Where to Find the Best Barbecue in San Francisco
From Black-owned Bay Area staples to Chinese barbecue stalwarts, SF’s smoked meats scene is getting serious.
The arrival of summer also marks the beginning of barbecue season, but here in SF where we brave year-round wind and fog, our cravings for smoky goodness in the form of slabs of brisket and racks of ribs can occur whenever they want. And we wouldn’t have it any other way because it turns out barbecue is just as comforting—maybe even more so—on a cold, foggy day as it is when the sun is shining and the birds are chirping.
While San Francisco isn’t exactly known for its barbecue, finally, in the last decade or so, smoked meat has managed to make its way into our hearts and mouths. And once you fall for barbecue, there’s no going back. Not only because there’s nothing like succulent pieces of meat smoked low and slow, but because barbecue joints have the best side dishes of pretty much any cuisine. Coleslaw, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, potato salad, cornbread—if you’re a vegetarian, you can make a meal of those alone. From Black-owned Bay Area staples to Chinatown stalwarts, here are some of the best places to satisfy your barbecue hankerings and get full as a tick. (That’s cowboy for eating too much.)
San Ho Won
There was a lot of buzz about this Korean barbecue restaurant from Michelin-starred chef Corey Lee (Benu) and Jeong-In Hwang, and, in news that will surprise absolutely no one, it lives up to the hype. The space is sleek and stark with a casual vibe (well, compared to Benu, anyway), allowing the smoky dishes to shine. Unlike most Korean barbecue spots in SF, you’ll leave the cooking of the meat to the chefs, who prepare well-sourced ingredients with meticulous techniques for memorable charcoal-grilled barbecue. The charcoal is solid lychee wood charcoal that’s produced especially for the restaurant, in case you had any doubts about these meats (Marinated Prime Beef Short Rib, Prime Beef Neck Filet, Pork Ribs, and Rotisserie Chicken, to name a few) lingering in your mind. There’s also a ton of non-barbecue stuff, but don’t lose focus!
How to enjoy: Reservations are released at 10 am each day and can be made online. Counter seats are available for walk-ins.
Hardwood Bar & Smokery
This sleek sports bar/barbecue joint comes from a trio of Bay Area natives and industry vets who are proudly putting out a new style of Bay Area-style ‘cue that features meats smoked over white oak and mesquite sourced from Northern California. The result is some seriously flavorful Pork Spare Ribs, Creekstone Beef Brisket, and Mesquite Barbecue Chicken (among others) that taste delicious on a platter or in a sandwich. Just make sure you tack on an order of Brisket Chili Cheese Fries for the table. The Fried Apple Pie is also a must.
How to enjoy: Walk in or order online for pickup.
4505 Burgers & BBQ
There’s nothing quite like gathering on 4505’s patio to enjoy a huge plate of meat, especially when that smoked meat is 4505’s pulled pork shoulder or three-quarters of a pound of ribs. And while barbecue is where it’s at, 4505 also has one of the best burgers in town (aptly named “Best Damn Grass-Fed Cheeseburger”) and a beloved Frankaroni (a fried chunk of hot dog-studded mac and cheese), both of which, much liked the famed Chicharrones, are hard to resist. All the more reason to make this a regular spot in your dining-out rotation.
How to enjoy: Order at the counter or online for pick-up.
Baby Blues BBQ
This is the spot to go if one of you prefers North Carolina barbecue and the other is ride-or-die Texas-style and you decide you want to “meat” in the middle. This mini barbecue chain (with two LA locations plus a spot in Philly) doesn’t play favorites and instead focuses on a hybrid-style of the four main BBQ food groups: North Carolina, Texas, Kansas City, and Memphis. It also puts out a damn good mac and cheese. You can still order for delivery, but everything tastes better when you’re fully immersed in the smell of smoke from meat that’s been cooked to perfection.
How to enjoy: Walk in for dine-in and takeout. Call 415-896-4250 for pick-up.
Hard Knox Cafe
If your idea of barbecue is less smoky brisket and more saucy, baked goodness, this duo of Southern comfort eateries will hit the spot with their old-school chicken or spare ribs. The famous Fried Chicken is equally solid (pair it with a buttermilk Belgian waffle for a true taste of heaven), as are sides like Collard Greens and Black-Eyed Peas.
