The barbecue landscape remains pretty dismal in NYC. Yes, there are more choices than there were a decade ago, but anyone who says that New Yorkers can be proud of the food being served by the current purveyors is sorely deluded.
Here are my top 5 choices from this sorry lot. The focus in this list is on how good the food tastes, plain and simple. Not on how conveniently located the restaurant is, or how attractive the waitstaff are, or the quality of the winelist or the sides, or how brief the wait to be seated (or for a delivery to arrive). Higher points given for stronger smoke flavor, more tender meat, better tasting seasonings and sauce. Points off for excessively-fatty cuts, burnt meat, or signs that the meat has been sitting around too long (eg, dried, congealed sauce).
And as the title of the post says, this rating is based solely on barbecued ribs (meaning traditional American-style BBQ ribs). Not brisket, pulled pork, chicken wings, or anything else. Just ribs.
By way of disclosure, my general preference is for smoky Kansas city-style ribs with a sweet, rather than sour/heavily-vinegared, sauce. The ribs served at Lem's in Chicago would be a point of reference, for example.
Best Bets for BBQ Ribs
1. Daisy May's (on one of their good days, as they can be quite inconsistent)
2. The Smoke Joint
4. Smokin' Q
This particular order is not absolute among the top 4, as I have had better ribs from Smokin' Q than Dinosaur, for instance, on occasion.
(*It offends my sensibilities to have to include Virgil's on this list, but that is how sad the current state of affairs remains. Note that I usually don't get ribs at Virgil's; I order their lamb instead. But Virgil's inclusion on the list is based on their ribs.)
BBQ Ribs Abominations
(starting from the worst)
1. Blue Smoke
4. Rack & Soul
5. Bone Lick Park
6. Hill Country (even allowing for the fact that they serve a different style of BBQ)
7. Acme Bar & Grill
The various Dallas BBQ chains around the city are fine if all you are looking for is a lot of food on a budget; steer clear if the actual taste of the BBQ is important to you.
The other chain, Brother Jimmy's, has much better ribs, but for a considerably higher price (I am most familiar with the branch on 92nd & 3rd); however, they're not good enough to make it into the top 5.