighborhood converges, literally, to get a taste. Located at the chaotic intersection of Fruitvale Avenue and San Leandro Street, the restaurant is tucked in between an industrial railroad crossing, a busy highway overpass, a bustling BART station, and two Mexican restaurants. It’s surprisingly easy to miss.
But if you close your eyes and inhale, you’ll only smell one thing: racks of meat being smoked daily. Follow that scent, and you’ll see why everyone is lining up.
During my recent weeknight visit, I noticed an Asian family, a group of middle-aged Black women, a Mexican couple, teenage Pacific Islanders, and a squad of white city cowboys wearing their hats, boots and belt buckles. Everyone was enjoying the warm backdoor patio and the Mexican music from the bar next door, all while grubbing on group-sized portions of barbecued goodness.
It was so busy that I felt guilty for interrupting the husband-and-wife team to ask questions, since they were the sole employees running the show. They even had two of their kids with them that day, who were reading and had built a fort in the corner. But like true Bay Area hustlers, the family made it look as effortless as a Steph Curry three-pointer in the 4th quarter. That’s because for Mcelligott, struggle and sacrifice are nothing new.
“I put everything into this. Did you see the billboard on 880 in front of the Coliseum? I put that up because I wanted everyone in my family to see what I was doing for us,” he says, referencing the massive advertisement he purchased when Ruby Q first opened. “Everybody can see that.”
celligott's vision began when he was a teenager growing up in East Oakland. His parents would send him to stay with his relatives in South Lake Tahoe every summer because he would “get into too much trouble” in his neighborhood. It was during those summer months away from the Bay that Mcelligott learned first-hand about his family’s barbecue business. Each year, he’d spend time working for his uncle, who ran Womack’s BBQ for over 40 years. But it was Mcelligott’s grandpa who opened the place in 1979 after helping to launch one of San Francisco’s most iconic barbecue restaurants, Leon’s, in the Fillmore District.
Between learning how to prepare chicken from expert grill masters, picking out the right types of wood to burn to get that variety of layered, smoky flavors, marinating ribs all day, and also regularly interacting with customers, Mcelligott began to steep himself in the saucy world of barbecue—then eventually added his own flair to the fire.
Working in restaurants was a switch for Mcelligott, who had spent most of his youth playing baseball and other sports. He held onto hopes of going professional until he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2012, forcing him to give up sports at age 23. After six months of chemotherapy, Mcelligott overcame his illness. Rather than being discouraged, he shifted toward a career in his other life’s passion: barbecue.
Mcelligott knew he wanted to do something positive for himself—and for his family and community—and after enrolling in Le Cordón Bleu at San Francisco, his hope of bringing a family restaurant to Oakland became a reality.
At this point in our meal, I’d eaten through a delectable portion of mac and cheese, candied beans, a rack of soft ribs, more pulled pork, and everyone’s favorite, a quarter-pound of tender brisket. Between me and a small group of hungry friends, we couldn’t finish it all—which is impressive, considering the relatively low price we paid.
Mcelligott was energetic and upbeat after an entire day’s shift, and throughout our conversation, he was all smiles and laughs. His spirit is radiant and genuinely soulful, like the playfully-decorated walls of his restaurant and the creative family recipes he uses. “This is everything I love,” Mcelligott says. His kids interrupt us with jokes, and he picks up the smallest one. I feel like a longtime friend visiting his home.
Though it wasn’t easy to launch a restaurant amidst a pandemic, Mcelligott tells me, business has been going well, and he and Rodriguez don’t foresee any slow-down. With its mixture of original barbecue recipes, Mexican fusion, Southern hospitality and a vibrant Bay Area energy that reflects the spirit of the neighborhood, Ruby Q Smoke Fusion is more than a place to get your favorite half-rack of ribs and homemade peach cobbler. It’s a place where you will find East Oakland still sustaining itself, and where you know you’ll be welcomed no matter what time it is, even when there is no food left to serve that day because it’s already been eaten.
Ruby Q Smoke Fusion is open at 954 Fruitvale Blvd. in Oakland Wednesday through Saturday, noon–8pm, and Sunday, 1–8pm.
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