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These three “bandidas” are changing the face of Texas barbecue

By Jayme Lozano Carver, The Texas Tribune

These three “bandidas” are changing the face of Texas barbecue” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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LUBBOCK — On any given weekday morning, the inviting aroma of ribs on the grill outside the Hill Barbecue shop tell Jewel Hill’s loyal customers that something delicious is for lunch — the smell from the pit is their smoke signal.

The majority of the menu at Hill’s is what you’d expect from any barbecue restaurant in Texas. But since July, Hill has surprised guests with a special menu from her new venture: the Bar-B-Que Bandidas.

The candied ribs from their pop-up events, in particular, have become so popular that when Hill had to close her brick and mortar location one day last week, she had to promise on social media that the special ribs would be included in the next day’s offerings.

“My goal is for them to be sticky with a sweet pineapple flavor and crispy on top,” she said.

The Bar-B-Que Bandidas, which specializes in Asian-Spanish fusion barbecue, is a partnership with close friends Simone See and Raquel Lopez.

The menu goes beyond what most expect from West Texas barbecue. Their indulgent and creative food has earned them a fan following — birria brisket ramen, bao buns with the burnt ends of pork belly, sausage potstickers, and the bandidas ribs.

Raquel Lopez, left and Simone See, right, prep their Bandidas Sauce at Hill Barbecue Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Lubbock, Texas. (Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune)
Raquel Lopez, left and Simone See, right, prep their Bandidas Sauce. Credit: Contributor
Jewel Hill checks briskets on a smoker at Hill Barbecue Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Lubbock, Texas. (Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune)
Jewel Hill checks briskets on a smoker. Credit: Contributor
First: Raquel Lopez and Simone See prep their Bandidas Sauce. Next: Jewel Hill checks briskets on a smoker. Credit: Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune
A brisket sits on the smoker at Hill Barbecue Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Lubbock, Texas. (Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune)
A brisket sits on the smoker at Hill Barbecue on Feb. 9. Credit: Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune

Texas is known for its legendary barbecue — a 2023 report named it the best state for barbecue in the U.S. While the report focuses on the food scenes in Austin, San Antonio, and Houston, it’s fair to say the High Plains has meat in the game. The region that stretches from Lubbock north into the Panhandle has developed a reputation over recent years for high quality barbecue. The Bar-B-Que Bandidas are hoping to stake their claim and change the face of Texas barbecue.

Women are typically the underdogs in the food industry, though they have a big impact in Texas. Nationally, women own just 34% of all restaurants, according to data from the National Restaurant Association. The rate is higher in Texas, about 41% of restaurants in the state are owned by women.

Even fewer restaurants are owned by minorities. About 17% of Texas restaurant owners are Asian, while Hispanic owners account for 32%.

“People write women off, even in the food industry,” said See, one of Hill’s partners. “I’m really proud to work with women and do something that I’ve only seen men do my entire life.”

Hill taught herself everything she knows about working a barbecue pit. While she had always worked in the kitchen, it was her husband who tended to the meat. Then when he was injured last summer, Hill took on the challenge.

“I had to get in here and learn to run the place all on my own, or else it wasn’t going to survive,” Hill said.

It wasn’t long after that Hill proved to herself, and customers, she could barbecue as good as the men. That’s when the idea for Bandidas took hold. Hill wanted to experiment with food more, but didn’t want to make drastic changes to the traditional food Hill Barbecue has been known for since 2018. After giving it some thought, she made two phone calls — one of them to See.

See grew up in Seminole, about 81 miles southwest of Lubbock. She moved to the area after attending culinary school in Dallas, and opened her food truck, Taste Buds Food Co., in 2018. Her food is inspired by her culture — her dad is Chinese and her mom is white, so she grew up eating a lot of Asian food. The Bandidas signature sauce is similar to her dad’s recipe for sweet and sour sauce.

Jewel Hill seasons ribs at Hill Barbecue Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Lubbock, Texas. (Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune)
Jewel Hill seasons ribs at Hill Barbecue. Credit: Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune
Raquel Lopez chops onions at Hill Barbecue Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Lubbock, Texas. (Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune)
Raquel Lopez chops onions. Credit: Contributor
Jewel Hill seasons ribs at Hill Barbecue and Raquel Lopez chops onions. The Bandidas next pop-up is expected in April. Credit: Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune
A fire burns in a pit smoker at Hill Barbecue Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Lubbock, Texas. (Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune)
A fire glows in a pit smoker at Hill Barbecue. Credit: Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune

See has her own style though when she cooks, including dishes like a fried chicken sandwich with blueberry sauce and Filipino style golden coconut curry. She was ready to try something different when Hill called her, and barbecue was one style of food she hadn’t made before.

“I love making strange, different things you won’t find in Lubbock, and that’s what I love about the Bandidas,” See said.

Hill made the second to Lopez. The two women grew up together in Levelland, 40 miles west of Lubbock, and now they are sister-in-laws. The Bandidas have been a different experience for Lopez, who has been a barber for 17 years and at most, cooked Mexican food at home for her family.

Like Hill and See, Lopez was craving something new. Lopez is the hype woman for the trio, and jumps on the chance to help prepare other items on the menu, like the Filipino mac salad, calabacitas and frijoles charros.

“It’s different cooking at home versus a business,” Lopez said. “This broadens my horizons a little bit more and opens my eyes to what goes into barbecuing.”

As word spread about the Bar-B-Que Bandidas and their ever-changing menu, Lopez was happy to see many of her clients wanting to know more and buy tickets. Her family has taken notice too — Lopez’s dad and brothers are the ones to barbecue, and now they want to see what she has up her sleeve.

“I love the rush of it all, and even better that it’s with the Bandidas,” Lopez said. “Why wouldn’t I want to be part of that?”

The success has been a boost to Hill’s confidence and proof of what she’s capable of in front of the barbecue pit. Aside from taste testing, her husband, Andrew, has been hands-off when it comes to the Bandidas.

“There have been countless situations where people in the barbecue world want to write me off because I’m a girl and can’t possibly know what I’m talking about,” Hill said. “So this has been a cool way to show I’m here and I can do this too.”

Since last summer, the trio has offered the full menu only a handful of times. The three women have busy lives. Hill has Hill Barbecue and home-schools her three daughters. See devotes much of her time to Taste Buds and teaches a culinary class for junior high students. Lopez works and takes care of her young daughter Maya — the unofficial fourth Bandida.

Still, they see the Bar-B-Que Bandidas as a good example for how diverse the barbecue and food industry can be.

“Obviously men can barbecue, they’ve been doing it for hundreds of years,” See said. “But I’m proud to be doing this with only women, something I’ve never done before, and do a good job.”

The Bandidas next pop-up is expected in April. They are all being asked by their respective customer bases, so they know the demand is there.

Simone See, left, Jewel Hill, center, and Raquel Lopez, right, stand in the alley behind Hill Barbecue Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Lubbock, Texas. (Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune)
From left: Bandidas Simone, Jewel and Raquel in the alley behind Hill Barbecue. Credit: Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/02/15/lubbock-texas-barbecue-bandidas/.

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