From sweet to smoky, nothing complements the sunny season quite like barbecued ribs.
By Ben McBee and Newport Beach Magazine Staff
When thinking about summertime, a multitude of glorious smells come to mind, from freshly cut grass to salty ocean air and smoky beach bonfires, to name a few. But one stands above them all—an aroma so tantalizing, it gets your mouth watering without fail. When the days get longer, barbecued ribs are eaten in backyards across the country and, be warned, sleeves are certainly a hindrance when you’re digging in to this warm-weather favorite.
Though the finger-licking fare is rooted in the South, there are plenty of eateries in Newport Beach that serve up racks of delicious beef and pork to satisfy your cravings. Fall-off-the-bone, smoky or sweet, the traditional flavors will please barbecue purists, while outside-the-box recipes will pique the interest of those looking for something quirky. So, grab the napkins (or a bib if you’re feeling messy) and make your way to these saucy spots.
For the best deal in town, head to The Alley for its Monday night baby back ribs special, available through July. Pork loin is marinated for 24 hours in a house-made rub. Slow cooking and a bit of steam ensure that these ribs are never dry. Cooked to order, the ribs are then flame-grilled with barbecue sauce before being served. This half rack plate pairs beautifully with one side, such as mixed market veggies, mashed potatoes with gravy or the restaurant’s award-winning macaroni and cheese, which comes to the table for just $12. “Our ribs are very meaty and juicy and they fall right off the bone,” says manager Andrea Shefflette. “The inspiration for the ribs on Mondays stems from a desire to create a meal that can delight the taste buds as well as the wallet.” And these ribs certainly aren’t skimpy: That loaded-on meat gets you more bang for your buck. Just be sure to arrive early because when they’re gone, you’re out of luck—until the following week. (949-646-9126; thealleynewportbeach.com)
For more than 75 years, Balboa Bar-B-Que has been gracing the Balboa Fun Zone with its succulent, slow-smoked grub like brisket and Louisiana hot links. And though many flock to this harborside spot for the Ferris wheel and arcade, many more come specifically for this rack of ribs. The sticky, meat-laden bones are hand-rubbed and char-grilled, then slathered with a sauce that packs just the right amount of heat. Both the full and half racks come with cornbread and two sides, so there are still important choices to be made. Keep the temperature turned up with a side of jalapeno beans, elect for the traditional street corn or stick to the classics like coleslaw and potato salad. The friendly service and comfort food combine to make this a favorite spot with locals and visitors alike. (949-673-4000; balboabarbque.com)
At Bandera in Corona del Mar, the kitchen elevates its beef ribs for a dining experience that leans more toward white tablecloths than dirty napkins, which reflects its equally refined dress code. But just because a fork and knife are involved doesn’t mean this entree isn’t finger-licking good. “Our ribs are beef short ribs that are liberally rubbed with a mix of sugar, salt and other spices,” says General Manager Cameron Henderson, noting that the meat is then seared over an almond wood fire to lock in the mouthwatering seasoning. “The ribs are finally basted in our house-made Texas Hill Country barbecue sauce and caramelized on the grill [so it’s] ready to delight our guests.” The result is a delicious combination of smoky, spicy and sweet, which pairs superbly with the establishment’s famous skillet cornbread. As for drink pairings, try sipping the Mi Sueño Hillstone Vineyard red blend wine with concentrated notes, or a house-made margarita with premium tequila. (949-673-3524; banderarestaurants.com)
From its inception, America was built on revolutionizing old ways, and Great Maple, a modern American eatery at Fashion Island, certainly does the same with ribs as it tinkers with a classic to create a modern take: salted caramel pork ribs. “It is a two-day process where we grill and braise them,” explains Amanda David, restaurant partner and chief operating officer. “They get a dry rub initially to impart flavor to the bone and make them tender as they cook. They are finished with barbecue sauce and our house-made salted caramel.” Braising the meat allows for its succulent, tender texture while grilling it adds that quintessential smoky flavor, which is contrasted by a layer of salty-yet-sweet notes from the caramel. “They are saucy, sticky and finger-licking good,” David notes. The full plate comes loaded with Parmesan fries, Cajun corn on the cob and crispy onions. Wash this treat down with an ice-cold beer or an equally savory-yet-sweet libation, the maple-bacon Old Fashioned. (949-706-8282; thegreatmaple.com)
The Quiet Woman
Available all summer long, the barbecued ribs at The Quiet Woman certainly pack a punch. “Everyone loves ribs, but ribs can be spicy, dry, saucy, sweet and everything in between. We wanted a rib with underlying spice, a rich, … fruity sweetness and a bit of a bite,” says owner Lynne Campbell. And the sauce is certainly the shining star of this plate, with each rack of ribs being coated in the special concoction that creates “an umami blast” from its composition of fresh pineapple, limes, orange juice, tomatoes, tequila, Tabasco, black pepper and chipotle. “The ribs work well because they are balanced,” Campbell explains, noting that the meat is first dry rubbed with brown sugar, paprika, garlic and smoky flavors and then absorbs the seasonings overnight. The ribs are then dry baked, followed by being generously brushed with the sauce and baked for an additional half an hour. “A big, bold [and] friendly red wine is called for with these ribs,” Campbell says, pointing to a blend of cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel as her go-to pairing. (949-640-7440; quietwoman.com)