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Not only my first time in Houston, but my first time in Texas

I've spent the last couple of hours reading through CH posts for Houston and I'm finding all the 'first timer' and 'best' lists a little too international. I'm currently working in the Middle East (Dubai) and I travel a lot to India, Asia and Europe. I don't want to eat any of those cuisines in Houston when I'm there for only four days at the beginning of December. I want to 'taste' Houston, to get a feeling of what Texas (at least that part of Texas) has to offer in terms of local cuisine.

I feel I should be looking for barbecue, Tex-Mex, maybe some Gulf seafood. But is there a Texan cuisine that can be sampled? (What did multi-generation-locals grow up eating?)

Any guidance, or suggestions in any of these categories would be greatly appreciated!

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  1. Well cajun isn't quite Houston but it's close. You can get lunch at Treebeards mon-fri. Cafeteria style service - cheap and cheerful. In the tunnels at 1100 Lousiana

    1. Danton's would be a good choice for gulf seafood. Gatlin's has a good reputation for barbecue, but I have heard the wait can be extremely long, so it may not be easy to check out. I'm a fan of the platinum margaritas and crab quesadilla at El Tiempo. For more traditional Mexican food, Hugo's is great. Are you going to be in a particular part of the city?

      1. I will agree with Danton's if you are looking for Gulf Coast Seafood. Very good and traditional. Too many places in Houston have gone to more of a Cajun style while Danton's stays with what they do best. My favorite on their menu is their Crabmeat au gratin although last time we were there some friends of ours got either the trout or flounder and said it was the best they had ever had.

        I personally am not a big fan of El Tiempo. I like El Patio as my traditional tex-mex. There is always the Original Ninfa's on Navigation. Or find the closest Pappasito's. Tends to be overpriced but portions are big and there is a reason they always pack them in.

        A lot of it depends on the area of town you are going to be staying, if you have a car and if so, how far you are willing to drive. Houston is a very spread out city and it can take you over an hour (or more depending on traffic) to get from one side of town to the other.

        1. Thank you kagemusha49, mjust and rondi. Great advice. And yes, I probably should have mentioned where I'll be staying. I'll be at a hotel near Texas Ave and Main St.

          I will not have a car, but I have been considering a rental, especially if good barbecue can only be had outside the city. (Barbecue is probably my main objective, so any advice in this regard would be especially appreciated!) Gatlin's is now definitely on my list, as is Danton's. As for Mex/Tex-Mex, I have also been reading lots of mentions of El Real and also El Hidalguense and Mexico's Deli. Any thoughts about these places?

          Anyway, thanks again for the suggestions. And if anyone would like to add any 'location-based advice', that would be great too.

          6 Replies
          1. re: marcus68

            El Real gets mixed reviews, but I like it for queso, traditional cheese enchiladas, and puffy tacos. Probably the closest Tex-Mex place to you downtown is Irma's--check hours, though, because they only recently started dinner service on certain days. I haven't been to the other spots you mentioned, but I'm sure someone else has.

            1. re: marcus68

              While Mexico's Deli is large and tasty food, I wouldn't even think about the drive out just for that, it is quite a way from downtown. El Real is a good option and Danton's is one of my favorite places in town. For a 2-fer of famous Houston restaurant families, try the Italian/Tex-Mex fusion of Tony Mandola's on Waugh, brought to you by the Mandolas in conjunction with the famous Ninfas family. Large portraits of the famous family matriarchs adorn the entrance (their children married, I believe) and some of the menu items are fusion, i.e., seafood and cheese stuffed poblano over angel hair pasta. The menu is seafood and steaks generally, the service is impeccable and the owner is an ever present and gracious Tony Mandola.

              Obviously, the most "Houston" experience is Brennan's downtown, which holds a very special place in many hearts. Houston doesn't have the best BBQ in the state, but it seems Gatlin's gets the nod. Note well the hours and that you must be there early (before noon) so it may well interfere with whatever business brings you here. BBQ is a lunch fare here.

              Please let us know what you decide!

              1. re: Lambowner

                Nobody touts Mexico's Deli as much as I do, but I agree with Lambsy. I wouldn't recommend driving out from downtown just for that. (Sorry Alex!)

                I also agree with Brennan's. I love that place.

