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Jul 18, 2012 01:05 PM

Visiting From Los Angeles

Hi CHers,

I'll be visiting Houston from LA between July 26th and 29th, and I was hoping I could get some recs

Of course my first thought is toward things we don't have much of in LA (hard to think of much we don't have!) and of course the first thing that came to mind was Tex-Mex. So any T-M recs would be great.

Also, I know Texas is brisket-land as far as BBQ goes, and brisket is my favorite BBQ item so I'd love to hear who you think makes it best. If you can think of anything else distinctly Texan or Houstonian that would be great.

Other things I'd like recs for are:

GREAT Biryani (preferably with lamb or goat.)

Authentic Mexican (especially things like birria or barbacoa)

Good Creole if it exists in Houston (it doesn't in LA, to my knowledge)

Thanks, hounds!

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  1. We just had a thread on T-M fare you should check out for some good back and forth. Look for the thread by muleriders. I stick by my rec there but I think one we missed in that whole thread was Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen, just named in a Chronicle/29-95/poll as best by readers choice.

    It's late and my head is pounding so I'm going to skip getting into bbq right now ;) but others will be along to opine soon, I'm sure.

    Biryani - Himalaya on Hillcroft @ 59 in the Mahatma Gandhi district. You'll find lots on this board and other review sites on the restaurant, mostly favorable tho some have had bad experiences with the somewhat quirky owner. Really can't go wrong with anything there as far as I'm concerned.

    Tons of good choices for authentic Mexican but for birria the absolute best is Trudis Birria de Chivo on Beechnut at Bissonnet on the SW side. Snout to tail cookery and birria is all they serve and only on weekend mornings. See a thread from several years ago on this board (or maybe still on the Texas board) that I started and here is a link to a post on my blog from a year and a half ago:


    Trudis has never managed to get listed on Yelp, Urbanspoon or our local site,

    Eater Houston has just named the barbacoa at Gerardos on Patton one of Houston's 20 most iconic dishes. I've never had anything bad at Gerardo's but I can't remember ever trying the barbacoa and I think there are several other fine versions around. If I was going all the way up to Gerardo's I'd go on a weekend morning for the borrego which they make with both lamb and goat. Look for an old review by former Houston Press reviewer Robb Walsh who discovered the place.

    Creole/Cajun??? which do you mean or do you use the terms interchangeably?? Creole - more upscale cuisine of NOLA - we have a Brennan's here and several on this board have been much more recently than I. Cajun, more down-home fare of SW Louisiana - we have many and opinions vary a lot; I feel about Cajun the same way I am about Tex Mex, which is I find it rather boring after so many years of eating it and I seldom do any more so I'm going to have to leave the recs to others.

    1. I second Bruce's recommendation for biriani at Himalaya. You won't find better.

      I have a soft spot for the following two places for Louisiana style food: BB's on White Oak and Esther's Soul Food on Yale.

      Gatlin's is well thought of for barbecue brisket though it is too salty for my personal taste.

      I am not a fan of the mesquite barbecue at Goode Co. but as a visitor to Houston I would say, "yes" you've got to have at least one meal at Goode Co. on Kirby. If you are in town on a Friday night you will have real taste of an old fashioned Texas honky tonk for live music, burgers, shuffleboard and pool at Blanco's on West Alabama. I always take my out of town guests here on a Friday night. I also always take them to Tampico Seafood on Airline for the snapper a la parilla.

      1. Reporting back:

        Had the BBQ brisket and sausage links at Gatlin's, it was awesome! Everything was great except I asked them to throw some burnt ends in there if they had them and they were totally dried out and didn't appear to be from the right part of the brisket. But the sliced stuff was outstanding and the links were very good as well. All the sides were excellent too.

        Had the biryani at Himalaya. Sadly, this was very mediocre.

        Finally, we went to Sammy's Wild Game Grill or whatever it was called. I had the pulled boar sandwich and the python chili fries, the sandwich was very good but the fries didn't really have much chili. Overall it was a fun stop though.

        Had a good time and the food was overall good. Thanks for the help!

        10 Replies
        1. re: BrewNChow

          Thanks for the report.

          But, here's a tip regarding barbecue that you can tuck away for your next visit to Texas.

          You say that the burnt ends were "totally dried out and didn't appear to be from the right part of the brisket."

          Having lived in both Texas and Missouri (and just coincidentally, also in your neck of the woods, Southern California, just outside of LA), I'm very familiar with the Kansas City style of "burnt ends" vs Texas.

          Indeed, some years back, I had quite a long chat about this with LC of LC's Bar-B-Q, a well-known joint in Kansas City, and he confirmed what I basically had figured out on my own, and that is that to make the "burnt ends," after the whole brisket is smoked, they remove the deckle, or point, or "fat cap," or whatever you want to call it. They trim it a bit, then chop it into the bite-sized chunks that you're familiar with, and then put those chunks back into the heat to crisp them up.

          In Texas, we slice that part of the brisket for folks that order their sliced brisket "wet."

          Up in Kansas City & environs, when you order your sliced brisket "wet" or "off of the high side," they are usually so unfamiliar with that concept that they don't really know what you're asking for. And if you explain it clearly, they tell you that the deckle has already been removed and either chopped up for the chopped brisket for sandwiches (or to add to the baked beans or something), or chopped into the bite-sized chunks for the burnt ends.

          In Texas, the reverse is true. Many Texas joints are not even that familiar with exactly what burnt ends are, and since the deckle/fat cap is so popular sliced down here, they're not about to remove it and chop it all up.

