Address: 954 N. Tustin St. Orange, 92867.
Cuisine: American Barbecue. Ribs.
Price: $25 a person with tax and tip
Hours: M – Th, 11am – 9:30pm. F, S Closes at 10pm
I’ve learned to anticipate disappointment whenever I go out for BBQ. Almost every place that I’ve been to that claims to have the best baby back ribs or succulent smoked sausages or most melt-in-your-mouth tender brisket has not lived up to its promise. The meat was destroyed by the one factor that haunts many BBQ joints: one dimensional, un-nuanced flavor hidden behind a sloppy layer of sweet, gloopy “BBQ sauce.”
When Charles claimed that Tulsa Rib Company in Orange had the best ribs in Orange County, I was skeptical.
The décor is classic, and almost kitschy. I was greeted by the gentle tinkling of a cowbell tied to the inside door handle as I walked inside. The lighting is slightly muted and seating was ample, especially for a restaurant tucked away in a strip mall.
Tulsa’s menu is comprehensive, lacking only brisket and burnt ends (a tragedy, forgivable only because of the ribs). When I saw the Tulsa Triple Combo, I couldn’t resist: baby back ribs, a half pound piece of chicken and a hot link sausage for $17.95.
I was left shocked for a second time when I realized the sheer number of side dishes served with my order—tabooli (why get cole slaw when you can have tabooli), creamed corn, corn bread and Tulsa Potatoes.
The sides of tabooli and corn bread were served first, and made for a perfect prelude to the meal. The tabooli, a mix of bell pepper, tomato, mint, parsley, bulghur wheat and cucumber drizzled with olive oil, was incredible, outshining the forkful of cole slaw that I sampled. Its fresh flavor and the addition of parsley and mint into the mix (cliché alert) cleansed my palate for the massive plate of ribs, chicken and sausage.
My plate came, and I started with the ribs straight away. After that first bite, I set them down on my plate and stared for a good ten seconds. I hadn’t expected BBQ that good at a little restaurant tucked away in a strip mall in Orange.
The baby back ribs were not smoked, but the “porky goodness,” was perfectly balanced by a well-crafted sauce, clinging delicately around the meat. As expected, the meat was falling-off-the-bones tender.
The hot link was cooked to perfection as well. While it is near impossible to mess up grilling a sausage, the quality of the link itself was stunning. The skin was firm and popped when I stuck my fork in it. It was spicy without overwhelming heat.
Sadly, the chicken was not nearly as appealing as the ribs and the sausage. Perhaps I simply left the chicken alone for too long, letting it cool, or maybe my senses were blitzed by the stunning quality of the ribs and sausage; however, I suspect that the chicken just wansn’t prepared with the same care and attention as the ribs were to begin with. The meat was succulent and decently spiced, and yet it seemed one dimensional after I took my first bite. I guess I shouldn’t have ordered chicken at a restaurant that advertises ribs in their name.
The chicken, sadly, was even overshadowed by the creamed corn, corn so good that it led my friend Vinh to wax poetic.
“Dude, this corn is so good. I could chill with this corn all day,” he said as we all laughed. “Don’t eat too many ribs man, you gotta save room for that corn.”
We judged his taste in food and continued with our meal. My plate was topped off by the Tulsa Potatoes: a half-French fry, half-potato chip creation, crispy on the outside, fluffy within and brushed with garlic butter. They were nice enough but take on a disgusting greasiness once they cool down. I preferred the tabooli and the creamed corn.
I left Tulsa Rib Company completely full, and happy that I had finally experienced good ribs in Orange County. It was the kind of food that hangs around the back of your palate, lingering like a persistant, delicious memory that resurfaces when you’re hungry again pulling you in for more ribs.
Vinh had this delirious, half-asleep look on his face as we walked to our cars. He seemed content beyond all caring, able to concentrate only on the amazing meal he had just eaten.
“I think I got the meat sweats dude,” he said.
Amazed and disgusted by the hilariousness of “meat sweats,” we got in to our cars and left.
Good BBQ should provide a tapestry of flavors and textures, balancing the richness of the meat with a sauce that both asserts itself — cutting through the fatty, caramelized flavors —while letting the unique sweetness of the grilled or smoked meat shine through at the back end. Much to my relief, Tulsa Rib Company recognizes that BBQ is all about the meat, and even though the chicken and a few of the sides were disappointing, they still make the best ribs in Orange County.