The 15 Best Barbecue Restaurants in LA
The best brisket, ribs, sausages, and sides in LA, in tacos, sandwiches, and more.
To suggest that good barbecue didn’t exist in LA before the mid-2010s smoked meat explosion is like claiming avocado didn’t exist before someone smashed it on toast. It’s like suggesting that Echo Park didn’t exist before the coffee shops moved in, like rap didn’t exist before the G-Funk era. For decades classic barbecue joints in South LA have sent oak smoke billowing across blocks, smokehouses in the Valley have been slinging saucy sandwiches, and Culver City cowboys have been charring tri-tip on big Santa Maria-style grills.
And yet, the recent shift in the LA barbecue scene is undeniable, thanks in large part to social media and a robust backyard barbecue movement that sprung up around 2016—smokers burned all night in East Los driveways, rib racks were stacked outside breweries in Torrance, and Instagram was flooded with pictures of juicy pink-ringed briskets jiggling in brown paper packaging. Most important of all—these pop-up pitmasters were not shackled to any specific regional rules, free to bring their own perspective and influences to the long, hard nights with only Lucifer for company.
Today LA-style barbecue is broad and diverse like the city itself, with multicultural flavors constantly converging and recombining into lovely new shapes—there is Chicano BBQ with al pastor spices and esquites on the side, Asian-American BBQ with gochujang glazes and Cambodian sauces, Jewish BBQ with pastrami rubs and deli-style sandwiches, and as many unique takes on the genre as there are pitmasters. It is hard to say where the barbecue scene will go next, but these 15 barbecue spots are the ones that will lead us there:
It’s easy to get lost in the long hours, the precise technique, and the sacred traditions of barbecue and forget that above all else, barbecue should be fun. Alan Cruz, pitmaster at A’s, doesn’t seem to have that problem—he’s always having a good time slinging his East Los Soul BBQ from his scenic driveway on a hill in East LA. The menu changes a lot—sometimes it’s all smoked meats, sometimes Cruz is flipping smashburgers or making tacos—but it always has an East LA twist on classic, well-executed barbecue technique. The ribs are glazed with tamarindo and perfectly tender, the pulled pork is seasoned like cochinita pibil, and the sausages are spiced like al pastor and flecked with pineapple, and they always have the essential hotgut snap.
How to enjoy: walk up, or order ahead via the website.
The Memphis Grill
Not all of our barbecue joints are intricate fusions of local flavors, we also have plenty of purists. The Memphis Grill in North Hollywood specializes in ribs smoked in the Southwest Tennessee tradition, served either dry-rubbed or wet-mopped. In either iteration the ribs are tender and smoky, porkiness punched up by the spice and sauce instead of overwhelmed by it, a reason to visit the Valley and a meal worth the spice and sauce stains that will end up on your shirt.
How to enjoy: walk up, or call at 818-738-9993.
Swingin’ Door BBQ
It might be hard to imagine now, but you don’t actually have to keep tabs on Instagram and trek out to some random pop-up to find good Texas-style BBQ—The Swingin’ Door’s been right there on Vanowen for decades. They do really nice sausages, tri-tip, and sides, but the brisket is unquestionably the star, with the black pepper bark and the pink smoke ring that launched a thousand DMs but in one convenient, permanent location.
How to enjoy: walk up, or call at 818-763-8996.
For all of the wonderful modern reinterpretations and innovations in barbecue, there is an enduring pleasure in an old-school, sauce-drenched and sticky rack of ribs. There are few places better for that messy, sweet and spicy pork lunch than West Adams institution Phillips Bar-B-Que. Sausages and sides are great too, and the best part of the whole experience may be the walk up to order, when the wood smoke washes over you and you know exactly what you’re getting.
How to enjoy: Walk up or order via ChowNow.
Barbecue in LA is, clearly, unregimented and unregulated, a free-for-all that encourages wild experimentation and whimsy. No single outfit better exemplifies that spirit than the untamed creativity at ZEF, a Simi Valley weekend-only pop-up with an ever-changing menu which drops on Tuesdays and sells out fast. Chefs Logan Sandoval and Anna Lindsey mix up their inspirations with a new theme almost every week, coming up with dishes like brisket in coconut curry with miso sweet potatoes, chicken poached in shoyu then smoked over oak, and burnt ends spiced like al pastor. Regardless of what’s on special, though, they always have their excellent brisket and beef ribs.
How to enjoy: Order ahead via Tock, starting Wednesday mornings.
The Bad Jew
In a city full of Reform Jews, Rebecca King may have invented the perfect sacrilicious food—Porkstrami, pork shoulder brined like pastrami and then smoked like Texas barbecue. She pulls it and then piles it on sourdough with havarti, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing to make her signature sandwich, the Reubecca, at her weekly pop-ups at Smorgasburg, winning fans from outside the Tribe and testing the resolve of the Kosher community at the same time. It is a marvel; you can call us Bad Jews if you want, but we prefer to think of ourselves as open-minded.
How to enjoy: Walk up only.
