SoCal’s BBQ Scene Is Hotter Than Ever
When most people think of the SoCal foodie scene, they think of fish tacos, California burritos, fresh seafood and avocado toast. (And craft beer, of course—does that count as food?). But what a lot of people don’t realize is you can also find some top-notch, finger-lickin’ BBQ joints—if you know where to look. Lucky for you, we’ve searched (and eaten) far and wide so you don’t have to. Here’s a roundup of our favorite BBQ spots in SoCal; napkins are recommended.
Located in San Juan Capistrano, Heritage BBQ is best known for its Texas-style smoked meats and laid-back atmosphere. From the spacious picnic tables to the nostalgic metal lunch trays, everything at Heritage works together to create a casual and cozy space for the community. The portions are massive, making it a great place to go with a group. Once you make it to the front of the line (be prepared—there will be a line), order at the counter and snag a spot while you sip on a canned michelada or pint of Capistrano Brewing Co. beer. The menu changes based on the seasons, but some can’t-miss items include the brisket and pulled pork with potato bread on the side.
Location: San Juan Capistrano
Between the rustic brick walls and the sports bar setup, Smoqued BBQ in Orange is one of the best places to watch your favorite teams while grubbing on some classic comfort food. The joint was started by two friends who wanted to bring locals together over great beer and food, and it has since become one of the most popular BBQ restaurants in the area. Start your meal off with Smoqued’s signature avocado fries and decadent smoked candied bacon. Once you’re ready for the main event, choose a combo plate so that you can taste a few different types of meat along with some traditional sides like coleslaw, BBQ beans and corn on the cob.
Craft food, craft cocktails… Anaheim’s Craft by Smoke and Fire treats each menu item like a work of art. They use 100% Halal meats to create masterpieces like their short-rib birria quesadilla, Nashville hot chicken sando and brisket burrito filled with mac and cheese, French fries, cilantro and Comeback sauce. Try a steak dipped in their incredible fresh chimichurri sauce, and we promise you’ll be seeing it in your dreams later. Beyond the food, they’re known for some signature cocktails. The Duck Around and Find Out comes in a spraying bathtub cup with a floating rubber ducky!
Bad to the Bone BBQ, in San Juan Capistrano, serves up real pit BBQ, slow-cooked over pecan wood for the ultimate flavor. Start your meal off with some crispy fried pickles and follow it up with some good old-fashioned baby back ribs. But don’t feel constrained by our picks—they’ve got a huge menu, and everything’s delicious. Owned by a real Oklahoma cowboy and show-jumping horse trainer, this place screams rodeo. Their signature sauces and dry rubs are available for purchase, but good luck replicating the gems on their menu.
Location: San Juan Capistrano
This Huntington Beach hotspot is located right on the harbor, so you can chow down on tri-tip with a view of the water. You can order your meat on a “sammich,” a la carte or in a combo. We recommend the three-meat combo, which comes with two sides—because you’re going to want to try everything. The owner grew up cooking with his mom, learning family recipes passed down for generations. When you take your first bite of pulled pork or brisket, you’ll feel like Grandma herself just served you up her best-kept secret.
Location: Huntington Beach
Looking for a barbecue joint that sources locally? Ranch 45 in Solana Beach places a huge focus on supporting local and humane farms, ensuring that you can trust where your meat is coming from. The restaurant itself is on the smaller side, but the spacious patio features plenty of wooden high-top tables where you can sit down for breakfast or lunch, and dinner is served from 5-8:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday. Ranch 45 puts an elevated twist on classic dishes, such as crispy potato skins with truffle crème fraîche. Since it doubles as a butcher shop, grab your lunch and some high-quality meats to-go and feast at home.
Location: Solana Beach
Whether you’re with family or friends, Park 101 in Carlsbad guarantees a good time. Located in the middle of Carlsbad Village, Park 101 boasts an 8,000-square-foot, multi-level property that is more of a complex than it is a restaurant. The stylish patio features striped umbrellas and string lights, creating a comfy and cozy space to unwind with a crisp brew and BBQ. The neon Carlsbad sign can be seen from the upper patio, and the plush booths are the ultimate place to sit during sunset. Though you’ll undoubtedly come for the BBQ brisket tacos, pulled pork sandwich and bacon-infused potato salad, you’ll stay for the live music and good vibes.