                I would also recommend stopping by the downtown Phoenicia and/or Midtown Spec's Liquors and Deli, but I always do my souvenir shopping at the local groceries.

                Also downtown, the Hubcap Grill for a killer burger.

                There are some more current and hipper options nearby as well.

                  1. re: DoobieWah

                    Hey wait a second. Mexico's Deli is very good Mexican food and I would say it IS worth a trip. I only get there once a year but I have a hankering for their food for months while I'm away.

                    1. re: dimsumgirl

                      Well as I said before, I love Mexico's Deli as much as anyone, but it's not the kind of place I would recommend to a brief visitor to try to get to from downtown.

                      Either they're driving a rental and I'm asking them to brave our freeways over a pretty good distance, OR it's a $75 cab ride.

                      There are much closer places that, while perhaps not as good, just seem to be more reasonable recommendations.

                      Nevertheless, to be perfectly honest I'm deeply honored that you would choose to argue with me about that since I introduced you to it.


              2. Thanks for giving us your parameters up front so we can do a better job of advising you. You've done a very good job of identifying the specialties of this part of Texas. A couple of specific dishes you might also consider would be chili or chili/frito pie and chicken fried steak.

                I did my multi-generational growing up multi-decades ago and what I ate was probably very different than what much younger Texans have access to. The only kind of Mexican we knew was Tex-Mex and I've eaten so much of it that I find it boring these days, as others on this board know. The only place I go for that is El Real and I stick to the recreations of the old dishes such as the Leo's, the Original, Old Borunda and Roosevelt special. Even fajitas are new-fangled Tex-Mex to me. For Mexican that isn't strictly Tex-Mex I like Radical Eats, in the same part of town, formerly exclusively vegetarian/vegan but now with meat dishes on the menu. I haven't eaten at the new location nor had any of the meat dishes, however.

                I have still never gotten around to Danton's despite my good intentions but I thought that was supposed to be Cajun/Creole? Their gumbo is cited by some as the best in town and gumbo is not a Texas dish.

                For seafood I would also consider Goode Co.'s Texas Seafood, 2 locations, a little bit farther from your hotel.

                Gatlin's is the best bbq in town and it's not mediocre by any means. I swore off the place in disgust right after it opened because of the glacially slow service; the lines i encountered were never long but they wouldn't move for 10 or 15 minutes. More recent visits have indicated however that they've attended to that issue. Still, it ain't quick and there's very little dining area. 2nd choice would be the newly re-opened Pierson and co., a little further away but still within a reasonable cab ride. This was the critics favorite before Gatlin's but has been closed for a couple of years while the owner underwent double-knee replacement surgery and evidently had a helluva rehab. I haven't been since it's re-opened but Clarence Pierson had been making barbecue for decades and I imagine he's gotten right back into the swing of things.

                Must emphasize however - the best bbq places are closed by late afternoon/early evening if they don't run out earlier. I'd avoid Gatlin's right at the lunch hour but don't expect there to be much at 6 pm, if they're even open. Same for Pierson's except the lunch hour will probably not be such a crunch.

                1 Reply
                1. re: brucesw

                  Danton's has some cajun dishes, but I would call them Gulf Coast Seafood.

                2. Awesome advice! Thanks everyone!

                  I have a couple of follow up questions:

                  Is Brennan's very fancy?

                  I don't doubt that Houston BBQ isn't mediocre. I'm quite excited about sampling the real thing. And I'm willing (and probably able) to put in the time required to experience the better places. That being said, I was wondering what a good strategy is for getting good BBQ: when should I arrive if I can arrive anytime before mid-afternoon? How long can I expect to wait on a weekday? Anything else I should know, etiquette to follow?

                  I would like to try at least a couple of barbecue places. Any thoughts about my list of options/possibilities:

                  Gatlin's (obviously)
                  Goode Company
                  BBQ Inn
                  Gerardo's Drive-In

                  All these places seem to be within a 15 minute taxi ride from my hotel, except for Virgie's, which seems to be closer to 25 minutes. (Pierson & Co. also seems to be about 25 minutes away from downtown.) What's your top two or three?

                  Thanks in advance — again!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: marcus68

                    Brennan's is kind of fancy. I don't think you need a tie, but I'd wear a jacket at dinner.

