Hitched in Hialeah

Hold up there, pardna, at the Hitching Post out west

It's BBQ! It's cowboy-kitschy in décor (old Wild West murals from the eatery's early days almost 40 years ago, when Hialeah did a darned good imitation of a frontier town itself)! And mainly it's almost the only place in Hialeah I can get to without getting lost.

Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. Even though Hialeah's street-numbering system does seem designed to confound outlaws ("James Gang: Golldurned if I could find a bank in this here mess; see ya in Ft. Lauderdale"), easy access is not the Hitching Post's main plus. What really makes the place worth the trip is the real wood-burning pit built into its kitchen. Some barbecue "experts" these days will tell you that the whole secret is slow-cooking -- so whether this is done with wood, charcoal, gas, or electric heat makes no difference. Do not believe them. The Hitching Post's barbecue is cooked over whole oak logs from north Florida; you can see 'em stacked out back, and you can taste the difference yourself without a degree from 'Cue U.

There's much more variety of barbecued meat available here than at most other joints -- ham, sliced beef, and turkey, as well as the usual pork meat, ribs, and chicken (and even churrasco, burgers for kids, fish filet sandwich, and, sometimes, fried shrimp). The classic pork meat is here sliced rather than pulled Carolina-style as I prefer, and while it retains some moistness, inside slices have nearly no wood flavor; outside meat for 35 cents extra has far more character. But what this place does best is ribs: regular pork ribs, meatier pork baby-back ribs, and beef ribs big enough to have come from a brontosaurus. All are intensely smoky, almost falling-off-the-bone tender; posted notices claim no more than ten percent fat content, and from tasting, I'd agree.

Plates come with creamy coleslaw that's as good as most deli slaw, but as an antidote to smoky-rich meat they need more mustard and vinegar, plus rolls and a second starch. The menu says "potato," but sweet homebaked beans free of meat debris (another boon to noncarnivores) are also a possibility, as is fried or boiled yuca. Since fries are just okay, I'd recommend an alternate, especially the boiled yuca; its mojo hadn't nearly enough garlic but absolutely sang with sour citrus tang. And though onion rings are a strictly á la carte option, aficionados will never forgive themselves for not investing $2.79 for the Post's generous portion of lightly floured homemade rings.

To wash it all down there's fresh-squeezed orange juice and bottomless lemonade, but also a mighty impressive beer selection for a humble joint, including Beck's and Hatuey. In fact considering how well the latter Cuban-type brew goes with barbecue, it's lucky that the Hitching Post really is a cinch to find (heading west on Route 112, take the Okeechobee Road exit just before the airport and drive till you see the big log cabin on the right). Best days to go are Wednesdays and Fridays, when the daily eat-in-only special platters of pork and beef ribs, respectively, plus creamy coleslaw, beans, and rolls are under six bucks, leaving diners plenty of drink money -- though at $1.89-$2.29 a pop, beer's not gonna break the bank here, either.

 
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