A Barbecue Tour of Texas

Marnay and I just had our “Babymoon” in the great state of Texas, specifically Austin and Houston. We were in El Paso last summer, but barbecue country West Texas is not.

Austin, Texas vacation

In preparation for our trip, I read a lot of articles and listened to a lot of podcasts about barbecue. I would like to thank Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monthly and J.C. Reid of the Houston Chronicle for giving me a crash course on Texas barbecue. I also don’t want to leave out Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook. If you are traveling to Houston any time soon, I definitely recommend the Barbecue State of Mind podcast from the Houston Chronicle.

And while I always enjoy Daniel Vaughn’s writing, his Texas Monthly’s Top 50 is the barbecue list that every single barbecue joint in Texas wants to be on. It is like the Bible of barbecue.

Below is a recap of the barbecue joints we visited on our trip. We won’t be ranking them in any particular order, because they were all amazing. Also, we consider all of them to be important building blocks in our Texas barbecue journey.

Micklethwait Craft Meats
Micklethwait, in East Austin, consists of a barbecue trailer, a giant outdoor smoker and a covered picnic area. The morning we went, it was in the 30s and windy. That would stop a lot of folks from going (resulting in a very short line) but it didn’t stop us! These were the meatiest pork ribs of the trip and they were our favorite item at Micklethwait. If you take a look at them, the smoke ring is insane. The brisket stood on its own, but was even better on Texas toast with pickles and onions.

Micklethwait Craft Meats barbecue plate in Austin, Texas

All of the joints we visited were friendly, but Micklethwait gets bonus points for being friendliest. And even though it was really cold on the day we went, it was a lot of fun eating the barbecue outside, picnic-style.

Micklethwait Craft Meats barbecue truck in Austin, Texas

Terry Black’s Barbecue
This was the best beef rib of the trip. It was gigantic and SO fatty, in a good way, but not too fatty either. You bet we each took pictures of ourselves trying to eat the whole thing. The flavor reminded us of pastrami. Terry Black’s brisket was top notch, superbly fatty and with a killer bark. The sausage was also quite good.

Marnay eating a giant beef rib at Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin, Texas

The atmosphere at Terry Black’s is a little touristy, likely owing to its location across the Colorado River, near downtown. That means doubling up with strangers at tables, but the staff is very helpful in organizing the restaurant and eating barbecue with strangers is fun.

Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin, Texas

Kreuz Market
Kreuz, in Lockhart, was on our 3 hour drive between Austin and Houston, so of course we made a stop. The sausage was excellent, with a nice kick to it. However, we were a little disappointed by the beef rib as it was too dry for our liking. Kreuz’s shoulder clod, which is a leaner cut than brisket, did have a nice meaty “chew” to it.

Kreuz Market barbecue in Lockhart, Texas

The sausage, which Kreuz is famous for, was the best of the trip, with some serious heat. We had eaten Kreuz sausage at Hill Country in DC and, fortunately, the real deal tasted MUCH better. No surprise that it would taste better fresh versus shipped halfway across the country! If we went back I would get the pork chop, which is a rare sight in a barbecue restaurant. Alas, we did not see the famous pitmaster Roy Perez, who is a ringer for Elvis Presley.

Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas

Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ
I can think of few better combinations than barbecue and tacos. It is likely the future of Texas barbecue and has always been important in the San Antonio area, where pitmaster Miguel Vidal grew up. Valentina’s is a food truck in a parking lot in suburban South Austin. It was originally an unincorporated area and was very recently annexed by the City. Behind the truck is a wonderful partially enclosed dining area with picnic tables, TVs and lot of sports memorabilia. You can tell that this is a great place to watch the big game.

Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ in Austin, Texas

The menu is separated between “Tex” and “Mex”. Anything on the “Mex” side of the menu gets served in Valentina’s incredible housemade flour tortillas. The smoked brisket taco was unreal – we got two! The brisket itself is perfect, but then it is topped with sea salt lime guacamole and tomato serrano salsa. We LOVED the guac! The smoked carnitas tacos, made from Kurobuta (Berkshire) pork, had a sweet taste from the super high-quality meat and were topped with caramelized onions, cilantro and a tomatillo habanero salsa for heat.