How to enjoy: Reservations are available for indoor and outdoor dining at the Clement Street. Walk-ins and indoor dining only for the SoMa location.
Hing Lung Company
Family-owned Hing Lung has been dishing out some of the city’s best Chinese barbecue for decades, and now it’s offering delivery for the first time under the moniker “Go Duck Yourself.” Want to pick it up in person? The shop is also open. For dinner, opt for a plate of Roast Duck or Honey-Glazed Pork, served over rice, veggies, and plum sauce. Or cater an afternoon picnic or binge-watch session with Duck Fat-Fried Chicharrones and Salt and Pepper Jalapeño Wings.
Steph Curry may dominate on the court, but it’s his wife Ayesha Curry who’s a baller in the kitchen. Her collab with Michael Mina is inspired by their global travels, so be prepared for international twists on barbecue staples. Order your ribs cooked in one of four styles: St. Louis, American Barbecue, Korean Sesame-Gochujang, or Mexican Chipotle. There are a few new items on the menu that pair beautifully with their selection of wood-fired meats, including Whole Roasted Cauliflower and Peking Pork Belly Bao Buns.
How to enjoy: Make reservations via SevenRooms. Order for takeout and delivery via BBot.
Memphis Minnie's BBQ Joint
Memphis Minnie’s helped put SF’s barbecue scene on the map, and continues to dish up some of the city’s best ribs, brisket, and pulled pork, with an especially solid sauce game (try the Carolina Mustard). It’s also one of the few local barbecue places to bring it on the dessert front, with some seriously good Pecan and Peach Pie.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only. Order for pickup or cash-only delivery within a limited zone by calling 415-864-7675; delivery to outlying neighborhoods and all credit-card orders go through Caviar.
Smokin' Warehouse Barbecue
This Bayview-based barbecue window puts out some seriously smokin’ beef ribs, brisket, and barbecue chicken, best enjoyed with sides like bacon and jalapeño-topped mac and cheese, coleslaw, and cornbread. Be sure to throw in a pint of the Brisket Chili for a killer next-day WFH lunch.
Listen, just because a restaurant is in the Marina, is all about country music, and has a mechanical bull doesn’t mean it can’t also put out some damn fine smoked meat. (Also, who can begrudge live country music and a mechanical bull? No one, that’s who.) Westwood definitely has an over-the-top country theme, but that theme includes BBQ, burgers, and whiskey, plus smoked meat by the plate or pound and all of the fixin’s you’d expect. A plate of meat is always good, but going the sandwich route here is also a solid choice because smoked meat, pickles, and coleslaw on a brioche bun is really, really good.
If you heard a record scratch when you saw the name of this restaurant and remembered you are reading about the best barbecue spots, just hold your horses before you get all-fired up. Vegan Mob is absolutely barbecue. It comes courtesy of Toriano Gordon, a rapper-turned-chef (born in the Fillmore) who works magic with soul food and barbecue fusion. Not convinced? Just take a look at the line. Pair the Texas-style “brisket” and “ribs” with an order of “bacon” collard greens. The California Barbequito is another standout: a giant tortilla filled with smoked “brisket” and “smackaroni”, with melted cheese, french fries, guac, sour cream, and a side of mob sauce. The SF food truck is temporarily closed (with occasional pop-ups you can look out for on Instagram), but you can still order pickup in Oakland.
How to enjoy: Order takeout online.
Is this a list of the best barbecue joints in SF? Yes, it is. Is Horn Barbecue across the bridge in Oakland? Also, yes. But there’s no way we were going to put out a list of the best barbecue and not include pitmaster-extraordinaire Matt Horn. Believe us, it’s worth the drive (or BART ride) to get his Michelin Bib Gourmand-listed, West Coast-style barbecue featuring brisket, spare ribs, pulled pork, and more. Want to go hog wild? You can on Sundays when you can buy a whole hog. Also, you cannot leave without an order of the Banana Pudding. Take it home to enjoy later if you’re too full to eat it there. Just please make sure it gets in your mouth eventually.
How to enjoy: Walk-in or pre-order online.