The Life-Changing Magic of Standing in Line for Barbecue in Metro Phoenix

Welcome to The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.

3: Standing in line for brisket at Little Miss BBQ

The long line outside Little Miss BBQ on any given Saturday morning might be the only long line in Phoenix where you can spend upward of an hour standing in the sun without hearing a single person complain.

You sort of know what you're getting into when you go to Little Miss BBQ on a weekend morning: a long wait in a long line. And most people don't bother to complain, because the reward at the end of the line is commensurate with the long wait times: goose-bump-inducing, mouth-watering, soul-warming, damn good barbecue.

The nice folks at Little Miss BBQ sometimes pass out complimentary water bottles to the meat-lovers standing in line, a nice gesture that goes a long way to soothing grumpy moods. And waiting in line is part of the general experience, a sort of anticipation-building ritual that makes the meat taste even more ambrosial when it finally lands on your tray.

The thing to try at least once is the beef brisket, which many will argue is the best brisket in the state, and depending on what cut you get, it might be gorgeously fatty and melty, or more lean and juicy. It's by far the most popular thing on the menu, so you have to be an early bird if your heart is set on a plate of lush, sliced brisket, or a chopped brisket sandwich. You could argue that one of the most depressing food experiences in metro Phoenix is standing in line at Little Miss for more than an hour, just to watch the person in front of you get the last serving of brisket. If you can survive that kind of heartbreak, well, you can survive almost anything.

There are other highlights too, of course, including gorgeously smoky pork ribs, extra-juicy turkey and sausage, and unique sides like the jalapeño cheddar grits. But you'll come for the meat, especially that unforgettable brisket, which is served market-style, sliced and weighed at the counter right before your eyes.

The staff is friendly and energetic, even after a long morning of slicing meat, because they seem to sense just how special this whole ritual is, how you've been waiting all week for that one moment where the meat is plunked down on your plate. You carry it out to the picnic tables to commune with your fellow barbecue devotees. You take that first bite, and your life flashes briefly before your eyes in a way that feels both strange and familiar. It's like your whole life was leading up to this Saturday morning, to this particular plate of barbecue. The world briefly makes total and complete sense, in a way that doesn't really happen anywhere else. You used to have to drive all the way to central Texas for this kind of barbecue, but this kind of magic happens almost daily in a bedraggled old stretch of University Drive near Tempe.

The Essentials so far:
50: Tequila Sunrise at the Arizona Biltmore.
49: "Dragon" Dumpling Burger at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour.
48: Dizzy Fig Empanada at Republica Empanada.
47: Linguine Carbonara at Avanti.
46: The Food Court at Mercado de los Cielos.
45: Chicken Feta Salad at George’s Kitchen.
44: Spinach & Cheese Chimi Burro at Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant.
43: Dinner at Rustler's Rooste.
42: Gyro Omelet at Mel's Diner.
41: Zipps Wings at Zipps Sports Grill.
40: Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa.
39: Asian Nachos at Moto.
38: Olive Oil Tasting at Queen Creek Olive Oil Mill.
37: Baby Back Ribs at Don & Charlie's.
36: Limoncello at Cibo.
35: Chili Salt Chicken Wings at Asian Café Express.
34: Smoked Prime Rib at Texaz.
33: Steak Salad at Feeney's.
32: Tasting Menu at Kai Restaurant.
31: Toffee Banofi Sundae at Sweet Republic.
30: Big Jim at Welcome Diner.
29: Sonoran Hot Dog at El Caprichoso.
28: Sashimi at Nobuo at Teeter House.
27: Oysters at Casey Moore's Oyster House.
26: Spring rolls at Da Vang.
25: Bruschetta and wine at Postino.
24: Hot green chili fry bread at Fry Bread House.
23: The Big One at The Chuckbox.
22: Cahuamanta Stew at Cahuamanta El Yaqui.
21: Dim Sum at Great Wall Cuisine.
20: Fried chicken at The Horny Toad.
19: George & Dragon’s Famous Fish & Chips.
18: Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches at Pho 43rd Express.
17: Cerreta Candy Co. Factory Tour & Candy Sampling in Downtown Glendale.
16: Steak Dinner at The Stockyards.
15: Margarita + Guacamole del Barrio at Barrio Cafe.
14: BBQ Plate at Joe's Real BBQ.
13: Fried Chicken & Pork Chops from Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe.
12: Breakfast Burrito at Yucca Tap Room.
11: Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies at Super Chunk.
10: Doro Wat at Cafe Lalibela.
9: Lunch at Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli.
8: The Chef's Counter at Posh.
7: Flour tortillas and machaca at Carolina's.
6: Wining and dining at FnB.
5. Shopping at Lee Lee's International Supermarket.
4: Power lunch at Durant's.
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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.