The basics: This new spot from El Che executive chef-owner John Manion is located inside legendary Berwyn music venue FitzGerald’s, which has undergone a host of welcome upgrades under new owner Will Duncan including an Airbnb above the venue and mobile musician-in-truck concerts that drove around the neighborhood throughout the pandemic. Now back in full swing with live music almost nightly, Babygold Barbeque offers the perfect culinary compliment to a rollicking post-vax evening. Try a Berwyn-Style Super Deluxe BBQ Board and wash it down with their own Babygold branded brews.
What the pitmasters say: “Traditional BBQ [regions] are beholden to tradition and what people expect,” says McKenna, emphasizing the unique vantage point that gives way to a Chicago ‘cue pop-up like Babygold’s flexible, wide-ranging approach. “We have more room to experiment and try different things.”
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable or call 708-637-4364 and order via Toast for take-out.
The basics: When Mississippi-born brothers Bruce and Myles Lemons first opened their modest Southside BBQ shop back in 1954, they had no idea they’d be launching a Chicago legend. Fast-forward 65+ years and the pair’s fall-off-the-bone ribs, tender smoked rib tips, crispy fried chicken, and tangy original sauce continues to elicit a near-constant line out the door.
What the pitmasters say: “Barbecue coexists with fried offerings in a harmonious symbiosis and you need to experience both to fully understand Lem’s,” says Manion. “Go with large tips, links, a quarter fried chicken dark, fried chicken livers (you’ve come all this way), a quarter slaw, a quarter potato salad, and extra sauce. This is a meal best enjoyed standing up.” For his part, McKenna notes that the Chicago-style aquarium smoker is a local institution and says not to miss the rib tips.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, call 773-994-2428 for take-out, or order delivery via GrubHub and PostMates.
The basics: This old-school ‘cue shop offers more than a few incentives to make the trek out to the far Northwest side. For starters, there’s the requisite pulled pork, baby back ribs, buttermilk fried chicken, and brisket, all prepared with the signature touch of a seasoned pitmaster. Add to that smoked salmon, overstuffed burritos, Nashville hot chicken sandwiches, smoked Polish sausage, and Cheerwine on draft and you’ll wonder why any other joint even bothers serving lunch.
What the pitmasters say: “Chicago has so many diverse neighborhoods and the restaurants that feed them also highlight these diverse flavors,” says Eckmann, backing up this staple’s smorgasbord of meaty offerings. “Around the city you can find everything from solid Chinese BBQ to Southern-style BBQ, Korean BBQ to Caribbean, and so much more.”
How to book: Stop by for counter service, call 773-628-7870 or order online for take-out, or get delivery via GrubHub and PostMates.
The basics: Pitmaster Sam Gilbert knows his rib tips. Heralded far and wide as some of the city’s very best, Gilbert begins by marinating the prized Southside original at length before rubbing them down with a proprietary spice blend and letting them roast slow-and-low in a giant hickory smoker. Last but not least, he throws the juicy pork nubs atop a fiery grill for the ultimate charred, flame-kissed bark and toothsome bite. A heap of fresh-cut, made-to-order fries serves as a worthy supporting act.
What the pitmasters say: “What makes us unique is we offer every style out there depending on the place, unlike some other cities where you will get a lot of the same thing,” says McKenna.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, order take-out online, or get delivery via GrubHub and DoorDash.
The basics: If Texas-style is your thing, this venerable Northside smoke shack has your slow-smoked cravings covered. Unsurprisingly, succulent, perfectly rendered, and bark-topped brisket tops the menu, followed by ribs, pulled pork, and juicy smoked sausages shipped all the way from Taylor, Texas. And save some room for dessert—the pecan bread pudding, thick and velvety beneath a generous drizzle of bourbon caramel sauce, is a true sleeper hit.
What the pitmasters say: “I distinctly remember Smoque being the first barbecue spot that food writers and bloggers took seriously,” says Manion. “I think it was the introduction of Texas-style brisket into the Chicago barbecue vernacular, but people took notice, lines were formed, and BBQ sold out daily. Smoque lives up to its reputation and although not very old, seems like the OG of the new wave of BBQ spots.” Eckmann calls it “the place to go for St. Louis style ribs,” and McKenna dubs the brisket “the showstopper.”
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served patio seating, call 773-545-7427 and order take-out via Toast, or order delivery via Caviar and DoorDash.
The basics: This no-frills Southside counter-serve has been dishing up copious amounts of classic Chicago rib tips, chicken dinners with all the fixings, and fiery hot links plus buckets upon buckets of plump Gulf shrimp for the past 75+ years. And like any good BBQ joint worth its rub, fussy dine-in service was never the draw. Get in and get out, or stick around a while if you want but don’t expect a tablecloth.
What the pitmasters say: “Chicago is pretty unique in the barbecue world,” says Manion. “I don’t think there’s anyone in KC, Memphis, or Texas trying to make ‘Chicago-style’ barbecue. To me, it’s characterized by aquarium smokers, tips, links, and sauce—shit gets saucy.”
How to book: Stop by for counter service, call 773-247-4360 for take-out, or order delivery via PostMates.