While we were looking the other way, San Juan Capistrano turned into a miniature food paradise along the Orange Coast, led in large part by Brenda and Daniel Castillo of Heritage BBQ. When they opened in July of 2020 running the first legal offset smokers in Orange County, they pushed the OC barbecue scene to a higher level, finally able to legally smoke and sell Central Texas-style barbecue cooked and served the way they do at the Austin legends. They are immensely popular, and deservedly so, for their brisket and hot links, and they’ve also added specials like Texas chili, pastrami, and Hawaiian-style potato salad to boot.
How to enjoy: Walk up or order ahead via the website.
It may not be BBQ in the same sense as the other entries on this list, but LA is also rich with slow-cooked meat in the Mexican tradition of barbacoa. There are many styles and regions represented across the county, but for one of the best examples it’s worth the drive out to BarbaKush’s Sunday lamb setup in Baldwin Park. The Rodriguez and Zavaleta family smokes meat wrapped in maguey leaves in a pit underground overnight, revealing lamb the next morning that is tender, rich, and perfumed with a gentle herbal smoke of maguey.
How to enjoy: Walk up only.
Smoke Queen BBQ
Winnie Yee-Lakhani is another innovator in the LA barbecue scene, a self-taught (and YouTube-taught) pitmaster infusing her Malaysian-Chinese heritage and her Southern California sensibility into the Texas traditions. That means she’s smoking briskets, of course, but she also does smoked pork belly rubbed with char siu spices, beef ribs mopped with her proprietary gochujang BBQ sauce, and a crunchy-skinned siu yuk. Her meat is plenty flavorful on its own, but the four varieties of sauce she makes—House Blend, Gochujang, Sichuan, and Char Siu—are worth a sample (or a bottle purchase) anyway.
How to enjoy: walk up, or order ahead via the website.
Long Beach is already home to a great concentration of Cambodian restaurants, so it makes sense that it is also the area that would give birth to the unique Cambodian barbecue of Battambong BBQ. Pitmaster Tim Phuong, also known as the Cambodian Cowboy, smokes meat in the Texas tradition, but puts his own spin on things in dishes like the Cambodian sandwich Num Pang, and with a brilliant and rare vegetarian selection like smoked cauliflower and jackfruit. The thought may not have occured before, but as it turns out, nothing brightens up a slice of brisket like a quick dip into the spicy Cambodian sauce tuk prahok.
How to enjoy: Walk up only.
Bludso's Bar & Que
Though the original Bludso’s in Compton is gone, the newer La Brea location is still running strong on Kevin Bludso’s Texas-inspired recipes of BBQ classics. This souped-up version of Bludso’s also has a killer cocktail program, great sides, and outstanding banana pudding. And if you’re hosting something at home, their party trays and catering are absolutely unbeatable.
How to enjoy: Walk up, order for pickup via Toast or for delivery via UberEats.
Moo’s Craft Barbeque
Andrew and Michelle Muñoz played a major part in the rise of backyard barbecue, pumping out stunning Texas-style brisket and Mexican-American sides from their home in East LA in 2017 before moving to Smorgasburg on Sundays, followed by a pickup model from the Arts District’s Crafted Kitchen and then, finally, a brick-and-mortar home of their own in Lincoln Heights, which opened in June 2021. Throughout it all the BBQ has been stellar and stunningly consistent, and their menu has grown and changed to include a variety of specials influenced by the flavors of LA like burnt ends with Korean-style glaze, smoked chicken tostadas, mushroom tacos, and a bonkers smoked burger. It doesn’t hurt that their new restaurant also has more than 25 taps of the best local beer.
How to enjoy: Walk up or order ahead via Toast.
Israel native Burt Bakman made a splash on the LA food scene with Trudy’s Underground Barbecue, where he created Texas-style specialties in his giant custom-built smoker in his Studio City backyard. Bakman won fans all over town, including in the h.wood restaurant group, with whom he partnered on Slab, a full-service barbecue restaurant on West Third Street. The menu is simple and straightforward, Texas-style smoked meats served alone or in sandwiches, but it is executed to Bakman’s exacting standards, and they do play around with regular specials like pastrami on Mondays and tacos on Tuesday.
How to enjoy: Walk up, order for pickup via the website.
AJ’s Tex-Mex & Barbeque
This low-key Valley spot has Tex-Mex in the name, so you know the breakfast tacos and queso are a real specialty. But don’t gloss over the barbecue itself, hot links, brisket, pulled pork, and all of the classics. And the tri-tip sandwich with Alabama-style white bbq sauce is a mashup of Southern and Southern California flavors worth the drive over the hill.
How to enjoy: walk up or order via the website for pickup or delivery.
Ragtop Fern BBQ
Fernando Carrillo was one of the pitmasters who kicked off the home smoking phenomenon in LA with his self-taught skills and car club-influenced style. Ribs are his specialty, messy red racks of smoky pork that emerge from his custom smoker that he named Lucifer. But Carrillo is also a bit of a mad scientist, mashing up flavors that he grew up with and things that he likes, building sandwiches on King’s Hawaiian rolls and making his own McRibz.
How to enjoy: Order ahead via Instagram DM.