My Thanksgiving trip to Texas

The past two weeks I’ve been driving around Texas visiting family and friends. I haven’t been to Texas since the spring and this trip has been glorious. While I’ve been in the kitchen a couple of times, the dishes I’ve cooked have been old favorites from my blog and books, so unfortunately I don’t have anything new to share with you this week.

That said, I’m spending the next few days parked at my mom’s house in Houston, and my plan is to cook up a storm since it’s not often I have access to HEB, Central Market, Fiesta, and Texas farmers markets. For now, however, I will share with you some of the highlights I’ve enjoyed as I’ve crossed the state. In Texas, there is always a new adventure.

My trip began in McKinney. After spending the night at my Grandma’s where we didn’t cook but instead went to Hutchin’s for barbecue, I hit the road for Houston. First, however, I stopped at Herrera’s and had a beef burrito and chicken enchilada smothered in their tangy and rich sour-cream sauce.

While in Houston, we mainly ate at home. We had corny dogs one night (my young nephews’ special request) and a family potluck on another. One afternoon, however, my Mom and I went to lunch at Soto’s, her neighborhood Tex-Mex place. I love this restaurant because the dishes are always fresh and well prepared. I enjoyed a taco al carbon with a chicken enchilada while my mom got a plate of chicken fajita nachos. It was a lot of food but we cleaned our plates.

My next meal out was in Oak Cliff at El Corazon de Tejas. The whole menu looked appealing, but I went with the Taco Norteños, which had been trumpeted in Texas Monthly’s recent taco issue as among the state’s best. The tacos are fresh flour tortillas stuffed with tender beef fajita meat, cheese, refried beans, and avocados. After they’re folded, they’re lightly fried in butter with the end effect being between a quesadilla and a crispy taco. If I’d had enough room, I would have ordered another round.

The next few days were spent enjoying a series of celebratory dinners with family and friends. There were many fine meals but the night before Thanksgiving my Uncle Austin baked pizzas topped with peppers, olives, and homemade sausage. It was some of the best I’ve ever had and I hope the beginning of a new tradition.

After a weekend cooking with friends in Fort Worth (I highly recommend the Laura Wilson show at the Amon Carter), I drove to East Texas. I hadn’t been there in years and I wanted to see the fall colors on display. My first stop was in Sulphur Springs where at The Pioneer Café I polished a plate of chicken-fried chicken, black-eyed peas, and mashed potatoes.

Later, I stopped to get a burger at Jucy’s in Longview, which had been recently named the number-one hamburger by Texas Highways magazine. Living up to its name, the burger was indeed so juicy it required multiple napkins. But I was even more impressed that on the side along with the usual fries and onion rings, Jucy’s offered a basket of fried green tomatoes with buttermilk dressing.

For years, people had been telling me to stop at Neely’s in Marshall, so I dropped in and ordered its famous Brown Pig sandwich, a combination of finely chopped smoked pork, lettuce, mayonnaise, and ketchup.

As I was leaving town, on a whim I pulled into The Dinner Belle and had smothered pork chops with peas and turnip greens. The rolls were tender and served with cinnamon-honey butter, a sweet and decadent touch I can’t wait to try at home.

That day, I kept getting lost but somehow ended up at Caddo Lake. While it was drizzling and most of the leaves had fallen off the trees, the view was still eerie and gorgeous. I look forward to returning and taking a tour in a canoe.

If you’re in East Texas, a fried bologna sandwich is a must, and Wanda’s Kountry Korner on I-20 outside Longview griddles up one of the best.

My final East Texas meal was in Henderson at the Smokehouse Restaurant. As I entered, the people standing behind the steam tables gave me a warm welcome as if we were old friends and I’d just walked into to their home. I mentioned I’d never been there before and they explained what was available. After much pondering I went with the chicken-fried steak, turnip greens, and okra and tomatoes, along with their famous hot-water cornbread, which was both crisp and tender. Every dish was perfectly seasoned and the chicken-fried steak was so tender you could cut it with a fork. I can’t wait to return.

