Walking into JR Ribs in the western San José suburb of Escazú is like walking into a rib joint in Texas. The layout is spacious, the walls are decorated with Texas flags and longhorn skulls, the tables are covered with red-and white checkered tablecloths, and slow country music crawls out of the speakers. For this native Texan, it felt like home.
What also gives JR Ribs an authentic Texas feel are the ribs. As you may have guessed from the name, JR prides itself on its ribs, and rightfully so. Slow-cooked, marinated, juicy and tender, the ribs here are nothing short of fantastic. If the barometer of rib quality is the manner in which the meat comes off the bone, well, at JR, it falls right off.
The menu offers four different types of ribs, including St. Louis ribs, baby back ribs, beef ribs and Costa Rican barbecue ribs. “We were the first place in Costa Rica to open an authentic barbecue rib location,” said Wilberth Zamora, owner of JR Ribs. “But we didn’t only want to offer ribs from the U.S. There are great ribs from Costa Rica, and, if we were going to serve ribs, we had to include the Costa Rican style as well.”
JR Ribs first set up shop in 1989 at its original location in the northeastern suburb of Guadalupe. In 2000, it relocated to San José’s historic Barrio Amón district, where it has experienced a fruitful 10-year run. Last year, Zamora decided to expand to Escazú and bring the same menu to a different style of venue, with a slightly different set of goals.
“We wanted to make this one more like a honky-tonk that offers live music, pool and entertainment options along with the food,” Zamora said. “People can play pool, eat a meal, eat appetizers or just come and listen to the band. Because the place is so big, while a band is playing, you can still hear the people sitting with you. It’s not like being at a cantina or bar or just a restaurant. It is a combination of all of them.”
With a large wooden stage at the far end of the restaurant, Zamora has ambitions to make JR Ribs in Escazú one of the premier live music venues in the country. To kick off this new concept of food and music fusion, longtime local favorite The Blind Pigs Blues Band – featuring Dave “The Dude” Scott, Nancy Buchan, Tim Dunford, Franco Torterolo and Gerardo Castro – will play a set of blues and rock ’n’ roll Sunday, April 25, from 4 to 7 p.m. There is no cover charge, and the concert is expected to be the first of many here.
Aside from the savory ribs, JR offers a wide selection of appetizers, soups, salads, burgers, chicken and side dishes. The array of sides includes traditional U.S. and Tico dishes, including baked beans, coleslaw, corn on the cob and plantains. Though the menu is heavy on southern U.S. cuisine, there are plenty of local offerings, whether appetizers or main dishes, including yucca (cassava), salchichón (sausage), chicharrones (fried pork pieces) and frijoles molidos (refried beans).
The cherry on top of the expansive menu is the homemade desserts, which include pecan pie, apple pie, brownie à la mode, key lime tart and ice cream with chocolate, caramel or strawberry sauce. During my visit, I enjoyed a rich, thick piece of homemade pecan pie with vanilla ice cream. For a Southerner who grew up on the stuff, I can assure you: It’s as good as anything you’d find south of Mason-Dixon.
JR Ribs in Escazú offers everything you could ask for in a honky-tonk: live music, a pool table, sports on the television sets, grilled meats and plenty on the drink menu. In true Southern fashion, this Tico Times reporter tips his hat to the place.
Location: 1 km west of La Paco commercial center on the old road to Santa Ana. (Also in Barrio Amón, Av. 11, Ca. 7.)
Hours: Monday to Thursday, noon to 10 p.m.; Friday to Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
Phone: 2288-5973, 2288-5987, 2288-5998, www.jrribs.com (website under construction).
Prices range from ¢8,000 to ¢14,000 ($15 to $27) for ribs, ¢2,500 to ¢8,000 ($4.80 to $15) for appetizers and ¢2,000 to ¢3,000 ($3.80 to $5.80) for desserts. Happy hour with two-for-one drinks is Monday through Friday, 4 to 7 p.m.