If Chicago Barbecue is similar to anyone's, it's Memphis. But more, it's just Chicago. ;)
I grew up there, lived there still more than half my life, and visit frequently, and I have never had barbecue downtown or north side that I would go back to a second time. (No, I've not been to Smoque, but when I visit, I want to go where I know it's great.)
When I think of 'Que in Chicago, I want rib tips and hot links, and preferably from Lem's or Coleman's or Ribs and Bibs, or The Original Painted Doll. That, for me, is "Real Chicago Que."
The only problem is that when most people talk about Chicago BBQ, they are talking about Carsons, Robinsons, Twin Anchors, or Gale Street Inn. All put out BBQ anomalies when placed in the context of other regions known for BBQ (do a search for "meat jello" and Chicago and you'll get the idea about what used to pass as BBQ in Chicago). Those places, BTW, have been around forever.
I would agree, though that Lem's Ribs and Ribs and Bibs do BBQ that would be recognized as "authentic" (haven't been to Coleman's or OPD). There are a whole host of newer BBQ places that crank out "authentic" BBQ, too: Smoque, Honky Tonk, Smoke Daddy, Honey One and others.
I'm not sure that I think Chicago is a BBQ-town. Austin, yes. Houston, yeah. Kansas City, probably. We have some decent barbeque, but nothing that I would consider a destination. Smoque is probably the best of the bunch, but if I were visiting Chicago I would probably head for:
Mexican - (Topolobambo, Frontera, Fonda del Mar, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, Nuevo Leon, plenty of others) forget tacos and enchaladas: all regional styles of cooking and food not available most other places.
Vietnamese - a bus, el or taxi drive to Argyle St. in an ethnic neighborhood, but so worth it.
Thai -- authentic holes in the wall include Spoon, Sticky Rice and TAC, all in neighborhoods away from the main business districts.
"Fancy Places" - original world class options and too many to name include Avec, Blackbird, Sepia, Alinea, Charlie Trotter, Spiaggia, Custom House, Naha, Everest, MK, North Pond etc. etc. Give us a little more direction regarding cost, type of food or location and we can help steer you.
Other inexpensive foods unique to Chicago are deep dish and stuffed pizza. Both invented in Chicago. Italian Beef sandwiches and Hot Doug's for the best and most unique sausages you've ever had for lunch. You can find plenty of threads on pizza, Italian Beef and Hot Doug's here.
And, yeah, that midtown thing applies to Manhattan. Don't mind if we get a little testy. The north/south center of Chicago is Madison Avenue in the Loop. Numbers go up from there in both directions. We talk about the Loop (bounded by the "el" train), the South Loop, the West Loop, Michigan Avenue, Gold Coast, River North (referring to north of the Chicago River), River West, etc. Chicago is very much a city of neighborhoods.
I completely disagree about the bbq being done here . . . and it is largely different than the style in Texas where brisket and beef ribs are the norm. And it's also very different than KC. Perhaps you have not been to Honey 1, Barbara Ann's, Uncle John's, Smoque, Honky Tonk, but I happen to think these places offer very good to excellent bbq . . . wood smoked . . . and since I prefer spare ribs to beef ribs, I prefer that to Texas ribs. I do like brisket and that's why I like Smoque.
My guess is either you are not a fan of bbq or maybe not a fan of Arkansas-style (somewhat Memphis too) bbq.
I'm with you, BRB -
Chicago might not have any TEXAS BBQ that is destination worthy, but if you ask me, Uncle John's is easily destination worthy for CHICAGO BBQ. And please also note, that none of the places BRB mentioned are fake bbq (no smoke) type joints. They are the real deal - wood smoke. Chicago has become known for joints that bake or boil meats and then slather them in bbq sauce - more of stew than bbq. The places BRB listed do NOT do that - they are real BBQ joints.
I guess my point is this - if you are looking for anything other than Chicago BBQ, you will probably be a little disappointed. If you go to the fake bbq places seeking real bbq, you will be disappointed. If you go to the real chicago bbq joints that serve up real chicago wood smoked bbq, you might enjoy it - but it is NOT Texas q.
Chicago q staples are spares, rib tips and hot links.
Pulled pork, brisket, beef sausage, and turkey breast is not at the forefront of the Chicago Q scene. There are a few places that make passable versions, but it just ain't Texas Q.
Slowrider - are you looking for CHICAGO BBQ?
Or just ANY BBQ?
I tihnk your best bet for ANY BBQ in that area would be Honky Tonk.
Your best bet for CHICAGO BBQ would be Barbara Ann's or Uncle John's - although both would be a quick drive south of "midtown." At either, I'd suggest a tip link combo with sauce on the side.
I know of two...one's on the northside, one's in Pilsen.
Smoque gets a lot of attention becaue it was featured on Diner's Drive-In's and Dive's. We waited for almost an hour one night to get BBQ. It was really good.
Just last week, we ate at Honkey Tonk BBQ in Pilsen. It really is a little hole in the wall, but they just won a trophy at Memphis in May for their pork shoulder. BBQ was really good, but I thought they skimped on the sides a little bit.
http://midmichigandining.com/2009/06/16/honky-tonk-bbq-chicago/ <---Honky Tonk BBQ
3800 N Pulaski Rd Ste 2, Chicago, IL 60641
Honky Tonk BBQ
1213 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608