As always, this trip to Texas has been both relaxing and rejuvenating. I’m so thankful to be here enjoying some wonderful food and even better company. And now, a trip to HEB is in order as I begin to cook in my mom’s kitchen. It’s good to be home.

  1. K Dawson

    Here's a question for you, since you well know the difference between Dallas and Houston Mexican food. Is there a restaurant in Houston that serves Dallas-style food? Thanks!

  2. Dogzilla

    Did you stop at Herrera’s in Dallas?

    A zillion years ago, we used to walk from a friend's place to Herrera’s Downtown restaurant, which looked like a converted transmission shop, where we had to take out own beer and stand in line in a gravel parking lot waiting for a table in the tiny dining room for the best Tex-Mex ever. Then we walked to a nearby club called The Texas Tea House. That place was crazy.

  3. Lisa Fain

    K Dawson–Off the top of my head, the only one I can think of is Mi Cocina in The Woodlands.

  4. Lisa Fain

    Dogzilla–Yes, the one in Dallas. And when I was a kid, my family used to go to that Herrera's!

  5. andrewteee

    The Laura Wilson show was fantastic. As a passionate photographer, I had never heard of her, but so glad I saw the show and took home her book. The stories are fantastic.

    Tex-Mex twice in Fort Worth, still not enough. Rained cats and dogs and I tried to bring buckets back to California.

  6. Lisa Fain

    Andrewteee–While the images were striking, it was her stories that made the show so powerful for me. Glad you enjoyed the show and hope you get more Tex-Mex soon!

  7. Phyllis

    Great trip! I visited Caddo Lake a few years ago, it was magical!

  8. Unknown

    You can order HEB online now!

  9. Susieb.

    I. Am. Homesick. and hungry for some REAL food….

  10. Kimberly Wiley

    Oh my goodness! What a wonderful trip through East Texas! I'm from Hughes Springs but now live in KY. We also visited family in Texas over the holidays. We ate at Jucy's…wonderful hamburgers! And I grew up on Brown Pigs! Next time you visit, you'll have to visit Five D Cattle Company in Avinger…AWESOME steaks and bar-b que! Thanks for the trip through my home in Texas!

  11. Lisa Fain

    Phyllis–It is magical! I can't wait to return.

  12. Lisa Fain

    Unknown–That is so cool!

  13. Lisa Fain

    Susieb.–Hope you get back home soon!

  14. Lisa Fain

    Kimberly–Thank you for the tip!

  15. I'm so jealous! Our trips home to Texas have been limited to short stays visiting my in-laws which is not a hardship since everyone comes to see us while we're there. Lots of good food to be enjoyed. Still, I'd love to do the meandering drive around Texas to hit a good mix of Tex-Mex and BBQ joints. Something to aim for when we retire in a few years!

  16. Matthew Fricke

    Your blog entries always make me smile. And of course, now I'm hungry. Those folded and fried in butter tacos are really intriguing. It's your writing and way of evoking a sense of place that always bring me back…..

  17. Lisa Fain

    TX2GA–Nothing beats a meandering drive across Texas. Something to look forward to!

  18. Lisa Fain

    Matthew–Thank you for the kind words! And yes, those tacos are highly recommended. Hope you get to try them soon!

  19. Anonymous

    Everything looks SO GOOD (except the turnip greens.) :>)

  20. Angela Lopez

    'So happy for you to get some time in Texas. From one Texas food writer to another – enjoy!!

    Angelina LaRue

  21. Unknown

    i have followed you off n on for a while now.. enjoy your page very much.. So glad you got to go to Texas for a good visit.. Edith

  22. Lisa Fain

    Angela–Thank you! I hope to visit Lubbock in the spring!

  23. Lisa Fain

    Anon–Ha! It took me a while to like turnip greens, too, but I love them now.

  24. Sandra

    Good lord honey, how do you not weight 500 pounds? And man that guacamole tostado looks delicious. I'm gonna have to get me some of that. I'm so hungry now. Have you been to Dough in Dallas? I think it's Forest and Preston. Their Preston Hollow pizza is amazing.

