It was February 2018 when we made our first trek to Tender Smokehouse in Celina. Despite being almost 40 miles north of downtown Dallas, Tender's barbecue was worth the trip.
Since our visit, the internet did its thing and swept up Tender in a wave of popularity. First came word that former Major League Baseball player Torii Hunter was an investor in the restaurant, followed by a January Yelp survey that placed Tender Smokehouse No. 2 on its list of top places to eat in the country. More local press appeared that touted Tender’s Yelp popularity. Crowds descended en masse to the square in Celina, which invariably led to regular sellouts as Tender struggled with the sudden popularity. Tender Smokehouse was a bona fide hit.
Tender’s second location in Frisco, in the former home of 3 Stacks Smokehouse, officially opened for business in May, and we stopped in on a recent Saturday to see how things were playing out.
The three smokestacks from the former tenant still rise above the roof line, and by and large, Tender Smokehouse left much of the building in place for the new operation. Like the Celina location, orders are placed and payments made at a counter just to the left as you walk in. Patrons then take a number and find a seat in the dining room, and Tender’s staff brings your order after a short wait. With most of the interior layout unchanged, Tender’s Frisco location easily quadruples the size of the original, and then there's the spacious patio.
Running a larger restaurant obviously requires more staff, and Tender has done admirably in this regard. All the employees we interacted with were warm and friendly, and at least four staff members stopped by our table after our food was delivered to make sure we had everything we needed.
Speaking of food, the barbecue at Tender Frisco still measures up. The lean brisket still shines, and locally sourced sausage in regular and jalapeño-cheddar varieties will rock your mouth’s world. The killer mac and cheese carries over from the original, and the barbecue beans with chunks of brisket were a delight. The banana pudding is here, too; it made our barbecue dream tray, and we’re thrilled that we don’t have to drive as far to get it.
On top of it all, Tender strikes us as a veritable Frisco dining bargain. A tray of two meats and a side will lighten your wallet by just $12, with drinks (and banana pudding) adding just a few more dollars to the bill. That’s nearly fast-food levels of affordability, but with far better fare.
It's no small feat to open a second location of a popular restaurant and make it run as well as the original. To pull it off while expanding so sizeably is nothing short of magic, and in that regard, Tender Smokehouse's team should qualify as wizards. We’re on board no matter what sorcery makes the magic happen, and Frisco’s masses will be well-served by Tender Smokehouse’s fantastic barbecue.
Tender Smokehouse, 4226 Preston Road, Frisco. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
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