Fresno BBQ Triangle Part 1

If your idea of BBQ ribs is a pot of boiling water, a propane grill and a bottle of Kraft bbq sauce, this post is for you. You see, you can make ribs that way and they might turn out tasty, but that isn’t real BBQ. It’s simply a means to an end.

Last week I set out to explore the BBQ Triangle (as named by me) to crown a winner of the 93703. Within about a 1.5 mile radius there are 3 joints that claim to have the best BBQ in Fresno: Ruben’s Rib Shack, Smokin Them Bones and Watts Family Grill. So far I have not been let down. Bloated and gassy yes! Disappointed no!

My first stop was at Ruben’s Rib Shack (actually my first stop was Smokin Them Bones but they were not serving that day. More on that in my next post). Ruben’s is located at 2421 E. Clinton, Fresno, Ca, 93703. They also have a web page:

The Smoker

First of all every BBQ joint needs to have a smoker. If you don’t have a smoker then you’re a poser, plane and simple. If you have multiple smokers than that’s an added bonus. If your smoker is homemade you get extra points for that too. Basically I want to see manly smoker with wood/lump charcoal burning. Ruben’s passed that test.

Now to the food.

If you don’t have ribs (preferably beef & pork), brisket and pulled pork on your menu, than you should just call yourself a deli. You have to sell authentic BBQ, period. No exceptions. I don’t want to see any pre-cooked Lloyds pork either. Ruben’s has all of the above, with the exception of Lloyds.

Another thing to note, if your side dishes come out of a can or plastic tub that was delivered from your local Sysco driver, you suck. I can eat that at home. I don’t want potato salad out of a tub. Gross. I’m not saying you have to melt down 4 different types of artisan cheese for your mac-n-cheese but it better not be easy mac. Ruben’s makes everything from scratch so far as I can tell.

To be fair to the joints mentioned above, I ordered (or attempted to order) the same meal: Pork Spare Ribs, Beans, and Mac-n-Cheese. If they don’t make it oh well. I tried.

My idea of a good rib is one that has balance. The meat shouldn’t fall off the bone as soon as I take a bite, there should still be some left on the bone. If not its overcooked. Also, the meat should stand on its own and shouldn’t be covered with so much sauce that I can’t tell what’s underneath. It’s kind of like a steak drowned in A-1 and also could be a sign that’s it’s, Doh, day old. Noooooooooo!!

Getting to the point, the average customer will like these ribs. The flavor was spot on and the texture was nice. His sauce is excellent, sweet and spicy. Unfortunately there was just way too much of it. It overpowered the meat. In regards to tenderness, they were indeed fall off the bone tender, and maybe even a little too tender. It’s likely that they were smoked and then stored in a hotbox for several hours+.

On to the side dishes. The mac-n-cheese was outstanding. The cheese was very creamy and the macaroni was cooked perfectly. Notice the specks of pepper. Zing! The beans were also good. They were somewhere between a re-fried and chili-bean. Nice balance of flavors with a little bit of heat at the end. The roll was well just a roll.

So how much was it? Rib plate $11.99, Soda $1.80= $15.01. No quite what i want to pay for a mid-week lunch but you get what you pay for and I was stuffed.

So one meal down and two more to go. First official blog post completed. Have you been to Ruben’s? What was your impression? Feel free to join the conversation below. Til next time.

Ruben's Rib Shack on Urbanspoon

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8 Responses to Fresno BBQ Triangle Part 1

  1. Robert says:

    Okay, kudos to you for at least visiting local mom & pops a lot of people never heard of. One small correction I need to point out about ribs and what is over cooked & cooked right on. Perfectly cooked ribs are when you take a bite, only the part you took a bite from will be removed cleanly. If you have to tug or everything comes off the bone when you bite into it was not cooked properly.

    Last thing, it’s going to be VERY hard to find any BBQ place in Fresno that doesn’t precook and hold. There’s just not that many customers ordering the same thing. Also, Tri-tip & chicken are the biggest sellers here. Unlike other states where Tri-tip is virtually unheard of.

