For one afternoon each year, Lettuce Entertain You transforms one of its famed eateries into a mecca for brides-to-be, collecting the wares of both local and national retailers. Ladies linger over tables laden with dresses and invitations—categorized into vignettes such as elegant and vintage—as gown experts divulge their wisdom. To avoid being cut out of wedding photos, male counterparts sequester themselves in the Groom's Room, where man-friendly vendors toss out wardrobe and preening tips. Lettuce Entertain You disperses appetizers and drinks from a handful of their own top-rated eateries to prevent patrons from drooling over the dossiers of custom cake.
Few foods are as surrounded by controversy as barbecue. Disputes over the styles prominent in Texas, the Carolinas, and Kansas City can get serious. That's why it is for the best to let professionals handle the delicate art of smoking meats and mixing sauces. At Ribshack BBQ, all of the staples are accounted for, from racks of ribs to pulled pork. These are all accompanied by the requisite greens, coleslaw, and mac 'n' and cheese that one might expect to find in a road-side barbecue joint or lazily written country song. Thanks to a new liquor license, cold beers fuel the chatter that drifts up between bites of food.
An award-winning country-and-western hotspot, Handlebar-J serves up an invigorating menu of steaks, ribs, burgers, and more. Drooping dancers and wilting wallflowers can get perked up by protein thanks to dishes such as the Cattleman Cut, a 16 oz. porterhouse ($29), or full slabs of baby-back ribs ($19) (both served with various sides). Free country dance lessons every Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday night (at 7 p.m.) fill the air with rotating fringe, cooling off crisp chef salads ($12) and fanning piping-hot plates of fried chicken, served alongside corn on the cob, french fries, and biscuits with honey ($14). Finish dinner with a piece of chocolate cake ($4) or another round of homemade chili and beans ($10) depending on your dinner's chocolate-to-chili ratio.
Named for their founder, a renegade radio host and showman, Bill Johnson's Big Apple Restaurants please palates with a menu of hearty American fare. Warm up your appetite with Grand Canyon nachos, which––just like the real Grand Canyon––are covered with beef, black beans, avocado, jalapeños, and more ($9). Mama's breaded pork chops ($13.50) and southern fried 1/2 chicken ($14) counterbalance a beefy selection of steaks. A six-ounce sirloin paired with endless popcorn shrimp ($15) tests the limits of appetites and pants, and a bacon-wrapped eight-ounce sirloin filet ($15) brings barnyard frenemies together at last. Guests can also make their own meaty matches with the Make Your Own Smoked Combo option ($17), which allows diners to make three selections from a smoked smorgasbord of pork ribs, beef ribs, pulled pork, smoked brisket, hot links, and barbecue-smoked chicken.
For the location of the first Dillon's, Rich Dillon and George Valverde chose a 1940s Thunderbird Road structure that a writer for the Phoenix New Times described as "a cute, converted old house that looks like grandma's parlor." Since then, they've opened four more eateries in locations that are as appealing as the signature flame-kissed and slow-smoked meats served inside. Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium's shark tank flanks the dining room of Dillon's at the Zoo, and the boat-accessible Scorpion Bay location opens onto the waters of Lake Pleasant so that diners can chortle as fish attempt to develop democracy. Live music and karaoke lend additional social vibes to the smokehouses.
“Mouthwatering ribs that deliver gnaw-off-the-bone pleasure,” and “heavenly sauce [that’s worth a] drive across town without complaint.” That’s how the Phoenix New Times sums up The Barbecue Company Grill and Cafe. Since 1987, this renowned catering company has fed hordes of hungry party-goers with St. Louis style ribs, pulled pork, and tender beef brisket deemed worthy of awards and recognition, including the National Championship award from Sparks Nugget Rib Cook-Off in Reno. And though catering continues to be their bread and butter—they sell meats and Southern-style sides by the pound and fruit cobbler by the pan—the company expanded its one-leg business model into a dine-in eatery. During lunch hours Monday through Friday, The Barbecue Company opens its doors to customers with a full menu of award-winning barbecue piled onto hearty platters or sandwiches. The cooks also deliver their decadent fare to office-dwellers who can't take a break or convince their boss it's New Year’s Day again.
Burleigh Rideau Sr. arrived in Phoenix in 1923, bringing along fond memories of barbecue gatherings in his hometown in Louisiana and his family's treasured recipes for barbecue sauce. He spearheaded the original Town Talk Barbeque in 1949, where he slow-cooked flavorful meats over mesquite wood. Today, father-son duo Charles and Chris Rideau follow in their ancestor's footsteps at Town Talk II, faithfully adhering to the time-honored Rideau family recipes to grill up a variety of creole-style specialties.
Deep in the bustling kitchen, Charles and Chris shower brisket, chicken, pulled pork, and rib tips in their signature thick and tangy sauce. They plate meats and sandwiches alongside a variety of traditional sides, such as housemade Cajun fries and creamy potato salad, and they whip up peach and blackberry cobblers for dessert. Meanwhile, diners clink bottles of beer out in the warm dining room, where black-and-white photographs of the original barbecue joint speckle the walls. Each tabletop is equipped with paper towels, ideal for mopping up spilled barbecue sauce before the cops can arrest you for wasting it.