Best bbq dine in, near the Loop?
I am a San Francisco Chowhounder going to visit Chicago in July, and would love to try some graet BBQ. I do not know the area very well yet, and we will not have a car for the four days of our visit. Can you please advise on some great downtown bbq restaurants in the area?
I'm a bbqman myself and would have to agree with the folks below. Chicago is not a bbq haven. I used to frequent Smoke Daddy on Division but not sure if their ribs are still up to par. If anyone else knows speak up, but that would be the best and has a great atmosphere because it kind of mixes in some chicago blues atmosphere (live music) and the ribs have a unique flavor.
DO NOT go to Smoque. That'll be too out of the way for you anyway. but don't be swayed.
I cook a mean rib and to tell you the truth there isn't one restaurant that makes me want to forgo the labor of cooking myself. I haven't tried Carson's ribs though but have never heard raves about them either. I've also not tried Honey1. Should check that out when i have a chance I guess.
> I haven't tried Carson's ribs though but have
> never heard raves about them either.
I rave about them! I really like the Carson's style of ribs. They also do a nice job with other foods - great steaks and prime rib, best cole slaw in town - in case others in your party are not barbecue lovers.
However, ribs are one of those foods in Chicago (steaks are another) where there is no consensus on which is "best". For *every* place that some people rave about, there are others who dislike them there.
nsxtasy; I wont go so far as to say that you stand alone on your liking Carson's ribs, in fact, one could argue quite the opposite! But then again if popularity were the only true indicator of quality, our best burger thread would be full of recommendations for McDonald's and Wendy's! (that's a joke folks).
My point is this; I take issue with Carson's ribs because of both the preparation and the end result; they bake the ribs at too of a high heat for a quick/short cook time. The result is a "chewy" "crispy" and "tear off the bone" rib. A great rib "pulls" clean off the bone, does not fall off or mush either, the tearing off the bone is an underdone or quick heat cooking issue. Because of this cooking method, Carson's is not true bbq, which is low and slow. Carson's does have a tasty bbq sauce, but that too is not a indicator of a great rib either. From a history standpoint, bbq sauce was really invented as a masking agent to cover for poor cooking and low quality or stale meats, and these days it really should only be used as a condiment to compliment a meat, not engulf it or be the only flavor.
Now I contend, that if someone were inclined to learn how to cook really great ribs for themselves, that they would begin to learn some of the subtleties of proper rib preparation, causing the quality bar to be significantly raised for judging ribs in a more critical way, and to appreciate some of the finer points such as doneness, moisture content, bark, overall meat taste and texture etc. I personally spent 4-5 yrs of time wildly experimenting with virtually every cooking method in order to get to a point where I felt I could make a rack of ribs worthy of not only meeting my own high standards, but one where I would feel confident enough to take out in public compete with.
If more Chicagoan's were to take the opportunity to visit some of the bbq circuit competitions or sample many of the bbq restaurants south of us, I know they will fast discover what they've been missing. I theorize that this fact is clearly due to a lack of proper bbq education and a uniquely odd taste preference that yourself and many Chicagoan's appear to share. Anyway, for one of the best web based rib educations available, check out this informative link: http://amazingribs.com Oddly enough, the author of the site is a Chicagoan who has also appeared on "Check Please" as a side note, on that show he recommended Honey1.
Chicago may not be as great a barbecue destination as Kansas City, Texas, NC, etc, but it's probably better than the Bay Area. And, since the OP's nom de plume is "bbqman", let's help him get some barbecue here!
David: not all barbecue in Chicago is of the "faux" boiling type. Of the places that make real barbecue, Honey 1 is the easiest to get to without a car. Take the Blue Line el toward O'Hare, get off at Western and walk 6 blocks north (or transfer to the Western Ave. bus). The neighborhood is very safe.
