Texan foodie spots? Help needed from the UK!
I am researching to plan a fly and drive to the USA.
I would like to tie in discovering more about some of the national foods of the USA and would greatly appreciate any ideas and suggestions of a route, and the corresponding foods.
There will be myself and my partner, we will hire perhaps a rv and will spent 10-14 days travelling around March 2009. We are interested in Texas, New Mexico, Nevada and want to get off the beaten track.
Any help would be a wonderful help to us, thank you.
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo would be a great happening for you to visit. There will be information on the perfromers closer to rodeo time, but for sure there is a barbecue cook-off (in late February, so that may not fit your schedule) and tons of typical Texas outrageous junk food for sale on the midway. Do check out the website. Even though the rodeo food isn't a very good example of Houston food at its best, it is a very fun and different--and very Texas--event for you to consider.
Go to the Austin board and read the posts on BBQ and the ones on Tex-Mex. There are some really interesting, as well as historic, options to consider.
Oh I'm so excited for you!! I love the southwest and have taken many road trips through the areas. Here are some of my "foodie" highlights:
In New Mexico, don't miss the Gila Wilderness area in the southwest corner of the state (it's a mountainous pine forest with excellent hiking and sightseeing, and it's not a desert!). There's a place called "The Buckhorn Saloon" waaaaay off the beaten path, on Route 15 in Pinos Altos that serves this incredible green chile burger. Sounds ordinary, I know, but my friends and I have driven from Tucson for the burger and the experience. Silver City is a funky artisty mountain town with good dining opportunities too.
New Mexico also offers up some of the best random road-side dining. Some of my best meals have come from stopping in the small diners and tamale stands along 60 (outside Magdalena) and 82 (by Cloudcroft). NM is one of the most unusual of the states, if you get off those main highways. You should check out those back roads and see what surprises you stumble upon (like the Very Large Array...google it).
In Texas, I recommend the Hill Country west of Austin. Take 290 to Fredricksburg, which is a pretty drive (with some peach stands along the way). Fredricksburg has a strange old German feel, and is really something unique in Texas. Although it's a bit touristy, it's not really crowded, and really has an odd-ball feel. And there are some great restaurants that offer down-home cooking and standard German fare. Here's 2 articles about it from the NYTimes:
I'll warn you about West Texas, though. The stretch of I-10 between El Paso and where 290 splits off is desolate and never ending. Wait til you hit Van Horn before eating anything - there's a funky "Mexican" place right on the main drag that you should hit more for the atmosphere than the food, although it is pretty good. The rest of the towns around there rely heavily on Pizza Huts and Dairy Queens...but when you see a small diner, do stop.
I can't think of anything that stands out in Nevada (unless you'll be up north on 50), but in Arizona, the iconic Route 66 is a much better east-west choice than I-40, and it has a lot of old fashioned diners and burger joints, serving real milkshakes and hand-formed hamburger patties. It's surprisingly dead (we passed only a handful of other cars), despite its historic past, and there's lots of cool photo ops alongside old 1950s cars and long-abandoned motels and drive-in theaters.
I guess my overarching advice would be to stay off the major interstates (except I-10 west of Austin, which is about the only way across). I drove from New Orleans to Los Angeles over 12 days, taking all scenic roads through small towns, and it was one of the highlights of my travels through the US.
I will not mention places in larger cities (there are plenty of suggestions elsewhere on CH), but can give you some ideas off the beaten path between Houston and Santa Fe -- which gets you quite a ways toward Nevada.
