Best BBQ Restaurants in the Bay Area
Finally a top List of barbecues. Associate reviewer Cesar Hernandez and I have spent the past few months traversing the Bay Area, through woods and industrial parks and along coastal highways, dragging forks through slices of brisket barely held together by black shards of char and jelly, investigating the myriad ways a long smoke could turn the flesh into a jelly. We stood in long queues with Bay Area BBQ fans and neatly stowed foil-wrapped bundles of ribs in our car trunks, like we were slipping baby Moses’ basket in the Nile.
Barbecue encompasses so much more than what we focused on for this list. Grilling food over a fire is Humanity 101, and you’ll find plenty of outstanding examples of the age-old practice here: in the flame-kissed carne asada at Tacos El Último Baile, the sweet and savory short rib kalbi at Chungdam de Santa Clara and the appetizing pollo alla brasa served with chicken fat rice at Berkeley’s Michoz pop-up.
As you stroll along Lake Merritt, your nostrils will inevitably fill with the evocative bouquet of allspice and Scotch bonnets from jerk chicken stalls and that telltale, almost acrid smell of hamburger grease colliding with hot coals. floating above the weekend barbecue crowd. Hours later, the smoke still clinging to your shirt is enough to make your mouth water.
And yet, “the Bay Area has never been a barbecue wonderland,” wrote The Chronicle in 2019. It’s a sentiment echoed by many readers and friends who had pretty much given up on find here an American barbecue. This is the funny thing about American barbecue: while digging into a slice of rib is the image of casual dining, fans and enthusiasts can be picky, openly dealing with the rituals of seasoning and smoking the meats with the accuracy of space shuttle operators calculating a safe route to Mars. So Cesar and I decided to challenge ourselves to find outstanding examples of this particular genre. Here are our favorites.
If you’re craving more restaurant recommendations, check out our lists for our Top Burgers (plus Top East Bay Burgers), Top Burritos and more. —SH