On its website today, OpenTable.com announced the top 30 barbecue restaurants in the U.S., a list that includes local restaurants Gus's, Naples Rib Company and Boneyard Bistro. The votes were culled from 16,000 reviews from what the company calls "verified diners," people who both made and kept reservations at the restaurants in question. I am very fond of Boneyard Bistro, where the grass-fed organic Strauss beef ribs grilled over red oak are almost as stunning as the restaurant's portfolio of rare Zinfandel.
But OpenTable's list of barbecue restaurants suffers from what pollsters sometimes call selection bias -- the results are limited not only to data from people who happen to use the OpenTable app, which I imagine skews heavily toward urban areas, but to the upscale restaurants that happen to use OpenTable themselves.
A roster of great American barbecue that omits Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City, Skylight Inn in Ayden, and Lem's on the south side of Chicago, not to mention every one of the famous pits in central Texas that might inspire you to hop on the next Southwest flight, is probably not of much use as a guide. (It even misses the better places -- Mighty Quinn's, Fette Sau, Brisket Town -- in New York.)
A list of the best barbecue joints that use OpenTable is nice, but pretty much beside the point. I'm sure the folks in the four-hour line outside Austin's Franklin's Barbecue would enjoy the privilege of reserving their brisket sandwiches online, but the best barbecue is generally served at places that don't have plates or silverware, much less computerized reservation systems.
If you want wonderful barbecue in Los Angeles, you are probably better off going to the original Bludso's in Compton for its phenomenal brisket, to Phillip's in Leimert Park for spareribs, to Bigmista for pig candy at the various farmers markets where he appears, or to Smoke City Market for profoundly Texas-style sausage in Sherman Oaks. J 'n' J down on Adams has good beef ribs. Woody's on Slauson is worth a stop. Hambone's in Bellflower has brisket fries, which: brisket fries!
Or you could pull up OpenTable and make a reservation at Gus's. The neon outside is very nice.
Boneyard Bistro, 13539 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, (818) 906-7427, www.boneyardbistro.com
Bludso's BBQ, 811 S. Long Beach Blvd., Compton, (310) 637-1342, bludsosbbq.com
Phillip's Barbecue, 4307 Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 292-7613
Bigmista's Barbecue, mobile, (562) 423-4244, www.bigmista.com
Smoke City Market, 5242 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 855-1280, www.smokecitymarket.com
J 'n' J Burger and BBQ, 5754 W. Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, (323) 934-5390, jnj-bbq.com
Woody's Bar-B-Que, 3446 W. Slauson Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 294-9443, www.woodysbarbquela.com