For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
Note: Many entries are excerpted from previous Best of Houston® entries, as many previous award winners have maintained the same standards of quality that garnered them awards in the first place. Go 'cue.
You judge a barbecue joint by its smoked meat. And the best comes from a real pit. The old cinder-block pit in Thelma's on Live Oak -- before it burned down -- should have been declared a historic landmark. The design was brought to Houston by the legendary Joe Burney of Beaumont back in the '20s. Harry Green, and other Houston barbecue legends who learned the trade from Burney, built pits like this in several Third Ward locations. When Harlon's bought Green's old location on Almeda, the first thing they did was to take a sledgehammer to the cinder-block barbecue pit and install a stainless-steel contraption. The new stainless-steel barbecue ovens, with their gas and electric heating and automatic operation, are convenient for restaurant owners, but the barbecue they produce doesn't measure up to the old-fashioned pit 'cue at honest-to-God joints like Thelma's. And although the meat and sauce at its new location on Southmore aren't as good as they used to be, it's still a solid bet.
9. Burns Bar BQ
On Saturday afternoon, Burns Bar BQ is party central in Acres Homes. The crowds line up when the place opens, and they never let up until the ribs are gone. Burns Bar BQ serves their ribs well done under a sweet and subtle glaze of sauce and smoke. They're the best in the city. Patriarch Roy Burns grew up in Midway, Texas. He sold barbecue from a smoker on the side of the road until arthritis slowed him down. He opened his original barbecue joint more than 20 years ago at 8307 DePriest and brought in some family members to help out. His brisket falls apart on the way to your mouth; it's as soft and wet as pot roast. If you judge it by the standards of white barbecue, then you won't get it. Beef that isn't falling apart simply isn't done enough according to the black East Texas aesthetic. Carolina barbecue is whole-hog, slow-smoked to stringy mush; the black East Texas style does the same thing with beef, which was always cheaper and more plentiful in Texas. Put some of Roy Burns's falling-apart brisket on a bun with barbecue sauce, pickles and onions, and think of it as Texas's answer to a Carolina pulled-pork sandwich. Suddenly, you'll understand. Its new location on 7117 N. Shepherd isn't as good as the original (see: Thelma's, for the same story), but it's still a Houston institution.
Like both Thelma's and Burns before it, Triple J's is now on its second location at 6715 Homestead Road, just north of Kashmere Gardens and right outside the Loop. Triple J's isn't just popular for its East Texas-style barbecue, though, as good as it is. This joint also serves some pretty fine links of spicy Cajun boudin and smoked turkey. Around Thanksgiving time, orders for that juicy turkey -- which Triple J's will also deep-fry for you -- keep the joint busy around the clock.