If you start in Houston, head to San Antonio on I-10 and get off in Luling for barbeque at City Market. You can also head uo 183 to Lockhart for more great barbeque at Smitty's or Kreuz's, but City Market is wonderful. After San Antonio, take Rt 16 up to Bandera. You can stop at the OST in Bandera, but I'd suggest going out to Tarpley and eating at Mac and Ernie's Roadside Eatery, which has cabrito burgers at lunch and great grilled meat, quail, and fish for dinner. Then get back on 16 and go to Love Creek Orchards in Medina for apple pie. In Kerrville, there's Rail's at the Depot and River's Edge. (By the way, the drive from Bandera to Kerrville on 16 is beautiful.) Continuing north, the Hilltop Cafe, just outside of Fredericksburg, is worth a visit. Then, definitely hit Cooper's barbeque in Llano. Then head over to Lampasas to Brad's Burgers. Head up 281 to 67 to Glen Rose for a nice meal at Rough Creek Lodge. Then mosey over to Grandview, to the Burgundy Pasture Beef store, where they serve lunch. From there, you can hit Fort Worth or Dallas, and I have no suggestions for anything between there and Amarillo. In Amarillo, however, there are a number of little Lao places on Old Rt. 66. Try one; they're great. From there, you have a long ride to Albuqueque. Not far north of Albuquerque, in Bernalillo, is The Range. Get stacked enchiladas with green or red chiles. Then, outside of Santa Fe, try Bobcat Bite and Harry's Roadhouse. From there, you're on your own. The biggest problem with this itinerary is that it bypasses Austin, but this route is certainly off the beaten track. Happy trails.
We just returned to San Diego from our honeymoon in Texas. I have just two words for you: Big Bend. Skip the cities (I'm a native, and I know them all. Austin, San Antonio, and Houston are pretty interesting but in the end, their citiness overwhelms their Texanness, and they're hard to get a feel for in one visit.) Stop in Fredericksburg, a German town between Austin and San Antonio, overrun with tourists but still unique and beautiful. (That's where we got married.) Then head on out to the Big Bend area, stopping in the Davis Mountains on your way to Marfa, Alpine, and Marathon. Big Bend National Park is amazing, but it takes days to see. Marfa is the home of the Chinati Foundation installation of modernist artist Donald Judd -- this alone is one of the highlights of my life. Great art displayed in even greater landscape. There's the Observatory and Planatarium in the Davis Mountains, and the historic, lovely lodge built by FDR's CCC men during the Depression, Indian Lodge in Davis Mountain State Park.
To see what I wrote about the food on our trip, check out
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/560824 for Marfa
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/560847 for Fredericksburg
Some of the off the beaten path North Texas places I would recommend are ...
Clark's BBQ in Tioga, TX,
Babe's Chicken in Roanoke, TX,
the Czech Stop in West, TX,
County Line BBQ- a few locations, i prefer the ones outside of Austin.
All have great feels to them and history. I am sure they all have websites or reviews you can check out.
If it's New Mexico and West Texas, think dishes with chiles in them. Chile does //not// have beans in it, so avoid those along the border if you encounter them. Queso is a melted cheese dish with chiles (sometimes chorizo) in it; spoon it into a tortilla as an appetizer. Enchiladas with green chile and cheese are superb.
Along the border almost any Mexican-style restaurant will serve Sonoran or Chihuahuan food -- it's heavy on the potatoes and beef. Just about every hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant will have at least one world-class dish. The challenge is to find it.
In West Texas, visit Lajitas just outside of Bend Bend Natl Park (tho' if you have an RV, this might not be of interest) and have dinner at the nearby Starlight Theatre, which despite its name is a fab-funky restaurant w/ pretty good food. I'm sure you're aware of the enormous distances in Texas. The speed limit is high, but everything is far from everything else. El Paso is actually pretty interesting -- very bi-cultural and breathing life back into its downtown. If you want a Texas steakhouse experience, the Cattleman east of El Paso is a place to try. And I have to agree with pickypicky that West Texas/Big Bend country is more interesting and more congenial than urban Texas. I was just there and would return to West Texas (the oil patch excepted) in a heartbeat.
With the route you're taking, you will be hard pressed not to go through El Paso and Las Cruces. I agree with Claire, and highly recommend Cattlemen's at Indian Cliffs Ranch in Fabens, a bit east of El Paso. You can preview it here:
If you are traveling in a camper and have a refrigerator, I highly recommend the Cowboy T-bone. It's highly unlikely you'll be able to finish it, but it makes fantastic steak sandwiches for later. I usually eat the fillet side, then take the strip steak home. On Sundays and holidays, they usually have a cowboy on horseback (from the ranch) on duty in the parking lot to help people find parking or their cars. I know. It sounds "touristy," but it is real bona fide Texas beef that will live in your memory for the rest of your life. Trust me!
