As I continued traveling east on Business 83, I realized how famished I was. Lucky for me, my next stop was the Rio Grande Grill in Harlingen.
The outside of the restaurant features a colorful mural of a Georgia O’Keeffe-inspired cow’s skull, which gave me some inkling of the funky vibe inside. “We’re a barbecue joint first and a Mexican restaurant second,” co-owner Daniel Wright told me when he greeted me at the register. He was referring not to the relative importance of each tradition but rather to the process in the kitchen: Daniel smokes the meats for about 18 hours, and then Chef Stefania Trimboli-Wright—his wife and co-owner—incorporates the fruits of his labor into innovative takes on traditional Mexican cuisine. The restaurant opens at 11 a.m. and closes when the food runs out (usually around 2 or 3 in the afternoon), and then the whole process begins again.
While a musician strummed a guitar in the corner, Daniel brought a feast to my table: tortilla soup, brisket, sausage, pulled pork, rice, beans, potato salad, and the day’s special, enchiladas gobernador, an out-of-this-world concoction of shrimp wrapped in corn tortillas with smoked poblano salsa. Just when I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, Daniel offered me a scoop of house-made vanilla ice cream topped with grated lime zest and, well, how could I resist?