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Culinary Arts Corner
By Anthony Small
With the recently opened Heritage Barbecue in San Juan Capistrano, world class Texas-style barbecue is now so close that folks from Dana Point and surrounding areas can taste it. After years building a following through pop-ups at breweries, Heritage Barbecue makes neighboring San Juan Capistrano the latest destination for barbecue lovers.
Pitmaster Daniel Castillo, who owns Heritage Barbecue with his wife, Brenda, smokes meat in twin 1,000-gallon smokers. With California’s first fully-licensed, fixed offset smokers, they bring an authentic Central Texas flavor and vibe to our area. Daniel says, “Brenda has been the backbone from the start, always encouraged me and been, for lack of a better word, my enabler for this dream. We’re here to create and share and hopefully pave the way for others to become more artistic.”
You’ll be delighted by the thick slabs of perfectly cooked brisket, pork spareribs, beef ribs, unique sausages and poultry. Sides with a Mexican American flair include Borracho beans stewed with brisket and beer, three types of mac and cheese (try the choriqueso), potato salad topped with pickled eggs and house-smoked bacon, and jalapeno cheese cornbread. The “Heritage” in the name refers to very specific breeds of meat, in this case from West Coast Prime, that are extremely high-quality and can be traced back to specific farms. Menus are seasonal and market-priced and change often.
Open at 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and noon on Saturday and Sunday, Heritage Barbecue closes when sold out on a given day. Guests are welcome to line up as early as they like, and currently masks are required while waiting. The restaurant’s seating is entirely outside, allowing Heritage Barbecue to operate in compliance with current COVID-19 safety regulations. Orders are taken in-person only—no phone or online orders are accepted—so, therefore, no cuts to the front of a line that others have waited in so patiently. Limited by hours in the day (it takes 12-16 hours to smoke the meats) and space in the two 1,000-gallon smokers, they have been selling out every day.
“People are still trying to understand the process. Texas Barbecue is a different culture. We’re basically a food stand. It’s the most genuine way to do it,” Daniel Castillo says. “The popularity we have usually takes restaurants a few years to achieve. We’re grateful, and people seem to feel like it’s worth it. Some folks want us to change, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.”
The wait, which at times can be well over an hour, is part of the experience and is about community and gathering (safely) with family and friends and slowing down to enjoy the aroma of white oak burning, while servers shuttle cold Capistrano Brewery beers and other refreshments to those in line. About half of the customers so far have come from outside the area, immediately creating a significant economic impact through increased tax revenues and people sharing other must-see local landmarks and experiences.
Castillo is also proud of the cultural diversity here and concludes, “We bring the colors and flavors to South OC that are at times lacking. We’re such a multicultural team, people with Guatemalan, Filipino, Mexican and African American backgrounds. We have our doors and arms open to anyone that doesn’t want to deal with any sort of discrimination.”
Anthony Small is the Executive Director of Music Preserves Foundation, the 2019 Chairman of the City of Dana Point Arts and Culture Commission and a singer-songwriter. Small and his family have lived in Dana Point for 22 years.