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Austin, Galveston, Houston for Labor Day week

I am traveling to Texas for a music festival in Austin the last weekend of August, and then to my hometown (Sweeny) before heading up to Galveston for a few days, and then to Houston before flying back to Phoenix. We'll be in Texas a total of 9 days.

My girlfriend has never really had the chance to taste some of the better things Texas has to offer, so I would like to make this a memorable experience for her.

We are looking for dive/hole in the wall/mom and pop places that hit the spot, and dinners where the food outweighs everything else. Having grown up around the gulf coast, I know a few spots in Houston and Galveston but any advice is appreciated.

This is the area's we will be:

Austin: Emo's, Beerland, Mohawk area
Galveston: Northside of the Island staying at Hotel Galvez
Houston: We are going to the Improv so we want to have dinner in that area before the show.

Thanks for any and all suggestions.

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  1. You want BBQ. Austin, Salt Lick SE of town 1/2 hr in Driftwood. Otherwise Louis Mueller's in Taylor, TX about 1/2 hour away NE. In Houston try Luling City BBQ right near the Galleria area. You can order a day or two in advance and pick up and have a picnic if the weather cooperates. Note: the weather doesn't always cooperate! Have fun!

    1. City Market IN LULING TX would be my recommendation on the way out of Austin towards Lake Jackson. The copycat in Houston is decent, but nothing like the one it's trying to copy in the town of Luling.

      1. Thanks for the tips.

        Is there any must try ethnic places in the Downtown Houston or Galveston areas? Thai, Indian, Soul Food, South/Central American?

        5 Replies
        1. re: ValleyFever

          Rudy and Paco's in Galveston at 21st and Post Office near the 1894 Grand Opera House is very good with a South American flair, not a hole in the wall place but very good. FYI, they do have a minimal dress code.

          Fine dining in Galveston I would suggest Palm's M&M, currently one of the best island restaurants.

          Simp's behind city hall on 26th Street is very good soul food during lunch hours. Be warned there can be a line of people.

          1. re: ValleyFever

            Near downtown Houston - Authentic interior Mexican on Westheimer - Hugo's/ or try hole-in-the-wall Hobbit Cafe on Richmond for unique but delicious veggie friendly American (great patio, unique beer selections)
            Austin, TX you want to try Moonshine on Red River (Downtown near 4th)... delicious southern comfort food with a sophisticated flare (go to Sunday brunch or for dinner try the fried asparagus, sage butter trout, & apple pie)
            Hudson's on the Bend in Austin is out of the way but worth the drive. Great Indian food at Clay Pit on Guadalupe in Austin.

            1. re: ValleyFever

              dives/ethnic places in downtown houston? you guys want to get down and dirty! awesome! houston is great for that!

              hit the breakfast klub for fried chicken and waffles or fried catfish and grits. they close at 2 pm and are closed on sundays. http://www.thebreakfastklub.com/

              another soul food place is called "this is it soul food" in midtown. oxtails are delish, sides are mediocre. everything is pretty greasy and makes great hangover food. here's the website, (http://www.thisisithouston.com/) but i think you'll have better luck with soul food in austin IMO. look up nubian queen lola's cajun kitchen in austin. there is a great review w/ photos on egullet.com by kent wang. or direct your austin questions to the austin board.

              also downtown is thelma's bbq which was featured on the PBS documentary about sandwiches. bbq sauce is very sweet. but her ribs are huge and juicy and the fried catfish is the best in town.

              for the best thai in houston, go to vieng thai. it's a 15-20 min drive from downtown and BYOB. or for a real hole in the wall check out asia market which is closer. it's basically a little sit down place in a small thai grocery store, but the pad kee mao noodles are AMAZING. closes at 7 pm daily.

              also near asia market are 2 places: for good tex-mex, go to teotihuacan on airline. grilled items like fajitas and carne asada are great. for mexican seafood go to tampico also in the heights on airline (about 10 min drive from downtown). get the grilled whole red snapper and nothing else. if it isn't 2 hot outside, sit on the upstairs outside patio and drink micheladas. warning, service is pretty slow here.

              this list covers most of my favorite ethnic dives in houston except the ones in chinatown. i'm not sure where you are from, but chinese and vietnamese is quite good around these parts too!

              1. re: neverfull

                I live in Phoenix, so Vietnamese is around but not the best I've had. I grew up going to Mai's in Houston, so we will probably try to hit it up.

                We have a great Chicken & Waffles place, but they don't do Catfish & Grits, so I'm totally down for that.

                Coming from a Sonoran region we have a hard time with Tex-Mex, but Mariscos is always a good thing. We get the whole fried grouper in Pacific Mexico. I'm sure with Snapper it is even better, and you add a michelada and I am in heaven!

                Thanks for the tips. Those all sound right up our alley!

                1. re: ValleyFever

                  valleyfever, have a great time in houston and where ever you decide to go please report back.

