Let’s get this out of the way: Top Notch Barbeque is the best barbecue in Las Vegas. The decent neighborhood joints and mediocre chain restaurants that populate our barbecue landscape simply can’t compare. If you crave real, smoky, no-nonsense barbecue and have been disappointed in your quest to find it here, feel free to celebrate.
If you haven’t tried Top Notch, it might be because Cincinnati transplant Jimmy Cole had been serving his ’cue exclusively from a food truck and catering special events. That was until December, when he opened a restaurant adjacent to Doc Holliday’s bar in Henderson’s Beltway Plaza, on Eastern and Serene. It’s a wide-open, family-friendly space with big windows, lots of tables and booths, live jazz on Friday nights, and the best ribs and pulled pork you’ve ever tasted.
- Top Notch Barbeque
- 9310 S. Eastern Ave., 883-1555.
- Daily, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Top Notch’s style of barbecue is Cole’s own creation, not necessarily a descendent of a regional type, though his pork spareribs are close to St. Louis-style. The rich, smoky meat is sparked by a bright, zesty spice rub. Get a half-rack with sides for $17.99 or combo the ribs with a mound of juicy, perfect pulled pork for $18.99. There’s sauce on your table, but it’s completely unnecessary.
This is one of those everything-is-good restaurants, including the other meats—rib tips, chicken, hot links and, recently added, highly delicious brisket—and a soulful collection of side dishes. Baked beans have slabs of hot link hiding, and there’s turkey mixed in with the green beans. Mac and cheese is nap-inducing overload. Sweet potato casserole ($3.49 a la carte) is as sweet as it gets, best saved for dessert. And then there’s Cole’s Cincinnati chili, a well-spiced, slightly sweet and creamy concoction perfect on fries with cheese sauce ($6.99) or topping a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw ($9.99).
New lunch specials in the $6 to $10 range are in the works, but as the menu stands, quality and portion size justify the prices. This is the real deal, where it’s more likely the kitchen will run out of food before serving you something that’s been holding past its prime. Barbecue is tricky. It takes a lot of patience and preparation to get it right and keep it right, and the lack of great barbecue restaurants in Las Vegas proves how tough this seemingly simple cuisine can be. Now that we have Top Notch, we don’t have to worry about that stuff.
How to make Top-Notch ribs
Top Notch Barbeque serves up the biggest, meatiest, tastiest spareribs Las Vegas has ever known. Chef/owner Jimmy Cole won’t share the secret recipe for the dry rub that gives his food such punch, but he’s willing to drop a little knowledge to improve your backyard cookouts. Here are a few of his rib tips:
1. Use pork spareribs, not baby backs, and peel off the membrane on the underside of your rib rack. That will allow smoke and seasonings to better permeate the meat.
2. When creating your own spice rub, start with paprika. “It gives good flavor and color, and it really adds depth to any other seasoning you use.”
3. It’s not barbecue if there isn’t smoke. Cole uses different wood for different meats, opting for mild pecan and apple woods for his ribs. “The pecan adds a nice little nutty flavor, but apple wood really brings out the porkiness.”
4. Cole smokes his ribs for four hours, perfect timing for fall-off-the-bone tenderness. Any longer and you risk drying out the meat.