I posted the following email to a BBQ listserv in which I participate and thought it might be of some interested to my fellow Chowhounds.
Chicago rib joints run the gamut from upscale steak restaurants posing as rib joints to two stool take-out joints with great ribs, but no ambiance. Actually the two stool joints have ambiance, post apocalyptic ambiance, but ambiance none the less. The other type of rib joint in the Chicago area is found on the far South Side and near South suburbs, these are sparse in decor, running almost to coffee shop interiors, but with passable ribs, for the most part.
In Chicago there are two distinct types of ribs, meat jello/fall off the bone and ribs that still have texture/flavor. The meat jello ribs are typically par boiled, slopped with sauce then grilled, the texture/flavor are slow smoked all the way through.
Upscale restaurant meat jello ribs are best exemplified by Freddy's Ribhouse, two Chicago locations. Freddys actually advertises that you have to eat their ribs with a spoon, as if that is something that people, outside of a nursing home, should be looking for.
Upscale restaurant, not quite meat jello, but still not such great ribs Carson's for Ribs fits that bill.
Nice, but not quite as upscale restaurant Gale Street Inn for meat jello ribs. Please be aware that while I use the term meat jello in a derogatory fashion, 90% of the people living in Chicago feel that this is the PERFECT rib, I am in the minority.
Good bar atmosphere for meat jello ribs, consistently rated one of the best in Chicago, Twin Anchor's
A good South suburban choice is Chuck's BBQ in the Southwest suburb of Burbank. Coffee shop meets hot dog stand interior, no booze, but good ribs, New Orleans and Mexican specials and a very friendly owner.
On the far South side another coffee shop looking rib joint with just this side of acceptable ribs is the Patio, which is a small chain
The near South side of Chicago has the best, IMHO, ribs, but very low ambiance. My favorite is Lem's, both locations. Lem's is mostly take out, but there are two rickety stools for the really intrepid diner. Barbara Anns, Leon's, DD&S and a few others are good as well. Lems has the best ribs, Barbara Anns links and tips may edge out Lems.
Hecky's in the North Suburb of Evanston has decent ribs, take out only though.
I have been to a few of the Major chains that have branches in Chicago, Dave's, Red Hot and Blue and a few others, not very good in my opinion.
There is a BBQ joint in Westmont, a Western suburb of Chicago, that I have heard was good, Uncle Bub's, but I have not tried it as of yet.
In addition to the places I mentioned, there are many, many more BBQ places in Chicago, if any list members are interested I will be happy to either amplify on one or two of the places I mentioned or list a few more.
Lems Bar Bq House
5914 S State St
Chicago, IL 60621
5557 W 79th St
Burbank, IL 60459
1902 Green Bay Rd.,
D D & S Bar B Cue
7100 S South Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60619
Leon's Bar B Cue
1640 E 79th St
Chicago, IL 60649
Barbara Ann's Bbq
7617 S Cottage Grove Ave
Chicago, IL 60619
Gale Street Inn Chicago
4914 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60630