Texas

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 The painted plates have been replaced by a 16 foot contemporary painting of a giant red squid – the main focal point in a bright, relaxed but sophisticated white and black interior, and while you can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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peronisteak.jpgBuffalo Gap is only a few miles south-west of Abilene. The small town (population 463) has a fascinating Historic Village, a must for any western history buffs.

The jewel of Buffalo Gap is Perini Ranch Steakhouse. Located down a twisting dirt road, the steakhouse is in a converted barn with an outdoor patio cooled by lazily turning overhead fans.

Perini's is the brainchild of Tom Perini, born and bred a Texas cattleman. He loves cattle ranching but confesses there is no money to be made that way.

Faced with losing the ranch because he couldn't earn enough raising cattle, his mother told him to turn to cooking, something he had been doing for years on cattle drives. Everyone loved his down-home, ranchhand-pleasing dishes.

That's what you'll get at Perini's. Steaks, fried chicken, ham, chicken fried steak, hamburgers, catfish, and ribs come out on huge plates, designed to satisfy the hungriest of cowboys.

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Houston PostcardHouston, it seems, has as many nicknames as it does oil wells, but the one that touches my Texas DNA is THE BIG HEART!   Not a bad welcoming moniker for visitors invading the town for Super Bowl  Weekend.  Houston - The Biggest Heart, Deep in the Heart of Texas - got this particular name from storm victims fleeing the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.  No other city opened its doors as Houston did.  Houston housed, fed and attended to more than 150,000 survivors, many of whom have chosen to now call Houston their home.

Big Heart -  Big Eaters!  … and great restaurants!  For Mexican and Tex/Mex:  Caracol, Hugo’s, Molina’s, Molina’s Cantina. For Texas BBQ:  Goode Company BBQ, Luling City Real Texas Bar-B-Que.  Fried Chicken: Barbecue Inn, Frenchy’s.  Seafood: Caracol, Zydeco Louisiana Diner, Japanese:  Uchi, Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ,  Uptown Sushi.  Indian:  Maharaja Bhog and the Bombay Pizza Company.

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driskill1Treat yourself to the pleasures of well-prepared meals in comfortable settings by starting at the Driskill Hotel, centrally located at the corner of Brazos and Sixth Street. For dinner, the Driskill Grill creates a quiet space behind the busy, noisy Driskill Bar, one of the city’s most popular gathering spots.

The Grill has the look of an early 20th century gentlemen’s club, with dark wood, oil paintings and sconces on the walls. In that elegant setting, the very modern menu draws inspiration from the dynamic world of contemporary farm-to-table dining with a Southwestern touch.

A tasting is a good way to experience the extensive menu. Executive chef Jonathan Gelman’s plates arrive at the table with a painterly touch.

Deep red brush strokes of caramelized beet juice decorate an appetizer plate with tastings of beef tartar, ahi poke, and a Prince Edward Island oyster on the half shell.

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