A great barbecue joint is all about smoked meat and little else, certainly not atmosphere. Maybe that's why well-known 'cue concepts haven't fared well in Vegas (RUB BBQ died at the Rio, Salt Lick Barbecue is gone from Station Casinos). Granted, barbecue is a time-consuming art form that doesn't necessarily translate into the commercial restaurant biz, which is why the best stuff is typically found at country-style setups and not so much in fancy hotels.
But the Strip should have everything, right? Until about seven months ago, it didn't have an actual barbecue restaurant. Now there are two. B.B. King's, born in Memphis and now at the Mirage, looks and feels like an old-school Southern supper and music club. And Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin recently resurrected the country-themed Gilley's, which previously provided your mechanical bull-riding needs from the New Frontier. Both venues are heavily themed with music and regional culture and cuisine.
Southern swagger is represented on B.B. King's menu with fried green tomatoes, crusted with graham cracker and cornmeal and served with caramelized onions, cream cheese and strawberry jam. Fun and tasty, but we're talking barbecue. Baby back ribs are beyond tender, literally falling off the bone. You can order them dry to focus on rubbed-on spices rather than the mostly sweet, not-so-spicy sauce. BBQ Chicken is just a grilled breast, masquerading under that sauce, while pulled pork is tender and juicy.
Though it's equally corny in theme, Gilley's walks the walk. There are steaks and fried chicken, but barbecue is the foundation. The Ten Gallon Platter ($35) gets you ribs, chicken, pulled pork and hot links. I might favor the gooey ribs of Tennessee over the smoky offerings from Texas, but Gilley's gets the prize everywhere else. Its hot links are the best I've ever tasted. The side dishes also excel, particularly mac 'n' cheese and sweet, crisp coleslaw. And there's a non-barbecue gem on the menu: CT's Award Winning Pork Green Chili, a rich, deep stew full of juicy pork, poblano and hatch chiles. It might be too hot and heavy for our crazy summer temperatures, but it's a must-eat.