Restaurant Review: Kinder’s Meats & Deli – Blue Ribbon Barbecue in Hercules


by John Strohmeier

Over the past decade, Kinder’s Meats & Deli has become one of the busiest dining establishments in West County. The main reason for its popularity, especially during weekday lunch hours, is that it serves great deli food. The main reason for its great deli food is that the Kinder family has focused for nearly sixty years on making sure customers get just that.

The story begins in 1946, when John Kinder opened a meat counter in the back of a neighborhood grocery store on 23rd Street in San Pablo. A few years later John relocated to Richmond, where he augmented his selection of fresh and cured meats with sandwiches, and a few housemade sauces. As so often happens, what began as a side show eventually became the main attraction. By the time John’s son, Dan, moved the operation to Concord in 1985, the butcher counter still brought in customers, but the main draw had become the deli, and especially its smoked meats. At Kinder’s Meats & Deli today, barbecue rules.

The Hercules location opened in 2004 when Dan’s son, Justin, was ready to take on more responsibility in the family business. While Kinder’s has expanded to fifteen locations, Hercules, a stone’s throw from the original Kinder’s, is a top performing store. Occupying a polished, glass-fronted space in a shopping center at the corner of Sycamore and San Pablo Avenue, nothing about the exterior promises that this will be one of the country’s most celebrated delis, but it is. Kinder’s has won a showcase full of trophies in major barbecue competitions, against rivals from Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri, and even Australia and Europe.

Perhaps the trademark items on the Kinder’s menu are the “famous” Ball Tip Sandwich, and the Tequila Lime Pork Ribs. The Ball Tip sandwich is oven-roasted, and served with barbecue sauce and condiments on a soft French roll from Maggiora Baking Company in Richmond. Ball tip is an unusual cut, leaner and more tender than the more common tri-tip, and makes a fantastic sandwich. The pork ribs are prepared with a tequila lime dry rub and smoked for seven hours on the premises. Kinder’s smokes their meats using applewood rather than stronger-flavored hickory or oak. The smokiness of these tender, juicy ribs is assertive but not overpowering.

Also from the smoker come two “Chicken Quarters,” one prepared with the tequila lime dry rub, and the other with Kinder’s original marinade, a soy-based concoction a little like teriyaki, but not so sweet. Chicken Quarters are smoked for three hours, the results are super good, and like the ribs, get them before it’s too late in the day because once they’re gone, they’re gone until tomorrow.

Another popular item on Kinder’s menu is the California Club Sandwich, a combination of roast chicken breast, avocado and bacon, served on a soft French roll. This is lighter fare than the smoked and red meat selections, but has a lot of flavor. As you sample this dish, you may be struck, as I was, by how consistently tender the meats are that come from Kinder’s kitchen. As Justin explains, this is no accident. Chicken, beef and pork are sourced with great care from farms in California and the Midwest dedicated to raising stock with an eye to flavor and tenderness, even though it costs more. Kinder’s today serves Angus beef only, raised humanely, and all its meat is produced without hormones, antibiotics or treated feed.

You can’t talk about Kinder’s without mentioning their sauces, marinades and rubs. At last count, they offer five sauces, three marinades and seven dry rubs for home cooks, which are available at the Hercules deli and many local markets. Preeminent among these is probably the mild barbecue sauce, which is standard on the ball tip sandwich. This has been called a “California-style” sauce, with a balance of hickory, sweet, heat and fruit flavors.

Kinder’s salad selection features a mix of classics like potato and macaroni, and lighter contemporaries like tortellini pesto and cucumber tomato. Recently added to the list of sides is macaroni and cheese, made with lots of sticky cheese sauce and bacon. If you like mac and cheese (as I do), this is one you have to try. Many junior diners (and some seniors) will be happy to bypass the sandwiches in favor of this comfort food.

Most restaurant stories in Marketplace magazine end with a sampling of sweets, but at Kinder’s you won’t find cheese cake, or baklava or chocolate mousse. What you will find is a variety of delicious cookies from Zoe’s bakery in Richmond. Good enough! After six decades in the business, the Kinder family has learned to stick with what they do best. That means great meats and sandwiches. If they keep doing that, customers will keep coming back, and most of them will leave contented, with no room for dessert.

3600 San Pablo Ave. Suite 1, Hercules | (510) 724-2332 |

Hours: Monday-Saturday 8:30am to 9:00pm | Sunday 8:30am-7:00pm


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