Bryan Richardson
Since the first time I heard the words barbecue and Portland uttered in the same sentence, it's been a given that Campbell's (on 87th and SE Powell) is the best this city has to offer. In fact, it's so ingrained in Portland lore that Campbell's smoked meats and sides are unbeatable, I've recommended it to friends and visitors, sight unseen and pork ribs un-tasted. Finally, after having tried it, I've concluded that Campbell's may be good, but it's arguable whether it's "the best."

My qualms about Campbell's are as follows: The bones in both the pork and beef ribs are gigantic, leaving the eater with very little substance. On top of that, the meat could be more tender. On my visit, both the pork and beef ribs arrived with the meat cemented to the bone, causing a heated battle between me and my prey. The wrestling match went so far that when my teeth finally procured a piece of flesh, sauce went flinging across the table onto my table mate's face--which was, of course, hilarious, but it also left me covered in sauce and looking like I should be sitting in a highchair. Besides that, Campbell's doesn't have macaroni and cheese or yams or potatoes (although their potato salad is top notch) and in lieu of baked beans they serve bland pintos or extra bland black-eyed peas. Their sauce, however, is delicious, tangy, and unapologetically spicy. If you're sensitive at all to heat, order the mild. And if you don't feel like sweating in your car for 45 minutes driving out to 87th, try some of these more conveniently located and equally delicious in-town joints.

For my money, the Russell Street Barbecue (325 NE Russell) takes the gold medal. The pork ribs were so tender that the meat fell off the bone with literally no prodding. The sides were all delicious, winners being the hearty baked beans and addictively sweet candied yams. The Russell Street's only downfalls are its honky sensibilities--the menu offers skewers of grilled shrimp, and four kinds of (albeit delicious) BBQ sauce, one a sweet mustard. Being a honky, however, that's not something I can spend hours complaining about.

If you're mobile, Cannon's Rib Express (5410 NE 33rd) and LOW BBQ (SE 6th & Hawthorne) both offer succulent, no nonsense slabs of meat. Canon's ribs are some of the best in town, smoky and rich, plus they offer chicken wings; and who the hell doesn't love the crap out of some chicken wings? Their biggest flaw, though, is that their cold sides are cold, which, in my book is sort of, I don't know... gross? LOW--which stands for Laid Off Workers (meaning a couple unemployed guys from the semiconductor industry started their own BBQ stand), offers Painted Hills beef brisket and ribs, with coleslaw as their sole side, but if you're down for a slab of hormone-free, natural beef, this is a great spot.

On a final note, Yam Yam's (7339 NE MLK) should not be overlooked. In my opinion, their sides are the best, and the yams are so sweet and buttery you might have to order some to go. The collards are traditional, slow-cooked, and laced with soft pieces of pork and the occasional sliver of bone. Also, the baked mac n' cheese is great, as is the fried okra. I would probably just end up ordering sides at Yam Yam's, if it wasn't for the huge, tempting pieces of cornmeal breaded catfish that I can't pass up. Yam Yam's offers traditional BBQ ribs and the like, but alternatives like the fish and hefty smothered pork chops provide welcome and fantastic alternatives. The ambiance is spare and fast-food-like, so this isn't the best place to take elderly visitors from out of town--but in that case, the Russell Street is perfect, or try the competent old standby, Tennessee Red's (2133 SE 11th).