At Hog Wild Restaurant, Dawn and Mike West marinate their baby back ribs for hours and slow-smoke their beef brisket and pork. It’s this Chicago-style “low-and-slow” cooking method that has helped the couple—who opened a pair of restaurants in the Windy City before relocating to Cottonwood—repeatedly win the Verde Valley Readers’ Choice Award for Best Barbecue in the Verde Independent. And the good press doesn’t end there; in 2009, the eatery earned recognition as one of the top six barbecue places in Arizona from the Arizona Republic, which praised the cooks for their “unforgettable” baby back ribs with “pitch-perfect sweet sauce.”
Hog Wild supplements its tender beef brisket, pulled pork, and ribs with nonbarbecue items, fittingly from the Wests’ hometown. Italian beef sandwiched between Chicago’s soft Gonnella bread, Italian sausages, and hot dogs topped with very specific fixings round out the menu.
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 Wildlife World 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.
As the restaurant's name might suggest, the chefs at Shane's Rib Shack take their dedication to rib-sticking food seriously. It's what drove them to craft a menu loaded with sauce-slathered ribs, pulled pork, and chicken along with salads and homestyle sides such as mac ‘n’ cheese, Brunswick stew, and fried okra. In addition to heaping plates with hearty food, chefs also take dietary needs into account via a menu of gluten-free options.
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.