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Southeast Texas Trek and King's Ranch

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My husband and I are about to take a trip through southeast Texas (leaving on the 16th) -- starting from New Orleans, where we live, to Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Laredo, along and across the border, Brownsville, and back up the coast through or past Corpus Christi, Galveston, and passing through Houston again on the way home. I've gathered a lot of ideas from the board and other sources about the barbecue area around Austin, and apart from that we will be zeroing in on the most authentic Mexican we can find, since there is a total lack of that in New Orleans and we are in dire need of some Vitamin M. We have pretty good antennae for Mexican food joints, but would appreciate suggestions for anything we shouldn't miss. I have posted before on this board about our adoration of the Arandas chain in the Houston area, and I'm sure there are lots of others all along the route.

My mother tells me that she and my father used to visit that area around 20 years ago and they used to like a restaurant in or near Kingsville that was run by the King's Ranch. Is it still there? Is it worth a visit?

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  1. If you are looking for some great Mexican food to start your trip, make a run for the border... the Texas border that is. Elena's in Beaumont is a fantastic must have. It is easy to get to. Exit College off of I-10 and take a left headed east for 2 miles. Elena's is on the right. There is no such thing as a bad meal there. It'll make for a great start, and end, to your trip!
    Elena's Mexican Restaurant (409) 832-1203
    1865 College St, Beaumont, TX 77701

    1. Try El Jardin in Kingsville. Breakfast at the Hi-Ho in Corpus Christi is a must. The Hi-Ho is a Tex-Mex restaurant and something of a well-kept secret. It's really hard to find on any of those restaurant searches.

      Joe Cottons has a big rep for BBQ near Corpus Christi. It's really good.

      In Corpus Christi, just look for a converted Dairy Queen with hand-painted signs that say things like "TAQUITOS" or "SUNDAY-BARBACOA" and I'm sure you've found the right place. You did say you were good at finding good Mexican, right?

      I've never been to any of the Arandas restaurants you mention, but you might try one of the Taqueria Jalisco's around town.

      (By the way, I'm writing from Boston, but I was born and raised in CC,TX.)

      If you're going to be in Austin, try Fonda San Miguel which is really authentic Mexican food. Interior Mexican food. The dishes are really revelatory. Diane Kenedy is a consultant there from what I understand. You won't find chips and salsa at this restaurant. They have a knock-out Sunday brunch for $30.

      1 Reply
      1. re: raj1

        Thanks! I found a web site for El Jardin. If the food is as good as the menu looks, I want to move in! Sweetbread tacos, oh my gosh!! I also found an article about the Hi Ho, which looks promising. Also thanks for the other Chowhound's suggestion below for Mexican in Beaumont -- we will try to work that one in on our way to Houston.

        Link: http://www.eljardinkingsville.com/

      2. Don't forget El Rincon de Viello (sp?) in Nuevo Laredo, John Mueller's 'cue in Austin, Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Enchiladas y Mas on Anderson Lane (MAJOR vitamin M), pass on Fonda San Miguel (pricing is ridiculous), Gaido's in Galveston, and check out the Texas Monthly reviews for South Texas. I know Carter catches heck for mentioning these, but for South Texas, they're dead on.

        1. The Taqueria Jalisco chain of restaurants in this area is HORRIBLE, so if you see one (which im sure you will), keep on driving,... trust me, you'll find something better a few more miles down the road.

          1. The King's Inn in Kingsville is excellent. It has absolutely fresh gulf seafood served family style. Get the shrimp, oysters, and Bombay salad. The avocado salad is super, too. Get both! The last time we were there, we asked for the fried black drum. We were told they had just run out. Ten minutes later, our waitress told us some had just been delivered, right off the boat. It was, with question, the finest fried fish I have ever eaten, and I've eaten a lot. Get it. Also, the restaurant is famous for its tartar sauce. It is unique, and delicious.

            1. I can second Elana's in Beaumont. I don't make it to Beaumont often, and don't want to go any more than I have to, but it's a good place to eat. If you're tire of Mexican, there is a cafe right across the street from the Federal Court house that has good home cooking. For the life of me, I can't remember the name of it right now, but it's half a block up on a street just across from the Federal Courthouse in downtown Beaumont. Nice folks and good food.

              But on to the more interesting recommendation. When in Galveston recently, we couldn't decide whether to eat lunch there on in Houston, so we started to head out of town. shortly thereafter, and before really hitting the road, my girlfriend announced that she was hungry after all and that she wanted to eat. Almost at the very moment, we passed a sign for downtown Galveston. Knowing that Galveston had an active Federal Courthouse downtown, I figured that there would be some place near the courthouse to eat, so I turned right one block past the sigh. Good decision.

              Shortly we came upon a building that boldly advertised Galveston's "best soul food" on it's outside walls. I would have passed it by without a second look for it's arrogance were it not for one thing -- the long line of folks (mostly black) lined up out the door.

