BBQ Import

Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q tastes better than expected, but the local spots are still there for you

One wonders whether some mustachioed cadre of powerful, cowboy hat-owning old-timers meet inside a super-secret hollowed out smoker somewhere between Texas and Missouri to decide, among other things, that every BBQ joint across the land must continue to have the same kind of ambiance.

In fact, try this little thought experiment: Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Then envision what a BBQ eatery looks like. Chances are, your brain painted a picture of red checkered tablecloths and long picnic tables; of too many paper napkins to be good for the planet/not enough for the grease on your hands and a strange sort of contrast where minimalist and vaguely country decor meets maximalist meat consumption. Congrats—you’ve just gotten the gist of Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q (6581 Cerrillos Road, (505) 395-4227).

The little BBQ that could and did and still does originated outside San Antonio, Texas, when an ancient gas station/mechanic/grocery that opened in the literal freaking 1800s added a BBQ component to its offerings. To answer your next question, no, the Rudy’s website doesn’t specify at what point in the 1800s the grocery/gas/mechanic shop came to be, but we do know the smoked meat aspect came about in 1989.

Cut to today and Rudy’s has locations in Arizona, Texas, Colorado, Florida, Oklahoma and, quelle surprise, right here in New Mexico. In fact, the eatery is coming up on its first year of business in Santa Fe; a town that, at least in my circles, was wary about a chain BBQ ridin’ into town and staking a claim. Aw, hell, we’re wary about chain anything popping up here in Specialtown, USA, but nevertheless—Rudy’s is here after being an Albuquerque mainstay for roughly a bazillion years. Are y’all gonna be OK?

I mean, I’m joking a little, and there are countless reasons Santa Fe hasn’t embraced a lot of restaurants like Rudy’s. Maybe it’s culture shock, water and construction costs, antiquated building ordinances and a populace that shrieks at the concept of change literally anytime anyone tries to do anything. Nevertheless, we have our Panera and our Chili’s and our Subway and our whatever else, now we have our Rudy’s—which is, admittedly, not, like, on the McDonald’s level of chaindom, but not what we’d call locally-owned. Our Rudy’s is not a franchise. Still, without getting into the economic and geographic factors that leave many Americans with no choice but to think fast and/or chainy when they’re feeding their families, my anecdotal evidence suggests many believed the city would descend into a chaotic hellscape if a restaurant with regional presence were to open on the farthest reaches of the Southside. Turns out, we all survived somehow, Rudy’s is pretty affordable all things considered and, frankly, tastes damn good (with some caveats).

I, too had my doubts, as I often do with chains, but I had to test my chains=not great hypothesis over the weekend, so I crammed a buddy into the car and drove down Cerrillos Road until we both were like, “Oh, dang, did we miss it?” Just when we were ready to give up, we saw the building in all of its fauxdobe/faux farmhouse glory shining like a golden-red bastion of meats on the horizon. And so we entered to find the aforementioned unofficial BBQ decor game strong. Rudy’s feels and looks new, but it definitely has the Texas BBQ vibe.

Our cashier patiently waited as we perused the menu on the wall at Rudy’s and watched the workers behind the counter putting together and slicing apart various dishes. I continued my love affair with pork by ordering the pulled pork sandwich ($7.49) and a 1/2 pound of the baby back ribs ($9.49), while my friend (whom I literally only brought along because he eats red meat) ordered the brisket sandwich ($8.49) and potato salad ($2.49). We also ordered a jumbo smoked potato ($9.99, like a baked potato, get it) with turkey breast for another party who couldn’t join us but heard we were on the BBQ mission. Oh, and we got some chocolate pudding ($3.29) because, duh.

The staff jumped into high gear, cutting and wrapping and plopping and sandwich-izing right before our eyes. Mere moments went by before we had a large box crammed with more food than any two people had a right ordering. Perhaps over-hungry at this point, we retreated to the long picnic tables with the red checkered tablecloths—and then we went to town on those bad boys.

The pulled pork sandwich was what I’d call fine if a mite dry in a way that not even a healthy dousing of both types of Rudy’s sause (yes, they spell it with an “s.”) could fix. One sause is meant to have more of a kick, I guess, while the other is unfortunately called “Sissy Sause.” Ugh. I don’t like that word, and don’t see how it relates to food. And anyway, it tasted better than the original, so score one for the sissies, but know it didn’t much fix the dryness and over-salted taste of the pulled pork. My pal, meanwhile, couldn’t say enough nice things about the brisket. It was tender, it was juicy, it was all the words people use to describe meat they like—a net gain for our dining partnership.

As for the baby back ribs? Rudy’s clearly knows what it’s doing. Not only did whoever was the pitmaster completely nail the variety of textures one wants from BBQ, they found a middle ground between tender and firm. We closed our meal with the chocolate pudding which was...I mean, what can you say about chocolate pudding? It’s pudding, it’s great, end of list.

In the end we felt sated, but also like we’d betrayed our town on some level. Rudy’s popping up just down the street from locally-owned BBQ joint The Ranch House feels, I dunno, aggressive. It also feels like despite Rudy’s likely serving what I’m sure is a consistent product, if given the choice between most local BBQ (and I’m thinking of Uncle DT’s and The Cowgirl and even you, Whole Hog, with all your tasty little sauces that don’t call someone’s toughness into question over their sauce preferences), we might want to all think local if we’re going to eat out, especially post-pandemic. As it stands, though, if someone hands me some Rudy’s, I’ll totally eat it. No shade, no judgement—y’all gotta get fed any way that makes sense to you.

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