Virginia

Arlington County

Red, Hot & Blue took Washington by storm during Bush 41's tenure in the White House and has picked up the pace since then. Started in Arlington by guys from Tennessee, it has grown into a multistate chain. The lineage shows. The pulled pork ($10.99 a pound), large and succulent chunks without sauce, is simply awesome, even though the nicely caramelized char loses its crispiness to refrigeration. Close your eyes and you could be in Memphis, except in Memphis you could smell the hickory, a distinct sensation that is absent at these high-tech restaurants. The hickory here is all in the mouth. But stay away from the hot sauce unless you want the great taste to be obliterated by the fire. It's nearly a paste of red pepper.

I'm not nearly as impressed with the ribs ($17.99 a slab), which can be ordered sweet, dry (coated with a dry rub) or wet (mopped with sauce). The ribs are fatty and overcooked, and the dry rub doesn't do much to compensate. The coleslaw -- crisp cabbage and carrot shreds -- is bathed in a bland dressing.

But the potato salad is terrific: big chunks of redskin potatoes mixed with scallions and egg, with a great dressing that is more like a cream sauce. There's no good vinegar bite, but the southern classic doesn't really need it.

Red, Hot & Blue, www.redhotandblue.com, 1600 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-276-7427; 3014 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-243-1510; 4150 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax, 703-218-6989; 6482 Landsdown Centre, Alexandria, 703-550-6465; 541 E. Market St., Leesburg, 703-669-4242; 8366 Sudley Rd., Manassas, 703-367-7100; 360 Broadview Ave., Warrenton, 540-349-7100; 200 Old Mill Bottom Rd., Annapolis, 410-626-7427; 16811 Crabbs Branch Way, Rockville, 301-948-7333; 677 Main St., Laurel, 301-953-1943; 680 Prince Frederick Blvd., Prince Frederick, 410-257-6035; 3350 Crain Hwy., Waldorf, 301-705-7427.

Fairfax County

Occasionally there are spanking-new places that somehow capture the feel, smell and taste of the old South. Willard's Real Pit BBQ in Chantilly is one of those places. Open less than a year and in a strip shopping center near the Dulles Expo Center, Willard's somehow captured my heart.

I think it's partly because it's not hokey, with lots of the stupid signs and sayings that too many people think are the proper decor for a food as down-home as barbecue. Willard's is almost industrial in its approach, in a way that I think perhaps the famous Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City might be if it were started today. There is a lot of stainless steel -- and lots of those soda fountain stools I used to spin around on as a kid. There are huge photographs of real people celebrating the rural way of life. One wall is devoted to the names and cities of some of the country's great barbecue joints.

I think mostly what won me over at Willard's, in addition to the food, is the pride that every employee exuded about the barbecue. I asked the guy putting together my order how the meat was cooked, and he went into a long explanation, pointing out equipment and bringing out some of the beef to show the deep pink coloring.

Owner Chris Janowski hails from North Carolina by way of Boston, where he co-owned two similar barbecue places.

The proof is in the barbecue, and Willard's acquits itself well indeed. The big chunks of pork ($10.95 a pint) are meaty, smoky and just about perfectly cooked. It tastes like pork and has the texture of pork. And the hot barbecue sauce blends great fire in the mouth that doesn't overwhelm the meat; it's vinegary and not at all sweet. The meat and sauce are eloquent counterpoints.

The ribs ($19.95 a slab), deep pink and meaty, also have a great smoky pork taste, though mine seemed just a little overcooked. They still had decent texture. That and the great sauce almost made me forget any shortcomings.

The coleslaw is shredded cabbage and carrot in a very mild but pleasant dressing. The potato salad tastes like my mother's, and, man, she could make great potato salad! There are well-cooked chunks of potato, celery, green peppers, sweet pickle, chives, onion and egg bound with mayonnaise with a vinegar undercurrent. Willard's is a keeper.

Willard's Real Pit BBQ, 4300 Chantilly Shopping Ctr. (Willard Road at the Dulles Expo Center), 703-488-9970.