Houston’s most memorable barbecue joints may not be centrally located, let alone open late or even every day. But they’ll be worth your time.
In a trim little backstreet cottage, the Gatlin family dispenses some of the best fatty-end brisket in the city, along with hefty pork spareribs and two kinds of links, including a spicy version made in-house. Add an unusually tangy sauce, gentle sides and the most welcoming folks around, and you have a real urban gem. Must-orders: dirty rice and killer peach cobbler. Plan for slow, painstaking service. 1221 W. 19th, 713-869-4227.
A rare, ancient brick open pit has survived for 70 years at this Inner Loop staple, which is famed for its racks of spareribs crusted with peppery rub. The sides are as homey as the good ol’ girl waitresses (yes, there’s actually table service), and the eccentric rec room décor provides a wonderful sense of place. 1703 Shepherd, 713-227-2283.
The famously cantankerous pitmistress at this shambling Third Ward spot is Houston’s version of Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. Don’t make special requests, and don’t ask for your too-sweet sauce on the side unless you are willing to pay 2 bucks extra. (The dirty look is free.) But Thelma’s sprawling, beautifully smoked ribs are their own reward, and such soul-food sides as yams or braised cabbage are deeply satisfying. She fries a mean catfish, too.
3755 Southmore, 713-228-2528.
Beaver's Ice House
A barbecue brunch? Believe it. This latter-day icehouse uses modernized ingredient-sensitive barbecue to fashion such rollicking Sunday treats as the Beaver-Rito: a griddled-flour-tortilla package clasping chopped smoked beef, caramelized onion, pale smoky queso and habanero salsa. Or how about Texa-quiles, an extravagant version of chilaquiles topped with barbecued chicken? Relaxed outdoor seating and great artisanal cocktails put the experience over the top. 2310 Decatur, 713-864-2328.
Goode Co. Barbecue
Local barbecue snobs pooh-pooh Goode’s as too slick and high volume. But this family-run minichain keeps the quality of the mesquite-smoked meats high, it’s all sliced to order, and the sides, from potato salad to apple-laced Austin baked beans to sumptuous pecan pie, can be excellent. Don’t miss the crazy-good sliced brisket sandwich on jalapeño bread, or the barbecued duck plate. Best of all, the Texana-crammed dining room and easygoing porch stay open daily until 10 p.m. 5109 Kirby, 713-522-2530; 8911 Katy Freeway, 713-464-1901; 20102 Northwest Freeway, 832-678-3562.
It’s worth a bit of an excursion to a semi-rural stretch of Gessner for pitmaster Adrian Handsborough’s serious pecan-and-oak smoked meats. Satellite items are done in a sweet East Texas style here, from the sauce to the mashed-potato salad. More rewardingly savory are Handsborough’s hefty pork ribs; his melting fatty-side brisket; or the zippy pork links. The prim setting was hand-fashioned from the grocery store once run by Handsborough’s mother, Virgie. 5535 N. Gessner, 713-466-6525.