READERS' PICK: For nearly three decades, Jack's has been delighting rib-craving Tucsonans with its own brand of barbecue, featuring tender mesquite-smoked meats and a spicy-sweet sauce that lands just this side of paradise. Jack's ribs are sublime little packets of meaty bones with nary a trace of fat, and the chicken is moist as well as tantalizingly flavored with a woodsy character. Always sensitive to the needs (and budgets) of families, Jack's further endears with a full contingency of "value packs" designed to feed a hungry brood. Sides of coleslaw, potato salad, corn on the cob, white rolls and baked beans are included with meals here -- and if you're lucky, you'll catch them on a day when there's a sweet potato pie cooling on the racks. Jack's reputation extends well beyond the Tucson city limits: the joint's been recognized as a top-flight barbecue venue by several books dedicated to the subject, and has received due praise from USA Today and television personality Willard Scott. If you like barbecue, Jack's is where it's at.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Rod's KC Barbecue, 601 N. Fourth Ave. While strolling the Bohemian rhapsody that is Fourth Avenue, you might catch a whiff of one of the most heavenly scents known to humankind: the aroma of barbecue. Slip into Rod's tiny storefront and inhale even deeper. Good things are definitely a-brewing here. Rod himself will no doubt greet you at the counter, and for the undecided, will offer generous nibbles of each item to ensure that you get just what you came for. Distinguishing Rod's barbecue is a dark, smoky meat and a signature sauce that is sweet, totally tomato (as opposed to molasses-based), and savory with herbs such as oregano and thyme. Homemade desserts are available but limited (they're made fresh each day), so be sure and get to Rod's early or place your order ahead of time. Rod's is so popular (especially on Friday nights), we've heard more than once the sad words, "Sorry we're sold out of ribs and peach cobbler for the time being." (But they're open Tuesday through Saturday, so you've got plenty of opportunity for a return visit.)
MORE MANIA: Even if you're not from the South, going into Art's Trading Post is like coming home. Tucked into a small storefront on Sixth Street across from Tucson Electric Power's HQ, Art's doesn't look like much. But, like hundreds of mom-and-pop BBQ joints across the South, Art and his wife Velda serve up delicious hand-pulled pork barbecue in an atmosphere of true Southern comfort. Whether you order the shredded barbecue sandwich or the combo platter with ribs, you'll swoon over the sauce's sweet tang and the rich, tender meat. Either way be sure to order a side of hush puppies. These deep-fried balls of herbs, onions and cornmeal can't be beat anywhere west of the Mississippi.