Restaurant of the Week: Famous Dave’s

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Famous Dave’s, 11470 4th St. (at Richmond), Rancho Cucamonga

This is a Minnesota-based barbecue chain that recently opened a location across from Ontario Mills. The large-ish dining room has a high ceiling with rafters, wavy tin trim and silly signs, such as, in neon, “Eat like a pig.”

I like barbecue as much as the next person, but I’m not one of those people who know the difference between the styles of St. Louis, Texas, Memphis and wherever. What I can tell you is that I went in for lunch on Tuesday and ordered the Dave’s Favorite Burger ($8.99) with a side of slaw. How could this Dave resist?

The burger took a while but the server said that’s because the beef is ground only when ordered. It’s not this Dave’s favorite, but it was a darn good burger, a fine pile of beef chargrilled medium well until crunchy. Too much barbecue sauce, though. Oh, and the slaw was above average, dry and crisp.

My friend had a pulled chicken sandwich ($7.49), quite tasty, and a side of sweet potatoes with brown sugar on top. I’m not a sweet potato fan but I could have eaten more than the bite I sampled.

Is Famous Dave’s better than Lucille’s, the chain at Victoria Gardens? Is it better than the local places, like Joey’s or Red Hill BBQ? Ask an aficionado. But I’d eat at Dave’s again. Or any of those places, for that matter.

Weird trivia: Famous Dave co-founded Rainforest Cafe and is a former assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

* April 2012 update: I returned for a St. Louis-style pork rib half-slab combo with corn muffin and two sides, cole slaw and baked apples ($18). For corporate barbecue, it was all pretty tasty. The restaurant’s kitschy ambience is, like Lucille’s, too styled, and the atmosphere too loud and quote-unquote fun, but the food almost makes up for it.

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  • Charles Bentley

    While I haven’t tried the new Famous Dave’s in Rancho, I did have dinner at the one in Redlands not too long ago. I have to admit some cultural bias at the beginning, wondering what “Minnesota” barbecue offered that was different from more traditional ‘Cue country. Lutefisk? Lime Jell-O mold?

    Despite going on a busy weekend night for dinner, I found the service excellent and the food offerings very tasty. Was it the best I’ve ever eaten? Not even in the top 10. But it is quite good and provides a fine variety of entres and styles.

    As David touched on, tastes in barbecue are extremely regional. No one will ever confuse Santa Maria tri-tip with North Carolina eastern chopped pork (and I’m not talking about the meat itself, folks). Dry rub versus sweet wet versus mesquite grilled, it’s all about what best suits your personal preference. And let’s not even get into the coleslaw conundrum!

    Yet I must admit my surprise that David would go for a burger instead of something a little more adventurous. Is that your Illinois roots or something you picked up here in the Golden State (“I wish they all could be California grills”)?

    As for a local comparison, I still haven’t been able to get into Lucille’s (the perennial 2-hour wait continues to thwart my efforts). As for Joey’s and Red Hill, I must admit Famous Dave’s beats what both currently offer. Joey’s isn’t what it used to be and Red Hill is woefully inconsistent. Pit BBQ on Baseline Road in Rancho is very good and often overlooked.

    [Rancho is kind of the barbecue capital of the Inland Valley; there are even another couple of spots we didn’t mention. Thanks for the cogent comments, Charles. As for my lunch, I didn’t feel like ribs and went for the burger only because of its name. I’m sure I’ll go back and try more items. — DA]

  • Valarie

    If going to a bbq place, try the bbq ribs. Not a burger.

    This will be the true test.

    Dave’s bbq ribs are FAR BETTER than Lucille’s ever could be. Dave’s ribs have TONS of meat on them, and absolutely no greasy fat! Excellent to say the least.
    Their pulled pork or pulled chicken meat is moist and very tasty. The brisket bbq sandwich is to die for.

    Probably the best tasting meat in the entire bbq world.

    I’ve tasted many bbq “specialties” from everywhere, and this place is hands down, the very best.

    For our weekend dinner, we will be take out ordering the family feast for 4. It’s incredibly delicious.

    [Someone here really loves Dave’s! — DA]