I used to recommend some of the restaurants in Juarez, Mexico, but not any more. Stay away! The open and on-going drug war makes it a very dangerous place to visit. Well, unless y ou have a flack jacket and live on adrenaline rushes. If you want to visit Mexico, go someplace else. If you're going as far as San Diego, I highly recommend Tijuana, and don't miss Chiki Jai restaurant, across from the Fronton Palace on Avenida Revolucion. Some Mexican food but famous for their excellent Spanish and Basque food. (Most jai alai players are Basque, and they cater to them). The prices are extremely moderate, and the place is full of celebrity ghosts from many decades past. (Don't know if they still do, but they used to bring a basket of hot bolillos (mini French bread) and a bowl of blue cheese to your table as soon as you were seated. One time the cheese was simply outstanding and I had visions of the caves of France, so I asked the waitress if it was imported. She checked with the chef... "Si, imported! It's Borden's, from San Diego!) Plus Tijuana is a free port with great duty free imports from all over the world. But I'm way ahead of myself.
Back to west Texas and New Mexico. If you like history and good Mexican food all rolled up into one, then "La Posta" in Mesilla, New Mexico (very near Las Cruces) is a good choice. You can preview it here:)
I've been in a rut for years! I always always always order the Banquette Elegante from the specialties menu. It's the ONLY way you can get a serving of their camotes Jalisco, their version of Mexican yams. The place used to be a stop for the Butterfield Stage, and was frequented by such celebrities as Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa. While you're in Mesilla, don't miss the historic town square, and there are some interesting shops. For authentic souvenirs, you can't go wrong with a couple of jars of jalapeno jelly, or a ristra (a long string of dried red chiles that are good for cooking, if not chemically preserved, or just pretty hanging in your kitchen or beside the front door.
You're also very near Hatch, New Mexico. It is still the world capitol of chile growers, but financial and environmental issues seem bent on curtailing that. They have a chile festival you can Google. This is also a good place to pick up ristras (if the season is right) and a case or two of canned chiles to take or ship home.
In Las Cruces, there is an annual "Whole Enchilada Fiesta" that is fun because they really do go after the Guinness record every year by trying to make the world's largest ever enchilada! Oops! Sorry. You just missed it. http://www.enchiladafiesta.com/
If you have time for a side trip up a mountain, as you leave Las Cruces heading north toward Albuquerque, take the road to Cloud Croft and Ruidoso (Which is pronounced "roo-uh-DOE-suh" by the natives because Texans and New Mexicans can't pronounce Spanish unless they're Mexican!) are well worth your time. They are absolutely atypical of what people think of when they think "New Mexico." High altitude (they're actually in part of the Great Rocky Mountains chain) and breathtaking pine forests!
Ruidoso is home stomping grounds to the Mescalero Apache, and they have built an incredible resort there called "Inn of the Mountain Gods." But imo, they're kind of trashing it up with the damned casino. If it snows early this year and you're into skiing, there are some pretty good trails at Ski Apache, just outside Ruidoso, also a Mescalero enterprise. There is a saying in the New Mexico Pueblos (and you can visit them all up around Albuquerque) that goes something like "Navajo make blankets Zuni make silver, Mescalero make money." And it's true. They make so much money that if you can prove you have at least a specific proportion of Mescalero genes, you get a portion of their annual income.
Lincoln, New Mexico, is also up there, the scene of the Lincoln County War, and stomping ground of Billy the Kid and the Regulators. I think the Wortley Hotel, an important part of the Lincoln County War, is still operational.
Also to see while up the mountain is the Sun Spot Observatory, if you're into science and the study of the sun. The Lodge in Cloudcroft is an old Victorian extravaganza that is so very picturesque sitting in the high pine forest, and there is a pretty good restaurant inside too, purportedly named after their resident ghost..
My daughter and son in law did their Murder Mystery Weekend a year or so ago and enjoyed it.
And while you're in the area, White Sands National Monument is worth seeing. It's all snow white gypsum sand arranged in high dunes by the wind. I assume it's still possible to rent surf boards with the bottom fin removed and surf down some of the dunes! If you're truly into geologically interesting things, there are some great huge lava beds in this part of southern New Mexico. Some you have to hike into, some not so much. The lava is all cold now, but hey, it's a lot closer than Hawaii!
