In honor of Texas Monthly’s “Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas” list, we decided to do a small series throughout the month of July and pay tribute to the three Valley barbecue establishments that made the cut unto this illustrious publication. Besides, it’s July! It’s America’s birthday and it doesn’t get much more American than a nice, smoldering plate of barbecue.
Our first stop on tour was the (literally) “hole in the wall” Rio Grande Grill in Harlingen, Texas. Their new, extended hours of operation permitted us to do the trek during the week, as opposed to waiting until the weekend and fighting the Saturday rush. It’s vibrant colors and mural displayed on the side of the building, makes it stand out along the streets of Harlingen.
Just like it’s vividly funky outside, the inside is covered from floor to ceiling in art and murals from local artists such as Cayetano “Cat” Garza Jr. There’s probably enough space inside for about 40 to 50 people at max.
Gaby: We were eating with the likes of La India Maria, Cantinflas and Pedro Infante!
Trisha: I swear that Cantinflas was giving us the judging side eye as we tried to indulge in our food.
Gaby: Nam’be, my man Cantinflas would give us an amazing two-minute speech about how great it is to eat from local restaurants that serve as a vital organ for our community. Now, I am ranting. Watched too many Cantinflas’ movies while growing up.
Rio Grande Grill’s homey feeling and welcome vibes are exuded through their friendly and quirky staff, who are eager to share their cuisine and favorite dishes with you, the retro sounds of music giants like Michael Jackson and Fleetwood Mac and, on this particular day, the heat of the home kitchen brewing up its magic.
Trisha: I particularly liked our colorful server’s mustache bandana.
Gaby: I think I have to vote for his “Corgis in Space” t-shirt.
Unlike Saturdays where you have to make your way to the cash register and order, weekdays are easy going and table service is graciously provided.
Trisha: As soon as I heard, “Good evening, would you ladies like some Queso or Guacamole to begin with?” My immediate response was, “QUESO!”
Gaby: Trisha was so excited she barely let our server finish his question. She sure loves that creamy stuff!
Trisha: Ahem *clearing throat* WE sure do love that creamy stuff. Not an ounce of that cheese was left between the two of us.
The heat from the kitchen kept creeping up, and as soon as our Queso arrived it was literally hair buns up, napkins on lap and utter silence as we ate away at our delicious starter.
With our impending hunger, the savory aromas that filled the restaurant, and the multitude of appealing menu options, we wanted to order everything. Of course, that wasn’t the most realistic option so, true to form, we decided on sharing a few different dishes.
For starters, you already know about that rich and satisfying queso with pico de gallo. Pure joy! We then moved on to the “meat” of the matter (pun intended) and dined on the perfectly smoked pulled pork with a side of homemade BBQ sauce, containing just a hint of spicy goodness, followed by shredded chicken quarter tacos dressed with fresh green lettuce, diced tomato and queso fresco. We chose to be a tad more authentic with the three tacos in corn tortillas, as opposed to the two tacos in flour tortillas.
You’d think, after those not too shabby portions of shared meals, we’d be done. Wrong! We’ve got work to do, people and we are not the quitting type. (wink) That being said, we forged on to Texas Monthly recommendation of the ever so scrumptious, chopped brisket enchiladas smothered in velvety, melted cheese with a side of flavorful rice and beans. Although we weren’t sure how we were going to prevent slipping into a food coma at that point, we had ZERO regrets about the full-flavored food we’d managed to consume.
Trisha: I can’t eat another bite. Ooohh, are those Hawaiian hamburger buns we forgot to try?!
Gaby: Let me taste one of those. Dang it! I guess I know what I’ll be doing after this meal.
Now, we mentioned how lively and inviting our server was, but did we fail to comment on just how persuasive he was? The Jedi mind power of that guy; we ordered dessert! Hey, please, no judging. Anyone with a love for heavenly edible delights would not be able to turn down the pièce de résistance, Bourbon spiced peach cobbler, freshly made and topped with their homemade French vanilla whipped cream. My, oh my!
Although closed on Sunday and Monday, you can stop by and visit the Rio Grande Grill crew Tuesday-Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Saturday from 11:00 a.m.- 3:00 p.m. at 417 W Van Buren Ave, Harlingen, TX, 78550, or give them a call at (956) 423-1817. You can also visit them @GRILLrio on Facebook.
Insider Tip: If you ever have the opportunity, check out Rio Grande Grill’s Wildfire Dinners and watch Chef Stefania use fresh, local ingredients while cooking over an open fire and sharing her insights with the crowd. Visit @wildfiredinner on Facebook for more details.
Gaby Jones and Trisha Watts work hand-in-hand with the service industry. Jones is in charge of craft and imported beer for L&F Distributors and Watts is the communications director for Visit McAllen. Each week they will have a new adventure and provide an opinion on various locations throughout the Rio Grande Valley.