SF Chowhounder needs help with upcoming Texas trip
My Texan husband is trying to convince me we should retire in Texas so he's taking me to visit friends in Houston, Round Top and Austin. One of my most important retirement factors: "Is there good eating?" So please help out my husband and your state economy and tell me where I should eat. It goes without saying I want the best BBQ and fried chicken and Mexican restaurants but don't want to limit myself. I also want to make sure I can food shop--I love Whole Foods but it is pretty pricey--where else should I grocery shop? We'll also do a little neighborhood research in and around Austin so any recommendations appreciated here too.
Shopping: Central Market on Westheimer/Wesleyan. Must go see the Spec's liquor store - downtown location. They have a huge selection of wines, liquors and gourmet food without haughty service.
Food: Save your Bar-B-Que cravings for the Austin area. You will find many posts below on Austin-area BBQ, as well as Houston-area. For fried chicken, try This Is It soulfood restauarant downtown, West Gray, just west of Bagby. Look below for Mexican and Tex-Mex recommendations. When you come to Houston from SF, you should definitely eat Vietnamese and Cajun food - see recs below.
Good luck on your retirement hunt.
Here are some of my thoughts (with plenty of help from this board). As an additional resource, you'll probably find the restaurant sections of the local free weeklies beneficial.
Houston Press: http://www.houstonpress.com/issues/cu...
Austin Chronicle: http://www.austinchronicle.com/curren...
Houston (with my usual disclaimer of not having been there in a while so call first):
Fusion Cafe is a nice combination of Caribbean, Cajun, and Southern food (including fried chicken). I hear they have a location in the Rice Village now as well as their old place on Main Street.
My favorite Tex-Mex place in Houston is the Taqueria Cancun group of 5 restaurants. I go to the one at 59 and Gessner (or it may be Bissonet). Everything is great there, but the shrimp quesadilla and beef enchiladas in brown sauce are stunning. If you have a delicate hearty, beware, though as this is not health food.
As mentioned, 'cue in Austin is much better, but if for some reason you don't get to any there, Good Company Barbecue at Kirby/59 does a pretty good job though their kitsch factor is pretty high.
Speaking of Goode Company, Goode Company Seafood (close to 59/Kirby on Westpark) is my favorite place in Houston and the one place I try to get to every time I'm in Houston. It has three influences that are distinctly Houston: Cowboy, Cajun, and Mexican. There mesquite grilled catfish po-boy with pico de gallo is a winner. Their best item is their take on the campachana (Mexican seafood cocktail). Order it, and you might actually have thoughts of living in Houston.
This is getting long, so I'll be quick. If you want to sample Asia, Hillcroft/59 is the area for Indian, Bellaire/Beltway 8 is Chinese, Midtown (Main between 59 & 45) for Vietnamese. Thai is a bit harder to find, but the Rice Village has 3-4 good places-- I like Thai Spice best.
If you are looking for upscale dining, Houston has that covered. Cafe Annie is the perennial favorite. I'm a big fan of Mark's and Scott Chen's, and I hear Aries is great.
I seem to recall reading about a really great spice shop in Houston (maybe downtown), but don't remember much else. Perhaps somebody else remembers?
Probably the best covered Texas city on chowhound, so I'll keep this shorter.
For barbecue, Kreuz is usually everybody's 1 or 2. In Austin, itself John Mueller's has just opened and become an instant favorite. If you are out enjoying the beautiful Hill Country and its wildflowers, you should stop off in Llano for Coopers.
For Tex-Mex, I've never heard a bad word about Las Manitas downtown. I'm a big fan of Taqueria Arrandas on Burnet above Koenig. I've also enjoyed Evitas Bonnitas (sp?) dishes and their 5-6 complimentary salsas before the meal. Make sure you get a breakfast taco. I frequent Taco Shack on Spicewood Springs, but there are other Shack locations and I hear Taco Xpress is good, but haven't gotten there.
Down home food is a bit harder to find. Gene's Po-Boys is a chowhound favorite serving Southern/Cajun food. Their roast-beef sandwich is gooey-excellence. I've also had a good meal at Dot's in the northern part of town. Some like Hoover's, but I haven't been there.
For Asian food, Austin pales compared to Houston. Tam's Deli & Cafe and Sunflower Restaurant have their defenders on this board for Vietenmese. For Indian, Sarovar has pretty good Northern dishes while Madras Pavillion has great Southern. For Thai, Madame Mam's on the Drag is excellent, and I've also found dishes at Satay (more of a SW Asia place) to be great. I've found no Chinese to recommend.
