A saying emblazoned on the ceiling of Bonapit Smoke House reads: "If there ain't no wood, it ain't no good!" The ovens in the kitchen would agree—they're stocked with applewood made for slow-roasting a variety of meats, which derive even more flavor from the dry rubs chefs slather on beforehand. Plates of St. Louis ribs, beef brisket, and sausages arrive with corn muffins and corn on the cob, though diners can also savor their meats in signature sandwiches served with homemade kettle chips. Barbecue style even inspires the seafood, such as the wood-fired salmon glazed in a raspberry barbecue sauce. Steaks, wraps, and salads round out the menu for a break from entirely smoky fare, but the environment keeps up with the rustic cuisine, as columns of exposed brick and cherry-colored wood mirror the down-home charm that flavors each entrée.
In business for 25 years and renowned for its slow-cooked barbecue ribs, the family-owned Nick's Barbecue maintains a culinary stable of more than 100 equally tempting items on its menu. Fall-off-the-bone barbecue baby back ribs cover fingers in a sweet signature sauce, dinner’s perfect complement to stylish sauce-colored outfits ($10.99). The barbecue pulled pork ($7.59) and half-chicken dinner ($7.45) team up tender white meats with three down-home sides, including mac ‘n’ cheese, potato wedges, barbecue baked beans, or mixed veggies. Two items that are as authentically Chicago as a silver bean riding the L train—the italian beef sandwich ($4.69) and the vienna all-beef hot dog ($2.15)—do their city proud as they tame the windiest of appetites.
Like metaphorical moths to the literal flame, lines of hungry patrons regularly swarm The Pit Rib House to taste the fruits of their wood-burning pit’s labor. The blistering chamber slow cooks beef, chicken, and whole racks of baby back ribs until they can barely cling to the bone. Alongside these smoky morsels, the cooks also stuff Greek sausages in-house and use the family's secret recipe to create piping-hot cups of chili. Echoing the menu's iconic American roots, The Pit Rib House's practically overflows with nostalgia-inducing pieces of Americana. Road signs, a vintage gas pump, and a life-sized model of Marilyn Monroe add fitting accents to walls lined with framed photographs of historic sports stars and political figures, along with decades-old advertisements for the Internet.
During the holidays, Billy Boy's staff strings hundreds of red, white, and gold ornaments from the ceiling panels. Twinkling string lights score the walls, blanketing the restaurant in warmth. This is to be expected from the restaurant’s proprietors, who are committed to creating a cheerful atmosphere all year round, putting that same warmth into their food for more than 35 years.
That warmth starts in the kitchen, amid rising steam, pork ribs, burgers, and polish sausage dogs slow-cook in the wisps of a flaming grill. South of the border favorites such as plump hot tamales are dressed in Billy's Boy's signature chili. Diners can also choose from more than 30 varieties of sandwich, many or which are categorized by locale, such as the Malibu with pineapple, the Texan with bacon, and the Black Hole sandwich, made from the pages of physics textbooks.
While Chef Chuck Pine studied under culinary masters including Rick Bayless, it was in humble barbecue joints where he truly honed his skills. Before opening his own restaurant, Chef Pine went on a barbecue tour of 13 states that covered over 3,000 miles. He ate almost nothing but barbecue. After the tour, Chef Pine found he’d amassed a ton of new knowledge about the art of slow smoking meat. Now as the head of his own barbecue restaurant, he takes hours to prepare each slab of ribs over a slow smoldering fire, glazing them with a choice of sauce. He pairs these carefully prepared platters of Americana with a blend of Mexican and Cajun-Creole dishes, both of them full of spice. Crawfish etouffee and jambalaya appear beside chicken enchiladas and shrimp quesadillas, with classic soda floats and fire hoses on hand to put out tongue fires.
Smokin' Hot Smokehouse's roster of slow-cooked ribs, chicken, and pork pleases palates with its complexity of flavors and succulent array of dipping sauces. Chicken wings ($9.99/dozen) saunter to tables solo, wrapped in breading, or wearing a dapper fez, and accessorize with a choice of buffalo, jamaican jerk, or traditional barbecue sauces. Workout incisors with bulky plates of baby back or St. Louis–style ribs, both slathered in signature sauce and paired with corn bread, corn on the cob, and a choice of two Southern-inspired sides ($12.99 half rack; $19.99 full rack). Open-face pork sandwiches arrive mouthside drizzled in pepper vinegar sauce or classic barbecue ($12.99), and paper-thin slices of beef brisket ($8.99) woo mouths with love letters of tenderness and onion rings of savory devotion.