Texas is best known for its barbecue and Tex-Mex cooking, but there’s so much more to the Lone Star state when it comes to great food and drink.
A deep legacy of raising cattle has made Texas a meat-lover’s paradise with sizzling steaks fired up on the grill. Texas also has a long coastline with red snapper, cobia and other Gulf seafood, making it a delight for pescatarians. As one of America’s fastest-growing states, Texas has a truly global appetite, with newcomers from the US and abroad bringing fresh ideas to the local cuisine – something you can experience firsthand by visiting restaurants and food halls in any sizable city across the state.
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Get messy over a plate of barbecue
America’s greatest contribution to world cuisine has a hefty following in Texas, and the flavors, styles and recipe secrets are as diverse as the state itself. From Tyler to Temple, Texans know their barbecue.
They eat it at home, at famous hole-in-the-walls or bought from a roadside smoker. It’s in central Texas that you’ll find the state’s unofficial BBQ capital, Lockhart, with several of the most lauded meat market-style joints in the state.
Where to try it:Smitty’s Market in Lockhart has been around since 1948 and serves up tender perfection in the form of ribs, brisket, sausages and pork chops.
Tex-Mex is perhaps the most iconic cuisine in Texas © maxsol7 / Getty Images
Munch on brisket tacos and other Tex-Mex fare
A regional variation on Mexican food, Tex-Mex includes Americanized versions of Mexican dishes, as well as American dishes with a Mexican twist. Don’t spend too much effort trying to sort the two; there’s a lot of overlap, and unless you’re eating at a restaurant that serves “authentic” or “interior Mexico” dishes, you’re probably going to have some Tex sneak into your Mex. Some of the most popular dishes include tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, and breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros in the morning.
Where to try it:L&J Cafe is a local icon in El Paso that whips up classic south-of-the-border fare and has drawn crowds since it opened in 1927.
Sip a craft beer
Texas has over 300 craft breweries, with innovative beer makers scattered throughout the state. Austin, Dallas and Houston all have their gems, though you can also find outstanding options in San Antonio, El Paso and even smaller places like Abilene.
For something more old-school, be sure to try the state’s best-known amber ale. Shiner Bock came to be when Kosmos Spoetzl brought Bavarian brewing to Shiner, Texas, in 1914. Now available countrywide, Shiner Bock is still brewed at Spoetzl Brewery.
Where to try it: Weathered Souls Brewing Co, one of the few black-owned breweries in Texas, continues to blaze new trails with its well-balanced IPAs and Black is Beautiful stout.
Is it chicken? Is it steak? Doesn’t matter; it’s delicious © bhofack2 / Getty Images / iStockphoto
Discover Texans’ favorite comfort fare: Chicken-fried steak
Steak battered, coated in flour, deep-fried like chicken and later topped with gravy – need we say more? Considered an icon of the state, the chicken-fried steak is the one dish you must try in Texas.
Where to try it: Many places in Texas claim to serve the state’s best, but one cowboy we spoke to in Fort Worth swore that Lucile’s fires up the best chicken-fried steak on the planet. Given their many awards and rave reviews, it’s hard to argue!
Drink a Dr Pepper in the town where it was invented
A pharmacist by the name of Charles Alderton in a Waco drugstore/soda shop invented this aromatic cola in the 1880s. It caught on and spread all across the country (especially after its distribution at the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis). Today, Dr Pepper remains the signature drink of Texas and makes for fine refreshment after a day in the heat.
Where to try it: Waco has a sprawling museum dedicated to the unique drink, though you can just as easily skip the tour and focus your attention on the on-site vintage soda fountain and order a decadent Dr Pepper float (the soda plus a scoop of vanilla ice cream).
Fork into a peach cobbler
Nothing follows a plate of barbecue like some hot peach or blackberry cobbler with a scoop of ice cream. If you’re unfamiliar with cobbler, picture a deconstructed fruit pie without a bottom crust. Fruit and sugar are cooked together on the stovetop and then layered into a baking dish with dough on top.
Where to try it: In the town of Hutto, about a 30-minute drive northeast of Austin, the Texan Cafe and Pie Shop has unrivaled cobblers and pie slices (coconut, pecan, Amish buttermilk) that are well worth planning a trip around.
You can find a food truck for just about any type of food in Austin © Pgiam / Getty Images
Have a moveable feast in Austin
From epicurean Airstreams to regular old taco trucks, food trailers are kind of a big deal inAustin, and wandering from one to another is a fun way to experience the local food scene. No matter what you’re in the mood for, you’ll find a place ready to satisfy your craving. Specialties include barbecue, pizza, tacos, Philly cheese steaks, corn dogs, fried chicken and ramen.
Where to try it: An excellent spot to begin the mobile munching is at Thicket South Austin Food Park, where you can find vegan Mexican fare, pasta, Puerto-Rican style barbecued wings and iced coffees, plus cheesecake for dessert.
San Antonio’s riverwalk had plenty of dining, shopping and even boat rides © dszc / Getty Images
Enjoy an alfresco meal along San Antonio’s River Walk
San Antonio’s most famous destination after the Alamo is the River Walk, a meandering stretch of tree-lined waterfront crisscrossed by bridges and flanked by pedestrian paths. Removed from traffic but just steps from downtown, the River Walk also boasts some of San Antonio’s best restaurants. You’ll find a mix of high-end dining rooms with romantic views, family-friendly restaurants and easy-going umbrella-shaded cafes ideally suited for watching the passing people parade.
Where to try it: If you have time for just one meal on the River Walk, book an outdoor table at Boudro’s, best known for its wood-grilled steaks, blackened Gulf seafood and Mexican classics.
Dine your way around the globe in Houston
Immigrants from around the globe have transformed Houston into one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country. This is good news for anyone interested in exploring the cuisines of far-flung corners of the world in one place. Senegalese thieboudienne (rice, fish and tomato stew), Bosnian-style stuffed cabbage rolls and spicy Laotian noodle dishes are just a few elements of the great culinary largesse you’ll find in Houston.
Where to try it: A great place to begin the journey is in food-centric neighborhoods like Mahatma Gandhi District (famous for its Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan restaurants), Midtown (Vietnamese dining central), Katy (Venezuelan fare), Spring Branch (Korean cooking) and Chinatown (all things East Asian).
Vegetarians and vegans
On the surface, Texas might seem like an uninviting destination for vegetarians and vegans. While it’s true restaurants slinging barbecue, steaks and burgers are widespread, you’ll also find a surprising array of vegetarian places. Many meat-centric spots also have a vegetarian option – especially when it comes to burgers.
You can also find vegan versions of Texas classics. At TLC Vegan Kitchen in North Dallas, you can find a magnificent chicken fried steak (made from Impossible steak or portobello mushrooms), vegan bratwurst and vegan sloppy joes.