Texas

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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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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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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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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charcoaler-drive-in-1.jpgThe Charcoaler in El Paso, Texas, looks like it fell out of time capsule from the 1950s. That is a good thing. A beautiful glass fronted open building sits back from busy Mesa Drive with an expansive lawn stretching to the seriously retro sign out front. This is truly a classic drive through restaurant.

You pull your 1955 Chevy up to one of four speaker signs depicting a chef holding a big sign with the menu on it. A helpful voice crackles on the speaker asking you for your order. You reply Cheeseburger ($1.95), French fries ($1.00), Onion Rings ($1.55) and a chocolate shake ($1.20). “Sorry, we only have vanilla shakes today.” The voice crackles back. You answer that is fine. “That will be $6.19. Please pull around to the window.”

You oblige and pull up behind three other hamburger hopefuls in the queue. When you get to the window, a neatly dressed young man takes your money and hands you three identical white paper sacks, with the Charcoaler logo on them and a small red cup with your vanilla shake. You thank the man and pull the car under one of two 100-foot long awnings, that will shield you form the Texas sun while you feast.

 

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