          Of course, I'm speaking in complete generalities, and I'm sure you could always find a Texas joint that does chop up the deckle and serve it up as burnt ends, although I can't recall ever having them down here, or, for that matter, even seeing "burnt ends" on a Texas BBQ menu.

          And somewhere there probably is a Midwest BBQ joint that slices the fat cap along with the flat of the brisket, although I never found that, either. And I did a LOT of looking during my several years living up there. If you want your brisket "wet" up there, you have to order the burnt ends.

          So I'm pretty sure you're right when you say that you think the burnt ends "didn't appear to be from the 'right' part of the brisket." In fact, they might even have been actual "burnt ends" from a different part. Next time you're in Texas, if you want the "right part" of the brisket that you had hoped to get, don't order "burnt ends." Just ask for your brisket to be sliced "off the high side."

          That's the deckle/point/fat cap/wet/moist/loose/fatty, etc., part of the brisket that you're probably looking for.

          1. re: Jaymes

            I went to Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City two years ago, and was totally unimpressed. I got a sliced beef sandwich, and burnt ends. The burnt ends tasted like yesterday's BBQ, and the sandwich was not good, I just couldn't get past the assembly line, electric slicer style of cooking. I think this explains the lack of a wet brisket. The sauce was good, but seriously, who needs sauce? This was a Sunday noonish, before a Royal's game when the BBQ should be at it's best.

            1. re: James Cristinian

              I will say that at least LC doesn't do that, although that is something I saw frequently up there. Hard as it is for Texans to imagine, it's pretty common for them to smoke the brisket, trim the flat substantially (including not only the fat, but the bark and much of the smoke ring), chill it, and then put the chilled flat into an electric slicer and slice it so thinly as to be almost shaved. I found out why after I managed to talk the folks at our neighborhood 'cue joint into saving a non-shaved chunk for me. They were quite puzzled, but I told them that I wanted to take it home and hand-slice it myself, rather than have their machine do it. That turned out to be a mistake because it was so tough that I couldn't eat it. It needed to be shaved. They just hadn't smoked it long enough.

              A brisket that has been properly smoked, Texas style, has to be hand-sliced. It's so tender that it would just fall apart in an electric slicer.

              After I figured that out, I stopped ordering sliced beef. I'd get the burnt ends (deckle), or ribs or the pulled pork. The sausage ranged from mediocre to bad to (most-often) non-existent.

              And you can't get "wet" sliced brisket up there because that's the deckle, and the first thing they do after smoking the brisket is to take off the deckle and use it for something else, like those burnt ends. I never ever found it to be a choice to have "wet" sliced brisket.

              And, not only that, but a great many of those cue joints up there never even get the whole brisket, including deckle, in the first place. They just order and smoke the lean trimmed flats.

              I was driving back and forth to Kansas/Missouri from Texas a lot in those days, so I just started taking whole smoked briskets back north with me.

              1. re: Jaymes

                That electric thin sliced brisket was so uniform in texture to the point of being bizarre. I hope that style never catches on down here. I liked the bbq sauce put on the fries, but again, who needs sauce, and especially fries with bbq. To me and many others, it's not about sides. I just don't understand all the national love they get.

            2. re: Jaymes

              Very good info. Like I said, the slices of brisket were fantastic, best I've ever had in my life and that was basically the thing I was looking forward to most. Those slices of brisket made the whole trip.

              If you guys are ever in southern california hopefully I can return the favor and guide you to some good eats down here!

              1. re: BrewNChow

                Have you tried Bigmista's BBQ in the LA area? He's one of ours who transplanted to LA. Look him up. His Q has been reviewed too many times to count, but here's one:


                1. re: Lambowner

                  Haven't had the chance. He's only at farmer's markets and he doesn't even really have a regular schedule so he's hard to track down. I've definitely been meaning to; he's on my radar.

                  I've had some of the other well regarded BBQ joints in LA like Bludso's and a handful of others, but Bigmista's is definitely more known for brisket than the others. Most of the brisket I've had in LA has ranged from mediocre to good but not great, not like I had at Gatlin's. I'll hit up BM's soon, hopefully he delivers.

                2. re: BrewNChow

                  BrewNChow, no ribs? I've only been once, but the ribs and brisket were delicious. I'm curious about the wait. The time I went it was border line unacceptable, considering there was only one other person and myself there. How was the wait and what time of day was it? My wait was over twenty minutes for two to go boxes (one for each of us), for two customers with four employees. Thanks.

                  1. re: James Cristinian

                    Wait was about ten to fifteen minutes, went Friday for lunch around 1pm. There were maybe four other people there and only one person ahead of us in line. Not too bad.

                    No ribs this time. Between the sausage and the brisket, we had a lot of food for the two of us. Plus, it's a lot easier to get great ribs out here in Cali than it is to get good brisket, and I'm more of a brisket man anyway.

                    I'm sure those ribs are great, but if you told me they were the best ribs on the planet I'd still probably go for another pound of that brisket first. You're lucky to have that place in your backyard.

              2. re: BrewNChow

                Sorry about the biryani. I personally prefer the chicken but the owner and most foodies insist the other.

                Glad you found Sammy's. About the only place I go on Washington but I only recently had the python chili on the fries. A waste of pretty good chili, if you ask me. I wish he'd serve his game chilis in a bowl. I think the various sausage dogs are better than the pulled wild boar bbq.