Lunch at Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ in Austin, Texas

We did not get a chance to try it, but Valentina’s opens at 7:30am for breakfast and it looks like it would be fantastic. In fact, you could probably do a barbecue tour of Austin starting out with breakfast at Valentina’s. Maybe an idea for us in the future??

Tejas Chocolate
Our favorite all-around barbecue joint of the trip, as well as the best brisket. They open at 11am and despite the fact that we arrived at 11:10am on Thursday, the line was well out the door. It is an indisputable fact of life that fatty brisket is better than lean brisket. That being said, the brisket at Tejas Chocolate managed to be the best EVEN THOUGH it was not the fattiest. That feat can be attributed to the cooking technique and to the well-seasoned bark. Similarly, the pork ribs were not as fatty as some other places but were still a cut above the rest. Tejas Chocolate also was the only barbecue joint we visited on the trip that had pork belly and boy, was it tasty. It was great on its own but even better with the famous mole barbecue sauce, aka “the most expensive barbecue sauce in the world.”

Tejas Chocolate in Houston, Texas

The crazy thing about Tejas Chocolate is that, as the name suggests, they started out making bean-to-bar chocolate. Their revenue wasn’t as good as they hoped and they realized that they needed to try something different. After a few years of experimenting at home making barbecue, they started serving it at the shop and almost IMMEDIATELY landed in the top 10 of the Texas Monthly Top 50. What a story!

Lunch at Tejas Chocolate in Houston, texas

I bought a T-shirt at each barbecue joint and chef Greg at Tejas noticed my Valentina’s shirt when I went to pick up our food. “Great food and great people,” he said.

We couldn’t agree more.

Paul eating barbecue at Tejas Chocolate in Houston, Texas

Best Bite of the trip
Paul: a tie between the Brisket at Tejas Chocolate and Beef Rib at Terry Black’s
Marnay: brisket at Tejas Chocolate

Places we visited
Micklethwait Craft Meats: 1309 Rosewood Ave Austin, TX 78702
Terry Black’s Barbecue: 1003 Barton Springs Rd Austin, TX 78704
Kreuz Market: 619 N Colorado St Lockhart, TX 78644
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ: 11500 Manchaca Rd Austin, TX 78745
Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue: 200 N Elm St Tomball, TX 77375

A Guide to Mocktails

As you may have seen in our Instagram post from our recent trip to Austin and Houston, we are expecting!

Marnay and Paul are expecting a baby boy

Yes, Marnay is pregnant and baby boy Meyer will be making his arrival in July 2019. As a result of this, we have gotten quite good at ordering mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktails) at bars and restaurants. For the record, I am also not drinking during the pregnancy. I figure if Marnay can do it, so can I. If you are also expecting, don’t drink, or just want to give drinking a break, here are some tips we picked up along the way:

Ask Your Server
If you don’t see anything you like on the menu, just ask your server if the bartender can make something special for you. We did exactly this at Himitsu and they came up with a drink simply called “Orange-Ginger,” a very well-balanced mocktail.

Orange-Ginger cocktail at Himitsu in Washington DC

Consider Agua Frescas
Tacos, Tortas, Tequila (TTT) in Silver Spring makes great margaritas. (I mean, it has tequila in the name). But now that we’re not drinking, it was time to discover agua frescas, non-alcoholic sodas made from fruit, spices and nuts. At TTT, Marnay’s favorite agua fresca is the Jamaica and I am a fan of the Horchata.

Jamaica and Horchata agua fresca's at Tacos, Tortas, Tequila (TTT) in Silver Spring, Maryland

Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
When eating Indian street food at Chai Pani in Decatur, Georgia we looked for a non-alcoholic drink that would complement the food. We ordered a Lime Ricky and a drink called a Salt Lassi, which was purely savory. One of the most unique beverages I’ve ever had. It was a lot to handle on its own but it complemented the food very well.