            2. The following are some of my favorites in Galveston:

              The Spot for burgers and onion rings.
              Olympia Grill 4908 Seawall is my latest crave. They have good gyros.
              Cajun Greek on 61st for philly cheese steaks or po boys
              Rudy and Paco's I crave their shrimp empanadas
              Sky Bar for sushi but this place is a little on the pricier side. I haven't been in awhile. We go for happy hour.
              Mosquito Cafe for breakfast and cookies. Check their board for daily specials.
              Saltwater Grill

              A friend just recommended Simp's but I haven't been. It's soul food. I believe it's only open for lunch. I also haven't been to Sunflower Bakery but I'm hearing allot of good things about it.

              galveston dot com has links and menus to allot of restaurants on the island.

              Our absolute favorite place to take out of towners is Top Water Grill in San Leon. San Leon is between Houston and Galveston. It's got great food (seafood) and unique atmosphere. I'm sure if you do a search on the web it will come up and you can get directions.

              1 Reply
              1. re: tlegray

                I second Top Water Grill. Great recommendation. The place gets crowded during peak weekend times, FYI.

              2. I grew up in Galveston, and if you want real seafood, you must eat at Gaido's. period.

                1 Reply
                1. re: chowngroove

                  I agree with chowngroove that Gaido's is still a great seafood restaurant but it is not the restaurant today that we grew up with. Old man Gaido used to brag that the only thing served was fresh Gulf seafood. Today they have salmon and everything else on the menu, much of it is not Gulf seafood. That said the soft shell crabs Sapparito (sp?) at Gaido's are fantastic.

                2. We live in Oklahoma City but have been traveling to Galveston for several years and are planning to semi retire there early next year and cannot wait to explore more of the local fare. We were there in April and explored many of the local haunts. A diamond in the rough is Leon's Best In and Out BBQ.
                  We have great bbq here but Leon has us beat. Awesome ribs and sides. Small place but able to dine in. Don't forget the sweet potato pie (enough for 2) homemade by his sister. Also received a lot of local raves about the Diner. Of course, Gaidos shrimp salad is a must. Had the broiled red snapper topped with lump crab and garlic butter sauce was absolutely delicious. When asked about dessert, we told the waiter we had a piece of pecan from Leons. He gave us theirs for comparison. Leons beat it hands down.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: john2

                    Leons and The Spot are 2 of our favorite places. When we went to Leons, Leon came out and greeted us. We also really like the Diner for breakfast. Reminds me of Mel's Diner from the TV show. Lots of regulars. Somewhere on this board is a list of our favorites non-chain places in Galveston, but I don't feel like looking right now.

                  2. Thanks for all the tips. We had a great time in Texas and got some really good food. Here is quick rundown of what we did:

                    Stubbs BBQ - could of used a little more smoke flavor. Very tender though.
                    Serrano's - I've learned that Tex-Mex is better if I stick to Mariscos. Chipotle Shrimp!
                    Boiling Pot - They should use a boil seasoning. Not bad. Could be better.
                    Bess Bistro - Food, excellent. Mixed drinks, sub-par. Service, TOP NOTCH!

                    Shrimp 'N Stuff - Standard Shrimp Po-Boy. Not quite NOLA, but beats PHX.
                    Gaido's - Always the same story here, and it's never a bad one. Great everything!
                    Mosquito Cafe - Great little neighborhood cafe that shows the potential of Galveston.
                    Simps - Good down home cooking with lots of soul.
                    Red Snapper Inn (Surfside) - Great hidden gem. Locals know it and love it.

                    America's - Good drinks, good food, good service. Doesn't get much better.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: ValleyFever

                      i could've warned you about serrano's...

                      1. re: chowngroove

                        Normally we wouldn't have even done Tex-Mex, but we were short on time and it was close to the venue.

                      2. re: ValleyFever

                        I love Red Snapper Inn and always made a point to stop there after fishing in nearby Christmas Bay. I have serious doubts as to whether it survived Ike and could never understand why it wasn't built up on stilts. My cousin has a beach house on the Surfside part of San Luis Pass, front row, and I have serious doubts about that as well.

                        1. re: James Cristinian

                          Red Snapper Inn is of of the few who survived. They lost their awning and had some water damage but the structure is still sound.

                          Kitty's Purple Cow took a big hit though.

                          1. re: ValleyFever

                            Great news for Red Snapper Inn, I'll be spending some cash there again.

                      3. Just out of curiosity, what festival was it?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: mgwerks

                          It was the Wild Weekend Power Pop Festival

                          The Boys
                          The Beat (US)
                          Pointed Sticks
                          Nikki Corvette

                          and a bunch of others.

                        2. In Austin try Taquerias Arandas.
                          There are several locations, for example:
                          2448 S 1st St, Austin, TX 78704

                          Try the Carne Asada with cactus and limes, or the Pork gorditas.