To make really good barbecue, you have to take your time. For the grillmasters at Baby Back Blues, that means slow smoking slabs on ribs over hickory food for four hours, at which point, they emerge juicy, smoky, and fall-off-the-bone tender. But that's a blink-of-an-eye compared to the time it takes to make the shop's pulled pork. The dry-rubbed pork butts get a dry rub before luxuriating in the smoker for 16 hours before being pulled apart, slathered with sauce, piled onto pillowy buns, and paired with sides such as mac n cheese or the house fresh-cut fries.
Baby Back Blues can also package up its juicy barbecued meats by the pound, or create family packs that pair the chosen meats with home-style sides. For big celebrations, they can even bring the smoker to guests' homes for a backyard pig roast that can feed 50 to 100 guests or two dinosaurs meeting for a light lunch.
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.
Pockets' health-conscious chefs have stuffed stomachs with fresh, all-natural ingredients for more than 20 years, creating low-fat, high-protein combinations of vegetables, fine cheese, and lean meats. Within freshly baked multigrain bread, selections such as spinach, salami, turkey, and tuna combine with edamame beans, crunchy noodles, dried cranberries, and a splash from one of more than 10 dressings, creating a snack more portable than a bicycle made of chocolate. Menu pages also brim with eight healthy salads, seven hearty calzones, and a kids' menu with pint-size portions and sides of magic. Not content with just challenging fast-food ideals, the locally owned Pockets furthers change in its community by regularly donating up to 50% of its profit to charities such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Fox Valley Heart Foundation.
In 1996, brothers Mario and Tom Soto capitalized on their passion for barbecue by opening Gemato's Wood Pit BBQ, a welcoming family restaurant that specializes in fall-off-the-bone ribs, tender beef brisket, and charbroiled burgers. Chefs split logs in the restaurant's backyard to fuel grills that burn all day long, infusing each meaty morsel with smoky flavor. Guests chow down morsels of barbecue pork and chicken with traditional fixings, or sup on Greek- and Italian-American sandwich shop classics such as gyros or Italian beef. Meanwhile, Western-themed décor accents each hearty meal with with rodeo posters, wooden wagon wheels, and stuffed handlebar mustaches caught in the wild.
Rokwelz Bar Meets Grill piles plates with classic pub fare that is well met by pints of varied brews slung in a jovial neighborhood setting. A frosty domestic beer ($3), glass of wine ($5–$7), or spunky mixed drink ($4.50–$7) can cool palates scorched by the punchy, jalapeño-topped Light My Fire burger ($8.99). The brotherly-love-laced beef slices and soft mozzarella cheese of the philly steak Samich ($8.99) presents a sentimental counterpoint to the unblinking new york strip steak ($18.99), a seasoned city dweller that eschews taste-bud small talk in favor of forthright flavor. The chefs at Rokwelz use their uncanny origami skills to flip and spin disparate ingredients into delicious wraps and paninis, such as the ham, cheese, and pesto-strewn Lucky Lefty's panini ($8.99). To cover deafening sounds of satisfied chewing, Rokwelz occasionally hosts live music, and on nice days, guests may elect to be seated outdoors on the large patio.