The flavor of Texas is that of the world, its history, and its larger than life locals. The Lone Star State is a region of the United States that doesn’t shirk from its past. Texans embrace their roots wholeheartedly; it is who Texans are, right down to the core.
I’m not sure about you, but when making travel plans (along with 88.2% of all travelers) I scope out destinations that will express itself not only through historic sites and shopping districts, but also through tastes, smells, and sips. These defining elements can give a lasting impact to the other activities we choose to pursue during our travels. There is no better destination to experience its gastronomy than Texas. For most gourmands — or foodies — a meal on the plate is just as paramount as examining a masterpiece by Goya on a museum wall. Winemakers, pit-masters, and chefs are all telling a regional story with their craft and taking the travel industry by storm. Follow along as we examine the tastes of Texas and everything that makes this state remarkable.
With more than 350 wineries (at last count) producing around 4,100 tons of wine, Texas now is the fourth largest wine-producing state. Earning such accolades as one of “The 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations in The World,” the Lone Star State is home to skillfully crafted wines that regularly earn gold, silver, and bronze medals in competitions around the globe. Whether you are a wine connoisseur or an ambitious amateur, Texas wineries should not be missed.
TASTE: McPherson Cellars has been making wine for 40 years earning over 450 medals, it is definitely a place you want to visit. The tasting room is an old Coca-Cola bottling plant in downtown Lubbock. Their name to fame wine — La Herencia or “the heritage,” — is a Spanish-style red of Tempranillo, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Carignan, yum! In Levelland of the High Plains, Trilogy - Berklee Hill Vineyards is a new kid on the block, definitely go for the Malbec. The 100 percent Zinfandel at the Homestead Winery can be sipped at three locations in North Texas: Ivanhoe, Denison, and Grapevine. In the Texas Hill Country, you can do no wrong at Pedernales Cellars where you can sip and take home some award-winning Viognier and an outstanding Tempranillo.
STAY: Rancho Loma Vineyards not only offers European wine blends but also a chic bed and breakfast with a fine dining restaurant. They offer live music, wine classes, winemaker dinners, and they own the pizzeria across the street as well. This hipster oasis offers cool lounges, sweeping ranch views, luxurious Italian linens, and a pool.
Cultural diversity, fed by waves of immigration from around the world, make modern-day Texas a great place to get out of your comfort zone. With its 269,000 square miles and 27 million people, Texas is blessed with an international flavor. Ethnic enclaves and hip melting-pot neighborhoods are normal and not the exception in the state’s small towns and big cities. Get a virtual world tour in Texas, no passport required.
TASTE: Since the early 1980s, the southwest Houston community known as Chinatown has been home to dozens of restaurants and stores from a collection of cultures. Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Laotian, Thai, Malaysian, Korean, and Japanese businesses have set up shop next to one another. Concentrated along a six-mile stretch of Bellaire Road, it is a pan-Asian wonderland. A starting point is Hong Kong City Mall, a mostly Vietnamese-owned shopping center. Sip boba tea at Teahouse Tapioca and Tea and admire the traditional Vietnamese dress shops. Ocean Palace, a banquet-style Chinese restaurant is known for its dim sum. Partake in a guided tour the discover the ins-and-outs of this large community with Asian Heritage Tours.
A drive through Fredericksburg transports you to quaintly beautiful storefronts lining the main street making you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Central European immigrants settled here in the mid-1800s, bringing their customs and food. To this day, Hill Country towns like New Braunfels, Boerne, Walburg, and Comfort, maintain a colorful and cultural spirit.
Fredericksburg is especially savvy about showing its heritage. Stop at Pioneer Museum, a complex of 1840s-era homes tracing the town’s early history. Gaze at hundreds of artifacts and photos on a guided tour. Order the wild mushroom maultaschen at Otto’s German Bistro, and after a couple of swigs of Hefeweizen at the Fredericksburg Brewing Company’s biergarten, and you’d swear you were in Germany. Of course, the best time to soak up German culture is during Oktoberfest. Fredericksburg’s Bavarian holiday has all the usual trappings: beer tent, polka, artisans, and more bratwurst than you can stomach.
STAY: In wine-centric Fredericksburg, check out our favorite cool place stay, Peach Tree Inn & Suites, or opt for something rustic at Barons Creekside. Main Street offers lots of interesting shops, great galleries, coffee bars, and restaurants serving the local vino.
