Rio Grande Grill

417 W Van Buren Ave.
Harlingen, TX 78550

Phone: (956) 423-1817
Hours: Tues-Thur 11-3, F 11-3 & 7-10, Sat 11-3
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GRILLrio

Opened 2013 under current ownership
Pitmaster Daniel Wright
Method Mesquite in an offset smoker

TMBBQ Rating: 4.0

TMBBQ Buzz

Comments from our joint finder app.
Plenty of food!! Ribs are great, brisket was a little on the dry side. Sausage had a heavy pork flavor that I liked but may not be for everyone!
Caleb Barnett @ Loco Coyote Café, 2014-09-02 12:19:49
Brisket is really good and tender! Has great smoky flavor. This place also has a butcher!
Nathaniel Cox @ Vincek’s Smokehouse, 2014-08-31 18:30:40
The hunt for the best barbecue continues with the second joint today. This is a small victory as I have always wanted to hit more than one restaurant on the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ establishments in a single day. Billy's Old Fashion Barbecue happens to be number 9. I have a hair less than four years to visit the other 41 before the list is updated. I have my work cut out for me as these places are as far at 500 miles from home. I wasn't hungry when we rolled into Jasper, but I was here to eat barbecue. I knew I wanted brisket and when we found the dilapidated restaurant, I knew we were going to experience some magic. I chose the sliced brisket sandwich. I wasn't expecting this monstrosity as it was quite large. Topped with pickles and onions, this sauce soaked sandwich was perfect. I only wish I had ordered the sauce on the side. The sauce was decent, but I came for the meat. The sliced brisket was very nice. It was juicy and the fat was rendered beautifully. It was a bit toothsome, but it certainly wasn't tough. I had forgotten to ask for untrimmed meat, so I was pleased when I saw that the crusty bark was intact. The meat had a mild flavor. Not too much smoke, and it wasn't overpowered with seasoning. It was a simple, beefy masterpiece. At only 2 1/2 hours from home, I can see myself loading up the family for a nice meaty adventure. This is easily a 4.0/5.0. Well done, Texas Monthly. This BBQ doesn't disappoint.
Theodore Luoma @ Billy’s Old Fashion BBQ, 2014-08-31 01:12:51
It has been a few months since I was able to hunt for some good Texas BBQ. It is a bit of a tradition that my oldest daughter, Alli, and I enjoy. I'm not a hunter, so we aren't likely to go kill deer as we spend time together, but we have our own game we like to track down. We decided to have lunch at the Hitch-N-Post in Livingston, TX. It's 3 1/2 hours from home so we had time to work up an appetite. We both ordered untrimmed fatty brisket which in my estimation, is the best tasting meat. I usually try the sausage as well, but we are planning an early supper at another BBQ place and I don't want to gorge myself. The brisket, though cooked, could probably have used another four hours in the smoker to completely render the fat and make the meat fork tender. I actually had to use a knife to cut the meat. There was a beautiful smoke ring and a decent crust, but I was hoping for a denser crust. Then again, this ain't Lockhart. The beans were good, but they were punched up canned beans. The potato salad probably came from Brookshire Brothers, but I came for the meat. The sides are just a bonus. Apparently, the proprietor has a policy to give free cake to first time customers. He was a really nice BBQ enthusiast as he asked if I had tried Snow's in Lexington. Then he started showing me pictures of BBQ joints on his phone. The ambience was a schlockfest with old tricycles dangling from the ceiling and tiki umbrellas reminiscent of Gilligan's Island. It was enjoyable soaking it in while I soaked up sauce with my bread. The food was good. I would rate it a 3.0/5.0, but with the outstanding service and friendly atmosphere, I rate it a solid 3.5. Hitch-N-Post is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
Theodore Luoma @ Hitch-N-Post BBQ, 2014-08-30 18:24:06
It has been a few months since I was able to hunt for some good Texas BBQ. It is a bit of a tradition that my oldest daughter, Alli, and I enjoy. I'm not a hunter, so we aren't likely to go kill deer as we spend time together, but we have our own game we like to track down. We decided to have lunch at the Hitch-N-Post in Livingston, TX. It's 3 1/2 hours from home so we had time to work up an appetite. We both ordered untrimmed fatty brisket which in my estimation, is the best tasting meat. I usually try the sausage as well, but we are planning an early supper at another BBQ place and I don't want to gorge myself. The brisket, though cooked, could probably have used another four hours in the smoker to completely render the fat and make the meat fork tender. I actually had to use a knife to cut the meat. There was a beautiful smoke ring and a decent crust, but I was hoping for a denser crust. Then again, this ain't Lockhart. The beans were good, but they were punched up canned beans. The potato salad probably came from Brookshire Brothers, but I came for the meat. The sides are just a bonus. Apparently, the proprietor has a policy to give free cake to first time customers. He was a really nice BBQ enthusiast as he asked if I had tried Snow's in Lexington. Then he started showing me pictures of BBQ joints on his phone. The ambience was a schlockfest with old tricycles dangling from the ceiling and tiki umbrellas reminiscent of Gilligan's Island. It was enjoyable soaking it in while I soaked up sauce with my bread. The food was good. I would rate it a 3.0/5.0, but with the outstanding service and friendly atmosphere, I rate it a solid 3.5. Hitch-N-Post is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
Theodore Luoma @ Hitch-N-Post BBQ, 2014-08-30 18:24:05
Third in line pound of lean got two ends and a sausage PERFECTION worth the drive ft worth good food good folks
doug_wallace @ Louie Mueller Barbecue, 2014-08-30 15:38:00
Loved that there was no wait unlike that other place on East 6th. Fatty brisket was as advertised. Pepper on crust was perfect. Jalapeño sausage was okay. Loved the cheesy squash - my new favorite side. No beef ribs today sadly. Drank the BBQ sauce too; very good stuff.
Rahul Yaratha @ John Mueller Meat Co., 2014-08-29 16:44:19
Brisket was moist, but tough. Needed more smoke. Spare ribs were ok.
mrb @ Rudy’s Bar-B-Q, 2014-08-27 02:53:29
More Buzz →

