Best Thing We Ate
Hottest BBQ Restaurants in the Bay AreaBy Virginia Miller
July 14, 2014
While it can be a struggle to find authentic, fatty and soulful barbecue outside of the South, there are some downright fantastic meat havens in the Bay Area. Often on the West Coast, Southern BBQ tends to be an amalgamation of styles rather than an authentic representation of one particular region's method. Our city's high cost of doing business and elevated bar for locally and sustainably sourced foods has spawned a unique barbecue culture that caters to a range of people, from the Haight's salty old hippies to SoMa's tech magnates. And then there's the booze. Fantastic beers and/or cocktails come along with many of the Bay Area's best spots. Without further ado, here are the seven barbecue havens every meat lover has to visit at least once: from established gems to crazy-good newcomers.
Dave McLean's Smokestack in the Dogpatch features a menu from Dennis Lee, who is also the chef-owner of Namu Gaji. High-quality meat options like barbecued chicken, pork ribs and brisket are offered by the pound, along with a range of sides — all of which you order at a counter. Although prices are on the high side, there's plenty to enjoy here, not the least of which is the stellar options coming out of the bar. The hand-pulled beers from McLean's long-excellent Magnolia Gastropub and other leading craft beers join a vibrant spirits selection and cocktails from bar manager Eric Quilty.
Don’t Miss: We have one word for you: brisket. Lee's brisket is appropriately fatty, thick-cut and fall-apart tender, with a perfectly crusted skin. It's a lot like the fatty-fabulous brisket we remember loving at Uncle Frank's in Mountain View before it closed in 2011. But Lee uses top-quality Waygu beef and brings in whispers of Asian influence, like kimchi BBQ sauce and other pickled sides.
Side Show: If Texas toast is in the house, do it. Same goes for a hearty cup of cranberry beans mingling with shredded chunks of pork.
2505 Third St.; 415-864-7468
4505 Burgers & BBQ opened in May in the former Da Pitt/Brother-in-Law's space on Divisadero Street. With the long-held cult following for Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats, we'd frankly go anywhere he opens up a place. There can be lines, and portions of 'cue can be painfully small for the price, but the taste of Farr's pork spareribs, pulled pork and brisket make up for it — especially since the kitchen stays open until 2 AM.
Don't Miss: The Best Damn Cheeseburger returns. This time "grass-fed" is added to its title.
Side Show: It's all about those baked beans loaded with BBQ burnt ends.
705 Divisadero St.; 415-231-6993
4505 BBQ & Burgers signage [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]
Beer geeks and barbecue fanatics have a new Downtown Berkeley destination: Perdition Smokehouse (pictured at top). From Chuck Stilphen, founder of craft-beer temples like The Trappist in Oakland and Mikkeller Bar SF, you know this spot is all about excellent beers. But it's also a barbecue restaurant not entirely unlike Smokestack, a craft-beer hall with casual, order-at-the-counter service and by-the-pound 'cue. Platters come with your choice of two meat options (beef brisket, pork shoulder, Diestel turkey, hot links and/or St. Louis pork ribs) and two sides. There's a picnic table-lined outdoor patio/beer garden soon to feature live music and trellises of hops.
Don't Miss: We fell for the fall-apart pulled pork shoulder. Crispy on the edges, it's ideal with South Carolina mustard sauce.
Side Show: Go for cowboy beans loaded with burnt ends and Texas caviar (aka black-eyed peas) tossed with crisp white corn and green and red peppers, providing welcome, fresh contrast to all that meat.
2050 University Ave., Berkeley; 510-900-5858
From pop-up to brick-and-mortar, Sneaky’s BBQ has long had a following for its barbecue, including nontraditional items like the beloved Kurobuta pork belly.
Don't Miss: They do right by Carolina-style pulled pork shoulder. It's among the best in town. Douse it in South Carolina mustard sauce or "Suffer," a spicy habanero sauce. Sneaky’s is to be commended for using all natural, hormone-free meats, smoked with locally cut almond wood.
Side Show: Try spanking fresh, not soggy or overcooked, collard greens.
2937 24th St.; 415-913-9533
Affordable CatHead’s BBQ, from Tennessee native Richard Park and Michigan-born Pamela Schafer, just hit its two-year anniversary in January. Smokers stand tall behind a long counter working their magic on meats for days. Vegetarians get a nod with cornmeal-crusted BBQ tofu.
Don't Miss: Besides their popular biscuit "as big as a cat’s head," go for the Coca Cola-smoked brisket, which has a subtle sweetness to its über-smoky beef. St. Louis ribs are also strong, blessed with extra fat, rendering the meat fall-apart tender.
Side Show: Sides are vegetarian, including mustard or spicy habanero slaw and pimento mac 'n' cheese. Collard greens taste healthy, a nice change of pace from traditional collards, though we miss the ham hocks they used to add.
1665 Folsom St.; 415-861-4242
Southpaw ribs [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]
A come-as-you-are Mission Street barbecue hangout, Southpaw's charming staff, reliable grub and friendly bar atmosphere has made many a regular since they opened in 2011. Better yet, they brew quality beers on-site and offer a solid American whiskey selection and cocktails to go with the 'cue.
Don't Miss: Dry-rubbed, smoked Hampshire pork ribs and beef brisket stand out, particularly with house Alabama white sauce, native to founder/manager Elizabeth Wells' home state. But pan-fried catfish is another, non-BBQ highlight, as is the heady smoked pulled goat with fry bread and the killer Natchez (aka nachos): warm potato chips drenched in pulled pork, black-eyed peas, pimento béchamel and hot sauce.
Side Show: Sides include many excellent, rotating choices, including a ham-hock cheddar grit cake or cilantro crème fraîche coleslaw.
2170 Mission St.; 415-934-9300
Brown Sugar Kitchen chef Tanya Holland and husband Phil Surkis opened this friendly West Oakland restaurant at the end of 2011 serving what they dubbed "Oakland-style" BBQ.
Don't Miss: Try brown-sugar-rubbed brisket, which is appropriately fatty and sings with sugary crust. Pulled pork in South Carolina mustard sauce and Dark & Stormy St. Louis ribs are other house favorites. There are BBQ-braised tofu nuggets for vegetarians.
Side Show: Fresh, spicy coleslaw, light on the mayo, is a happy companion, as are smoked mashed yams.
3303 San Pablo Ave., Oakland; 510-595-0227