Big City Bites
Some Texans debate barbecue, steak, and whether chili should have beans in it or not (not!) the way others talk politics or the NFL. The only thing better than discussing food is eating it. The big cities of Texas offer a surplus of dining options to suit anyone, along with plenty of tremendous sights to traverse.
TASTE: Amarillo, the largest Texas city on Route 66, has maintained a bygone era’s charm in 13 blocks. The U.S. Route 66 – Sixth Street Historic District offers hours of shopping, eating, and sightseeing. Also in Amarillo is Big Texan Steak Ranch, world famous for its 72-ounce leviathan steak, which is free if you can finish all of it, including the sides (shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, and roll), in an hour or less. If you don’t win the challenge, the meal costs $72.
After visiting all of San Antonio’s venerable sites such as The Alamo and the UNESCO World Heritage Missions, walking through all the museums — both historic and modern — and strolling picturesque River Walk, you will be hungry! You can do no better in all of Texas than Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood.
STAY: Be sure to stay around the corner at the equally luxurious The St. Anthony, a Luxury Collection Hotel, to sleep off your food coma.
TASTE: In Austin, there's a reason why customers wait for hours outside Franklin Barbecue. Its menu features the usual spread of brisket, pulled pork, and other smoked meats, but the trick lies in owner Aaron Franklin's process. Every morsel is prepared with love, patience, and uncompromising quality.
STAY: After an epic meal, enjoy an epic few nights at the Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt. We also recommend biking off a few calories with Austin in a Nutshell Bike Tour to learn about famous landmarks like the Texas State Capitol. Massage those tight fork-lifting muscles at the exclusive Spa Reveil where you’ll be treated like royalty.
TASTE: In Lockhart, Kreuz Market and Smitty's, two establishments owned by siblings, each keeps the tradition alive with succulent, lean brisket and superbly smoked meats all around. Don’t leave the area until you have gone out for a tour with Maverick Horseback Riding, they will teach you to be a better rider and give you an amazing Texas countryside experience.
SEE: In the trendy Galleria area of Houston, there's the Luling City Market, whose smoky meat gets its flavor from oak wood. Try their beef sausage and special mustard-based barbecue sauce. The Galleria is a shopper’s paradise with more than 700 retailers and hotels within two square miles! Inside the Galleria — Texas’ largest shopping mall — check out the ice rink and the two Westin hotels inside!
BIG CITY CONNECT
All over the world, people enjoy Tex-Mex, but in the Lone Star State, this cuisine is king. Texans with Mexican roots created this delicious hybrid, so it is no surprise that the most memorable (and authentic) can be tasted close to the border.
TASTE: From tasty tacos to grilled steaks and cheese-filled tamales, South Texas Tex-Mex will leave you feeling full and happy. Visit Laredo and sample the best soft tacos at the original Taco Palenque. Try the popular Pirata taco — a flour tortilla stuffed with beef fajita meat, refried beans, and half-melted cheddar cheese. Palenque enthusiasts can now enjoy sit-down meals in McAllen and San Antonio.
STAY: In downtown Laredo, consider popping into El Meson de St. Agustin — a lunch-only hole-in-the-wall — after visiting the historic San Agustin Cathedral and Plaza, which is next door. For special occasions, head to Laredo’s historic La Posada Hotel and book a table at its Zaragoza Grill.
TASTE: McAllen, Texas is often called the City of Palms for its subtropical climate and proliferation of palm trees and it also boasts delicious Tex-Mex. Although you often see them on Tex-Mex menus, tamales are not modern Tejano creations. In fact, tamales may have been consumed as early as 7000 B.C. Because they can be made in advance and stored for long stretches of time, tamales became essential for early Latin American communities and became a staple throughout the other Southern states very early on. Delia's Tamales runs a sizeable operation that includes locations in Pharr, Edinburg, Mission, and San Juan.
SEE: McAllen’s local cultural offerings are just as enticing, check out several working studio galleries or the collectibles and the fine art of Nuevo Santander Gallery; and don’t miss the enriching displays at the Museum of South Texas History.
Texas has its own culture, a way of life. Across the state, visitors can easily discover award-winning BBQ, the original Tex-Mex, truly astounding seafood, and the warmest Southern hospitality from cowboy boot wearing locals. From five-star restaurants and undiscovered historic sites to modern museums. Texas has it all, so grab a fork and get your taste buds ready for adventure.
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