Salt Lassi cocktail at Chai Pani in Decatur, Georgia

You Don’t Need to Avoid Bars
Even though we aren’t drinking, we do not need to avoid the fun and energy of sitting at a bar. At Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston, we had the best mocktail of our lives. The bartender asked us what we wanted and Marnay said “something refreshing with cucumber.” The bartender put a lot of effort into making a drink with cucumber, lime, mint and sparkling water. It’s no surprise that Anvil was recently named a 2019 Semifinalist for a James Beard Foundation Award.

Cucumber mocktails at Anvil Bar and Refuge in Houston, Texas

Topo Chico
We love Topo Chico! It is our go-to sparkling water and while we can find it at Whole Foods in the DC area, it was EVERYWHERE is Texas. During our recent trip to Houston and Austin, we had Topo Chico at least once per day, usually twice. The source is from a spring in Monterrey, Mexico and it just feels exotic, like a fine wine. It is something fun to drink. We also enjoy drinking it for “happy hour” at home before we cook dinner.

Topo Chico in Austin, Texas

We honestly have not missed alcohol during these last five months. It makes it easier not drinking when you can still have fun with cool non-alcoholic drinks. It’s helping us to became more well-rounded in our knowledge of food and drink which, frankly, is exciting! We hope this guide helps you on your journey!

2018 Year in Review

2018 was a year of traveling. I felt like we were Eater roving food critic Bill Addison, we were in so many different places. It definitely shows in our 2018 blog posts – there are more posts from outside the DC-area than there are posts within the DC-area. Marnay and I asked each other questions about our favorites of 2018, here are our responses:

What was your favorite meal of 2018?

Paul – My favorite meal was the Taste of Zahav prix fixe menu – a lot of incredible food for an absolute steal of a price, $48 per person. This may be one of the best dining deals in the country.

Marnay – My favorite was lunch at Al Ameer, the Lebanese palace in Dearborn, Michigan. We headed there as soon as our plane landed in Detroit and while we ate way too much food, I still can’t stop thinking about the stuffed lamb.

Stuffed lamb at Al Ameer, Lebanese food in Dearborn, Michigan

What was your favorite bar of 2018?

Paul – Maxwell, the wine bar in Shaw, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, is a wine-lover’s dream. They don’t take themselves too seriously, either. It is equally great for wine-geeks as it is for casual drinkers. It’s also the perfect place to go if you want to learn more about wine.

Marnay – Brenner Pass, Richmond. I really enjoyed the bar at this modern Alpine restaurant in Scotts Addition. We shared a bottle of wine with dessert – a perfect combination! The vibe was cozy, despite the fact that the place was packed and our bartender was incredibly knowledgeable.

Bar at Brenner Pass in Richmond, Virginia

Which restaurant do you want to visit again in 2018?

Paul – Commander’s Palace, in New Orleans. It made for an incredible, old school Creole experience.

Marnay – We loved eating breakfast every morning at Time Market when we were staying in Tucson. Closer to home, we are definitely going to back to All Purpose Shaw and Kuya Ja’s (for some lechon belly) ASAP.

Commander’s Palace, old school Creole in New Orleans, Louisiana

What was your favorite food/restaurant-related experience?

Paul – I would consider going outside of one’s comfort zone as a food-related experience. So in that case, my favorite experience was our meals in El Paso. That area feels closer to Mexico than the U.S.

Marnay – We went to “Mexico in a Bottle” at the Mexican Cultural Institute, the old Mexican Embassy on 16th Street. For a modest fee, we got to sip on unlimited mezcal, meet local chefs and eat some delicious Mexican food. It was a dream come true!

Lunch in El Paso, Texas

Which restaurant surprised you the most?

Paul – Chai Pani in Decatur, GA, just outside of Atlanta. I had no idea how much I enjoyed Indian street food until we ate there.