Head way down south to El Cajon, San Diego to find Buckboards BBQ & Brew. This place doesn’t do Texas; they do their BBQ Southern California style. We’re talking mac and cheese balls, pork belly sliders and a Buckboard Steak Burger with 50/50 tri-tip and chuck. To wash it down, they’ve got tons of great local beer on tap (because we’re in San Diego, remember?). This place isn’t your hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop BBQ joint; it’s a full-blown restaurant with ambiance to boot. There are fire-pit tables, leather booths and the sweet smell of sizzling BBQ.
Location: El Cajon
Not far from Buckboards is Smokey and the Brisket in La Mesa. This place has an old-school NASCAR vibe: old truck beds as seats, motorcycles on display, a red toolbox counter and a bar cut out of a 1960’s van. Everything is bright and colorful, and they’ve even got an arcade. It’s not all fun and games, however, because their on-site smoker makes some serious meat. One of their most popular menu items is the mac and cheese infused with jalapeños and topped with burnt ends from their finest brisket. We’re not drooling…you are.
Location: La Mesa
Slab is a special collaboration between the famous h.wood Group and Burt Bakman, the mastermind behind Trudy’s Underground Barbecue. Everything at Slab is slow-cooked, resulting in melt-in-your-mouth meats that’ll have you drooling. From spare ribs to smoked chicken, everything is finger-licking good (literally). When it comes to sides, the creamy mac and cheese takes the cake, but the collard greens cure even the most savory of cravings. Though it is listed under dessert, order the cornbread with honey butter with your meal and let your taste buds soar with this sweet and savory combo.
Location: Los Angeles
What started off as an underground pop-up in East LA has since turned into one of the hottest BBQ joints in the state. Moo’s Craft Barbecue blends traditional Texas techniques with Cali-Mexi flavors, resulting in mouthwatering barbecue that is innovative yet nostalgic. Though Moo’s still participates in regular pop-ups, their permanent location in Lincoln Heights is the perfect place to grab a pint and some pulled pork. While you can’t go wrong with any of the meats, definitely save room for dessert and order the banana pudding. Moo’s Craft Barbecue has also been known to sell out, so do your best to get there early and beat the dinner rush.
Location: Los Angeles
Zef BBQ, in Simi Valley, is the secret you’ll absolutely want to gate-keep because it sells out fast. But once you try their smoked meats, you won’t be able to stop yourself from shouting it from the rooftops. This place is unique because there’s no real physical building. It’s an underground, family-owned, weekend pop-up run by Chef Logan Sandoval and his wife Anna. To try it, you have to keep a close eye on their Instagram (like Taylor Swift ticket close) and put in your order days in advance before they sell out. Trust us—it’s worth the wait.
Location: Simi Valley
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Bludso’s has two locations: one in Santa Monica and one on La Brea in Fairfax. No matter which one you visit, you’re in for a treat (especially if you try the banana pudding). What sets this place apart from your traditional Texas BBQ spot is they have salads on the menu. Before you roll your eyes, have you ever tried a southwest chicken salad with real BBQ chicken, cotija cheese and Texas caviar? And if you’re always craving authentic BBQ but can’t get your vegan friends on board, they’ve even got jackfruit, which is slow-cooked with their signature dry rub just like all the other meats.
Location: Santa Monica, La Brea
Chad Phuong, known lovingly by locals as the Cambodian Cowboy, is not your average pitmaster. And Battambong BBQ is definitely not your average BBQ joint. Blending his Cambodian roots with his love of Texas BBQ, Phuong serves up dishes like pulled pork banh xeo and sides that include garlic noodles and coconut milk corn. This one doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location, but they’re always hopping around farmers markets and breweries. Keep an eye on their Instagram for their latest schedule—and who knows, you might just end up hopping around with them.
Locations: Check IG for latest schedule