Travel

Fifteen great bites across Texas

Texas road. | Homesick Texan

Last November, I spent almost the entire month in Texas. Over the course of several weeks, I drove around the state doing book events, visiting with family and friends, and enjoying tons of good food. Usually, I’d eat at least four times a day (I like to try everything when I’m home), so I reckon I had almost 100 meals when I was there. While most of it was excellent, here are 15 that I truly loved. Perhaps it can inspire your own road trip, too.

My journey began in Dallas, and as soon as I got off the plane I drove to Slow Bone Barbecue, where I had a three-meat plate with brisket, cilantro sausage, and ribs along with horseradish cream potato salad, a buttery squash casserole, and fresh-from-the-fryer hush puppies on the side. Everything was soulful and excellent and it was clear that lots of joy goes into their food.

Slow Bone | Homesick Texan

After lunch number one, I headed over to nearby Herrera’s, which has been one of my all-time favorite restaurants since I was a kid. There I had a combo plate with a cheese taco, tamale, and beef enchilada. Chili gravy were smothered on the latter two with queso on the first. Three familiar old friends.

Herrea's Tex-Mex | Homesick Texan

In between Austin and Dallas is Waco, where I stopped for a Super Health Burger (it’s the sauce that makes it special) at Health Camp, with a small basket of crisp onion rings riding shotgun.

Health Camp super burger | Homesick Texan

Whenever I’m in Austin, a visit to Matt’s El Rancho for a bowl of Bob Armstrong dip is always a must. It’s a creamy queso classic served with perhaps the finest tortilla chips in Texas. The corn tortillas are made with fresh masa in house, then they’re cut in half, fried, and salted. A deluxe vehicle for delivering queso and hot sauce to your mouth.

Matts El Rancho Bob Armstrong Dip | Homesick Texan

After a trip to the tremendous new Austin library, I had lunch at Terry Black’s. The brisket, sausage, and ribs were nothing fancy, just a well prepared taste of Texas barbecue. And as an added bonus, there wasn’t a long line.

Terry Blacks | Homesick Texan

My favorite cheese enchiladas in Austin can be found at Dart Bowl, a bowling alley on the north side of town. You can get a full plate, which comes with beans and rice, but that day I ordered the enchiladas on their own with toasted homemade bread. (I highly recommend this or the homemade rolls they offer over their tortillas, which are store-bought.) A fried egg splayed on top is a solid option, too, though I didn’t do it this time as this was my second lunch of the day.

Dart Bowl cheese enchiladas | Homesick Texan

Over three days in San Antonio, I ate my weight in Tex-Mex. First, I began at Garcia’s, where they serve slices of smoked tender brisket with homemade flour tortillas, guacamole, rice, and beans.

Garcia's brisket tacos | Homesick Texan

I went to breakfast at Taco Riendo one day, and because everything on the menu looked so good, I ordered a pork chop, a bean and cheese taco, and the jumbo taco Norteño, which was stuffed with refried beans, fajita meat, guacamole, and cheese. “That’s a lot of food,” said the waitress. Thankfully, there were plenty of to-go boxes on hand.

Taco Riendo | Homesick Texan

After doing a cooking demonstration on local San Antonio television, my friend recommended we fortify ourselves for our next television appearance at the Original Donut Shop. Despite the name, the tacos are what people line up for and I had three—a carne guisada, a country sausage and egg, and a bean and cheese. The tacos were fresh and the salsa was robust with plenty of heat.

Original Donut Shop | Homesick Texan

For years, I’d been hearing about the Indian-style chicken-fried steak at Himalaya in Houston that’s served with a cashew-coconut cream gravy. Unfortunately, they weren’t offering it the day I visited but the waiter suggested their spicy fried chicken, which was juicy and crisp with plenty of kick from the generously applied masala seasoning blend. The chicken wasn’t too fiery, but the cool masala-yogurt sauce available for dipping was still appreciated.

Spicy fried chicken from Himalaya | Homesick Texan

A reader contacted me and suggested that while I was in Houston I visit Mi Sombrero, just north of the Heights. “Get the Tommy tacos,” he advised. Said tacos were homemade flour tortillas stuffed with tender fajitas smothered in queso, sautéed jalapeños, and onions. “Who’s Tommy?” I asked the waitress. A longtime customer, she said. It was his favorite and now it’s one of my favorites, too.

Mi Sombrero Tonys Tacos | Homesick Texan

My mom’s temporary home has a Tomball address and so a visit to Tejas Chocolate Craftory was a must. This is a bean-to-bar chocolate maker that started smoking meat a few years ago. And the chocolate is indeed top notch, but it’s their barbecue that’s put them on the map. After waiting in a short line (I arrived a half-hour before opening), I ordered a three-meat plate with cornbread pudding and an ethereal carrot soufflé that was a little savory and a little sweet. In fact, while the barbecue was extraordinary, the carrot soufflé was perhaps my favorite thing on the tray.

Tejas Chocolate Craftory barbecue | Homesick Texan

No road trip across Texas is complete without a stop at Whataburger, where I had my usual—a Whataburger with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeños, and mayonnaise. French fries, too. Not pictured are an unsweetened iced tea and two tubs of spicy ketchup.

Whataburger | Homesick Texan

On the journey between Houston and Dallas, just past Centerville sits the tiny town of Leona. I’d been craving chicken-fried steak and I’d heard this was the place to go. I stopped one afternoon at the Pecan Grove Cafe and ordered a plate that came with a trip to the salad bar, hand-cut curly fries, and thick slices of toast almost juicy with butter. As for the steak, it had been hand battered and fried in a skillet, which yielded a crisp and perfectly seasoned crust that adhered well to the fork-tender meat. To finish, a bowl of thick cream gravy speckled with black pepper was on the side. Besides homemade, this is one of the finest chicken-fried steaks I’ve ever had.

Pecan Grove Cafe

When I’m in Texas, eating out in restaurants is fun, but nothing satisfies like a home-cooked meal prepared with love. Indeed, my favorite thing I ate on my trip was made by my grandma. One afternoon, to celebrate my book signing that night, she baked me a chocolate pie. And between the two of us, we polished off the whole thing in a day.

Chocolate pie | Homesick Texan

As always, it was good to be back home.

  1. OMG! This is torture!

  2. Oh my gosh! That is my grandma’s pie, too, almost exactly, and my all-time favorite dessert. She was born and raised in East Texas, I’ve never seen another pie like it. I have to make it now that she’s gone, it’s not the same but it’ll do. This made my day!

  3. I’m new to Texas and frustrated that all the “Best in Texas” lists don’t mention El Paso! I know we’re far out here, but I need some recommendations!

    • Lisa Fain

      Miriam–I love El Paso but didn’t make it there this trip. Do you have my book Queso? I talk about it and the surrounding area a lot! In any case, here are a few of my favorites: Avila’s, L&J, Carnitas Queretaro, Chopes’s (in La Mesa, NM), and Caliche’s Frozen Custard (in Las Cruces). There’s a pho place that I haven’t been to yet that Yelp named the best new restaurant in Texas that you should try, too. There’s so much good food in El Paso, it’s hard to go wrong!

      • That is so helpful and kind of you! I will check out Queso and your other recommendations. So far we love it here!

        • Lisa Fain

          I’ve had a huge crush on El Paso for a long time. Hope to get back there soon!

  4. I don’t remember where I saw this, but when you get your cream gravy with your CFS, have them put it UNDER the steak. That way the top stays crunchy and the bottom gets gravy-soft. Best of BOTH worlds!

  5. Jennifer

    Every ONE of these pics is frame-worthy, and they’re making me drool! Man, I miss Texas.
    And I love the new look of your blog!

  6. Diane Shaw

    I am from Texas, grew up in Houston, my family is from Mexia/Wortham/Waco area and your posts always remind me of the good food, love and family back home. I live in Michigan and have for many years now, and I cannot afford to get back home very often. I havent seen my mom in almost 3 years in person. But we talk on phone and online and we love to talk FOOD and kitchen memories and your posts really help us share that connection. Thanks! And now I have to go salivate over all the delish TexMex I cant find in SE MI! Gonna go cook it myself!