Marnay – Momofuku CCDC. We had not been there in years, mainly because we were not super impressed the first time we went. But the menu has been totally revamped and that bronzed whole roasted chicken was delicious – and enough to feed an entire family!

Bronzed whole roasted chicken at Momofuku CCDC in Washington DC

What was your favorite meal in Silver Spring?

Paul – The medium-rare ribeye from Urban Butcher hit the spot for me. And it is consistent.

Marnay – The calzones at Pacci’s are insanely good right now. For years, we stuck to ordering Neopolitan pizzas and a salad. This year, inspired by our trip to Milan, we started ordering calzones at Pacci’s and we haven’t looked back.

Calzone and pizza at Pacci's in Silver Spring, Maryland

What was your favorite meal outside of the DC-area?

Paul – There were so many meals outside of the DC area, but my favorite all-around meal was at H&H Car Wash in El Paso.

Marnay – Mine was dinner at Park Place Cafe in Merchantville, NJ. We were treated like family and the sauce on our pasta was something I will never forget. So incredibly simple yet so good.

Eating breakfast at H&H Car Wash in El Paso, Texas

What is your favorite recipe to make at home?

Paul – Grilled lamb chops with cucumber salad. Tender, crusty, fatty, salt and cooling. Mmmmmm.

Marnay – I’m a big fan of cooking weekend at breakfast at home. Since we are not home on the weekends very often, it’s a special treat. One of our go-to’s is making homemade biscuits and topping them with a fried egg and side of bacon. We use Alton Brown’s biscuit recipe. Who wants to go out for brunch, anyway??

Paul and Marnay in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Here’s a list of our favorites. Go ahead and give them a try!

Zahav: 237 St. James Pl. Philadelphia, PA 19106
Al Ameer: 27346 Ford Rd Dearborn Heights, MI 48127
Maxwell: 1336 9th St, NW Washington, DC 20001
Brenner Pass: 3200 Rockbridge St #100 Richmond, VA 23230
Commander’s Palace: 1403 Washington Ave New Orleans, LA 70130
Time Market: 444 E. University Blvd Tucson, AZ 85705
All Purpose Shaw: 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly: 5268-H Nicholson Ln Rockville, MD 20895
Chai Pani: 406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave Decatur, GA 30030
Momofuku CCDC: 1090 I St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Urban Butcher: 8226 Georgia Ave Silver Spring, MD 20910
Pacci’s: 8113 Georgia Ave Silver Spring, MD 20910

Southwestern Vacation Recap: El Paso and New Mexico

Eatnowrunlater is back from our summer vacation and we want to tell you all about it! This summer, we headed to El Paso, Texas and Tucson, Arizona, with a stop in Las Cruces, New Mexico along the way. We learned a lot about the food in these similar yet district regions, just as we learned a lot about the desert. This post will be a mix of the food we ate and the scenery we experienced.

Paul and Marnay at Franklin Mountain State Park in El Paso, Texas

El Paso is in Texas, the furthest west you can possibly go and still be in the state. However, it’s in a different time zone than the rest of Texas and it’s 800 miles from Houston and 600 miles from Austin. It’s also sandwiched between Juarez, Mexico and New Mexico. Because of its location on the Mexican border, El Paso has developed its own “border cuisine.” It’s similar to Tex-Mex cuisine, but in its most authentic form.

Mural at the border of Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas

What we ate

At all of the restaurants we went to, the format for the meal is the same. When you sit down, you are greeted with tortilla chips and homemade salsa. They aren’t messing around with the salsa – this is spicy stuff. Once you order your meal, you are invariably asked “corn or flour tortillas?” Breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It doesn’t matter what you order, every meal has the chance of being hand-held.

The most “Tex-Mex” style restaurant we went to was L&J Café, “The Old Place by the Graveyard.” L&J was very crowded, especially considering we arrived at around 4:30pm, immediately after we landed in El Paso. It had a family-friendly atmosphere that chains like Chili’s and Applebee’s can only dream of emulating. The salsa at L&J was top notch. I had a great burrito (very common in El Paso) and Marnay had steak fajitas. To be honest, the chips and salsa were so good we filled up on them first.