Upscale eating, currently being discussed in another thread, Emilia, Jeffreys, Mirabelle/Castle Hill and maybe Zoot have been mentioned.
For food shopping, Austin is an good city. The original Central Market has most everything I've ever looked for. Their cheese selection has to be the best in Texas. There are also a fair number of decent Asian groceries in the 183/Lamar area. Also, while I've never searched for them, I'm sure there are Mexican groceries in the area. There are several bakeries in town with Upper Crust popping to my mind the first.
Nope, I'm not Carter B. Smith...
I forget to give links to three really good threads on Austin food that you've probably read, but I should have mentioned anyway:
A New Yorker in Austin (wrap) (June '01):
favorite individual dishes in Austin (Sept. '01):
New York Hounds Passing Through Austin (Dec. '01):
Here's a couple of thoughts on Houston: The Houston Press will be a very helpful site. Peruse their "best of 2001" feature for ideas. Robb Walsh, the restaurant critic, recently did a review of fried chicken places; also a recent feature on Texas crab houses; and I think it was he who did a feature on Central Market's opening suggesting they'd face different competitive pressures here because of the profusion of ethnic markets which will give you an idea of shopping. Should be able to pull any of those up with "search." I'm more of a chowhound than a foodie, so I haven't even been to Central Market yet.
I've read Houston has a bigger Chinatown than anyplace outside SF. Like all civic claims, that probably deserves to be taken with a grain of salt. Chinatown is downtown around Enron Field; there's a large neighborhood along Bellaire between 59 and Beltway 8 where street signs are in Chinese and oriental supermarkets and stores abound - not just mom-and-pop shops, supermarkets. A sizeable neighborhood in mid-town Hou has Vietnamese street signs and lots of restaurants, shops.
You also might peruse http://www.b4-u-eat.com, a local site something like this with Jay Francis' ethnic market and restaurant guide. It's one man's opinion, dated and not terribly well organized, but it'll give you some ideas. Hou undoubtedly has groceries/restaurants representing virtually every Central and most South American cuisines and every Oriental culture, also.
'Cue? I think there are over 700 joints; I'm reserving judgment! I will agree Goode Co. has an extremely high kitsch factor. I like Goode Co. Seafood, one of my fav seafood places; I hate the taqueria. I like Otto's for sentimental reasons, still, Luling City Market on Richmond, and Pappas. I get a pound of sliced beef, sauce on the side, and slaw, yams, limas, etc. and I'm good for a couple of days, but I'm a little biased since it's only a couple of blocks from my home. And don't forget Dozier's in Fulshear. Walsh also recently did a very informative piece on bbq styles.
I think the local alternative to Whole Foods, Ye Seekers, I think it was, has gone out of business, but there may still be one up in Spring Branch; most of the Kroger Signature stores carry some organic produce, so that provides a little alternative.
Sounds like a fun trip.
Seems folks have covered Houston pretty well for you and the old threads deal with Austin dining reasonably well, so I'll cover the groceries here in Austin. This is a very good town for groceries, especially considering size. Whole Foods is headquartered here, so obviously they have stores.
Even better, IMO, is Central Market, which you should realy take the time to visit either here or in Houston. It should do a lot to allay your fears. Since the Central Market stores started here in Austin, I think we've got the best of the lot, naturally.
There's a couple of Fiesta supermarkets in town which cater more to the Hispanic and ethnic markets.
Obviously there are numerous small Hispanic stores and bakeries. Haven't yet found a really good tortillaria (at least close). I can think of 3 Indian groceries, numerous Asian markets, mostly Korean and Vietnamese run (though not in the same league as say a 99 Ranch), one of the best butcher shops I've ever bought meat from. There's a good middle eastern grocery.
Most of these are centrally located, so you don't have to spend too much time zooming around. In general I've been able to find most of the strange foods I crave (still working on a place that makes fresh tofu).
Finally, there's probably more, but I can't remember them.
David "Zeb" Cook
re: Jim Wilkerson
I don't know which one Zeb's referring to, but The Meat Shop on Peyton Gin near Lamar, ages and cuts INCREDIBLE prime beef. They also sell a fantastic , locally raised beef from Japanese blood lines that is similar to Kobe beef. These guys sell to Charlie Trotter's, The French Laundry, etc. Meat good.