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.
Brisket was good, pulled pork over sauced. Over all it was ok at best. Prob won't be back here. I was surprised it made the TM list, I think they missed it on this list.
epp @ Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, 2014-09-15 17:43:26
Amazing! Every time!
John Brotherton @ Snow’s BBQ, 2014-09-13 13:22:59
Three meat combo with gravy excellent
doug_wallace @ Tony DeMaria’s Bar-B-Q, 2014-09-12 15:49:29
Was unbelievable. Now the brisket was another story, it was chewy and bland. This place was always my favorite go to joint. The first place I went to eat upon arriving in Austin. The last 4 times over a six month period have been disappointing, seems like his heart is not into it.
Bob Conti @ John Mueller Meat Co., 2014-09-11 23:41:28
Stopped Sunday Sept 7 at 11am. Out of beef ribs. I had the brisket, pork ribs, and sliced pork. Pork ribs were fantastic as was the sliced pork. The flavor and tenderness of the pork p
Bob Conti @ John Mueller Meat Co., 2014-09-11 23:37:04
What a disappointment. I had heard good things about this place but it really didn't deliver. I asked for moist brisket. I received a slab of fat with about an eighth of an inch of meat. Tough gross and inedible. I took it back to the counter and they gave me a new order. Much better, but not as good as others I have had. They said "all their brisket is moist" but I have never had anyone serve me something like I got here September 9, 2014. Not sure I would return.
Marcy Newman @ City Market, 2014-09-11 00:15:04
Great ribs, good sides, brisket was moist but the man that runs the register had the worst attitude towards the customers. The local guys that came in he was nice to but I won't go back.
Jason Holder @ Fargo’s Pit BBQ, 2014-09-10 18:49:25
Finally made to to mann's and I wot be going back. Staff was very nice but the best think on my plate was the sides. The brisket and ribs were both bland. Not enough rub or smoke.
Brad Golub @ Mann’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, 2014-04-10 12:28:07
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.