                    I've had good brisket at Pizzitola's but I think they're known more for their pork ribs.

                    Goode Company is a local chain and you can get a good "Texas flavor" there but the bbq is mediocre.

                    BBQ Inn is better known for their fried chicken and chicken fried steak, and don't forget to order a side shrimp and/or oyster or two! (Hat tip to JC.) Please don't order BBQ from there and then go tell everyone back home how bad Texas BBQ is.

                    Gerardo's isn't really bbq. It's a local taqueria and is well known for their tamales, carnitas, barbacoa, (which isn't bbq), and their neon orange hot sauce which I would drive for all by itself.

                    The tamales are very very good.

                    None of those places will serve you the great Texas BBQ available in Austin, Luling, Lockhart or Lexington, however. Sorry about that, but it's a fact.

                    Pizzi's and Goode Co can serve you cue at dinner, but I think all the rest are mainly lunch places.

                    Pierson's was the best but I haven't been back since they reopened. I've got my fingers crossed!

                    1. re: marcus68

                      Yes, Brennan's is fancy, but in a lovely relaxed way. It is definitely fine dining. A jacket is in order.

                      1. re: marcus68

                        I will echo what Doobie said about BBQ Inn - nobody goes there for the bbq except the totally clueless. I would say much the same about Goode Co., also Luling City Mkt on Richmond and any of the locations of Pappas. They're all very busy but bbq afficionados rank them as only so-so at best.

                        The 3 best in town right now, imo, are Gatlin's, Corkscrew up in Spring, and Pierson's (which, as I said, I haven't been to since it re-opened). Corkscrew would definitely be a rent-a-car excursion. I have only been once (it's a long way) and liked it but wasn't wowed enough to go back yet. He uses red oak, a wood almost nobody else uses, and I wasn't sure I liked it.

                        I have only been to Virgie's once and wasn't wowed and didn't think it was worth a re-visit. Others will disagree. Beaver's and Gerardo's are not what you're looking for. Although barbacoa is one of the 4 main styles of bbq in Texas it is so different from the others that most people don't consider it bbq. Beaver's is not a bbq joint and that's an experience you don't want to miss.

                        Pizzitolas is the only place here that does bbq over direct heat. I don't care for it as much but there are people who think it's the best in town. I agree ribs are the best thing to order, although I also like their Czech sausage.

                        At Corkscrew go for the brisket and ribs, I think. I had the sausage with brisket and thought the sausage was only so-so (I'm a sausage fanatic and Texas has lots of sausage makers of German, Czech and Cajun descent). At Gatlin's, anything. At Pierson's, brisket and ribs (I never cared much for his sausage, either).

                        Here's an idea - a bbq crawl. These are common in Central Texas for people with limited time who want to experience several places. The idea is to hit several places in a row, ordering only a sample and certainly not a full meal. 1/4# of brisket (about 2 slices), one link, 2 ribs, no sides (other than the obligatory white bread, pickles and onion). Sauce on the side, if at all (understood in advance at the better places).

                        The fatty brisket is the most prized; if you're not given a choice then you're going to wind up with lean which has a tendency to be too dry.

                      2. Here's another thought - puerto rican food! There is a tiny hole in the wall in Houston called tex-chick. It is tiny and is only open from 11:30am to 5:30pm (7:30 on weekends). The food is all authentic puerto rican and here is a link http://puertorricanrestaurant.com/ - the other folks here can give you the "traditional" Texan tips. Though, personally, for BBQ I'd seriously consider driving a couple of hours to either of the towns Luling or Lockhart. For Mexican you can go high-end to Hugo's or low-end (but good) to 100% Taquitos.

                        1. Oh my god. I'm salivating already. Thanks again to everyone for the carefully considered advice. I really like the details of what the 'specialties of the house' are at each place.

                          Any thoughts on the best time to start to line up, or length of time I'm likely to wait at a place like Gatlin's? Doing a BBQ crawl seems like it would necessitate good timing. Or perhaps waiting times is not too much of an issue? On the other hand, I've heard stories of waiting 'forever' at popular places.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: marcus68

                            My impressions are that the only places you're going to encounter a line are Corkscrew and Gatlins. I went on a weekday to Corkscrew, ran late and got there about 12:40 pm and had no line to contend with - it maybe mainly a weekend thing? I can't remember - maybe the reason I got sausage is they were out of ribs already. If you're including them I'd go there first and get there before noon on a weekday.

