The ‘Meal Ticket,’ named in homage to the location’s former restaurant. This platter features roasted chicken, pork ribs, house-made links and brisket. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Last February, Berkeley’s family-owned restaurant KC’s Bar-B-Que was a month shy of celebrating its 50th anniversary when the building at 2613 San Pablo Ave. went up in flames. The fire department managed to save the heirloom photos that hung on the wall, but that was it. The place was toast.

This June — about 15 months later — KC’s BBQ (note the slight tweak on the name) rose from the ashes and celebrated its grand reopening in its new, bright and airy joint, filling the former Meal Ticket location with the familiar smell of pork ribs and tangy barbecue sauce.

“Everything checked off here,” said Kristen Davis, explaining that the former Meal Ticket owners “wanted someone in here who had similar values. We showed that our values and our families were extremely important to us and I think that is where we connected.”

Located on San Pablo Avenue, about a mile-and-a-half north of its former space, KC’s is already bustling and the Davis family is eager to welcome back dedicated regulars and to please new crowds.

At the new space, KC’s offers wine and beer, some new dishes and patio seating. The walls are lined with the now slightly charred but still beautiful photographs of the Davises’ great aunts and uncles, some of whom were talented cooks and chefs in their own rights.

Heirloom photographs and family objects line the walls of the restaurant. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

KC’s BBQ serves Kansas City-style barbecue, characterized by slow-smoked meats glazed with a sweet, tomato-based sauce. The restaurant’s specialty is pork ribs, a favorite of Davis’ grandfather and KC’s original owner, Vernell Davis. The spot is also known for its housemade pork and beef sausage links, beef brisket and its sauces and rubs.

Vernell founded KC’s Bar-B-Que in 1968 and gained a hungry following before passing the BBQ joint on to his son Patrick in 1987, a few years after he graduated high school. Kristen, Patrick’s daughter, started helping out at the restaurant as soon as she was tall enough to see over the countertop. But it wasn’t until after the fire that she took on the responsibility of co-owner with her dad. Together, father and daughter landed the new location.

“The new space is [both] modern classic and Southern comfort. I want people to feel comfortable here. I want families to be able to come here with their kids and for it just to be a warm, welcoming atmosphere, always,” said Kristen.


Three generations of KC’s BBQ owners. Left to right: Patrick, Vernell and Kristen Davis. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

KC’s hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sundays. (Barbecue is available starting at noon on weekends.)

Weekend brunch offers dishes like pancakes and omelets but will soon include stick-to-your-ribs classics like chicken and waffles, and shrimp and grits. Within a month, KC’s will offer vegetarian BBQ offerings for non-meat eaters, like jackfruit “pulled pork” and a tofu option.

“We love the new space — the brightness of it,” said Patrick. “We were in that other space for 50 years and it kind of ran its course, so we are very glad to be here.”

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Melati Citrawireja is a writer, photographer and curious thinker about the underbelly of places. She began contributing to Berkeleyside after a summer internship in 2015 and earned a BA in Development...