Review

Rio Grande Grill 06

December 23, 2013

For a small joint, there are plenty of cooks in this kitchen. Daniel Wright is the pitmaster, his wife Stefania Trimboli-Wright is the chef, her sous chef is Roque Luis Peña, and they even have a pastry chef – Drew Mann. They all have their specialty, but as a group they’ve pumped some energy back into the Rio Grande Grill. They took over from a previous owner back in January of this year and quickly made some changes, but a few things remain the same. The old wood-burning pits in the smoke house out back are still smoking, but these days they’re full of prime briskets.

Rio Grande Grill 03

Owner/Pitmaster Daniel Wright (left) and pastry chef Drew Mann (right)

If it weren’t for a number of positive reader emails, I might not have found reason to stop. I stopped here with a McAllen resident who prides himself in keeping up with the local food scene, but this place had flown below his radar as well. After tasting very little in the way of solid brisket in South Texas, the beef at Rio Grande Grill was a revelation. Dense slices from the flat had good smoke from the mesquite and a well rendered rim of untrimmed fat. At 2:30 in the afternoon it was a bit dry, but it was still some of the best I’ve tried in the area. A chicken thigh was still miraculously moist. The skin was chewy, but it had some great smokiness. I asked owner Daniel Wright how they kept it so moist. “We do several batches throughout the day.” That extra effort is worth it. The only meat that was lacking a bit was the pulled pork. It was plenty moist and smoky, but it really needed some seasoning. That wasn’t anything a spoonful of homemade chimichurri and a warm four tortilla couldn’t fix. You have your choice of Texas toast of those tortillas, or you can get both if you ask nicely.

Rio Grande Grill 09

A combo plate at Rio Grande Grill

Once we’d had our fill I asked for a few slices of fatty brisket. It was truly stunning. The meat was buttery soft with a rich smokiness deep into each slice. This was brisket worth coming back for, but be sure to ask for it right off the bat. Ribs would have to wait since they’re only available as a special. You’re also likely to find daily specials like smoked shrimp or fried chicken too.

Rio Grande Grill 04

Fatty brisket

Choosing the side items was tougher than a simple choice between potato salad or slaw. There’s also queso, rice & beans, tortilla soup and tacos. The smoked fish taco and tortilla soup were our choices. The soup was loaded with chicken, pico and fresh avocado. A fish taco with a citrus dressing was more filling than any side needs to be. It was a welcome change from the normal side offerings, but was also the only item we tried that hadn’t taken well to the powerful mesquite smoke. It was hard to taste the fish over the smoke.

Rio Grande Grill 02

Smoked fish taco and tortilla soup

When Wright sat down with us in the middle of the empty dining room he was visibly excited to talk about their food philosophy. High quality ingredients were a priority which is why he uses Prime grade Angus from Creekstone for the briskets. When he told us it was all grass-fed I was shocked. I’d never had grass-fed brisket that well marbled. My shock wore off when I saw it was Creekstone’s line of Premium Black Angus which is very much corn-fed. Their intentions are good, but they need to be more careful with their sourcing if they really intend to use grass-fed beef.

Out back is a screened in smoke house. The pits look like antiques, and are about as inefficient as they come. One wonders how good their brisket would be if the smoker wasn’t as drafty as a barn door. The smoke poured out from every seam and the metal was so thin it sounded like I was tapping on a tin roof. Thankfully, they’re getting the best out of the equipment they inherited, and that’s good enough for now.

Rio Grande Grill 08

Offset pit at Rio Grande Grill

I pondered just what we had discovered here while we ate a slice of Drew’s fantastic apple pie. Finally, someone in The Valley is doing brisket good enough to travel for. Daniel and his team are young and full of energy to keep improving, so that bodes well for their future. Now, if they can just get spare ribs on the daily menu.

Note: The restaurant closed for the holiday on Saturday and will reopen on 12/26.

Comments

  • KayP

    I LOVE their fish tacos! They are why I eat Saturday lunch there. My S.O. enjoys the enchiladas suisas with the smoked chicken and the pulled pork. And they have great beans, with smokey meaty bits. The chimichuri sauce is great, and I love the cilantro sauce and the mango habanero sauce with the fish tacos. TIP: The mango habanero sauce makes a fantastic topping for their homemade ice cream! I like the cole slaw too, it’s got a nice dressing and is not over-dressed. I enjoy the fact their food is not over-salted like you find at so many restaurants. And they are friendly and willing to modify the order to suit your preferences. They also showcase local musical talent, which is an added bonus.