              The restaurant is located at 2602 Ball St. and it is, very likely, Galveston's best soul food. And it's best sea food gumbo. You absolutely must eat here. And don't come full. Come famished. And get the gumbo. It's has crab claws hanging out of the bowl and is enough for lunch. But don't stop there. I also got smother pork chops and two vegetables, each tastier than the last. The gumbo as the star, but it was all good. Simp's is a great find. Period.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Mike C. Miller

                The best chicken fried steak Ive ate is at Kellys in La-marque on hwy45 you get a steak that almost covers the plate plus 3 veg, and all for about 8 bucks

              2. Another option for Mexican food in Beaumont- Carmelo's on Calder- very good Tamales and Fajitas

                Soul food- Richard's on College not too far from Elena's
                Upscale Soul Food- Suga's is downtown it had a Jazz bar upstairs. It is a good place for a night on the town.
                Expensive Dining- Bryan's 797
                BBQ- Patillo's or Broussard's (This BBQ is closer in style to Southern BBQ than Texas BBQ.) Neither are as good as Lockhart or Luling.

                There are three cheap Italian places that are owned by some brothers, New York Pizza on Calder, Joe's Italian on Dowlen, and Frankie's on I-10

                The place across from the Courthouse was the Quality Cafe, and unfortunately it did not survive Hurricane Rita. It was fantastic if you knew how to order, and the atmosphere and hospitality was off the charts. It had the best club sandwich I have ever had, and the House Dressing was unbelievable. The fressing lives on as Leo's Italian Dressing and is sold and carried at every Jason's Deli. For some reason, the bottled version, though very good, does come near meeting the fresh version served at the restaurant.

                Galveston- Rudy y Pacos is excellent but expensive (though not overpriced)

                Lockhart- Smitty's, Blacks, or Kreutz's (in that order IMO) but you can't go wrong.

                Luling- City Market

                Oakville- (between Corpus and SA on 37) there is a place called the Historical Oakville Mercantile that has one of the best burger's in the state. Homemade bun (out of this world), nice thick flavorful patty

                Hillje- Between Houston and Corpus- Prasek's Hillje Smokehouse- Buy the turkey jerkey.

                Border- Piedras Negras- Moderno's- Moderno's is very old school. Waiter's in tuxes, an off track betting room, the best margarita made in a restaurant (on the rocks). Get the Cabrito and Bananas Foster for desert. Warning- Margaritas more potent than you realize.

                The restaurant in Kingsville is the King's Inn. I ate there when I was about 14 and all I remember is that I liked it and the fried fish was black drum.

                2 Replies
                1. re: El General

                  Thanks, El General, for the suggestion to try the burgers at Oakville Mercantile & Country Burgers [exit 65 off IH-37, between Corpus and San Antonio]. I stopped in recently and had an "Oakville Country burger," which was very good. The thin, rectangular, homemade bun was made of a sweet, white dough. The hand-shaped meat patty was made of flavorful ground beef; it was thick, but of a small diameter. As a result, the larger bun tended to overwhelm the patty, and you may end up, like I did, with all bun and no meat for the last 1/4 of the burger. Burgers come dressed with the classic-Texan works: shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, onions, sliced dill pickles, mayo, and mustard. Cheese (American) is $.30 extra. Bacon is also available, for a charge.

                  If you order the combo, you get good seasoned fries or onion rings and a fountain drink or iced tea. The fries are battered and are zestier than they are spicy; they are square-cut and of irregular lengths. The rings are made with a thick, sweet batter that clung well to the medium-thick slices of sweet white onions. The batter was cooked through; the onion slices themselves were tender; and overall, the battered rings had a good crunch to them. I think I preferred the fries, but that may be because the bun itself was so sweet. Thus, I preferred the flavor contrast offered by the french-fry seasoning.

                  Besides burgers, the menu includes hot dogs, chili dogs, corn dogs, chicken strips or nuggets, grilled chicken or cheese sandwiches, one salad, and a Black Angus steak. The atmosphere is casual. A few tables are set up in the middle of the small-town market/convenience store, which makes it easy to pick up a few extra items for the road. The lady cooking the burgers was efficient and friendly. After she cooked a few burgers, she took a break to have lunch at a table with her family, who had come in to meet her for lunch.

                  The burgers here are definitely worth a stop if you're taking this route on I-37. Thanks again for the tip, El G.

                  1. re: MPH

                    I enjoyed the Oakville Country Burger again this weekend, and darned if it wasn't even better the second time around. On this visit, the sweet homemade white bun contained torn pieces of fresh jalapeño. The touch of spiciness added a welcome complexity to the old-fashioned burger and standard toppings. Even the meat patty was bigger this time; it was a perfect fit with the bun. The result was a delicious, quick meal—with friendly service to boot.

                2. In Corpus, Snoopy's is kind of an institution for a seafood fix, right on the water. If you are tempted to cross the rio grande for a bit of the genuine vitamin M article, go for Matamoros. Nuevo Laredo is is a huge "don't even think about it". It is so dangerous presently.

                  1. Quite a roadtrip!
                    Galveston: The Original for Mexican, or for something different but truly great, try the Mosquito Cafe...yum.

                    I second Hillje and Prasek's Smokehouse. Their cinnamon chocolate cake is also divine.

                    Houston: Pappasitos's for Mexican