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Portable BBQ: Ray’s Texas BBQ in Huntington Park has a Two Pound Burrito That’s a Game Changer

[dropcap size=big]R[/dropcap]ene Ramirez – they call him Ray – went through a lot of phases in his life. He spent half his childhood jumping from his parents’ native El Salvador to HP. Grew up. Worked his butt off. Some success. Some failure. Then came his BBQ phase.

“Call it a midlife crisis, man,” the Huntington Park native told L.A. Taco. He was sporting a Cheshire Cat smile almost as big as his giant BBQ burrito, a delicious monstrosity of brisket, pulled pork, Prime Angus, baked beans, mac-and-cheese, and a Salvadoran-inspired jalapeño cheddar sausage. Ray calls it portable BBQ, but we’ll get to that.

Back to the midlife crisis ... “Instead of chasing dates, sometimes you transmit that to other things,” Ramirez laughed. Other things started with St. Louis BBQ. “That wasn’t taking me nowhere,” he recalled. “And I was like, ‘I got to go check out that place on TV, that Franklin.’”

It was there – in Austin at the famed and critically acclaimed Franklin Barbecue – on his first trip outside of Los Angeles or El Salvador, that Ray, a kid from HP found his true calling: Texas BBQ brisket. Of course he started it in his mom’s backyard.

“When it started, it was kind of like a joke. Nobody would come to HP for BBQ,” Ramirez explained. “I mean this is Mexican country. If you want Mexican food, Huntington Park and surrounding areas is where to come.”

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All photos by Erick Galindo.
All photos by Erick Galindo.

[dropcap size=big]B[/dropcap]ut then people started showing up. “It was like, ‘Shit. What do we do now?!’” And it started growing slowly at first then really quickly. “I would say at our height in 2004, we were selling like $800 bucks every 30 minutes.” There was a Franklin’s style line on Hood Avenue wrapping around to Gage. Mom’s backyard got raided twice by a city inspector. This was long before the state’s recently passed home food laws that allow home cooks to legal sell their wares.

“The last time the health inspector was in the front, and my wife was still selling brisket out the back,” Ramirez laughs. “We wound up salvaging everything.” Ramirez said the city was actually on his side. They just wanted him to do it in a restaurant. “They gave me $3,000 to do a business plan.”

I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on this for so long.

Huntington Park city officials weren't the only one who believed in Ray. “My mom helped me out with a signature on a $15,000 loan. I was unemployed and my credit was shot but she believed in me even when I didn’t.” Ray’s opened up Labor Day Weekend of 2014 in a strip mall on Santa Fe in between a Honduran restaurant and Tortas Ahogadas Guadalajara.

Even while he was already being praised by the likes of the Houston Chronicle, Ramirez said it took him years to really perfect his BBQ game to the level of what he felt his first time at Franklin. “I took that one bite and was like, ‘What the heck is going on?!’ That’s what I try to replicate here. That nice feeling of, ‘Man. I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on this for so long.’”Last year, the L.A. Times ran a feature, which caused the restaurant to blow up. This year Texas Monthly,  the quintessential voice on Texas BBQ, praised Ray’s.

Ramirez is still more L.A. than Texas. Most of his staff is Salvadoran Angelenos for one. And he says some of his flavors are inspired by his Salvadoran roots. Besides the sausage, he tried putting brisket pupusas on the menu. It was not well received. Ramirez said he is also inspired by L.A. Mexican food. That’s where his idea for the life changing burrito came about. “Portable BBQ was kind of unheard of, you always have to sit down. But being in L.A. we are always on the run. And I wanted to create something for that.”

That something is a massive two-pound burrito that makes you question why it exist, why you exist, and why you ate that slice of white bread like an idiot. But one bite in, you get it. You, it, even the bread were born for each other. And all of a sudden you’re back in Austin, eating on a picnic table with a group of norteño musicians … even if you’re just standing in a parking lot in Huntington Park.

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