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While living in Tuscaloosa, the question was whether Dreamland or Archibald’s had the best ribs. I was familiar with Dreamland, having gone there first in 1991. Now it was the late ‘90s and I was hearing about Archibald’s for the first time. All I knew is it was a small place behind a house in Northport. Word was they had barely any seating so plan on not eating in. When I finally went, over 20 years after leaving Tuscaloosa, I realized I had driven past it dozens of times. I just didn’t notice because of how small it actually was.

Today, it’s much easier to find. There’s a large sign out front and a paved parking lot. They’re still cooking in the original tiny building, in a circular pit that is heavily seasoned and very well used. I haven’t seen another one like it in Alabama and wonder how much its construction contributes to the flavor. Just as I’d heard, the old dining area is still there. It’s essentially the size of a walk-in closet with one table at the end. The new dining area is a large, covered patio behind the house that fronts the restaurant. Three large picnic tables sit at the front of the restaurant with some small rounds at the back. During the lunch hour it was crowded, with my only option being a picnic table. I ended up inviting a family of three to share my table and learned they were from Texas and were touring SEC colleges with their high school senior. At each stop they were trying the local fare and they chose Archibald’s above all the other Tuscaloosa institutions, and there are a lot of them. They left thrilled with their experience.

I asked the family beside me what they thought of the food. They gave high praise to the beans, smoked wings, potato salad, and banana pudding. They really enjoyed this style because wasn’t so sweet. That was my experience as well. Archibald’s sauce is a vinegar base with a mild spice and some red pepper flakes for a bit of heat. I thought I tasted mustard as the overall profile was tangy with some zing. It finishes off very cleanly and isn’t heavy. That’s helpful if you try to put down the enormous portions they give you.

Archibald’s has their own style of serving. I ordered the combination pork and ribs plate, which was built with four slices of white bread as the base. The meat was stacked on top, covered in sauce, and capped with two more slices of white bread. Additional sauce is served on the side. From there you dive in and get your hands dirty.

Once you take in the sight of this loaded barbecue plate, the next thing that hits you is the smell. The smokey aroma gives an obvious hint to the flavor. The ribs have a nice crust and pull neatly from the bone with an easy chewing texture. The pork is also smokey, sliced, and moist. The vinegar-based sauce kept the huge portion from knocking me out and I was able to savor every bite. Who has the best ribs in Tuscaloosa? For me that’s a very tough question to answer. But going for the old-school ribs at Archibald will never be wrong.

Archibald’s has a warm neighborhood feel. The third generation of the family is working the counter and they’re very attentive and provide great service. It’s fun to watch them work, filling so many orders while minding the pit immediately behind the counter. No frills, just the basics for making legendary barbecue.

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