The 10 Best Barbecue Restaurants in L.A.

Brisket at Horse Thief BBQ
Brisket at Horse Thief BBQ
Anne Fishbein

Is Los Angeles at peak barbecue? Compared with a few years ago, it sure seems like it. L.A. may not boast the same rich cultural heritage as Southern cities, but a growing demand for smoked meats has given rise to enterprising pitmasters who aren’t married to a particular style, be it fatty Texas brisket or sticky St. Louis ribs. We’ve got it all: fine-dining chefs who’ve swapped their sous vide machines for smokers, Austin expats slinging brisket and Shiner Bock, and family-run shacks that have been serving up stellar ribs in South L.A. for decades. There’s a smoke-fueled revolution on the streets, and the restaurants below are the best places to dig in and experience it.

Spare ribs and pulled pork at Max City
Spare ribs and pulled pork at Max City
Courtesy Max City BBQ

10. Max City BBQ

It says a lot about the current resurgence of barbecue that Max City BBQ, an Eagle Rock barbecue joint opened by former caterers Jason McDonald and Melanie Blair in 2014, was originally funded via Kickstarter. At Max City, you’ll find the usual combination of meats and sides, with ‘cue that doesn’t hew to a particular region: baby back ribs glazed with sauce, juicy smoked wings, slices of tri-tip. The sides are a strong suit here, including paprika-dusted potato salad, moist cornbread muffins and a rather addictive flash-pickled cucumber salad. The space itself is fairly small, and Max City is at heart a neighborhood spot, so landing a table can be difficult (takeout is very popular). Yet snagging a seat at the bar might be the best move of all, since you’ll be able to peruse the handful of craft beers on draft. — Garrett Snyder 4729 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 254-4227, maxcitybbq.com.

Pork ribs at J "n" J
Pork ribs at J "n" J
Courtest J N J BBQ

9. J "n" J Burger & Bar-B-Que

J "n" J's — as it's delightfully mis-apostrophed — has been around long enough to still have that old-L.A. barbecue shack game plan: Cater to the smoke-averse with menu additions like burgers and Philly cheesesteaks, and you'll have something for everyone. It's also the sort of place that offers virtually every type of barbecue: sliced beef, pork ribs, chicken, hot links, chicken sausage, pulled pork. The please-everyone mentality is odd for such a loyalty-driven food as barbecue. The meat hodgepodge tastes as Louisiana-appropriate as that plastic lawn furniture appears, and the menu prices read as if they've stayed true to owner Jay Nelson Jr.'s swampland days. Nelson once worked in the lumber business, which is perhaps why he uses an unusually democratic mix of oak, hickory and pecan wood. Skip the brisket and sliced pork here; focus instead on the beef ribs and, sure, the chicken. The collard greens are a must, as are the family's homemade pies.  —Jenn Garbee 5754 W. Adams Blvd., West Adams; 323-933-7366, jnj-bbq.com.

Brisket at Horse Thief BBQ
Brisket at Horse Thief BBQ
Anne Fishbein

8. Horse Thief BBQ

Perhaps the biggest appeal of Horse Thief BBQ — one of the original “additions” to the revamped Grand Central Market when it started taking on new vendors in 2013 — is its prime location. Nestled in a shade-covered patio along Hill Street, you can sip a craft beer while camped out with a plate of smoked brisket, an act that feels more Austin than downtown L.A. Wade McElroy and Russell Malixi, two native Texans who first met in Austin, specialize in a pretty straightforward version of Texas-style brisket at their barbecue takeout window. Lean and peppery, the oak-smoked meat comes adorned with raw onions, pickles and white bread, laid out on a sheet of brown butcher paper and ready for its Instagram close-up. When Horse Thief first opened, its sides skewed more upmarket (bleu cheese in the potato salad, for instance), but now they veer toward traditional, and the results are more convincing. There’s creamy coleslaw, gooey mac ‘n’ cheese and an andouille-laden jambalaya that's delicious if a bit out of place. If you come on weekends, there are even brisket breakfast tacos. Who can argue with that? — G.S. 324 S. Hill St., downtown; (213) 625-0341, horsethiefbbq.com.

Pork ribs at Phillips BBQ
Pork ribs at Phillips BBQ
Yelp/Channel E.

7. Phillips Barbecue

If pork ribs are your thing, you already know about the peppery version Phillips has been pushing through its to-go windows in Inglewood and Crenshaw for more than 20 years. They're leaner than some (not a bad thing here) and the debate over whether you want the sauce on top is one we try to avoid in polite blog conversations. But as we're talking about Phillips' pork barbecue, not the beef offerings (stick to the pork, as the beef often comes off too dry here), the "hot" barbecue sauce is spicy, tangy and pretty hard to beat if you can hang with the heat. Expect a long wait (Tip: Call ahead with your order, though you will still wait). Think of it as more time to contemplate the beauty of a styrofoam box heaped with those famous ribs. —J.G. 4307 Leimert Blvd., Leimert Park, (323) 292-7613; 1517 Centinela Ave., Inglewood, (310) 412-7135; 2619 S. Crenshaw Blvd., West Adams, (323) 731-4772.

Combo plate at Robert Earl's
Combo plate at Robert Earl's
Brian Addison

6. Robert Earl's BBQ

For years, Robert Earl has been mesquite-smoking his meats in a hand-welded, four-barrel cooker hitched to the back of a miniature ice cream truck, which doubles as a catering van. On the back, a painted warning says, "BBQ so good make u slap mama." Maybe so, when you're talking about Earl's pork ribs and his beef brisket that's so tender it can't even hold its sliced shape. The homemade cooker spends most of its time heating the daily offerings in the parking lot behind Earl's year-old namesake restaurant in North Long Beach, Robert Earl's BBQ, where ribs, pulled pork and brisket have been added to the long list of sinful specialties. His wife's vegetarian sides (you'd swear there was bacon grease in the greens) are included with most meals. So skip the lines at Bludso's — in addition to competition-worthy, Texas-style barbecue, you'll be rewarded with the option of wolfing down one of Robert Earl Jr.'s signature "golden nugget" desserts: a scoop of banana pudding atop a pan-fried piece of cornbread. —Sarah Bennett 703 E. Artesia Blvd., Long Beach; (562) 726-1116, facebook.com/R.E.bbq.



Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >