Texas

1.-la-duniOne of my favorite places to satiate my sweet tooth is La Duni in Dallas. La Duni Latin American café and bakery has several locations. Not only is the atmosphere feminine and romantic, the pastries and tarts are sinfully delicious.

And, what better way to spend Valentine’s Day than at this romantic café enjoying the delectable coffee menu with a cream filled tres leches cake for dessert. Yes, there is something about La Duni that is dreamy and otherworldly.

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img 4784Austin has a lot going on. Besides being the state capital, the city has amazing music venues with a great collection of bars and a dynamic food scene. Austin has it all. Upscale, fine dining restaurants as well as affordable neighborhood hangouts specializing in Mexican, Asian, Indian, French, American cuisine and more barbecue and burger joints than you can shake a stick at.

One way to navigate the diverse food scene is to check out the food trucks. Encounter a food truck in most cities and they’re pretty utilitarian. Usually the truck is a step van with a window cut along one side where customers order and pick up their food. To eat your meal, you stand on the sidewalk trying not to get food on your clothes. A web site, Austin Food Carts, keeps track of the comings and goings of trucks, with daily updates.

But the majority of food trucks in Austin aren’t trucks at all.  With tires mere props, these trucks are trailers. Since they never move, trailers can offer customers creature comforts like picnic benches and umbrellas. There’s even an ATM machine and a patch of Astro Turf at a trailer called Bar-B-Que-T on South Congress at East Monroe. Some have all but lost their “trailer-ness.”

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postcard 1024Though I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I have Texas DNA in my bones! And, though I love California Mexican Food, my heart sings when Bill and I have the opportunity to dine Authentic Tex-Mex somewhere deep in the heart of Texas! If I could, like Tex-Mex expert, Robb Walsh, I would wander the state checking out every small eatery in every town. So, on a recent trip to Houston, we – like homing pigeons - made our way to the oldest Mexican Restaurant in that town, Molina’s and to their Enchiladas de Tejas!

Californians love fresh healthy food; accordingly they top their cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese enchiladas with tomatoes, green onions, sour cream and shredded lettuce. Texans, on the other hand really do love dark n dirty! Chili ‘gravy’ tops their Kraft Velveeta or Land O’Lakes Extra Melt stuffed enchiladas! “Velveeta? Land O’Lakes? You ask, shocked? Yes, my dear. Processed cheese melts differently - more elegantly – and is the real ‘authentic’ cheese of choice (irony intended). Still shocked? Bless your heart!

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caracolCaracol is not my idea of a Mexican Restaurant. My idea of a Mexican restaurant is that small family owned local café in Toluca Lake or Carmen’s on 3rd St. that we would go to on Thursday night, and I would chow down on buttered tortillas with beans and rice while the rest of the family ordered the ”regular.”

In Houston where my grandmother lived, we would go to Felix’s, but by then I was eating everything on the menu. Their décor was tipico (and we all know the painted plates and over sized sombreros that hung on the walls). Cozy and dark, familiarity bred joy and a deep sense of comfort – not contempt. (Let’s not discuss the ubiquitous swinging singles Mexican bars with their multi-colored chips that proliferate the landscape.)

No, Caracol is definitely not tipico! The painted plates have been replaced by a 16 foot contemporary painting of a giant red squid – the main focal point in a bright, relaxed but sophisticated white and black interior, and while you can get beans and rice, don’t expect a “regular” anywhere on the menu.

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beehive1.jpgIf you're in Texas, you'll be tossing your fears about high cholesterol levels out the car window. This is cattle country, after all, and nothing is as good as a steak cooked on a hot-as-hell grill or a breaded piece of beef that's been fried to perfection. A favorite of locals in the area and always crowded, the Beehive Restaurant has locations in Abilene and nearby Albany.

Primarily a steak house with steaks cooked on an open pit, mesquite fired grill or as chicken fried steak, the Beehive has an upscale, clubby feeling, the kind of place that attracts friends wanting a big meal and some cocktails, families with their kids, and couples out on a date. 10-14 ounce filets, ribeyes and New York strip steaks are grilled with smoky flavor on the blazingly hot pit in the kitchen. 

Owned by the Esfandiary brothers, Ali and Neiman, who arrived from Iran decades ago and, incongruously, decided to open an American-style country cafe.

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