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Hap's Real Pit BBQ, 101 South 24th Street, Phoenix, 267-0181. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Sunday.
American pork producers have spent a fortune promoting their product as "the other white meat." If you believe the advertising, pork is chicken without the feathers--low-fat, nutrient-rich and healthful. After contemplating their message, credulous consumers may be forgiven for wondering why doctors don't simply hand all their patients a couple of pork chops with the advice, "Take two and call me in the morning." I suppose it's possible that pork can be the key to a long, vibrant life. But not the way I like the meat. I love barbecued ribs, smoked to carcinogenic levels and slathered with sauce. Craving ribs is one thing. Finding good ones is another. Urban folklore suggests that the best ribs come out of run-down shacks, perched in the least scenic parts of town. If my latest tour of Valley barbecue dens is any indicator, urban folklore has a foundation in truth. There's certainly nothing structurally imposing about Hap's Real Pit BBQ. It's a trailer. Customers stand outside and communicate their order to the proprietors through a window. As you might expect, the trailer's not parked in front of Scottsdale Fashion Square, either. For the past nine months, it's been sharing space with a car repair place, a bone's throw from the adjacent Adult Shoppe, at the southeast corner of 24th Street and Jefferson. Out front, a big, black smoker, a bright yellow garbage pail and a single table with four chairs provide atmosphere, while traffic furnishes the background music. Many words spring to mind to describe the site. "Picturesque" is probably the most charitable.
On the other hand, once you sink your teeth into Hap's food, your interest in the scenery is going to fade. This is seriously good barbecue.
6738 E. Cave Creek Road
Cave Creek, AZ 85331
Region: Cave Creek
The slab of ribs, the principal object of my affection, is first-rate, meaty and tender, with a smoky taste. The barbecue sauce adds to the effect. It's got tart and sweet undertones, punched up by a lingering hot bite. And the price is certainly right, too, just $9.99 for a full slab, $5.99 for a half. Clearly, when there's not much over head, there's not much overhead.
But what sets Hap's apart is everything else on the menu. It's all homemade, and it's all absolutely scrumptious. Check out the phenomenal pulled pork sandwich, heavy with big, juicy chunks of shredded meat without a trace of gristle. I particularly adored the pork's crispy edge. The barbecued chicken sandwich is just as addicting. The bird comes moist and slightly charred, full of deeply satisfying down-home taste. The excellent brisket is just about in the same league. If there's any shortcoming, it's perhaps a bit too lean. Still, it sports a beefy kick. Even the hot links, often a barbecue afterthought, are worthy, armed with a potent, spicy zing. If you dream about wallowing in barbecue, the rib tips ought to fulfill your fantasies. These are big, meaty hunks from the fattier end of the rib, a perfect combination of animal protein and animal fat. Be thankful they don't come with a nutritional analysis.
The parade of good stuff doesn't stop here. Hap's side dishes are tempting enough to make you put down your ribs or sandwich. Topping the list are the incredible beans, a blend of three different varieties redolently flavored with ground beef, bacon and, I think, a hint of molasses. Without doubt, these are as good as I've ever had. If I were a restaurant owner with beans on the menu, I'd come here and take notes. Substantial mashed potatoes taste like they come from fresh-peeled spuds, not out of a box. Even the potato salad and coleslaw show some flair. The homemade pies make me think that the proprietors could just as successfully operate a pie shop. Both the mixed berry and apple models are dynamite, armed with lots of not-too-sweet fruit wrapped in a mouth-watering pastry crust. I don't live very close to Hap's. So I'm just about ready to ask the owner of the auto repair property it sits on for permission to pitch a tent alongside. Once word gets around, he might have to tear down his business and put in a parking lot. Waldo's BBQ, 4500 East Main, Mesa, 807-1645. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.
Located deep enough in the East Valley to be in the Central Time Zone, Waldo's is a couple of restaurant steps up in class from Hap's. But it took two visits to convince me. That's because Waldo's was out of ribs when I drove here the first time. This wasn't five minutes before closing, either, but at 1 in the afternoon. "Will you have some later?" I inquired. "Nothing 'til tomorrow," I was informed. I wondered if I could pull the same maneuver in my line of work. "Where's your column?" my editor would demand. "Sorry, I'm out of words today. Check back tomorrow."