  7. Mi Sombrero has been my breakfast weekend stop for over 15 years. No frills tex-mex goodness – thanks for mentioning it!

    • Lisa Fain

      Sandy–I’m grateful to know about it now. Such a warm and welcoming spot. I will be returning next time I’m home!

      • I’m within walking distance from Mi Sombrero. It’s not fancy but it sure satisfies a hankerin’ for Tex Mex. It’s a great place for breakfast tacos too, but Tommy’s Taco’s are a well known favorite! Hope you get back soon!

  8. Amazing review of Texas must haves! I’ll put several on my “to eat” list for this year. ?

  9. Matthew Fricke

    Wow. Those tortilla chips from Matt’s El Rancho look and sound incredible. I’m so hungry now. lol. The chocolate pie looks amazing too. Nobody makes chocolate pie as good as grandmas. 🙂

    • Lisa Fain

      Matthew–They are an excellent tortilla chip. And yes, a chocolate pie made by Grandma will always be the best!

  10. Spicy ketchup from Whataburger FTW!! lol

    • Lisa Fain

      Ryan–Absolutely! I’ve got a bottle at home, too. from HEB.

  11. Robbie Musson

    So glad I’m headed to NETx at the end of the month or I wouldn’t have opened this post! Midwest food just can’t compete.

  12. LOVE your new blog format. So much easier and more fun to read. We are getting ready to move from Dallas to the Phoenix area. I think I need to eat everything here you posted in our area (except for your choice of mayo on the Whataburger!). I’m so glad I have your books to take with me!

    • Lisa Fain

      Peggy–Thank you! It’s been fun working on the new layout. Best wishes on your move to the Phoenix area. My friend Steve has a place there called Texaz Grill, which serves a lot of Texas favorites. You should stop in when you’re feeling homesick.

  13. Lisa I hope you will try to replicate that carrot soufflé and give us a recipe.

  14. Chef Paul

    You cannot go wrong with bowling alley food in Texas! When I was interning at the Stemmons Marriott, we used to go to the bowling alley behind the hotel. Chimichangas the size of a speed bump! Crisp all the way to the beef and beans inside. They also had a bowl of pintos with meaty pork bones served with greens and cornbread…Oh my!

  15. Wow, how are you not 400 lbs! I was raised to clean my plate and would:-) It all sounds amazing. Can’t wait to try the Tomball place (It’s the closest.)

    Love your cookbook Family Table! Recipes are amazing!

    Ruth

    • Lisa Fain

      Ruth–Ha! I walk at least 10,000 steps a day, which helps a lot. Thank you for the kind words about my book and enjoy Tejas! It’s fantastic.

  16. Not to nit-pick your wonderful article, but the tacos at Mi Sombrero are “Tommy’s”, not “Tony’s”. Love the article, the blog, and my awesome copy of your new book, Queso!

  17. I’ve finally been told it is okay to book our spring break trip to Texas. This makes me even more happy to return to my birth state! Good coverage of a number of places. Can I get grandmas address so I can swing by for some of that pie? Hopefully we will get out to more than our Houston / Galveston area this time…..enjoying your blog and books for many years!

  18. Your new template is SO MUCH better! Love all the photos! And I can’t wait to tuck into a CFS next time I visit 🙂

  19. I want to know more about the squash casserole, the mixed pickles, and the carrot soufflé.

    • Lisa Fain

      The squash casserole had big cubes of toasted, buttery bread with lots of herbs, such as sage, for seasoning along with the tender summer squash. The pickles were tangy, crisp, and spicy, and the carrot souffle was light, custardy, and straddled the line between savory and sweet. Highly recommended!

  20. Here’s a suggestion; next time you’re in Austin and looking for a GREAT (not good) breakfast taco. “Flores Breakfast & Lunch”. It;s a small green shack on the shoulder of 290 out in Dripping Springs (about 20 miles from Austin). This is my guilty pleasure every time I’m in Austin. It has a walk up window and there’s always a line. Their Guiso tacos are my favorite, but they have all the regular breakfast taco offerings. Come prepared for a long line. These are the best cheap taco’s I’ve ever had.

