Reo Varnado, co-owner of Reo’s Ribs, does not wear his associations lightly; one of the first things you’ll see upon entering the place is a larger-than-life, 10-foot-tall photograph of his nephew Calvin—better known as Snoop Dogg. Still, Reo sticks to some deeper roots when it comes to his music selections: Last time I was there, the house soundtrack was a very smooth Luther Vandross.
Johns Landing’s unoptimistic melange of ’70s and ’80s office frontage might seem an unlikely spot for an old-school rib joint—Reo’s previous location was in similarly unlikely Aloha—and the new place still sports an Aztec painting from one of the many failed Mexican joints in the same spot. Still, this is what makes it ripe for a takeover; Reo’s has started with its own strip-mall parking lot, which now houses no fewer than three smokers and a quarter-cord of firewood. Starting at 5 am each morning, a thick, meaty haze drifts across Macadam Avenue to the river.
The service was genuinely friendly and preternaturally swift, but the place’s real heart is in Reo’s barbecue sauce: a sweet, mid-Southern molasses-honey rarely seen in Portland (you can get the insanely extra-hot stuff by request). The meat is slow-cooked, moist and tender—the chicken was almost too tender, if that’s possible, teetering over from moist into wet, but the pork and beef were succulent as hell and pretty much faultless.
Some of the sides require a bit more caution: The collard greens, in particular, taste like manfeet, and are to be avoided. The corn bread, however ($1 with any meal), is moist and cakey, and the hush puppies land on just the right side of crisp. Fair warning: The labor-intensive slow cooking doesn’t come cheap—a rack of baby-backs snuggles against $30—but the hefty $20 five-meat sampler could stuff two. On $15 a person, including sweet tea, I left happy, more than sated and in need of a toothpick, with a spot of barbecue sauce still in my beard. This is as it should be.
Order this: A meat sampler ($20) and some bottomless sweet tea ($2), with fried okra and cornbread sides.
Best deal: A small pulled-pork sandwich is a mere $5 and includes a side.
I’ll pass: No thanks to the greens. The catfish could also use a bit less salt.