Travis Mills has long been in the restaurant business. His dad is chef Kenny Mills of Chop House Burgers of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives fame. The younger Mills worked with his dad through the many iterations of the burger joint (they moved around a lot). One of those iterations involved a small neighborhood hamburger stand in Arlington on Little Road.
The elder Mills had been running his thick brisket-packed burgers business there for several years but recently moved out of that spot and back into the original location on Park Row where Guy Fieri first discovered them. It was something like a full circle tour of Arlington.
With Dad out of the way, younger Mills took over the Little Road location and opened MillsMade Barbecue in that spot, literally the day after his father left.
Over the past few years, while Kenny was making burgers around Arlington, Travis spread his wings to barbecue joints around North Texas. He worked at Heim in Fort Worth before moving to the Dallas location. He eventually left there and moved over to Chuy’s “chasing a 401K and benefits,” as he put it, but one day while making enchiladas realized he had to get back to smoking meats.
With the hamburger business back at the higher traffic Park Row location, MillsMade Barbecue dropped in like a Tetris block.
It’s a simple spot, an old building with about 10 tables inside and a handful outside. A sheet of paper taped over the kitchen has the daily menu written in black and red marker: brisket ($12 per half-pound), pulled pork ($9 per half-pound), chicken, spare ribs and two types of sausage. There are also brisket and pulled pork sandwiches, $10 and $8. House-made sides include the usual coleslaw, potato salad (mustard), beans and rice, pinto beans and fries. More recently they added mac and cheese with brisket.
Here’s what’s most endearing about this little spot on Little Road: A one-meat plate comes with a quarter pound of meat, two sides and is $8. Yes, a barbecue meal for less than 10 bucks. A two-meat plate (two quarter pounds of meat) is just $16. That’s still less than many mediocre fast-casual meals.
For our brisket plate, Travis asked if we wanted fatty or lean pieces. We went fatty and got a couple of slices from the end (which, we prefer). Another time we got a sliced beef sandwich with falling-apart center slices. The spare ribs really stood out here ($10 per half-pound); a gentle tug, and the smoky meat slid off the bone.
The macaroni and cheese with bits of brisket is scandalous. We’re talking kinfolk-getting-in-kick-fights level of scandal. The cheese is rich and smooth with pops of smoke in each bite. Both bean sides also stood out. The beans and rice were thick, smoky with a hefty amount of small triangles of sausage throughout. The pinto beans were full of tiny chunks of smoked meat as well. A well-done batch of beans says so much about a place.
MillsMade Barbecue isn’t flashy. It’s not an event. You don’t need to bring a chair or show up early. There’s nary an Instagram wall to be found. It actually feels a bit old school, which is kind of a nice change. The food speaks for itself. Just don’t go with people you care about and then try to share the brisket macaroni and cheese.
MillsMade Barbecue, 2502 Little Road (Arlington), 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday, closed Monday