It's pretty hard to get bad food in these areas unless you go to fast food places. There are some upscale places that are great, and then there is a plethora of small family owned (usually Mexican food) cafes that all have delicious food. As a rule of thumb, New Mexican food is usually hotter than Texas Mexican food, so if you suffer from "Gringo mouth," proceed with caution.
Have a great trip!
I'm a native Houstonian, and love my hometown, but I don't recommend it for people coming to experience "Texas". It's a great place to live, with fabulous restaurants of all nationalities, genres, and price brackets, but (or maybe because of this) there really isn't any "Houston"-specific cuisine. And as for sights to see, we don't have a lot of historical sights or other attractions. I lived in Dallas 4 years for university, and what I said for Houston goes for Dallas too.
For big cities, I recommend San Antonio and Fort Worth. Austin would be slightly lower priority than these two. As far as sights go, in San Antonio I HIGHLY recommend renting or borrowing (or buying cheap second-hand) bikes and biking the Mission trail, a series of 18th century Spanish missions. A large part of your ride will take you through nice parkland along a pretty river. The Spanish Governor's mansion in downtown, and the mexican market are cool, too. A fun place to go for tex-mex in San Antonio is La Fogata. Romantic patio, great margaritas, good food. Watch your belongings, the neighborhood is prone to car breakins, though.
Fort Worth has a beautiful downtown and true texas character for a big city. A genuine foodie spot I can recommend is Lonesome Dove. Tim Love is nationally known for his upscale Urban Western cuisine.
For barbecue, there are 4 texas styles. The east texas/urban african american style, with pork, ribs, and sweet sauce. One of the best places to try that is NEw Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville Texas. Yes, it's a church, but they also sell barbecue. Another great place to go is Stubb's in Austin, especially for their Gospel Brunch on Sundays, when reservations are essential.
Another style is the central texas/hill country style barbecue, which is derived from the German meat market tradition immigrants brought over in the 1840s. No sauce, no sides, just well-smoked meat like pork loin, beef shoulder, and prime rib. Those who told you to go to Lockhart were steering you in the right direction. They are also right to recommend Kreuz and Smitty's. The barbecue is comparable at both (two branches of the same family own them), but Kreuz is in a brand-new building, while Smitty's is in a 100 year old building with real character. Black's is good too.
Cowboy style barbecue is another style, and a great place to go for that is Cooper's in Llano, outside of Austin.
The final style is south texas mexican barbecoa - which is a whole cow head wrapped in wet maguey leaves and cooked until the meat falls apart. IT's also where lengua (tongue) tacos come from. I can't recommend a specific place, but a lot of mexican taquerias and carnicerias serve it.
Nevada is great if you get up (a long way) to Elko and Winnemucca. You'll find great Basque restaurants like the Star in Elko and the Winnemucca Hotel. In Las Vegas, visit the downtown hotels (the cheaper and run down ones) early for breakfast and do some people watching. Actually Golden Gate at the head of Fremont is my favorite counter for breakfast. The cook there has been there for ever and knows his stuff.
Stay at the Gage Hotel in Marathon TX. Not bad food but GREAT train watching (ear plugs provided in rooms).
Pink Adobe in Santa Fe NM is popular but a classic, especially off-season on a cold rainy or snowy night.
Take a side trip to Ojinaga Mexico. A safe border town (one of the few) across from Presidio TX. There is a wonderful "goat buffet" restaurant that will make the trip worthwhile. But any place will be exotic. If you venture out of town towards Chihuahua there was (on my visits) a guy with a big black kettle cooking cracklin's by the road.
Big Bend must be seen. Chinati Hot Springs nearby is worth a visit if they are open (gate open). Don't be put off by the similarities to the Manson Compound :-) Enjoy a soak.
Big Bend is a must see. It goes from desert to ponderosa pine trees in the mountains and has awesome vistas. I've been to Ojinaga, but never eaten there. It is safe, as is Nuevo Progresso down by McAllen, check out Arturo's for real margaritas, not the swill most places serve in the US. The crime in border towns is almost always drug on drug dealer crime, having said that, I would not go out at night alone, stick to groups, much as you would in any city that you are not familiar with.