                            Gatlins, as I've said, it's not so much the length of the line that's the problem but they started out playing to the conceit of the Heights that it's just a small town in the midst of the big city that operates at a small town pace. They chit-chatted at length with customers at the counter, looked at baby pictures, came around the counter to give everybody a hug, listened to the stories of the exploits of the crazy uncle in the Yukon, then, ten minutes later, got around to considering maybe ordering some bbq. I think they've concluded that business model is not really productive given their popularity. Only advice I can give you is avoid the lunch hour per se; if you're not going up to Corkscrew, go to Gatlins first and get there by 11:30 am.

                            Check Corkscrew on twitter; they're very good about tweeting if they're running out of something, but if you're getting there before noon you're not likely to have a problem. So far as I know, Corkscrew is the only place that has had problems of running out of meat early; Gatlins and Pierson's, more likely on towards late afternoon before they start running out.

                            Now a modification of some of what I said before. I used to do these bbq crawls in Central TX a few years back. I always got all three meats that I mentioned but you don't have to do that. There are people who are only interested in the brisket, or just the brisket and ribs. You don't have to do all three meats, get what you want to try (read some more reviews - where ever you can find them). My impression is that Corkscrew and Pierson's tend to run out of bbq'd chicken first - I never order bbq chicken!

                            Edit to add: I'll go even further - there isn't any place in Houston with exceptional sausage, so don't feel bad about skipping it.

                            You might be sure to check out the websites of any places you're considering and make sure they offer meat by the pound - since I've never done a crawl here, I'm not absolutely sure they'll all sell it that way although they probably do.

                            1. re: brucesw

                              brucesw, that trip to Gatlin's sounded just like mine, only they visited with some people who came in after the fellow in front of me and myself. Two people, me and other guy, two to go plates, mine ribs and brisket still over twenty minutes. Turtles! The food was delicious, however.

                            2. re: marcus68

                              Here's another resource:


                              This guy is now bbq editor of Texas Monthly magazine and no longer maintains this blog but scroll down to the bottom of the page for the glossary and a little more explanation and standards to judge by.

                              Crust is also known as bark. The smoke ring can be up to 3/4" deep, but is not a perfect indication of smoke flavor. Smokiness is a very desirable trait in Texas Q.

                              The type of wood used makes a difference: Corkscrew uses red oak, Pierson's uses mesquite which a lot of people don't like because it burns very hot and can create bitterness - Clarence Pierson manages it very well. I think Gatlin's uses oak (probably live oak) and pecan as I recall. Up in Central Texas, the wood used is post oak and many people feel it's the best.

                            3. Great notes, brucesw! Thank you very much.

                              My initial 'point of entry' into Texas Barbecue (other than Hill Country in New York City...) was the Full Custom Gospel BBQ Blog. It was the reason for me to initially think I needed to rent a car and head up to Lockhart, or the Austin area. Until I noticed the Region links which lead me to several favorable reviews for Houston BBQ establishments (Gatlin's, Virgie's and Pierson's get 5 stars, Gerraro's and Pizzitola's get 4 stars).

                              I can't wait!

                              I know this discussion has veered off into a BBQ talk, but I still intend to eat my fair share of Tex-Mex and Gulf Seafood (possibly with a cajun influence...) The Puerto Rican place kagemusha49 mentioned is also very appealing, as is this 'puffy taco' thing I keep hearing about. And Brennan's is a must too.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: marcus68

                                I actually don't eat a lot of bbq, having od'd on it several years ago with trips to Central Texas, but threads like this get my digestive juices flowing. I'm concerned there's been only one review of Pierson's posted on any of the review sites since the re-opening was announced. I'm going to try to get up there in the next few days and traipse on over to Virgie's, which is only a couple miles away and a very straight shot. I'll update if I do.

                                1. re: brucesw

                                  If you go, it would be great to hear about your current impressions, particularly about Pierson's!

                              2. Texas is a really big place, and there are lots of things here that can be called "Texas cuisine." Obviously, Mexico has had a large influence, as Texas used to be part of Mexico, and a very great many people of Mexican heritage still live here.