Link to post with pictures of Honey 1's ribs, tips and links:
2241 N. Western Ave.
Tues - Thurs 11 am to 11 pm
Fri - Sat 11 am to midnight
Sun 1 pm to 9 pm
Unfortunately, on my very recent visit this January to Honey1 (on a Friday eve around 6 PM), I was more than a disappointed, I thought it was an outright tragedy! Sadly Honey1 has really declined all the way down to the garbage level, and I would even go so far as to say that no one should send anyone there, or least I certainly wont ever recommend it again.
The ribs were over charred to the point that they were crusty hard with absolutely no moisture, ribs were dry and chewy like pork jerky on a bone. I don't know if they ran out of real hickory wood or what, but everything tasted like Kingsford charcoal, the fries were greasy, not fresh and the coleslaw was just not edible. My dining companions meals were equally as bad.
BTW: I was being very sensitive to the OP's moniker! Thus the recommendation that we not embarrass ourselves and send him to a bad pick! Please note my thumbnail pic; Bad-2-da-Bone BBQ team...
bbqman (David), since you plan to be here in July, I'm thinking you might just be better off going to the Grant Park Taste of Chicago looking for ribs fresh off the grill and enjoying the music.
Taste of Chicago is a ten-day festival in Grant Park, next to the Loop (downtown Chicago). This year it runs June 29-July 8. It features booths from more than 70 restaurants, each of which offers 3-6 food items including one as a special "taste" (small portion). It also features music, fireworks, and other stuff. It is always very crowded (go when they first open in late morning or a bit before closing at night to avoid the worst crowds) and the weather is often extremely hot. The restaurants there represent an assortment of places; I've generally found that the food is generally disappointing, while not totally terrible. You can read more about it on the event website at www.tasteofchicago.us
Chicago is clearly not a BBQ town. As nsxtasy astutely points out, there are a multitude of other food genres Chicago does much better. And IMO BBQ is not one of them. My advise would be to pick a different food genre altogether so that your not massively disappointed and end up leaving this great culinary city with a bad food experience.
Honey1, Hecky's, Hillary's & Fat Willies are what BBQ afficandos consider a typical urban influenced barbecue style; meaning fried catfish, rib tips, greasy hot links and spare ribs, which are the menu staples along with vinegar dominate sauces and usually lots of it!
If your looking for any of the other serious slow smoked "Q" items like in Texas or Memphis, ie; pulled pork, turkey, ham, pork tenderloin, brisket, or really slow smoked ribs (both baby back & St Louis cut) you wont find it here, except at the chain Famous Dave's, which I am not endorsing.
Carson's is a bar & grill as is the Weber Grill, both with emphasis on the "grill", and would not meet your needs if your seeking slow smoked BBQ circuit quality cuisine.
Another big point about Chicago and why most bbq here is really "faux Q", these people are notorious rib "boilers". Meaning, that at least 70% or more of the restaurants either steam, bake, braise or boil the meat (esp. chicken & ribs), once the meat has hit cooking temperature they lay on a heavy bbq sauce and then give it a quick char an indoor gas grill. If that what you after, you'll love it here, if your after the real thing, you'll leave disappointed wishing you'd had the pizza instead.
There are many, many opinions about Chicagoland barbecue restaurants expressed in the following topic:
Carson's, which I mentioned as my favorite, is in River North, easy walking distance from the Loop and the "Magnificent Mile" area of Michigan Avenue. However, in all fairness, places like Honey 1 and Smoque, mentioned as favorites by others, are only a few miles away (about five miles and eight miles, respectively, from the Loop); if, after reading through that discussion, those places sound better to you than Carson's (or you'd like to try them both), it's easy enough to hop a cab or take public transit to get to them. Transit information is at www.transitchicago.com
Personally, if you have not spent much time here, I think there are other kinds of food that Chicago does better and more uniquely than barbecue. In particular, our deep-dish pizza is unique and highly Chow-worthy. Also, if you enjoy fine dining (I'm talking about FINE DINING from the best, most creative chefs in the country, more comparable to the French Laundry in Napa rather than the best places in San Francisco), we have a few places that will blow you away, and you don't have to worry about your luck getting through to a busy telephone line in order to make reservations. ;)
For links to a few more comprehensive topics, this topic is a good place to start: