When barbecue cravings hit, here are 11 places to get your fill
Barbecue is the epitome of American food — a style of cooking, with myriad regional variations, built on indigenous traditions, perfected over centuries (particularly, with its early Southern roots, by enslaved African cooks) and continuously evolving through immigrant influences and individualist innovation. No one set of flavors can ever fully define the national palate, but a whole lot of us certainly take pleasure in the nexus of meat, fat, smoke, char, salt, pepper and, if you include sauce, sweetness and vinegary tang.
Is Los Angeles a barbecue town? The question feels superfluous; barbecue is simply part of L.A.’s magnificent pluralism. Contemporary barbecue chefs stand on the shoulders of forerunners like Woody Phillips, a Louisiana native who opened his first restaurant, Woody’s Bar-B-Que, in Hyde Park in 1975. (Phillips died on Dec. 31; the restaurant’s three locations remain family-operated.)
Last decade’s outsize popularity of central Texas-style smoked meats, led by Austin’s Aaron Franklin, have deeply influenced L.A. barbecue. Brisket is omnipresent, and many of the most ardent barbecue chefs began by refining their skills in their backyards. Plenty of them have yet to make the leap to permanent storefronts; as with culinary professionals of all kinds, they maintain their audiences via Instagram. (My favorite barbecue in California remains a pop-up. Read on.)
This is by no means an exhaustive search, but a collection of places across the metro area that I seek out when the hunger for barbecue arises. Let me add a 12th to keep in mind: Heritage Barbecue, run by pit master Daniel Castillo and his wife, Brenda, is scheduled to open the weekend of Aug. 1 in San Juan Capistrano. They’ve been holding popups and previews, and I recently gorged on Castillo’s handiwork, including brisket, pork ribs, shredded smoked beef cheeks (exceptionally good), borracho beans and blue cheese-bacon potato salad. One never knows how things run when a restaurant finally opens, but Heritage is mighty promising.
AJ’s Tex-Mex & Barbeque Restaurant
A relative newcomer, AJ’s opened in Valley Village in 2018, offering the standard barbecue assortment (brisket, ribs, chicken) with admirable consistency. My go-to here is a sandwich constructed from a hybrid of influences: tri-tip, the California-favored cut from the bottom of the sirloin, blanketed in Alabama-style white barbecue sauce and pickled onions for punch. Pickup or delivery. 12123 Riverside Drive, Valley Village, (818) 505-8865, ajtexmexbbq.com
Adam Perry Lang, who built a nationwide reputation as a barbecue expert, opened his swank steakhouse near the corner of Hollywood and Vine in 2018. But in the uncertainty of 2020, smoked meats are now front-and-center comforts on APL’s menu. Look for plates highlighting pork ribs, lush brisket, softly ropy pulled pork and gently smoked chicken with sides that include braised beans and mashed sweet potatoes with banana and brown sugar. Meats come in sandwich form as well. Lang’s textbook wedge, thrashed with blue cheese and draped with an almost obscene flop of grilled bacon, had become a chophouse signature; it hits the mark in takeout form, too. Pickup or delivery. 1680 Vine St., Los Angeles, (323) 416-1280, aplrestaurant.com
Jason Selva’s East L.A. popup is a 2020 entrant in the barbecue playing field. An instructor in mixed martial arts who previously worked in restaurants, he began selling barbecue as a fundraiser to help his students purchase gear — and stayed with it when he found that demand kept up as the COVID-19 crisis endured. Beyond classic meats (briskets, beef and pork ribs, pulled chicken, burnt ends), zero in on the cubes of smoked pork belly with sides of coleslaw and brisket-topped cheesy potatoes. Friday pickup only. beatdownbbq.com
Texas native Kevin Bludso is a forefather of L.A.’s modern barbecue — and brisket — boom. He learned the smoky arts from his grandmother, who ran a roadside stand in Corsicana, Texas, and opened his first restaurant in Compton in 2008. In the last decade, he expanded to far bigger digs at the edge of Hancock Park, complete with draft beers and a list of nearly four dozen whiskies. Though the Compton original closed in 2016, the La Brea location maintains the straightforward splendor of Bludso’s brisket, beef sausage and ribs, with porky greens and banana pudding framing the meal. Pickup or delivery. 609 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 931-2583, barandque.com
Brother’s Keeper BBQ
Mo Stewart and Brandon McIntosh operate pop-ups out of Long Beach; pre-shutdown, they made frequent appearances at breweries around the metro area. They’re worth the follow on Instagram to see where they might show up next: They have a gift for smoking tri-tip, and their cheddar sausages pair righteously with a honey-butter biscuit. Also meriting the caloric rush: “The Mess,” a mound of shoestring fries covered with the Gouda sauce that binds their mac and cheese, baked beans and brisket or (the power move) pulled pork. Pickup only. brotherskeeperbbq.com
Maple Block Meat Co.
On a tour of duty through Southern California in 2015, Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn declared the brisket at Maple Block in Culver City the finest of his trip. Encrusted with black pepper, fragrant from fruitwood smoke, the meat revealing a beautiful crosshatch — it remains a contender in an ever-more-crowded field. Pulled pork and homemade sausage with the right snap also impress; order them on a trifecta plate with sides of meat-flecked pintos and vinegary slaw. Order a side of buttermilk biscuits and then save a couple to rewarm for breakfast. Pickup or delivery. 3973 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, (310) 313-6328, mapleblockmeat.com
Moo’s Craft Barbecue
Andrew and Michelle Muñoz began barbecue pop-ups from their East L.A. backyard in 2017. By 2019, their central Texas-style smoked meats had such a following that they signed on as weekly vendors at Smorgasburg LA; you could spot their tent by looking for the line, dependably the longest at the Sunday events. They were moving toward a permanent location in 2020 before COVID-19 derailed their plans.
Maybe here it’s appropriate for me to say that, as a Southerner whose career included a couple of years in Texas, I’ve driven many miles, spent a lot of words and gained many pounds covering the subject of barbecue. Moo’s is the best I’ve had in California. The Central Texas maestros figured out how to smoke brisket and beef ribs into a form that nearly resembles custard. Andrew Muñoz comes as close to that ideal better than any aspirant I’ve had outside the Lone Star State. The thwack of heat from the large speckles of black pepper on his pork ribs balance their chewiness and richness. Michelle Muñoz’s sausages — blasted with roasted poblanos and silky queso Oaxaca, or warmed with spices inspired by birria recipes — express cultural nuance and imagination.
Their masterworks are available usually once or twice a month; keep an eye on their Instagram account. Pickup only. instagram.com/mooscraftbarbecue
Ragtop Fern’s BBQ
Fernando Carrillo is a package delivery driver during the week. On weekends, he puts his smoker Lucifer to work and serves barbecue to loyalists from the front yard of his home on the cusp of Koreatown and Rampart Village. Often, he concocts only-in-Los Angeles creations like the Chorider, splaying pulled pork and chorizo over two Hawaiian rolls. Currently, he sticks to the basics of first-rate meats: His brisket, cooked with oak and pecan, is deeply smoky, balanced by a velvety texture. His ribs develop serious, crackling bark, though the meat underneath willingly surrenders. Watch his Instagram account for his next pop-up — and order quickly. Pickup only. instagram.com/ragtopfernsbbq
The picnic-style tables have been pulled from the dining room of Ray Ramirez’s Huntington Park restaurant, but a core collection of Texas-themed trappings remain on the wall as inspiration markers. Ramirez was an L.A.-area forerunner of the underground-sensation-to-brick-and-mortar model: He began selling ribs and pulled pork nachos from his home in early 2014 and moved his fast-budding business into a strip-mall corner space nine months later. He became a beef barbecue convert with his first trip to Texas the following year; his brisket, glossy and suffused with oak smoke, remains a standout. The massive, dense barbecue burrito — layered with mac and cheese, beans, brisket, pulled pork and sliced sausage — is basically a handheld combo platter. Pickup only. 6038 Santa Fe Ave., Huntington Park, (310) 689-6353, raystexasbbq.com
My colleague Garrett Snyder wrote recently about Lonnie Edwards and his pop-ups, on Fridays and Saturdays, in the parking lot of the Westside Loan Office in Jefferson Park. Edwards’ specialty is smoked rib tips, a cut with glorious intersections of meat and cartilage that is a gratifying investment when cooked with precision. Coffee-spiked sauce stays compelling as you whittle down the pile of tips. Fellow Southern expats — this ’cue will take you home. 2125 W. Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 360-7499, ribtownbbq.com
Before partnering with the Hwood Group for his West 3rd Street restaurant, pit master Burt Bakman spent nearly a decade refining his smoking technique on a Big Green Egg in his Studio City backyard. In 2016, he began posting about the smoked meats he was covertly offering under the Instagram handle Trudy’s Underground Barbecue. His DMs filled; the crowds flocked, over and over again. At Slab, focus on the peppery, deftly rendered brisket and the ribs. I favor the tautness of the spare ribs; if you prefer meat barely adhering to the bone, go for the baby backs. In a nod to Texas, Bakman builds his mac and cheese from a base of queso, which also anchors the chips and chili in a nostalgic riff on Frito pie. Pickup or delivery. 8136 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (310) 855-7184, slabbarbecue.com
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