The beef rib and the chicken come out on top when a barbecue snob puts Outdoor Grill to the test

By Richard Foss 

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Outdoor Grill |12630½ Washington Blvd., Mar Vista | (310) 636-4745 | theoutdoorgrill.com

We were driving down Washington Boulevard on the way to a restaurant by the beach when the scent of smoke and meat interrupted our conversation.

“What’s that?” asked my companion.

“A place called Outdoor Grill,” I answered. “Seems like they’ve been there forever, so they must be doing something right.”

“Let’s find out.”

I had expected that answer — my friend is a barbecue fanatic — so I turned off the boulevard onto Washington Place and parked in one of the designated spaces next to the car wash. The smells of soap and wax as we passed weren’t appetizing, but as we neared the door the perfume of smoke and roasting meat intensified. The grill that gave the place its name was right by the door, and a cook was poking at a big piece of tri-tip to check for doneness.

“Looks like Santa Maria style, a rub with no sauce on an open grill,” I observed.

“Not exactly, because he’s using mesquite, and in Santa Maria they use red oak,” the barbecue snob said. “It’s backyard barbecue, like they make in Texas.”

We went inside and placed our order, a pair of two-meat combos, so we could try everything that came from the grill plus sides. When asked which sides were recommended, the woman behind the counter suggested the beans and the mac and cheese. We got both plus steamed vegetables, and went to one of the outdoor tables to await our food. I scoped out the upstairs dining area and verified that the aerial view of the car wash wasn’t any more interesting than the ground level vista, so we ate at one of the simple tables by the door.

Our combos arrived after about five minutes, and the portions were generous — three big beef ribs and two slices of tri-tip on one plate, a quarter chicken and four pork ribs on the other.

“The pork ribs are tender, but not a lot of smoke flavor,” he said after demolishing one. “And I’d prefer a spicier sauce.”

“Unless it makes you sweat after the second bite, you always want a spicier sauce,” I riposted.

But I was with him this time. The ribs were pretty mild, and they should offer the option of adding a little kick to it.

The beef rib, however, was quite good without it — as tender a beef rib as I’ve had in quite a while. Not a whole lot of smoke flavor, but some, and the spice rub adds some interest.

It was indeed a fine beef rib, but I wasn’t quite as happy with the tri-tip. This cut is never as tender as prime rib or properly cooked brisket, but can have superior flavor and is more suited to open-grill cooking. Brisket requires long, slow roasting, while tri-tip can cook in a fraction of the time and produce a similar product. This one wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t quite as succulent as the rib. I mentioned this to my companion and he nodded affirmatively.

“It’s not bad, but it’s a tiny bit overdone — would be better if it was a bit rarer,” he said. “You should try this chicken, though – I think it’s the best thing on either plate.”

The chicken was very good, moist and meaty, and it paired a bit better with the sweet sauce. I didn’t quite agree with him about it being best, as I still preferred the beef ribs, but I wasn’t going to argue.

We were on the same page when it came to the sides.

“Is there any seasoning at all on these steamed vegetables?” I asked.

“Not that I can taste, and they’re both underdone and cold. Skip them and try the mac and cheese. It’s not very hot either, but it’s well-made. And the beans aren’t bad — could stand a little more onion in them, but decent.”

The mac and cheese was indeed good though a bit dry — we were at the late end of the lunch rush, and perhaps it had sat a while. It still beat a creamy, soupy version where the noodles are cooked to mush, so I’d try them again. The beans were decent but unexceptional, a counterpoint to the meat but not something I’d seek out again.

At the end of our meal we had finished everything but the steamed vegetables and were full and happy.

“Not a place I’d go out of my way for, but some things worth having again,” judged my companion, and I silently agreed. This isn’t a purist or fanatic hangout, but a neighborhood asset where you can get a lot of backyard-style barbecue for a modest price.

Our meal for two with soft drinks ran $37 and was as much as two healthy appetites can handle. Based on the fact that most tables were taken and there was a stream of takeout orders, that formula seems to be a winner for Outdoor Grill.

Outdoor Grill is open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. No alcohol. Menu online. 

PHOTO: A chef works the big outdoor grill that gave Outdoor Grill its name. Photo by Richard Foss.

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