Dinner at L and J Cafe in El Paso, Texas

La Rosita Cafe is on the Interstate 10 access road and looks a little run down, but inside the staff couldn’t be more warm and inviting. It’s the real deal, too – the menu is written on a white board and is entirely in Spanish. Another commonality among the restaurants in this region is that your plate consists of your main entrée, rice, and then beans with a little bit of mild cheese on top. In a basket on the side are your tortillas. Here, I ordered the lomo (pork loin) in a pipian, a cousin to mole. Meanwhile, Marnay got Chile Verde, beef in a green chile sauce.

Lunch at La Rosita Cafe in El Paso, Texas

We learned about H&H Car Wash from Eater’s Bill Addison, when he named it his favorite restaurant in Texas. It was opened in 1958 as a car wash with a small lunch counter attached and it does not look like it has changed much since then. This was our favorite meal in El Paso. Marnay had the best eggs of her life, along with beans with cheese and rice, while I had a ruddy Chile Colorado, which is basically beef in a red chile sauce.

Breakfast at H and H Car Wash in El Paso, Texas

H and H Car Wash in El Paso, Texas

What we did

Franklin Mountain State Park, which preserves the Chihuahuan Desert landscape of the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, is the largest urban park in the country. Ranger Peak, over a mile above sea level, can be reached by the Wyler Aerial Tramway. The four minute park ranger guided ride gives incomparable views of Texas, New Mexico and Mexico.

Wyler Aerial Tramway at Franklin Mountain State Park in El Paso, Texas

The following day, we returned to the mountain and went on a sunset hike with Don, a local guide. Don took us up the western side of the mountain, where we had views of New Mexico and downtown El Paso. He taught us a lot about the different plants that live in the desert, such as Sotol, Barrel cacti and Ocotillo.

Hiking with Don at Franklin Mountain State Park in El Paso, Texas

We thought we were the only ones in the park that night, but it turns out there was one other hiker, and we caught him just as he was about to paraglide off the mountain! It was amazing to watch him run and jump off the mountain and then immediately go hundreds of feet in the air. On our way down, we saw one of the most magical sunsets we have ever seen. We stopped to hang out in the parking lot to take it all in, as bats whizzed by us in the night sky.

Paraglider at Franklin Mountain State Park in El Paso, Texas

Las Cruces

Early one afternoon, we headed to New Mexico and the incredible White Sands National Monument. About halfway between White Sands and El Paso is the small city of Las Cruces. If you know anything about food in New Mexico, you know that it is famous for its tremendous variety of chiles. In fact, the state has a beautiful new license plate that reads “Chile Capital of the World.”

Los Mariachis is another family-friendly establishment that showcased the best of New Mexico cuisine. It was Sunday brunch when we went, so I ordered the “Huevos Mariachi” – huevos rancheros with a red potent red chile sauce. Marnay stayed traditional and went with Chile Verde. The chips and salsa at Los Mariachis were HOT HOT HOT. To get the full New Mexico experience, we also ordered a side of green chile sauce.

Lunch at Los Mariachis in Las Cruces, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is the largest gypsum sand dune in the world. It truly is like nothing you have ever seen. The dunes of pure white sand seem to go on forever and it really looks like something from another planet. It’s located in the Tularosa Basin, between the Sierra Blancas and the Organ Mountains.

Paul and Marnay at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

In the evening, we did a sunset hike led by husband and wife park rangers. There are a surprising amount of plants that live in the dunes, and we learned that there is water about 30 feet under the sand. These plants have to touch the water to be able to survive – if they don’t, they will die. The most amazing part of the hike was getting to see TWO sunsets, because of the reflection of the mountains.

Sunset at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

We loved El Paso and New Mexico but it was time to continue our journey. Click here for our Tucson recap.