    Btw – if your pissed about sides that are not homemade and expect to not have to pay a premium, you need to eat at home more often. The BBQ work is hard enough.

    • fresnobites says:

      Thanks for reading. I agree on all counts. I think we saying the same thing on the rib tenderness. Also, I didn’t think Rubens was overpriced, just more than I normally pay for a Tuesday lunch. It was well worth it especially considering the quality as I mentioned in my post.

  2. Robert says:

    Just had lunch here today. I’ll have to admit. I was a bit worried from the start. There wasn’t a single person to be found but the waitress (Note: it was raining). There’s not much to this place. Too many menus to make sense of anything. I just asked if I could have a Brisket sandwich. They said it came with chips and I could make it a “Meal” if I added a drink. I declined. But I did ask some more BBQ questions that no one there was able to answer. The waitress just said they didn’t know and owner wasn’t there.

    So I went ahead with my anyhow and as I did, I looked over and saw a box of small chips laying on the the bottom rack of a display. Sure enough, the waitress told me “Grab a bag of chips there”. Great, one tiny bag of Fritos and three tiny bags of Cheetos. Of course, I forgot ask for no sauce and it had it. But not a lot.

    So I took my order to go and the sandwich was actually pretty decent. The meat was thinly sliced. Almost seemed like it was chopped. Not sure what type of wood he uses, but I didn’t catch any specific smoke flavor. Perhaps the sauce hid it. The meat did lack any pepper/salt or other spice. That’s why it was decent.

    BTW – That large smoker you see on the side. It appears to be used for a sign than a cooker. He does have another one out back that he grills on. I think the smaller one he has out front is used for smoking.

    Would I go back? Yeah. Not sure what else I would order. I’m not big on sides and I can’t order Tri-tip or Ribs. I just don’t like eating them too much, because I cook tons of it.

    • fresnobites says:

      Robert- You’re spot on with that. He does have some rigs out back that he uses. The mondo propane tank out front just gets people in the door. Nice observations and thanks for the comments.

  3. Pingback: Fresno BBQ Triangle Conclusion | FresnoBites

  4. jenne says:

    Personally we were very disappointed with Ruben’s after all the hype.. the meat was nothing to write home about and the sides were dried out…. there are definitely better places for BBQ in Fresno (Watts and Becky’s).. and that family that used to sell BBQ around the corner from Van Ness and Bremer… but I can’t find them anymore…which is sad cuz they had the best of everything I’ve ever tasted…even hot links..and I don’t even like hot links….

    • fresnobites says:

      Haha. We are way off on these two. I’ve only had Ruben’s once and Watt’s now twice. Ruben’s was so much better than Watts ribs and the mac it wasn’t close. The ribs were floating in greasy sauce and the mac was mushy and bland. I’ve went to Watts just last week and had the same issue with the mac and the ribs were borderline burnt.

      To each his own I guess.

      And in regards to Beckys I ate there once and the food wasn’t that bad when I had it. Last I saw they had it up for sale on craigslist.

  5. As I have said before, I enjoyed this review. Our company used Rubens rib shack to cater our luncheon this afternoon. On the menu was baby back ribs, bbq chicken, chili beans, rice, and coleslaw.
    Btw, the ribs were fresh as you predicted, and had good flavor and were perfectly smoked. They separated the ribs and bbq sauce, I was able to put the right amount of sauce on my ribs. You can tell the chicken was smoked as well, it also had the skin in which I love. I did like how the chicken had different seasoning from the ribs. Some places don’t do that. Now the sides; I thought the rice and chili beans were absolutely bland! No flavor or salt, no effort. One of the surprising parts of the lunch was the coleslaw, I love that stuff!! The base of the sauce seem to be honey mustard and pepper. Most people agreed that the coleslaw was the better side dish. Now would I go to Rubens rib shack on my own dime? Well probably not. From your blog, I feel 15 bucks might be a little too steep for what you are getting, but I did enjoy my meal.

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