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BBQ'S MOST WANTED YOU'LL BE GENEROUSLY REWARDED AT BANDITS' GRILL & BAR.

Byline: Larry Lipson Restaurant Critic

BIG AND BUSY describes the onetime hole-in-the-wall barbecue eatery known as Bandits' Grill & Bar in Thousand Oaks.

In fact it's so crowded most of the time, you have to check in with the hostesses when you arrive and they give you one of those vibrating alarms and tell you approximately how many minutes it'll be until you will be seated.

Even if you get there a couple of minutes before noon at lunch time.

Bandits' doesn't take your money and run.

You get fairly hefty portions, pretty good quality and four seasoning options (brushed with barbecue, teriyaki or jerk sauce, or simply rubbed with salt, pepper and garlic).

True, they overdo it somewhat with the iron skillets here. And though there's a decent beer selection, wines are definitely not a priority.

But thankfully, there's at least one zinfandel on the wine list. Remember to specify the Ravenswood red or you'll look up to find a bottle of white zin being opened.

Also, don't hesitate to ask for the bigger wine glasses.

Appetizers here appear to be the standard, expected stuff, for the most part.

The exception is crab and cream cheese-stuffed, batter-coated jalapenos ($7.99 per half-dozen) that sometimes show up only half-stuffed and could use more crab meat in the stuffing. They still possess relatively satisfying texture and taste.

Onion rings ($5.99), chicken strips ($6.99) and fried zucchini ($5.99) are passable starter noshes, and the house dinner salad (optional item included with entree) reveals an OK mix of crisp lettuce, tomato and shredded carrot with choice of dressing. An alternative is a sizable portion of coleslaw.

But what's the real magnet here?

It's got to be the oak-fired, smoky ribs and meats plus moderate pricing that pull the crowds into Bandits'.

Both the pork baby backs (half rack $15.99, full $19.99) and beef ribs (half rack $12.99, full $14.99) display plenty of good-tasting meat that doesn't need pliers to separate it from the bone.

In fact it would probably fall off the baby backs in a stiff wind.

Tri-tip ($13.99 or $15.99) arrives moist and flavorful, steaklike in appearance, lovely and pink when ordered medium rare.

A half chicken ($10.99) comes forth prettily, just short of gleaming, with shiny seasoned skin covering juicy, dark and white flesh. Complimentary sides here include superior baked beans, respectable corn-on-the-cob, acceptable green beans, an average baked potato and well-crafted fries plus untried yams. Brisket ($10.49), gratifying in taste, described as ``pulled,'' emerges with a shredded appearance, served as a fairly big mound on toasted bread.

The Kobe beef burger ($11.99) is worth trying, but unless you specify otherwise, it will be cooked to medium doneness.

Finish your Bandits' meal with heated chocolate cake ($4) to share.

A touch of needed sweetness to balance the savory meatiness.

Larry Lipson, (818) 713-3668

larry.lipson(at)dailynews.com

BANDITS' GRILL & BAR

Food: Three stars - Service: Three and one half stars - Wine: Half star

Where: 589 N. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks. (Also in Camarillo.)

Phone: (805) 497-7427.

Food type: American.

Cost: $$

Credit cards: All major.

Patio dining: Yes.

Parking: Yes, but no valet.

Accommodations: Lunch and dinner.

Full bar: Yes.

Wine: Yes, but minimal; corkage $5.

Takeout: Yes.

Reservations: No. First come, first served.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Barbecued chicken and baby back ribs are savored by Bandits' director of operations Shawn Berger, left, and chef Alfonso Gonzalez.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographers
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 22, 2005
Words:582
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