AJ’S TEX-MEX BARBECUE
ADDRESS: 12123 Riverside Drive, Valley Village, CA 91607
My friend Alex and I have been looking to try to meet up ever since I moved out here to California. He and I worked on the same project previously and hadn’t been able to meet in person before he transferred to a different program, but we were able to make it happen. We talked over the winter break and made plans to head down to the North Hollywood area to check out a barbecue spot called AJ’s Tex-Mex Barbecue.
Based on the looks of it, there is only outdoor seating offered if you want to eat the barbecue there. There are a bunch of two-person tables pushed together to make larger tables, but only enough to seat 12 people total. The parking lot in the back is also pretty limited, so if that’s full, you’ll need to grab some street parking instead.
Alex and I stopped by on a Sunday for lunch, and the weather was great for eating outdoors. The sun was out, and I think the temperature was still around the upper 60’s. We stepped inside and began taking a look over the menu to place our order. There are quite a few different options to choose from, depending on what you’re in the mood for. If you want barbecue meat plates with sides, there’s that. Barbecue meat sandwiches? Got those covered, too. Or if you’re opting more Mexican food style, like burritos, nachos, or tostadas, you’ve got that as well.
After talking it over, we settled on going for the three-meat combo plate, which also included three side dishes. The brisket, spare ribs, and tri-tip roast were our meat options, rounded out by sides of tater tots, mac & cheese, and cornbread with honey butter. We were able to grab a table outside pretty easily, since we had mostly seen people ordering take-out up to that point. Later on, however, it definitely started to get a little busier and more people started to hover and wait for the table seating.
We didn’t have to wait too long before our tray of food got brought out to us. The one advantage of sitting outside was that the lighting was great for taking pictures of the food. I will say, however, that my initial thought after we got the tray was that it didn’t look like $37 worth of food. There were a good amount of spare ribs, but I thought that a couple more pieces of the brisket and tri-tip would have helped to justify that price point.
I decided to start off with one of the spare ribs, which had a really nice color from the caramelization of the glaze on the outside. The meat itself was really tender and came off the bone easily, with a combination of savory and slightly sweet flavors coming from the seasoning rub and the glaze. There was also a bit of a smoky aftertaste as well, probably from the cooking process.
The brisket was next up, where we had asked for a mix of lean and fatty cuts. Since we only got two pieces, however, it was pretty straightforward to get one of each type. Both pieces were moist, and the char on the outside of the meat was nice, with the savory and umami flavors coming through. I later started adding some of the barbecue sauces they had provided to some bites, but appreciated that the meat was also able to stand on its own flavor-wise without it.
Last up from the meats to try was the tri-tip, cooked to somewhere in between medium and medium-well. I thought that the meat had a nice smoky flavor to it, was pretty moist, and avoided being too chewy. Dipping one side into a bit of barbecue sauce also helped to elevate that smoky flavor without being too overbearing.
Out of the three meats, the spare ribs and brisket were my favorites. The tater tots were solid, fried to a nice golden brown and just the right crunch. The cornbread had a nice sweetness to it, wasn’t too dense, and paired well with the honey butter. I sampled a little bit of the mac & cheese as well, and thought that it tasted decent, but needed just a bit more salt in the cheese sauce.
AJ’s has been on my list to check out for a little while now, so I’m glad that the opportunity came up to give the place a try. There’s certainly a good selection of meats to choose from, along with a few other types of dishes if you’re in the mood for something different. Even though the price might be a little higher, I think that the quality of the barbecue is solid, and I wouldn’t mind stopping by once in a while to get my fix.
Let’s now take a look at the AJ’s Tex-Mex Barbecue Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
** Brisket, Spare Rib, Tri-Tip Three-Meat Combo Plate **
Tri-tip (top), spare ribs (middle), and brisket (bottom) served with sides of cornbread, tater tots, and mac & cheese.
And finally, here are my rankings for AJ’s Tex-Mex Barbecue:
Food: 4.75 / 5
All three of the meats in our order were moist and had great flavor on their own. The barbecue sauce served on the side helped to add more sweet, tangy, and smoky notes to each bite as well.
With just the outdoor seating available at a few tables, there isn’t really enough to go on to formally assign a rating in this category.
Service: 4.5 / 5
The gentleman that helped us at the front was very friendly and helped answer some of our questions when we were looking for recommendations on what to order. In addition, the food didn’t take long at all to come out to us either.
Price: 3.5 / 5
I felt that the $37 was a bit on the high end for the combo plate, especially if the meat is the star of the show and that was how much got provided. I thought that a price point of $31 or $32 would have been more reasonable, or add a couple slices more of brisket and tri-tip to help push it more in line with the $37 price.
12.75 / 15
Categories: California, Restaurants
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