                                The Gulf, and seafood, too, of course, has always played a large part in the cuisine of south and south-eastern Texas, as has our local proximity to Louisiana and the Cajun/Creole influences.

                                Much of Central Texas is heavily influenced by German cooking, as they were among the early arrivals with large numbers settled here by the late 1800's. In fact, the German meat markets began smoking the meats that Central Texas towns - Lockhart, Luling, etc. - are now so famous for. And Poles, as well, they of kolache fame. Many of these early immigrants sailed up the Trinity river and settled in the Texas Hill Country, and their influence is definitely still strong, not only in the foods we eat, but also in culture, tradition, architecture.

                                If you're interested in our unparalleled barbecue tradition, you should plan another trip, when you have more time. Fly into Austin, rent a car, and prepare yourself for a tour of barbecue heaven. You'll find lots of "tour guides" here on Chowhound that will be happy to help you plan your route.

                                25 Replies
                                1. re: Jaymes

                                  Poles don't make kolaches, rather lots of pierogis. We attribute the kolaches to the Czeck settlements.

                                  1. re: Lambowner

                                    And my goodness, Lambowner, of course you are right. Obviously I was suffering from a mini brain lapse, which is happening more and more these days! Thanks for not letting that bit of misinformation go uncorrected.

                                    1. re: Jaymes

                                      And going up the Trinity river will get you to Dallas. Perhaps you were thinking of the Colorado? - Wait, I had to go look it up - I knew the C Texas lakes were on the Colorado but I couldn't remember where it emptied into the Gulf - answer -Matagorda Bay - not a big port of arrival for immigrants, I think. I don't know how the Czechs and Germans got to Central Texas but it wasn't the Trinity.

                                      1. re: brucesw

                                        Some of the Germans swam up the Colorado from Indianola on Matagorda Bay before it was destroyed by two hurricanes in the late 1880's.


                                        Matagorda has the finest oysters I have had from Texas, and for my money the best saltwater fishing on the coast of Texas, and I have fished virtually every bay system. Surprise number two best fishing, the various Galveston Bays.

                                        1. re: James Cristinian

                                          I knew that! But had forgotten all about Indianola. As I recall being told by fellow genealogists back when I was active, it rivaled Galveston and even New Orleans as a port of arrival.

                                          Tom, he who is Capt. Tom of Capt. Tom's Oyster Boats and who was formerly a manager for Capt. Benny's, once told me Benny always insisted on Matagorda Bay oysters and I presume both restaurant groups still use them. I'm very fond of the oysters from Jeri's seafood on Trinity Bay, which I understand are harvested from Smith's Point in Trinity Bay.

                                          1. re: brucesw

                                            Boy. I'm feeling really old and stupid tonight.

                                            Thank God I'm still cute.

                                            Oh no wait... I'm not cute anymore, either.

                                            I could be in real trouble.

                                            But on the up side, hasn't this thread gotten so lively? Let that be a lesson. Anytime you think things are really dull and dead around here, all you have to do is to make a bunch of stupid, wrong statements.

                                            And suddenly everybody wants to chat!

                                            1. re: Jaymes

                                              Jaymes, I have met you and you're right, you're not cute. You are smoking hot!! Luv You.

                                            2. re: brucesw

                                              Captain Benny's does not always use Matagorda Bay oysters, in fact in the last few years I have not seen them. What I have seen is where the oysters are plentiful, be it San Antonio Bay or Galveston Bay. Those great Matagorda oysters I had was in the late 70's at Captain Benny's. My go to oysters for cooking are Jeri's from Louisiana Foods.

                                              1. re: James Cristinian

                                                Did not know that about Benny's but I don't go as often as I used to. The one nearest me, the Stafford location, I don't like as much as the Main Street store which is not very convenient. I think I knew those were Jeri's oysters at Louisiana Foods but it's more of those bits of information that got forced out by incoming data!

                                                Is there a retail outlet where you can get Matagorda oysters - fish market, in other words?

                                                1. re: brucesw

                                                  brucesw, sorry for the late reply. I got Matagorda oysters about two years ago at an I don't know the name of fish market on Hwy. 332 just before the Surfside Bridge. A trip to Red Snapper Inn will take the edge off a failed oyster mission. I like their fish, shrimp, and or oyster po-boys and they gladly will sell you extra pieces, and the home fries are great. I think I'll run down there after the 1st, and there will certainly be no complaints from the wifeacita.

