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Historic Russell's barbecue still saucy after all these years

The iconic Russell's Barbecue
The iconic Russell's Barbecue
Robin Zimmerman

North Avenue, also known as Illinois Route 64, is a bustling thoroughfare that can take you all the way to Iowa if you are so inclined. But despite the traffic and modern conveniences along this busy stretch of road, there are ghosts of by-gone businesses that have long been shuttered and replaced by retail chains.

The old Skip’s Drive-in is now a shopping mall anchored by Menard’s while the iconic Kiddieland has been replaced a Costco. Down at Thatcher and North Avenue, the Paddle Wheel Restaurant that was once frequented by Maywood Park bookies, itinerant gypsies and other colorful characters is home to a humdrum, run-of-the-mill CVS Drug Store.

But if you cross Thatcher and go north a block, you’ll find a barbecue place that’s been running strong since 1930. And with its old-school neon, yellow brick facade and tall smokestack, Russell’s still looks like the go-to spot for everyone from bobby soxers to returning vets from World War 2.

The interior of Russell’s also takes one back to an earlier era with wooden booths and stagecoach shaped overhead lights. The individual juke boxes on the table have been replaced by Chipotle flavored barbecue sauce, a new offering and one of the few nods to the present day.

While many barbecue joints offer a juggernaut of cleverly named sauces, Russell’s only carries the aforementioned Chipotle and its classic recipe, which has been “famous since 1930” according to the label. The slightly sweet sauce has ingredients that were popular during this time period including ketchup, worcestershire sauce and liberal applications of all spice.

One of their most popular offerings, the barbecue pork sandwich, is not the sauce-drenched, spit roasted fare you've come to expect from modern day barbecue spots. It’s slow roasted and coated with a layer of barbecue sauce. The thinly sliced barbecue beef is another crowd pleaser, along with the ribs, chicken, smoked pulled pork and other standards. Russell’s also serves up everything from decadent macaroni and cheese wedges to healthier fare like salads and homemade soups.

Open 363 days a year, Russell’s is located at 1621 N. Thatcher Avenue in Elmwood Park. Their phone number is 708-453-7065. And, yes, this throwback DOES have a website. Visit them at

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