Bark City BBQ
Best for: Slumber-inducing brisket smoked with Oregon oak.
1080 SE Madison St., 971-227-9707. 11 am-7 pm Wednesday-Saturday, 11 am-6 pm Sunday. $.
You'll want to carve out time for a nap after a trip to Bark City. The small cart—located in the new Asylum Pod—smokes succulent, fresh cuts of meat daily, including brisket, pulled pork and ribs. The construction paper-lined $14-to-$16 trays come stacked with a couple inches of your barbecue-sweet and fresh pepper-spiced meat of choice. A staple, the chopped brisket, marries rich fat and salty-sweet sauce into shredded bites of quick dopamine release. Sides, like pickled avocado ($4) and lightly dressed mustard vinegar coleslaw ($4), offer refreshingly crisp accompaniments. You'll want to fork a little bit of everything into your mouth at once—it actually does taste best devoured together. ELISE HERRON.
Holy Trinity Barbecue
Best for: It's right there in the name: brisket, ribs and sausage.
Holy Trinity is Portland's newest Texas-style barbecue joint, open just since May, though owner Kyle Rensmeyer, a Dallas native, had been DIY-ing brisket and sausage for Instagram followers as Q PDX before that. Now he shares an almost empty parking lot—allowing plenty of room for that smoker—with fellow food truck Jojo (and soon, beer retailer John's Marketplace) just up the street from no-longer-on-Hawthorne strip club Hawthorne Strip. Rensmeyer's brisket might only be the third- or fourth-best in Portland, but that's not an insult these days. There are also ribs, sausage (rounding out the titular trinity) and pulled pork. If you opt for a two-meat, two-side plate ($16), make sure one of the proteins that ends up on your tray is the sausage. It's a Czech-style smoked beef link—coarse but not too coarse—with great snap and a major hit of mustard seed. The side of pinto beans is more pulled pork than legumes, though that's not really a bad thing, and the cheese grits, with green chiles and cheddar, are excellent. Don't skip dessert, and don't plan on splitting it either. The banana pudding ($3) is individually sized. JASON COHEN.
Kim Jong Smokehouse
Best for: The perfect coupling of Korean street food and Southern-style
It's tempting to use phrases like "fusion" or "mashup" to describe Kim Jong Smokehouse. After all, its name is a not entirely creative compound of the two businesses whose marriage made it happen, Kim Jong Grillin and Smokehouse Tavern. But that would be underselling the result. This isn't some gimmicky cross-cultural Frankenstein—the blend of Korean street food with American smoked meats is so much greater than the sum of its parts you wonder how the convergence didn't happen a half-century ago. Nowhere do the two culinary traditions mesh in such perfect harmony as in the bibimbap bowls ($14-$15). You choose the protein—options include short rib, pulled pork and cured salmon—which comes nestled atop a bed of pickled daikon, crunchy scorched rice and a fried egg. You also get a choice of sauce, but there really is no choice—go for the spicy gochujang, which unites the individual elements with pungent, world-beating flavor. MATTHEW SINGER.
Best for: Superlative smoked meat, without a trip to Central Texas.
First opened on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in 2015, and now an anchor of the Prost pod, Matt's BBQ is not just an institution but an empire-builder—founder Matt Vicedomini is one of three partners behind the Thai barbecue eatery Eem, and he launched another cart, Matt's BBQ Tacos, earlier this year, which has since been named one of Bon Appétit's best new restaurants. Though he's no longer the only Texas barbecue pitmaster in town, Vicedomini is still the best. The barklike exterior of his melty brisket speaks to that. "This is the best stuff," the slicer tells me with a knowing smile as she carves the fatty end of a gorgeous hunk of meat. Heed the chalkboard's suggestion and order a half-pound ($11), along with tender, salty pintos and the potato salad ($3-$7 each), which is a perfect creamy-chunky counterpoint to all of the sauce and spice. Get there early, lest the cart run out of the brisket, or the jalapeño-cheddar sausage ($4.50 each), and don't sleep on the specials, like the weekend-only beef ribs ($20 per pound). JASON COHEN.
Best for: Barbecue of all kinds at an actual sit-down restaurant.
Portland's OG Texas barbecue joint (it began life in 2006 on Northeast Prescott Street) no longer has the market to itself, but it's also a more fully realized restaurant than most of its competition. Still, the best way to start a meal here is by ordering the Pit Boss Platter ($31) to share with the table. The brisket will always be the star, but a quarter-pound of Carolina pulled pork, two St. Louis cut pork ribs and sausage link, which is made in the Texas hot guts tradition, will not disappoint. Other standout eats include the iceberg wedge ($8 or $10.50 with bacon), the Frito pie ($7.50), with higher-quality beef than what you'll find in most chilis, and rotating daily dinner specials after 5 pm, ranging from smoked lamb to prime rib to catfish. JASON COHEN.
Best for: Post-river day sandwiches and sundaes that'll put your childhood memories to shame.
Even if your only relationship to rural summers are John Mellencamp songs, Sugarpine will still provide some semblance of a childhood filled with long afternoons leaping off a dock into a freezing lake and then racing to the nearest Tastee-Freez for a chili dog and soft serve. In this case, though, Ryan Domingo and Emily Cafazzo's adorable, drive-in-style lunch shack—located at the gateway to the Gorge, adjacent to the Sandy River—actually improves upon your sense memories. Sure, that fast-food chili dog tastes immaculate in your head, but it really can't compete with Sugarpine's pulled-pork sandwich ($11), a pile of shredded, slow-cooked pork shoulder stuffed into a brioche bun with white and black sesame seeds made by Portland French Bakery and dressed with smoky-sweet housemade barbecue sauce. And while classic soft serve is also on the menu, the sundaes are sculptures of sweetness, particularly the Larch Mountain ($6), a craggy peak of vanilla-chocolate swirl surrounded by blondie chunks and capped with purply blueberry-lavender sauce that almost seems to sparkle. The place is such a quintessential summertime spot, you half expect it to vanish during the rainy months, but that actually might be the best time to visit, since the river floaters and day hikers who pack the parking lot on hot weekends will be hibernating. Don't worry, the patio is covered. MATTHEW SINGER.