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Baby Blues BBQ in Venice offers some of the best ribs in town, along with cornbread, chili and okra, just like Ida Mae used to make back home. (photo by Merv Hecht)

I judge the quality of life in a city by the quality of its barbecue and the number of chocolate stores within or close to the city limits. I haven’t checked all the candy stores yet, but I’ve had some mighty good BBQ, and so far my favorite is Baby Blues.

WHERE: 444 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, 90291: (310) 396-7675.

WHEN: I like a BBQ that’s open every day of the week so I go as soon as I get the hankerin’! Monday — Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sundays, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Too bad they’re not open for breakfast.

BEST DISHES: That’s pretty easy here because everything is so good. The ribs are great. I prefer the Memphis, a bit more dry and spicy. The pulled pork is just right. Even the shrimp are exceptional. But the unexpected treat is in the side dishes: real okra and whipped sweet potatoes like Ida Mae used to make back home. Macaroni and cheese on the side and, of course, corn bread.

PRICES: The platters run from $13 to $25, and it’s plenty for two. A whole chicken is only $12.95. You can eat well for under $15, but I usually order too much and take enough home for a couple of meals.

BEST FEATURE: The food, the service, and the three great BBQ sauces: one full of vinegar, one slightly sweet (good with the shrimp) and one pretty hot and spicy (especially good on the pulled pork).

WORST FEATURE: Clearly the pictures on the wall, all of which are for sale and, I suspect, always will be.

WHAT TO DRINK: They have a special sweet iced tea, and now I heard that they serve beer, but I didn’t see any last time I was there.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s worth a visit once a week or so, after several days of dieting.

Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at mervynhecht@yahoo.com.

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