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.
Was so excited to finally make it to this Texas institution. The shabby, unkempt interior was alluring at first but soon
Adam Murray @ City Market, 2015-04-27 21:15:21
Pork ribs were fabulous. Brisket was better than average. Sauce was different - pretty good. Squash was yummy.
bbq-kel @ John Mueller Meat Co., 2015-04-27 18:14:51
Underwhelming brisket. It was slightly dry, with a faint bitter smoky aftertaste, and not very flavorful. I was glad sauce was offered.
Kathy Dowell @ Stacy’s, 2015-04-26 02:41:29
At silver saddle smokehouse in Bellville. Brisket is amazing with big ol smoke ring. Almost all fat rendered which left such a juicy and melt in your mouth meat on my plate. Soooo good. Sides are also good. Corn casserole has a ton of flavor and spice. Not sure why not listed as bbq joint. So I requested it.
Terry r @ , 2015-04-24 19:09:32
Some of the worst bbq ever. But the folks are very friendly.
Bob Fields @ Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse, 2015-04-20 17:41:53
Two ribs one smoked sausage and a slice of salami all stellar hit the spot with Fritos and sharp cheddar
doug_wallace @ Angelo’s, 2015-04-24 23:10:08
Brisket and ribs 2 meat plate beans, cole slaw, and potato salad!
diprivan @ Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue, 2015-04-24 11:29:08
Finally made it here and all meats were on the table. Nothing I can write will do this place justice. Truly the best BBQ I have ever tasted. The rub on the brisket and beef rib is like its own delicious side dish. Can't wait to come back!
Adam Murray @ Louie Mueller Barbecue, 2015-04-23 23:07:26
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

1 Comment

  • KayP says:

    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.

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