                                                  1. re: James Cristinian

                                                    Thanks. I've been thinking of a trip down to Red Snapper for several months but have never pulled the trigger. That gives me extra motivation. Never had a po-boy there.

                                                    Jeri's are carried at the Fiesta Market Place in Sugar Land, also at JJ's on Woodforest, off Stella Link (fish market) and at the big fish market in the Food Town on BW 8, where Auchan used to be. I confess I'm lazy and just buy the jars most of the time.

                                                    Have there been any changes at Louisiana Foods since they were bought out???? I haven't been since PJ Stoops Total Catch market stopped (and I haven't been to it at Revival).

                                                    1. re: brucesw

                                                      Major score at MY HEB two days after Thanksgiving as they were marking down the unsold for oyster dressing ones, four pounds of Jeri's for 20 bucks, regular 56.99, about the going price at Louisiana Foods. We had them fried a couple of times, in a creole sauce, and broiled wrapped in bacon. My super fish market manager Allyson says they'll have them again at Christmas, and I'll be there on the 26th just in case. Haven't been to Louisiana Foods lately, but I'll go soon and report back. These cold bay waters have my oyster radar on seek and devour.

                                                      1. re: brucesw

                                                        A disclaimer on the Red Snapper Inn po-boys, the bread is mediocre. I eat the seafood and the bread on the side.

                                                        1. re: James Cristinian

                                                          It would have been shock inducing if they had decent bread. Most places in Houston use mediocre bread for po-boys. Thanks for the warning, though.

                                                          Still no HEB worth setting foot in within 20-25 minutes of me. I mostly make Pan Roast a la Grand Central Station with oysters, over and over and over, it's a major comfort food for me.

                                                          1. re: brucesw

                                                            I'd like to be comforted, too.

                                                            How do you make an oyster Pan Roast a la Grand Central Station?

                                                            1. re: Jaymes

                                                              There are many recipes online. Just google pan roast Grand Central. Here's a piece on it from Eater National recently but without specific amounts:


                                                              I first encountered it in Craig Claiborne's NYT cookbook, the first cookbook I ever bought when I got my first apartment with an actual kitchen instead of just a hot plate and toaster oven in college. I made that, the Chicken Tettrazini and Spinach salad as my first dishes and my SO at the time and I were blown away. Haven't made the Tettrazini in decades but still like the spinach salad.

                                                              The recipes for the Pan Roast online vary a bit; some add some wine, some clam juice, etc, Claiborne's recipe is not online but he added a few drops of lemon juice. I'm sure there are other oyster stews that are just as good, but this one holds a very special place in my memories.

                                                              I've had a pan roast at several places back East but never had the original.

                                                              1. re: brucesw

                                                                This conversation is ever so interesting. I guess these Jeri's oysters are shucked and jarred? And unpasteurized? I'm off to google that Grand Central recipe. There is an oyster bar in Grand Central, pretty fancy restaurant, but they have a to go window for ordering on the run. A few years ago, I ordered a fried oyster po-boy at the window and took it outside to eat. There really are no places to perch while eating a po-boy in that area.

                                                                1. re: Lambowner

                                                                  Yes, and yes, but not actually jarred, order at the deli counter at Louisiana Foods and the put them in plastic containers. Certainly unpasteurized, or I wouldn't eat them. Shooting for Thursday afternoon, and they close at 3..


                                                        2. re: brucesw

                                                          I went today at 10:15 am. No changes, same guy up front, can't believe I don't know his name after many years. The fried catfish was great and hot, the freebie boudain balls and shrimp the same. Hint, get to know him and tip. He inquired about the wifeacita, and the place was exactly as always. I got two pounds of oysters, Jeri's for 23 bucks, the same price as last year. It will be fried, broiled with bacon, and creole this weekend. Get there early or late, it's busy during the holidays, hours 10-3. Edit, it's always busy at lunch, starting just after 11.

                                        2. re: Jaymes

                                          Thanks Jaymes! I have watched a fair bit of food television and have come to realize that the Austin area is ground zero for what is generally considered the best barbecue in Texas, if not the world. My first thought was to rent a car, but at 2+ hours each way into the region, and some pretty good notices for some of the Houston joints, I think I'll leave Hill Country for another time. But that trip is now at the top of my travel wish list!