    • Lisa Fain

      David–Thank you for the tip! I will visit next time I’m there.

  21. I lived in Austin 33 years and never heard about the cheese enchiladas at Dart Bowl. Definitely checking it out on my next visit. I live in Seattle now and while I love it here I have yet to find good Tex Mex food or breakfast tacos.

    • Lisa Fain

      Danita–A trip to Dart Bowl is a must next time you’re home. And in Seattle, I believe that Jack’s BBQ has breakfast tacos.

  22. A suggestion for the next time you are in Tomball: Try the CFS at Goodson’s. The large is humongous, the homemade yeast rolls are the size of softballs, the sides are delicious, and the cream gravy comes in its own bowl to do with as desired (including eating with a spoon). P.S. The pot roast is tender and tasty too.

    • Lisa Fain

      Melanie–Thank you for the suggestion! A trip to Goodson’s has been on my list of things to do for quite some time and I look forward to finally visiting.

  23. When I was a little girl, my doctor was Dr. Fain in Duncanville, TX. Any relation?

  24. next time you’re in Dallas head on over to the Lakewood Smokehouse, and order up their Onion Rings. The best in the state and the dipping sauce is great too.

  25. Sandra Collins

    Girl, how do you not weight 600 pounds? I gained 10 pounds just reading your post! My favorite Whataburger in Dallas is by DFW Airport. I swear their burgers are just better. The meat has a crispy edge around the outside and the bun is hot and fresh and a little buttery – Justaburger with extra mustard and jalapenos. Dang, now my mouth is watering. I stop there whenever I come home from a trip. Fortunately, it’s close to the Parking Spot, so it’s pretty much stupid-easy to get to. On the north side of the airport, at 114 and Freeport Parkway. People think I’m crazy, until they try it.

  26. Vicki Moore

    Really Lisa? A Whataburger with mayo instead of mustard! You have been away from Texas too long. Going to have to try that CFS real soon…love when they are pan fried.

    • Agreed! Mayo? You’ve definitely been gone too long! I love Whataburger, but still think Sandy’s, in Austin, is the best — ordered just the way it comes, no substitutions (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and MUSTARD). It is perfect.

      • Lisa Fain

        Vicki and Ronda–Believe it or not, but I’ve always put mayonnaise on my hamburgers, even when I was a kid!. My family has no idea where I picked up this habit and teases me about it often.

  27. I moved from San Antonio to a small Swedish town in Kansas. A Tex-Mex restaurant opened and serves more-or-less “standard fare,” but they have tamed their salsa down to a whisper. It’s almost like tomato puree, it is so without zip. I always ask for the hot stuff I know they have in the kitchen AND I’m thinking of carrying my bottle of Cholula in my purse! I miss South Texas SO MUCH.

    • Lisa Fain

      Gretta–You should definitely bring along your Cholula! Nothing worse than tepid salsa.

  28. Holy moly, Lisa, what a great trip! As my wife puts it, we’re blessed with an abundance of home. So glad I’ll be back in Austin for a week in March.

    • Lisa Fain

      Bill–That’s terrific you’ll be back in March! Spring just may be my favorite time to be in Texas.

  29. We were in Austin a few months back, I highly recommend dinner at Fonda San Miguel. And Buck’s BBQ in Sweetwater is great for their lunch buffet and some jalapeno bottle caps,

    • Lisa Fain

      Joe–Thank you for reminding me about Fonda San Miguel. I haven’t been there in years and it’s such a lovely place. And next time I’m in Sweetwater I’ll stop at Buck’s.

  30. My sister lives right down the street from the Original Donut Shop and I can tell you the donuts are good, too (although when I’m home for a visit, I need to have breakfast tacos before any other sort of breakfast food!). Also, next time you’re in the area, check out the CFS at De Wese’s Tip Top Cafe, also on Fred – it’s been there since the ’30s.

  31. Elizabeth Morgan

    Next time you’re traveling thru the hill country, gotta hit up the Koffee Kup Family Restaurant in Hico! It’s my hometown, currently living in Columbus OH, and it has the best chicken fried steak, onion rings and pie… ALL THE PIE!

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