When you think Chicago food, barbecue probably isn’t your first or even your last thought. Italian, steaks, pizza—Chicago has that covered. But barbecue? That’s something our family of four doubted we would find in Chicago. We are barbecue lovers. Give us some brisket, corn bread and smoky baked beans, and we’re happy.
So we tried some of Chicago’s acclaimed barbecue restaurants and were pleasantly surprised—Chicago has some great barbecue. Here are a handful of our favorites.
Walking up to Chicago q, we immediately sensed this wasn’t your neighborhood barbecue joint. The trendy little restaurant on Dearborn Street is all urban barbecue. Fun atmosphere. Cool vibe. Friendly staff.
And literally the best food we’ve consumed yet in Chicago. I’m not kidding. It’s no wonder with Lee Ann Whippen as the chef and partner at the restaurant. My husband Scott was a bit star-struck. (She has appeared on Food Network’s Bobby Flay’s Throwdown and TLC’s BBQPitmasters series.)
We visited Chicago q for a recent Sunday brunch and tasted pretty much everything barbecue on the menu. Food you must order if you go: Kobe brisket, chicken wings (which are marinated and smoked, not fried) and espresso ice cream covered in peanut brittle, which I have no words to describe.
Considered something of an institution, Carson’s had been mentioned by a few of our Chicago-native friends. Portions are generous and the sweet and tangy barbecue sauce is delicious. The restaurant is a tad fancier than your average barbecue joint, but families will feel at home here. The ribs were great and the au gratin potatoes reminded the kids of my homemade “cheesy potatoes” but “10 times better.”
Owners at Smoke Daddy take pride in their “lil red smoker” where they smoke all their meats and vegetables. The Wicker Park barbecue joint has been featured on the Food Network’s The Bobby Flay show and Rachel Ray’s Tasty Travels. Everything is about smoke and meat at this place—from the pulled meat nachos and smoked jalapeno beer cheese to the smoked pit beans and smoked sliced brisket. There’s even a barbecue vegetable sandwich on the menu. Smoke Daddy also features live music seven days a week.
I love reading about food and restaurants in the city, and I had my heart set on trying Smoque for quite a while. The little joint in Irving Park has earned excellent reviews from food critics, and I was dying to try it.
We stopped by Smoque on a Saturday afternoon—after running the Chicago quarter marathon along the lake. The place was packed. A crowded restaurant is always a sign of good things to come. (Around lunchtime on weekends, finding a table might be difficult, but it’s worth the wait.)
We tried a few things on the menu: brisket, ribs, chili, baked beans...
My husband said the brisket was as good as Memphis and I fell in love with the St. Louis ribs. (I’m not even a rib girl.)
The sides served in little tin cups were perfect. The homemade mac ‘n’ cheese topped with buttery bread crumbs was delicious. The desserts, also served in little tin cups, were scrumptious as well. We will definitely make a return trip for the best barbecue I’ve ever tasted.
We’re suckers for history. We love exploring old places and daydreaming about who might have lived, walked or met there. Twin Anchors is situated in the Old Town building built in 1881. Since 1931 it has been Twin Anchors, a pretty famous barbecue joint, considering Frank Sinatra used to frequent the place.
Though the draw is definitely the history, the barbecue is good, too. The pork barbecue and ribs were tasty. With its old school tavern charm and nautical theme, Twin Anchors has a fun atmosphere.
Kristy MacKaben is a mom of two and frequent contributor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Kristy's stories here.
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