                                          1. re: marcus68

                                            On a dull weekend in Houston, I have been known to do the round-trip to Lockhart for no other purpose than to get some great barbecue. Not sure I'd go to the expense of renting a car for that purpose.

                                            1. re: kagemusha49

                                              I used to go through Luling regularly to see a kid at Texas State, and at the time, wasn't aware of City Market. Dope slap.

                                              1. re: Lambowner

                                                Double dope slap. I used to go through Luling bunches of times to see my brother at then SWTSU. I think we were focused on the San Marcos goodness of Grin's, Gil's Fried Chicken, OST, and Herbert's Taco Hut plus copious amounts of beer, herbs, and floating the San Marcos River. As a mere child in the 60's my uncle had a used car lot just up, or down the street from City Market. Never heard of it then but I loved those fast Southern Pacific trains blowing through town before ducking back into Uncle Son's office for cold A/C and second hand smoke.

                                                1. re: Lambowner

                                                  A side note, San Marcos has at least doubled in size and the streets have worse traffic than Houston. Took the wifeacita a couple of years ago to get some Gil's Chicken, good como siempre, but I don't see ever going back to San Marcos.

                                                  1. re: James Cristinian

                                                    Wow, I was last there in 2007 and it wasn't that bad then. My kid worked at Spud Ranch there while in school. Still makes me laugh. Taters stuffed with all manner of things.

                                          2. Houston is a serious food town, and there are so many choices.
                                            If you want real Houston institutions, go to (the original) Ninfa's on Navigation for Tex-Mex, Goode Co. BBQ on Kirby, Pappas Seafood House at Shepherd and West Alabama, and Star Pizza on Shepherd.

                                            If you're looking to spend some serious $, try Mark's American, DaMarco or Tony's.

                                            I'm from Houston and now live in France, so whenever I'm home I make sure to go to Teotihuacan for Mexican in the Heights, Van Loc for Vietnamese on Milam Street, and Oporto Café for Portuguese/Spanish tapas on Richmond in Greenway Plaza,Vieng Thai on Long Point, and the original Ninfa's.

                                            P.S. Except for Vieng Thai, none of these restaurants are more than 15mins from downtown.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: nancyeats

                                              No no no no no. Do NOT go to Goode Co for barbeque. And if, for some reason you have to, do NOT think that's in any way representative of the best barbeque that Texas has to offer.

                                              Because it surely ain't.

                                              And that's no matter which river you sailed in on.

                                            2. I just got back home from Houston. Here's my report:

                                              The barbecue was indeed very good. I visited Gatlin's on my first morning (right when they opened, at 11am). The 'three meat meal' looked great: ribs, brisket, and sausage with slaw and baked beans. Truth be told, I found the ribs and brisket a little dry (any chance that the first few orders of the day use yesterday's leftovers?) But this was my first Texas BBQ, and I was happy. The sides were quite good. The surprise for me was the sausage, which I didn't really want (I'm from a German background and am quite particular about my sausage.) It was VERY good.

                                              On my second day I visited Virgie's. I again had the 'three meat meal' with slaw and (this time) green beans. The slaw was so-so, and the beans were pretty awful. They were obviously from a can (mushy), but heated up in some sort of seasoning. The revelation was the meats. Fantastic! I showed up just after 1pm, and the brisket and ribs were nice and juicy — and beautiful. The sausage was great here too.

                                              I had wanted to try Original Ninfa's, but because of time constraints (my wife wanted to do some shopping) I took a shot that the Ninfa's at the Galleria Mall would be similar. Big mistake. I don't remember the last time I left a plate of food virtually untouched (pork carnitas enchiladas with some sort of green sauce). I think the carnitas may have been a week old. Inedible. Fortunately I had a crispy beef taco as a side dish. It was decent, so I ordered a second. The margarita was OK too.

                                              I managed a final lunch at El Real and was pretty impressed. (And made me regret my wasted meal at Ninfa's even more.) I had a puffy taco, an enchilada and a tamale, plus guacamole and some of my wife's cheese enchilada. All dishes were very good — the puffy taco not as good as I wanted it to be, the famous cheese enchilada better than I thought it could be. My margarita was excellent, and my wife, who loves tres leches, pronounced the El Real version the best she'd ever had. I wish I had room for the hot churros.