  25. Lisa I'm so glad you're home for the holiday – I hope you're going to come to Austin while you're here. Matt's El Rancho is as great as ever and Franklin's and the Rainey St scene might tickle your tastebuds.

  26. Well I've got to add some more places to try now that we're living in FW. We are still (sadly) searching for Mexican food like we loved when we lived in El Paso. Thank goodness my hubby is an excellent cook.

  27. Anonymous

    So glad to know you've been back home. We had two months there last winter, moving around the state and a couple more weeks this fall. Lots of rain tho'. My cousin on the Frazier farm near your Grandma says they are near 65" so far this year. Always go to Hutchin's, too. No good TexMex in our area of N Illinois since our fav place with valley cooking closed. Marken

  28. Bob Frasier

    You went to Soto's but no Connie's custard? You're mom is in my neck of the woods. Assume you knowall this but chicken flautas at el gallo (jones rd) and migas / tamales at balderas tamale factory (moved from grant to jones)

  29. Lisa Fain

    Sandra–I haven't been to Dough yet. Will have to stop in next time I'm there!

  30. Lisa Fain

    MB–Unfortunately, I'm not going to make it to Austin this trip but hope to visit there in the spring.

  31. Lisa Fain

    Nikki–Best wishes to you in your quest!

  32. Lisa Fain

    Marken–Yes, it rained the whole time I was there and there was flooding.

  33. Lisa Fain

    Bob–Thanks for the tips! I haven't been to El Gallo since high school but recall enjoying it back in the day.

  34. What a great trip! My family laughs at me because I always have to go to HEB while I'm visiting San Antonio, even though I usually have no reason to. They don't realize how wonderful HEB is! And I hope to go to the (original) Dough while I'm there.

  35. Elaine

    The turnip greens look amazing – how are they prepared? (Actually it all looks amazing!)

  36. Lisa Fain

    Janna–HEB is the best. I've probably been almost every day since I've been here!

  37. Lisa Fain

    Elaine–I'm not exactly sure how they were prepared but they were probably slow cooked with aromatics and pork.

  38. Oh man, mouth is watering just reading your post! I'm driving down to Texas this weekend, and can't wait to get my fill of Tex-Mex. Stopping in Kentucky, Shreveport, and Arlington (to see my aunt — her enchiladas are the best!), then will make my way down to San Antonio, where I know I will have to make a trip to my dad's favorite place (Eddie's Taco House) and one of my favs — The Little Taco Factory (best carne guisada ever). And of course, make my HEB runs for food and other misc items (love their makeup remover wipes — so cheap!). Looking forward to getting my fill of tamales, menudo and Big Red! Thanks for your great posts!

  39. Angela Lopez

    Great, Lisa! I hope to see you in Lubbock. Keep in touch. I hope my publisher sent you a copy of my book. If not, please let me know. Thanks!

  40. Austin Realname

    It was fun reading about your dining adventures, makes me want to visit all those places. I'm honored that you mentioned my pizza. The Italian sausage you improvised from available ingredients was by far the best topping. Your suggestion to toast the fennel for the sauce was brilliant and is the technique I'll always be using.

  41. Anonymous

    I just read your blog for the first time in many many months..I am watering up for the chicken fried steaks and chicken you got plus the tacos..Did you ever get to eat a puffy taco, corn with good fixins the taco shell is fried up to look folded over the fixins inside are applied after it cools down, it is superb. I would never leave the areas you frequented they are prettiest of all of Texas and HEB well I would be there each day to get fixins and fly to our home on the west coast with a bag on my lap of foods only sold in Texas is how much I love that store..Enjoy your mama and family life is indeed a great time with family and food..happy 2016 too!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  42. I would be interested to hear your top chicken-friend steak places in Texas. My husband was a journalist and whenever he went to a new paper, he always put in a column to find out where the best chicken-fried steak was. I'm partial to the Ranchman's Steakhouse in Ponder TX (near Denton) and Mary's in Strawn. Both pretty far away from my home in Plano. But we would make the trek to Ponder for special occasions.

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