A combination plate with ribs, roasted chicken and pulled pork at The Cats. Jeff Cianci
A combination plate with ribs, roasted chicken and pulled pork at The Cats. (Jeff Cianci)

Bay Area Bites Guide to 5 Popular Barbecue Restaurants South of San Francisco

Bay Area Bites Guide to 5 Popular Barbecue Restaurants South of San Francisco

As the summer season fades away and the traditions of fall arrive with the cooling weather, what better time to enjoy the rich and comforting flavors of American barbecue. Hearty servings of tender pork ribs, roasted chicken and smoked brisket fit perfectly with the Americana that is fall football. While the San Francisco Bay Area is nowhere near a barbecue capital as say Kansas City or Austin, the South Bay Area and San Francisco Peninsula are home to several restaurants perfect for visiting when the mood to chomp down on juicy piles of smoked meat strikes. Be sure to enjoy alongside a cold beer and don’t forget the wet towelettes! Here are five popular restaurants for enjoying barbecue south of San Francisco. If we missed your favorite, please be sure to share it in the comments.

A combination plate with ribs and pulled pork at Gorilla BBQ.
A combination plate with ribs and pulled pork at Gorilla BBQ. (Jeff Cianci)

Gorilla Barbecue has customers lining up for the slow-smoked barbecue they serve out of a vintage rail car off Highway 1 in Pacifica. The small shop only offers takeout orders, with nothing inside other than a compact kitchen and front counter. The menu features an offering of slow-smoked meats including, beef brisket, ribs, chicken, pulled pork and hot links. The delicious meats can be enjoyed as a combination plate or on a sandwich. Not to be missed are the incredibly tender ribs with a caked on dry rub infused with smoky flavor. The pulled pork, equally pungent with smoked flavor, lends well to being dipped in the sweet and tangy house barbecue sauce. Be sure to arrive early as the menu sells out quickly, particularly on the weekend.

Customers lined up to order at Gorilla BBQ in Pacifica.
Customers lined up to order at Gorilla BBQ in Pacifica. (Jeff Cianci)

Gorilla Barbeque
2145 Cabrillo Hwy [map]
Pacifica, CA 94044
Ph: (650) 359-7427
Hours: Mon 12-8pm; Wed-Sun 12-8pm; Closed on Tuesdays
Facebook: Gorilla Barbeque
Price Range: $$$ Entrees ($18-$24)

The chicken and rib combination plate at Henry’s Hi-Life.
The chicken and rib combination plate at Henry’s Hi-Life. (Jeff Cianci)

Henry's World Famous Hi-Life has been serving a menu of oak-smoked barbecue and steaks for more than 50 years in downtown San Jose. Located in a historic building in San Jose’s newly founded Little Italy neighborhood, the restaurant has a down-home atmosphere and is a popular meeting spot before and after San Jose Sharks games. To call the food portions ample, is an understatement. Barbecue dinners include a salad, garlic bread slathered with seasoned butter and a baked potato. First time visitors should go for either the full rack of ribs, or the chicken and ribs combination plate. The smoked chicken has a crispy flavor-packed skin while still remaining juicy. The ribs are tender and full of flavor with a sweet and spicy crust.

Inside Henry’s Hi-Life in San Jose.
Inside Henry’s Hi-Life in San Jose. (Jeff Cianci)

Henry's World Famous Hi-Life
301 W St John St. [map]
San Jose, CA 95110
Ph: (408) 295-5414
Hours: Mon 5-9pm; Tue-Thu 11:30am-2pm, 5-9pm; Fri 11:30am-2pm, 4-9:30pm; Sat 4-9:30pm; Sun 4-9pm
Facebook: Henry’s World Famous Hi-Life
Twitter: @henryshilife
Price Range: $$$ Entrees ($18-$24)

The chopped brisket tray with coleslaw, cornbread and collard greens.
The chopped brisket tray with coleslaw, cornbread and collard greens. (Jeff Cianci)

3 Pigs BBQ is a great option for those on the peninsula looking to enjoy barbecued meats or fried chicken. The restaurant, located on a quiet street off of El Camino Real, has a rustic roadhouse feel with reclaimed wood decor and copper sheet tabletops. Brisket fans will enjoy the juicy bites of chopped brisket which are perfect for dipping into a number of housemade barbecue sauces. The tart Memphis-style sauce which complements the sweet and smoky brisket flavor is especially good. The restaurant has several refrigerators containing bottled and canned beers from West Coast breweries, with selections to please the most discerning beer fan.

Inside 3 Pigs BBQ in San Carlos.
Inside 3 Pigs BBQ in San Carlos. (Jeff Cianci)

3 Pigs BBQ
1754 Laurel St. [map]
San Carlos, CA 94070
Ph: (650) 592-4227
Hours: mon-sun 11:30am-9pm
Facebook: 3 Pigs BBQ
Price Range: $$ Entrees ($11-$17)

A combination plate with ribs, roasted chicken and pulled pork at The Cats.
A combination plate with ribs, roasted chicken and pulled pork at The Cats. (Jeff Cianci)

Located in a building which has served many roles over the years, from roadhouse to general store to local saloon, the recently renovated The Cats Restaurant & Bar now serves a menu of hickory slow pit smoked barbecue. The restaurant’s staff has been trained by barbecue pit master Paul Kirk, who has won numerous competitions for his barbecue and dry rub. The flavor-packed dry rub is used on the restaurant's juicy pulled pork, smoked chicken and St. Louis-style pork ribs. The barbecue sampler platter gives you a taste of each and arrives with grilled bread, coleslaw and a hearty side option. The meats are best enjoyed with Kirk’s dry rub which is a perfect balance of spice and sweetness, with the slow smoking process infusing an indescribable depth of flavor. However, a house barbecue sauce is available for those who like their barbecue saucy.

Inside The Cats in Los Gatos.
Inside The Cats in Los Gatos. (Jeff Cianci)

The Cats Restaurant & Bar
17533 Santa Cruz Hwy [map]
Los Gatos, CA 95033
Ph: (408) 354-4020
Hours: Tue-Sat 4pm-12am; Sun 4-9pm; Closed on Mondays
Facebook: The Cats Restaurant
Price Range: $$$ Entrees ($18-$24)

A combination plate with ribs, fatty brisket and pulled pork at Smoking Pig BBQ Company.
A combination plate with ribs, fatty brisket and pulled pork at Smoking Pig BBQ Company. (Jeff Cianci)

Despite being a ways outside the main streets of downtown San Jose, the Smoking Pig BBQ Company maintains a regular stream of visitors for their Southern-style barbecue dishes. The sparsely decorated restaurant is a popular hangout for watching sports over plates of barbecue. A second, larger location in Fremont, features live blues music on the weekends in addition to a collection of big high-definition televisions. The slow-smoked brisket is slightly sweet and maintains a good deal of moisture making it a popular menu item. However, the twice-smoked burnt brisket ends which are tossed in a sweet and sticky glaze are a must try. The restaurant serves a selection of local craft beers as well as housemade barbecue sauces to complete your meal.

Inside Smoking Pig BBQ Company in San Jose.
Inside Smoking Pig BBQ Company in San Jose. (Jeff Cianci)

Smoking Pig BBQ Company
1144 N 4th St. [map]
San Jose, CA 95112
Ph: (408) 380-4784
Hours: Mon-Thu 11am-9pm; Fri-Sat 11am-10pm; Sun 11am-9pm
Facebook: Smoking Pig BBQ Company
Price Range: $$$ Entrees ($18-$24)

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