                                              I also had some very good breakfast tacos at Tacos A-Go-Go on Main Street. I wish I could start every morning with some of those! (My cardiologist, however, would probably discourage the idea.)

                                              Now for my thoughts on my one 'fancy' meal. We went to Brennan's with friends who have just recently relocated to Houston. I don't mean to step on anyone's toes; I know a lot of locals love this place. But I thought it was pretty mediocre. I had the famous turtle soup, which was just OK. My main was a combination of two of my favourite seafoods: flounder stuffed with crab. It was virtually tasteless. It was also covered in so much cream sauce that my friend asked me if I had ordered soup as my main. I also cringed a little when a stale chunk of supermarket baguette was placed on my side dish. My wife did well with her choice of shrimp and grits. Quite good. But none of the rest of the table thought very much about the food. On the bright side, the service great, the atmosphere was very nice, the cocktails and wines were good, the lemon meringue pie was one of the best I’ve ever had, and my wife’s Bananas Foster was awesome.

                                              Some random notes: I had a look at Treebeard’s. It looked good and I will definitely try it next time. I had my first Chick-fil-A sandwich. If you’re new to the south and south-west, give it a try. It’s pretty good for fast food. Next time I will rent a car. The taxi fare to Gatlin’s was $25 from downtown, and the fare to Virgie’s was $45 — each way! I was warned, but it bears repeating: Houston is HUGE! I did manage a cultural outing: The Menil Collection. If you are in anyway partial to modern art, you must visit this charming gallery/museum, including all the associated sculptures and galleries nearby. And best of all, it’s free!

                                              Next time I’d like to try Pierson’s & Co. for BBQ, Barbecue Inn for fried chicken, chicken fried steak and ‘side shrimp’, Anvil Bar & Refuge for some cocktails, Danton’s for Gulf Seafood, Hugo’s for regional Mexican, and of course, The Original Ninfa’s for proper Tex-Mex.

                                              Thanks again to everyone who took the time to give me all the advice I needed for a great food trip to Houston!

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: marcus68

                                                Thanks for reporting back.

                                                Glad you liked El Real and the Menil. I love the puffy tacos, but they may not be for everyone. I LOVE the Menil; one of my favorite spots. I really miss the Byzantine Chapel that was recently returned to Cyprus.

                                                I am very disappointed that you were disappointed in Brennan's. I love it but haven't been back in over a year. My entire belief system is breaking down...

                                                Lastly, "Yeah, you should rent a car."

                                                Houston isn't really a taxi town. Just take your time and don't worry about it. If you'll look around, you'll see every third or fourth license plate is from out of state. Trust me, no one knows where they're going.

                                                1. re: DoobieWah

                                                  I didn't mention it, but not one single taxi driver seemed to know where he/she was going. On my first morning, I gave the name and address for Gatlin's, the guy had a GPS but had to call Gatlin's twice, and we still got lost — twice!

                                                  I'm definitely driving next time!

                                                  1. re: marcus68

                                                    I once got a cab at DFW and the driver didn't know where Arlington was, freakin' Arlington. Rent a car there too.

                                                2. re: marcus68

                                                  Thank you so much for getting back to us.

                                                  Re: Gatlin's - well, they're not supposed to be serving yesterday's meats, obviously, but who knows. I've never heard that of them; shame, shame. Oh, we have some damn fine sausage makers here, of German, Czech and Cajun extraction, principally. I'm a sausage-aholic.

                                                  I know bbq purists are not supposed to care about the sides but I'm fallen off the straight and narrow and appreciate a balanced meal more now than I did when I was younger. Yes, the sides at Gatlin's can be quite good and at Virgie's, not. They should never be the prime reason for picking a cue joint,just icing on the cake, so to speak.

                                                  We could have warned you away from any Ninfas other than the original and as for breakfast tacos, several of us could have written paragraphs on that, but you did ok.

                                                  Y'all come see us again.

                                                3. And some quick photos:

                                                  Gatlin's on the black plate
                                                  Virgie's in the white styrofoam
                                                  El Real Tex-Mex
                                                  Outside the Menil Collection