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XXX Marks the Hot Spot

Agoura Hills rib joint dazzles the taste buds with spicy sauces and smoky flavors.


Agoura Hills is getting to be a regular hotbed of barbecue joints. The latest is Rib Ticklers, an authentic pit barbecue with an ambience somewhere between Urban Cowboy and Hells Angels.

It's a place of booths and raw wood beams with a real saloon, where funky rock music plays on the sound system. There's also a patio, which should be a great place to sit when the weather is cooler.

The draw is meat smoked on hickory and oak. Though the menu states that the pulled pork and baby backs are smoked for up to 18 hours, neither is all that smoky, and somehow they lack the rosy pink tone of pit-barbecued meat.

The rather bland hot link has a nice grainy texture, though, and the barbecued chicken is terrific. It's the smokiest meat the restaurant serves. You get huge pieces of dark meat the color of burnished mahogany.

The beef, mainly tri-tip sirloin and ribs, is seasoned and, says the menu, slowly smoked. The thin-slice tri-tip is full-flavored and just slightly tough--no fault of the kitchen since tri-tip is not especially tender to begin with. The enormous beef ribs are properly lean and well browned on the outside edges. For beef lovers, either ribs or tri-tip should do nicely.

My main quarrel with the pulled pork is that it isn't as smoky or tender as it should be; it reminds me more of carnitas than of barbecue. The baby back ribs are tender, though, and especially delicious when brushed with one of the house sauces. My choice here would be Turbo Hot, a gorgeously balanced blend of heat and complexity.

As for those hot sauces, created by Dennis Ofsthun of Adobe Cantina, they range from Mild through Spicy and Turbo Hot to Nitro X-Hot and Thermo XXX-Hot. The waitresses will let you try all five, if you ask nicely. (Thermo XXX-Hot is a punishing blend of pepper flakes, Tabasco and habanero puree. One dab and you'll be gasping for air, and unable to tell baby back ribs from bubble wrap. But even a 2-year-old could handle Mild.)

I also give high marks to the sides. The curly fries are excellent, and so are Mom's beans--smoky baked beans served in a little pot, laced with bits of bacon and ham. And there is an appealingly tart slaw dusted with paprika. The salads are also quite good. Have one with ranch dressing, one of the thickest and richest salad dressings around.

So Rib Ticklers is a kick. Bring the Harley or the Beamer--but watch out for anything with XXX written on the bottle.


Rib Ticklers, 5617 Kanan Road, Agoura Hills. Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Full bar. Parking lot. MasterCard and Visa accepted. Dinner for two, $20-$35. Suggested dishes: half chicken, $8.95; baby back ribs, half rack $10.95, full rack $15.95; three-meat combo, $16.95. Call (818) 707-7678.

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